Neu! – E-Musik

Neu_albumcoverA visionary band in the process of maturation or an old band that has become new to us? Neu was a German krautrock band formed in Düsseldorf in 1971 by ex-Kraftwerk members Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother. While little known and relatively unheralded during its brief existence, Neu is retrospectively considered one of the founders of the German electronic motorik sound (or Krautrock) and cast a large shadow over the UK punk scene and generations of musicians as diverse as David Bowie, Brian Eno, Josefin Ohrn + the Liberation, Pere Ubu, Julian Cope, The Fall and Wooden Shjips.

The duo formed in Düsseldorf, Germany, in 1971 and their self-titled debut album was recorded in the space of four days with Can producer Conny Plank. Released in 1972 it quickly established their affection for minimalist melodies and lock-groove rhythm. While virtually ignored throughout the rest of the world, the album sold extremely well in West Germany, resulting in a tour with support from Guru Guru’s Uli Trepte and Eberhard Krahnemann.

‘Hallogallo’, the entirely instrumental song that opens the album is a mesmerizing pulse that is one of Krautrock’s trademarks. Intelligent dance music. The guitar-driven classic soars, sighs, throbs, tics and wahs for over 10 meditative minutes, and constantly teeters on the edge of punkish revolt. Mono-chordal but never monochromatic, it announced the extraordinary dexterity, variety and intensity that could be explored by an exposition of one chord over a metronomic drumbeat.

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Neu returned to the studio in 1973 for their sophomore effort: Neu 2. The eleven-minute lead in track Fur Immer (Forever) is a serpentine krautpunk classic, channeling fierce repetition into something anthemic, but a shortfall of cash allowed the duo to complete a minimal amount of materiel which they subsequently remixed at varying and disorienting speeds to flesh out a full-length album. After the record’s release, Rother joined Dieter Moebius and Joachim Roedelius of Cluster to form Harmonia, but Neu officially reunited in 1975 to record Neu! ’75, the group’s final statement. The record’s lush ambiance masks a primal tension at heart. It has the rhythmic pounding of their debut distilled through the radical proto-punk of their second album, punctuated by spells of dreamy ambiance as heard on the extraordinary E-Music. After its release, they again disbanded; Rother continued on as a solo performer, while Dinger and drummer Hans Lampe formed La Dusseldorf.

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In the mid-’80s, Rother and Dinger re-formed yet again, although the recording sessions did not officially surface until 1996.

While Neu never received the recognition it deserved during its all-too brief existence, dropping this German band’s name nowadays ensures you’re awfully cool and down with alt and indie rock’s revered ones. Their music has seeped into the musical consciousness of several generations, and the influence is everywhere. Rest assured there is substance behind the legend as heard on this compilation entitled Neu! E-Musik.

Neu! – E-Musik mp3

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All selections are lifted from their first three seminal releases.

  1. Hallogallo
  2. Neuschnee
  3. Fur Immer (Forever)
  4. Negativland
  5. Super
  6. Lila Engel
  7. E-Musik
  8. Isi
  9. Seeland

Further Listening:

  1. Harmonia – Deluxe (1975)
  2. La Düsseldorf – La Düsseldorf (1976)
  3. David Bowie – Lodger (1979)

Posted in Downloads, Mixtapes, Neu! | 3 Comments

David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name

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Released 50 years ago today on Atlantic Records, David Crosby’s debut solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name was recorded at a traumatic time for the musician, following the death of his girlfriend Christine Hinton in a car accident, and features key collaborations from a who’s who of Laurel Canyon and West Coast A-listers like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and multiple members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane; something of a musical love-in, but it’s Croz’s sublime vocals and languorous approach that give the album its blissful, ethereal, freak-folk charm with a dark heart. David Crosby would not issue another solo album until 18 years later.

The album has found a new audience in recent times, but the story starts with Crosby, Stills and Nash. Almost as soon as they had released their first hugely successful self titled album, the Californian three-part-harmony sound of 1969 with every man and their dog into it, then with the inclusion of Neil Young on the timeless but much darker follow up Déjà Vu (1970), the individual members of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were already working on solo projects.

Possibly piqued into action by their incredibly talented colleague’s release of the stunning Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969), and After the Goldrush (1970), Stephen Stills, buzzing with ideas, was the first of the original trio to release his first proper solo (self-titled) album in late-1970. These are all straight ahead, rock singer-songwritery, albums. Crosby’s self-produced If I Could Only Remember My Name is a wonderful counterpoint, and so different. It’s jazzy, meandering; a unique and experimental collection of dreamy Californian ambience, featuring angelic chorale-vocal experiments, cosmic storytelling, and effortless rock guitar noodling over transcendental melodies.

Let’s get this out of the way: Very few albums have as good an acoustic guitar sound as this album, and Crosby’s voice, while scratchy and at times strained, is note-perfect; wild, sleepy and soothing. Recorded concurrently with the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty in 1970 at San Francisco’s Wally Heider Studios, the album features a key contribution from exceptional Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia with his gorgeous pedal steel and electric guitars all over Crosby’s album. He also helped arrange and produce the material for his buddy, adding a resonating warmth and musical joy throughout.

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Garcia, Crosby, Young

The album opens with the mantra song ‘Music is Love’, summarising the collective vibe of the album: a bunch of friends in the studio, there for each other, making the music they love. It’s a beautiful sentiment, basically a jam, originally recorded as a warm up number. It ushers in the sound of the album and features accompanying vocals by Nash and Neil. The shaggy eight-minute ‘Cowboy Movie’ is a groovy folk-rock allegory about Rita Coolidge, but doesn’t really fit the feel of the album, a white-boy blues that drags, unlike the warm embrace of the next track ‘Tamalpais High (At About 3)’, which finds our hero multi-vox folk-scatting over a jazzy arrangement and Garcia’s mesmerising electric guitar outro. The album really starts here. Then side one closes with the Byrds-ian ‘Laughing’ the centerpiece of the album, and If I Could Only Remember My Name‘s most complete track, it features the luminous Joni Mitchell on vocals, some slide from Jerry, and a singularly incredible multi-layered guitar sound.

The brooding ‘What Are Their Names’ opens side two with a slow build finally hitting something of a vocal pinnacle at the end, although it sounds longer than it’s four minutes and for what it really is; a nice mood-setter. The delicate beauty of ‘Traction in the Rain’ is a stunner. It’s not just the autoharp, but Crosby, while no Neil Young on guitar, loves his crazy guitar tunings and he’s essentially made up his own here; try not to get lost in this song. The next track ‘Song with No Words (Tree with No Leaves)’ is very pretty, but could sit on a CSN album, has no lyrics (spoiler alert), but has exquisite harmonising between Crosby and Nash.

The album closes with two sublime moments. The first is the traditional moment ‘Orleans’, sung in French acapella-style and multi-layered, a lovely arrangement, essentially listing Parisian cathedrals. Crosby’s voice providing a sweeping and swooning effect like an ocean, then halfway through some beautiful guitar joins in. The last song on the album, the moving ‘I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here’, is short but the genesis of the whole album. Crosby is all about vocal stacking, and clearly an incredibly instinctive harmony singer, he improvises a wordless ‘spirit-in-the-room’ musical wake for his dead girlfriend; a ghostly and chillingly powerful album closer.

TRACKS:

  1. Music is Love
  2. Cowboy Movie
  3. Tamalpais High (At About 3)
  4. Laughing
  5. What Are Their Names
  6. Traction in the Rain
  7. Song With No Words (Tree With No Leaves)
  8. Orleans
  9. I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here

Further Listening:

  1. Neil Young – Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969)
  2. Neil Young – After the Goldrush (1970)
  3. Graham Nash – Songs for Beginners (1971)
  4. Stephen Stills – Manassas (1972)
Posted in David Crosby, Neil Young, On This Day | 8 Comments

Duderama – New Views (2021)

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Duderama’s latest creative endeavour has just just been released: New Viewscheck it out here.

This 11-track collaboration is an elixir for these dark and strange times and a lesson in the joyousness of lo-fi rock made with a passion.

released January 22, 2021

Written, performed and produced by DUDERAMA

Recorded at Surface to Air Studios: Sydney & Melbourne
Mastered by L Stack
Art design by P Brown

© 2021 Surface to Air Records Inc

Digital Album available for Streaming + Download
Includes high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.

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Posted in Downloads, Duderama | 18 Comments

The Fall – I Wake Up In The City

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A gob-smacking, ball-tearing, stick of rock ‘n roll gelignite best played exceedingly loud for the full exhilarating experience. This raucous b-side to the group’s bloody awful Flitwick Records 7″ single Rude (All The Time), is something of a companion piece to the good but thin-sounding ‘My Ex-Classmates’ Kids’ – different lyrics, but they share the same primitive three-chord riff – off the undervalued Are You Are Missing Winner (2001).

The song is called ‘I Wake Up in the City’ and is simply one of The Fall’s finest and most rocking moments ever put to tape. Based around a continual ferocious guitar riff, think ‘Sister Ray’ on steroids, it is an absolutely blistering piece of scuzzy garage rock that has to be heard to be believed. From the opening exhortation of “turn the music up“, to the monstrously up-front snare drum, then into an overloaded and distorted guitar riff, it’s an unholy Stooges-esque racket. Enter Mark E Smith’s distorted biting snarl at its uncompromising and steamrolling best, one of his most visceral renditions of bemusement and disgust as he navigates urban life: When I wake up in the city / I look around to see who’s with me, he even works in a menacing cough as a vocal hook that’s simultaneously sneering and hilarious, a highlight.

Poetically-illuminated scraping punk about the city’s thoughts that pollute me, all of these things crowding in on him and causing him to wonder, How many of you are stable? / No one, he declares by song’s end. If you wake up in the city, you’re part of this living nightmare. ‘I Wake Up in the City’ is a great example of how a strong MES vocal over churning guitars can produce something very special. In great Fall fashion, listen out for a bizarre spoken-word section commencing at 2:58, seemingly taped at random off the radio and pasted in for no apparent reason apart from filling the gap.

Despite its similarities to ‘My Ex-Classmates’ Kids‘, both songs were on the setlist whenever the group played ‘I Wake Up In The City’ in late 2001; at its final outings in 2002, was played as part of a medley with ‘Kids’.

Line up:

Mark E Smith: vocals
Spencer Birtwistle: drums
Jim Watts: bass
Ed Blaney: guitar

References & Further Reading:

  1. You Must Get Them All
  2. Fall Tracks A-Z

Posted in Fall, The, Performance of the Day, Wig Outs | Leave a comment

McCartney – Paperback Classics: Vol IV

Two of the all-time most inexplicably unreleased Paul McCartney paperback classics ever, and two songs that just happen to be among the artist’s most timeless recordings either for sheer quality, highly interesting unrealised hit-potential or buried in time. They are songs only McCartney nerds (like myself) know about via bootlegs and a world of compilations. Here at The Press we have unearthed these historically interesting and amazing tracks and present them in double A-side format for your listening pleasure.

McCartney Double A-Side IV.mp3

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So Like Candy – Beautiful Paul McCartney/Elvis Costello demo from 1988 of a song that was in the mix for Flowers in the Dirt but left off that album, and eventually appearing on Elvis Costello’s Mighty Like a Rose (1991). 

Same Love – An extraordinarily heartfelt track recorded around 1987 and turned up as a long deleted b-side of Beautiful Night in 1997 to support Flaming Pie album. 

Posted in Albums That Never Were, Paul McCartney | 2 Comments

The Big Midweek | Life Inside The Fall

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Written by former bassist of seminal post-punk group The Fall, Steve Hanley (& his partner Olivia Piekarski) and published in 2014 to widespread critical acclaim for its intelligent, engaging, conversational style, revealing insights, and dry, stoical humour, The Big Midweek is not only the best and most entertaining books ever written about The Fall, but one of the best music books I’ve ever read. An absorbing, disturbing, eye-popping, at times hilarious story of living inside The Mighty Fall.

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The Fall in 1985 with Steve Hanley far left

Something of a tell-all memoir of life inside a group he was with for 18 years – from 1979 (Dragnet) until the infamous onstage fight in New York with Mark E Smith in 1997 (Levitate) – it is an understatement to say that Hanley helped define the singular sound The Fall are known for, and quite ironic that the most silent, stoic and the dependable beating heart of the group was the first member to open up about being in one of the most influential and best bands ever to come out of England.

The book’s a story really, a story about a band – an idiosyncratic band,” said Hanley. “I’m telling the story of a lad growing up in the music business, living the dream and becoming disillusioned with it”.

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Further Reading:

Top 50 Songs by The Fall

Posted in Fall, The, Now Reading | Leave a comment

Geoff MacCormack – Band Member & Childhood Friend Talks about David Bowie – Radio Broadcast 04/01/21

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Bowie childhood friend, touring buddy, backing singer Geoff MacCormack (Warren Peace) talks to BBC Radio 6 Music DJ Marc Riley about meeting Bowie in School, USA influences, joining the band, 1973 Aladdin Sane tour, Japan Tour, Travelling, Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me, Photography, Hammersmith Concert, David Live and Diamond Dogs-era and more.

Listen to a recently surfaced recording of this Diamond Dogs classic, co-written with Geoff MacCormack: ‘Rock and Roll with Me’. Recorded at Olympic Studios in January 1974, this fascinating tape features Bowie pausing frequently to direct the musicians, including pianist Mike Garson, and finds Bowie shifting lyrics around, trying out phrasings and tempos, hitting bum notes, cracking up. Fly on the Wall: Twenty minutes of Bowie running Garson, Herbie Flowers and Tony Newman through a wonderful song that he’d not quite finished.

Posted in David Bowie, Podcasts | Leave a comment

Bowie Miscellany

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Adam Buxton’s top notch Bowie-related animations for your viewing pleasure:

ASHES TO ASHES CLOWN SUIT STORY

CONTAINS VERY STRONG LANGUAGE. Based on an anecdote from Michael Dignum. Animated by The Brothers McLeod. Direction and audio by Adam Buxton.

DAVID BOWIE, BRIAN ENO AND TONY VISCONTI RECORD WARSZAWA

Animated by The Brothers McLeod. Direction and audio by Adam Buxton. Warszawa by David Bowie appears on the Bowie album Low (1977). Listen out for it in the marvellous short film Jazzin’ for Blue Jean.

Posted in Brian Eno, David Bowie | Leave a comment

David Bowie: The Thin White Duke in New York, 1976

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This is secretly the greatest live album Bowie never released*, this legendary bootleg captures Bowie in transition, moving from his plastic soul phase to the European electronic music he would create with his immanent relocation to Berlin.

David BowieThe Thin White Duke in New York, 1976 mp3

This concert was recorded live at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY, USA on March 23, 1976 and is one of his most famous and finest live performances ever.

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The set list for this tour stayed more or less the same for all the dates throughout the White Light or Isolar tour, combining atmosphere and intensity. Listen out for the moment when Bowie saunters onto the stage, four-and-a-half minutes into the opening track Station to Station, as the crowd erupts. There are numerous stand out tracks including, ‘Word On A Wing’, ‘Fame’, ‘Changes’, ‘Jean Genie’, a blistering ‘Panic In Detroit’ and a brilliant extended version of ‘Stay’.

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The playing is excellent by one of the best groups of musicians Bowie ever assembled including the formidable rhythm section of Dennis Davis, George Murray and Carlos Alomar, and of course vocals by the Thin White Duke himself.

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TRACKS

  1. Station To Station
  2. Suffragette City
  3. Fame
  4. Word On A Wing
  5. Stay
  6. Panic In Detroit
  7. Changes
  8. TVC15
  9. Diamond Dogs
  10. Rebel Rebel
  11. Jean Genie

Running time: 1 hour 7 minutes

David Bowie – Vocals
Carlos Alomar – Guitar
Stacey Heydon – Guitar
Tony Kaye – Keyboards
George Murray – Bass
Dennis Davis – Drums

*This bootleg recording would eventually see an official release as part of his timeless Station to Station 2010 reissue box set. The presentation of this concert is the most controversial aspect of the box set; the sound is loud and apparently heavily compressed, to the ire of many audiophiles. Still, if the mastering choice is questionable, the electricity of the reinvented Bowie’s performance makes it a welcome addition to the box set.

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Posted in David Bowie, Downloads, Gigs, Images, Performance of the Day | 8 Comments

David Bowie: Another Stage in Gothenburg, 1978

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Welcome to Part 2 of a 3 Part Bowie Bootleg extravaganza, a good time of the year to enjoy some magnificent Bowie shows from his golden years. This one is live in Gothenburg, Sweden on 4 June 1978. The sound quality is excellent on this bootleg and even better than on any earlier issues on vinyl or CD.

David BowieAnother Stage in Gothenburg, 1978 mp3

Bowie bootlegs flooded the underground market in the 1970’s and this is one of the best from this tour. It’s a stereo soundboard recording and the concert was recorded in one of Sweden’s largest cities during the European leg of the superb 1978 Isolar II tour, a Bowie career pinnacle, and our man was in the middle of what has been called his groundbreaking Berlin-trilogy ie: the Eno records.

As with the official album Stage released later in ’78, Bowie offers a lot of songs from his previous two albums Low and “Heroes”, including ‘Be My Wife’, ‘Blackout’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Breaking Glass’ (Bowie doing his best Dylan and Bolan impersonations), ‘Speed of Life’ and “Heroes”. Elsewhere the particularly funky US No.1 hit Fame is the only representative from the Young Americans album, and the Ziggy album is famously well represented including, ‘Hang on to Yourself’, ‘Suffragette City’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Five Years’ and a superb ‘Soul Love’. Another highlight of this bootleg is the Station to Station material, something of an encore and still quite fresh to the listening public, with a colossal version of the title track, a pleasure to hear Adrian Belew’s interpretation of one of Bowie’s best ever songs, also ‘TVC15’ and the timeless ‘Stay’ to essentially close the 2-hour long show.

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TRACKS

  1. Warszawa
  2. “Heroes”
  3. What in the World
  4. Be My Wife
  5. The Jean Genie
  6. Blackout
  7. Sense of Doubt
  8. Speed of Life
  9. Breaking Glass
  10. Fame
  11. Beauty and the Beast
  12. Five Years
  13. Soul Love
  14. Star
  15. Hang Onto Yourself
  16. Ziggy Stardust
  17. Suffragette City
  18. Art Decade
  19. Alabama Song
  20. Station to Station
  21. Stay
  22. TVC15
  23. Rebel Rebal

Tour band 1978 – The Low and “Heroes” World Tour :
David Bowie – vocals, chamberlain
Adrian Belew – lead guitar, backing vocals
Carlos Alomar – rhythm guitar, backing vocals
George Murray – bass guitar, backing vocals
Dennis Davis – drums, percussion
Roger Powell – keyboards, synthesizer 
Sean Mayes – piano
Simon House – electric violin

Posted in David Bowie, Downloads, Gigs, Performance of the Day | 4 Comments

David Bowie: “Heroes” in Berlin, 1987

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Berlin has become inextricably linked with the Bowie legacy. He’d lived there in the late 1970s creating some of the greatest music of all time, sharing an apartment in the Schöneberg neighbourhood with Iggy Pop, escaping from the drugs and over-the-top glam of his early career and immersing himself into the city’s rich expressionism and art culture.

Exactly a decade later, the gargantuan Glass Spider tour arrived in the city in support of 1987’s Never Let Me Down album which would find Bowie performing as part of a three-day rock festival on the Platz der Republik, in front of one of Germany’s most poignant landmarks, the Reichstag, the once-proud governmental structure that had become a ruined relic of unified Germany.

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The structure sat close to the neoclassical Brandenburg Gate, and the Berlin Wall, and the concert was clearly audible to those in East Berlin. By 1987 the city’s Soviet-dominated East had become safer, but it had not become more free. Rock music was treated as a destabilising threat and Bowie-loving East Berliners were not allowed to attend the concert, but they could hear the enigmatic singer’s dynamic performance thanks to the efforts of Bowie’s roadies infamously pointing the speakers their way.

“We kind of heard that a few of the East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didn’t realise in what numbers they would. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall.”

By the time Bowie took the stage on the evening of June 6th, 15,000 East Berliners gathered as close as possible to the Wall. “We kind of heard that a few of the East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didn’t realise in what numbers they would. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the Wall. So it was like a double concert where the wall was the division. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side.”

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The set list on this excellent soundboard recording includes tracks from his most recent album of the time, as well as deep cuts from throughout his career including, ‘Big Brother’, ‘All the Madmen’, ‘Time’, ‘Sons of the Silent Age’ and ‘Dancing With the Big Boys’.

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Never one to miss the occasion to highlight the unifying power of art, Bowie called out to the East Berlin contingent after playing “Heroes”. In German, he offered words of support to the victims of oppression so tantalisingly near but beyond aid. “We send our wishes to all our friends who are on the other side of the Wall.”

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Bowie wrote the 1977 epic while living in West Berlin, and midway through the set, Bowie performed the song and saw it take on a whole new life. On this summer night with thousands of people pressed up against the wall on the other side singing along, the song sounded “almost like a prayer,” he recalled. “That’s the town where it was written, and that’s the particular situation that it was written about. It was just extraordinary.” The lyrics, penned exactly a decade earlier, seemed almost clairvoyant.

Ich
Ich glaub’ das zu träumen
Die Mauer
Im Rücken war kalt
Schüsse reissen die luft
Doch wir küssen
Als ob nichts geschieht

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The performance is simply mesmeric, you can really hear the emotion in his voice, and Bowie always talked about it as one of the greatest performances of “Heroes” he ever gave: “I’ll never forget that. It was one of the most emotional performances I’ve ever done. I was in tears. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again. It was so touching.”

The Berlin concert of 1987 is often cited as one of the events that helped bring down the Berlin wall, although to jump to a conclusion and suggest that Bowie was a major force in the dissolution of the wall in 1989 would be a mistake. But just two years prior, this landmark performance by the divisive wall shook the occupants of both sides to their emotional core and this performance in the divided city made him a hero to generations of Berliners.

David BowieStanding By the Wall, Berlin 1987 mp3

TRACKS

  1. Purple Haze Intro
  2. Carlos Guitar Intro
  3. Up the Hill Backwards
  4. Glass Spider
  5. Up the Hill Backwards (reprise)
  6. Day In Day Out
  7. Bang Bang
  8. Absolute Beginners
  9. Loving the Alien
  10. China Girl
  11. Fashion
  12. Scary Monsters
  13. All the Madmen
  14. Never Let Me Down
  15. Big Brother
  16. ’87 and Cry
  17. “Heroes”
  18. Time Will Crawl
  19. Band Introductions
  20. Beat of Your Drum
  21. Sons of the Silent Age
  22. New York’s in Love
  23. Dancing With the Big Boys
  24. Zeroes
  25. Let’s Dance
  26. Fame
  27. Time
  28. Blue Jean
  29. Modern Love
  30. bonus Soundcheck

running time: 132 minutes

Further reading:

1. David Bowie – Album to Album. Multimedia arachnid mayhem! It’s 1987’s Never Let Me Down with The Complete David Bowie author Nicholas Pegg returning to stoutly defend his choice of album in this highly entertaining podcast.

2. David Bowie – Never Let Me Down (2018)

3. David Bowie – Heroes (1977)

Posted in David Bowie, Downloads, European Rock Pilgrimage, Gigs, Performance of the Day | 6 Comments

Never Heard It Before…Until Now!

I’ve never heard this album before…..until now. Why? Don’t know, but now is as good a time as any to sit down and listen to something I’ve never heard, right? I’ve actually had them lying around and never bothered, or someone’s given me a copy, or I’ve bought it on a whim. Not Polish jazz. Ok here we go…

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band – Trout Mask Replica (1969)

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Captain Beefheart has a voice that can break microphones. With his four-and-a-half-octave range, he can hit notes that can literally destroy rugged, costly recording equipment, as he proved during the recording sessions for his debut album Safe As Milk (1967). Singing the track ‘Electricity’ he shattered the internal structure of a state-of-the-art Telefunken microphone. It was found that the vocal extremes recorded by Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet) were beyond the capabilities of the recording device. Despite his great talent as a lyricist, composer, arranger and musician, and fans brace yourselves, I have always found Beefheart to be a tremendously frustrating artist, always somewhat irritated by his indescribably strange and deliberately difficult and eccentric style (notwithstanding my fandom of other comparable artists such as Tom Waits, Pere Ubu, Frank Zappa, The Birthday Party, John Frusciante, and even the mighty Jon Spencer Blues Explosion); an early listening run-in with the less than stellar Strictly Personal (1968) LP; knowingly random album titles such as Lick My Decals Off, Baby, and giving silly names to his band members such as Victor “The Mascara Snake” Hayden or Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston, did not help. So too his general oddball style and bewildering delivery, idiosyncratic rhythms, absurdist lyrics, and an unholy alliance to free jazz. At times I wished he would just drop the avant garde racket routine and just sing the blues, straight up, like Howlin’ Wolf, as he does regularly on the fantastic Safe As Milk album.

For better or for worse this has long steered me clear of what many call his magnum opus, the seminal Zappa “produced”, 28-song double album, Trout Mask Replica, released in June 1969 on the newly formed Straight Records label. Lester Bangs, writing in Rolling Stone, said of the album: …it shattered my skull, made me nervous, made me laugh…it was a whole new universe, a completely realised and previously unimaginable landscape of guitars…it hit like a bomb.” Knowing Lester, I’m worried. So in the spirit of the Never Heard It Before…Until Now! series, it’s time this album gets the good hard first proper listen it truly deserves. 

Upon first listen Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band are delivering a mind boggling assemblage of stylistic and thematic strands, sometimes all within the same two-minute song. On many of the tracks it seems the drummer (John ‘Drumbo’ French) is playing non stop clattering fills while both guitars (Antennae Jimmy Semens and Zoot Horn Rollo) solo independently of each other in a discordant way as Beefheart sings over the top of this unholy, anti-music racket. His voice sounds mostly great, and his vocal melodies rule. There’s shards of blues, splinters of rock, all atonal and dissonant instrumentation. I was a little apprehensive about approaching the album, and when listening to it I know why. Mercifully most songs are all over in about a minute or two, although some numbers like instrumental ‘Hair Pie Bake 1’ clocks in at five minutes, and is a bleating, tuneless, free-jazz sax wig-out. Then there’s things like ‘The Dust Blows Forward ‘n the Dust Blows Back’, or ‘Well’, they do not even have any music, just stream-of-conscience spoken word, and abstract, rather moving and stammeringly poetic lyrics delivered in a chaotic manner.

Beefheart’s squawnking sax regularly joins in on the bedlam, some tracks even have a verse/chorus/verse and are always at least interesting. His bluesy scat and seemingly random lyrics over, um…unconventional drumming and wiry guitars, one could say the whole album is a sloppy cacophony, but on closer inspection it is powerful particularly something like Pachuco Cadavar which opens with: “A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag / Is fast and bulbous, got me?” then tangled guitars grind away, frenzied yet strangely addictive.

The whole album sounds thrillingly wrong, like the rules have been turned on its head. I eventuality realise and accept the fact that Beefheart and his Magic Band are not even trying, but wilfully rejecting convention. Some tracks are impenetrable and not an easy listen on first or any subsequent listens, like ‘Old Fart at Play’ which is not so much a song rather an abstract spoken word rant. Others can bare repeated listens like opening track ‘Frownland’ or the scattershot cool of ‘Big Joan Sets Up’

Think Tom Waits without commercial responsibilities, some of the stuff here reminds me of some of his more eccentric moments on Frank’s Wild Years or The Black Rider, but proper songs do work their way into some of these Beefheart tracks. The crazed, swaying blues of ‘She’s Too Much for My Mirror’ is even catchy. Sometimes they’re crazy awesome guitar riffs (‘Veteran’s Day Poppy’), sometimes they seem deliberately unlistenable and perplexing mid-song skits (eg: ‘The Blimp’ or ‘Pena’), with mistakes and all, and Beefheart growling his oblique yet oddly poetic lyrics. I won’t lie, it’s an acquired taste, but I can see myself enduring it again.

All things considered Trout Mask Replica is overall an unholy racket, at times awful, sometimes incredible, and certainly a challenging listening experience but nowhere near as unpleasant as first expected. The general importance and reverence of this colossal artist, and the understandable impact of this ‘before it’s time’ landmark has had on punk, new wave, and post-rock, can no longer be ignored.  9/10

Posted in Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Never Heard It Before...Until Now! | 7 Comments

Stevie Wonder – Deep Cuts: The Classic Period

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This compilation highlights what happens when you give a brilliant artist freedom to create, bringing together the best deep cuts from the classic period, forever standing as some of the greatest music ever made. You can still hear his influence today and the music world would draw from this output for decades and for years to come.

Stevie Wonder signed to Motown records at the age of 11, and by 20 he was a certified star. In 1971 and at the age of 21, his existing Motown contract had expired and he negotiated a new deal which saw him receive an unprecedented 14% of all royalties, and importantly, complete creative control. The following five years Stevie would release five albums of unparalleled brilliance, brimming with a musical positivity. This would become known as his classic period.

Stevie WonderDeep Cuts: The Classic Period mp3

TRACKS:

  1. Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing (Innervisions)
  2. Smile Please (Fulfillingness’ First Finale)
  3. Jesus Children of America (Innervisions)
  4. Please Don’t Go (Fulfillingness’ First Finale)
  5. Happier Than the Morning Sun (Music of My Mind)
  6. Joy Inside My Tears (Songs in the Key of Life)
  7. I Love Every Little Thing About You (Music of My Mind)
  8. Knocks Me Off My Feet (Songs in the Key of Life)
  9. He’s Misstra Know-It-All (Innervisions)
  10. You’ve Got it Bad Girl (Talking Book)
  11. Maybe Your Baby (Talking Book)
  12. Too High (Innervisions)
  13. Love Having You Around (Music of My Mind)
  14. Golden Lady (Innervisions)
  15. Tuesday Heartbreak (Talking Book)
  16. Lookin’ For Another Pure Love (Talking Book)
  17. Have a Talk With God (Songs in the Key of Life)
  18. Creepin’ (Fulfillingness’ First Finale)
  19. Visions (Innervisions)
  20. Love’s In Need of Love Today (Songs in the Key of Life)

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In 1972, Stevie Wonder released the first of these five classic albums: Music of My Mind. Inspired by the soulful genius of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, this masterpiece was unlike anything Wonder had released before. On his preceding albums he was occasionally writing and playing keys. Here Stevie plays everything here except guitar, displaying a breathtaking virtuosity both musically and vocally unleashing a full-length artistic statement with songs flowing together thematically. Opening with back-to-back epics: Love Having You Around and Superwomen, both colossal funk narratives clocking in eight minutes plus, Stevie steers the direction towards the Tonto synthesizer, something he had been heavily into and loved experimenting with on his vocal. What resulted was a challenging multi-dimensional LP, proving the artist had gone stratospheric. The album was not hugely successful commercially, it was too wild and experimental for his audience. They would come around.

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The follow-up album Talking Book was released only six months later (also 1972), and delivered a stark shift in sound and subject matter. Stevie’s Fender Rhodes and Hohner Clavinet textures were more up front, developing what would become his signature sound. The lyrics touched on manhood (Lookin’ for Another Pure Love), maturity (I Believe) and spiky personal themes such as his recent divorce (Maybe Your Baby). Again Stevie is all over this musically – his drumming is a major highlight on the timeless Superstition and throughout the album. His drums mesh with the congas and his bass drum/high-hat/snare work are as good as any ever in recorded history. There are more guest musicians on board this time too, big names such as David Sanborn on sax and Jeff Beck on guitar. The artwork for Talking Book was also the first with a colour palette of browns and oranges which would be repeated thematically for the subsequent classic releases. The album launched an avalanche of Grammy’s and chart topping achievements which would be repeated over the next three albums.

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Stevie followed up the magnificent Talking Book only nine months later with perhaps his finest single album: Innervisions (1973). Incredibly, this was yet another step up in brilliance and musical expansion and something of a continuation on the themes and sounds of the previous album. Here we find Stevie tackling world issues such as politics (Mistra Know It All), religion (Jesus Children of America) and racism (Visions), and again he plays the majority of the instruments, however it’s his vocals and lyrics that take it all to another level. With a developing studio expertise and occasionally using sounds of the street, Stevie creates a dazzling and cinematic experience like no other. Lyrically cerebral, there is an increased social consciousness turned inwards on the man: he’s asking big questions, like on the prophetic and masterful Higher Ground to name but one. Following the release of yet another classic, Stevie Wonder was involved in a car accident that saw him in a coma for four days, he would come out and into a spiritual epiphany and a challenge to his art.

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Several months later he released 1974’s introspective Fulfillingness’ First Finale. This underrated album finds our hero pondering life, death, relationships, and God. It is slow and sombre at times and the expansive textures are toned down somewhat. There’s a lot more acoustic piano for instance and the lyrics talk about spirituality and the afterlife on more than a couple of occasions. There are some major highlights where Stevie shows us his prowess as a producer with exquisite opener Smile Please and the vibrant soul album closer Please Don’t Go. As before, Fulfillingness’ First Finale is mostly the work of a single man mixing in reggae grooves and piano synth, and it’s refreshing to hear more songs devoted to the many and varied stages of romance. Despite more Grammy’s, it’s the calm before the storm and is seen now as the least heralded of the classic run, but an album well overdue for revaluation.

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In 1975 Stevie took a break from touring and recording, only to unleash the following year his pièce de résistance, the stunning double colossus Songs In the Key of Life (1976). This saw a culmination of everything Stevie had been working towards thus far in his career. With Songs in the Key of Life he delivered a monumental concept album about love and life and effortlessly achieved the pinnacle of his recording career with this far-reaching commercial and artistic extravaganza. Unlike the previous albums, Stevie surrounds himself with a host of talented musicians including Herbie Hancock and George Benson, and takes on production duties himself adding a personal touch to the sound and general feel of the album. Some of the best drumming of his career is here. Stevie’s perfectly in the pocket on this album, again it’s the lyrics that are the most striking of his career. He addresses a dystopian reality in Village Ghetto Land and lands some of his finest songwriting ever (Knocks Me Off My Feet – to name one). Stevie Wonder was working towards this album and here he succeeds in unleashing a work of unparalleled artistic genius. It was a massive seller and marked the end of his classic period, accomplishing what few could only dream of.

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Posted in Downloads, Mixtapes, Stevie Wonder | 2 Comments

Nick Lowe – Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All the Family

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A roundly enjoyable seasonal selection from Nick Lowe, Christmas-themed for your convenience, Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection For All The Family (2013) is a twinkling blend of forgotten gems, torch songs and three Lowe originals. From the opening rockabilly-charged Children Go Where I Send Thee and the comfy hush of Christmas Can’t Be Far Away, the collection is well suited for evenings snuggled up by the fireplace.

The record includes the Ron Sexsmith-penned Hooves on the Roof, Roger Miller’s wistful classic Old Toy Trains, a ska-flavoured take on I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day, a track co-written with Ry Cooder and even a few traditional Christmas-themed chestnuts, all performed in Nick’s singular style.

Nick LoweQuality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All the Family mp3

TRACKS

  1. Children Go Where I Send Thee
  2. Christmas Can’t Be Far Away
  3. Christmas at the Airport
  4. Old Toy Trains
  5. The North Pole Express
  6. Hooves on the Roof
  7. I Was Born in Bethlehem
  8. Just to Be with You (This Christmas)
  9. Rise Up Shepherd
  10. Silent Night
  11. A Dollar Short of Happy
  12. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day

Merry Christmas!

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Posted in Downloads, Nick Lowe, On This Day | 1 Comment

David Bowie – Hunky Dory

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David Bowie’s first ready-made classic finds the supreme shape-shifter eagerly anticipating the raunchy camp swagger of the impending Ziggy Stardust phenomenon. Released on this day in 1971, the transitional Hunky Dory was recorded at Soho’s Trident Studios in London with a newly assembled backing band consisting of Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Mick Woodmansey (drums), as the yet unnamed Spiders From Mars, and embellished by future Yes keyboard wizard “Richard” Wakeman. To celebrate the occasion, The Press is ranking the songs from one of Bowie’s greatest and most enduring albums.

The grand concept of the orange-haired leper messiah who played guitar left-handed on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972), would be the logical follow-up to the grinding proto-metal melodrama of The Man Who Sold the World (1971), instead Bowie delivered the eclectic, piano-based balladry of this, his first album for RCA, and the first to attract significant critical plaudits; although it didn’t chart until September 1972 when re-released post-Ziggymania; all said and done it’s perhaps Bowie’s definitive album.

Written and rehearsed at Bowie’s Beckenham pad, the crumbling Victorian residence Haddon Hall, produced by Ken Scott (Ziggy, Aladdin, Pin Ups) and assisted by “the actor”, it’s here on this diverse collection where Bowie’s explosive charisma and lithe vocals unite, leaping wildly from songs for old friends, love, and a love of mysticism and rock ‘n roll: from convincing Nietzschean fixations, the chameleon pop anthem, doffing a bippity-boppity hat on an ode to the VU (White Light returned with thanks), name-checking his New York heroes Warhol and Dylan, a song for his newborn son Zowie based on Neil Young’s Till the Morning Comes, to the epic, if opaque, ghostly ballad The Bewley Brothers, a sumptuous masterpiece (inspired by Frankie) and five tracks adorned with Mick Ronson’s elegant string arrangements.

Wake up you sleepy head
Put on some clothes, shake up your bed
Put another log on the fire for me
I’ve made some breakfast and coffee
I look out my window what do I see
A crack in the sky and a hand reaching down to me

Hunky Dory

11. Eight Line Poem

Resolving nicely from Oh! You Pretty Things, Bowie credits himself on “the less complicated piano parts (inability)” on this slight, impressionistic country-blues interlude featuring some tasteful guitar soloing from Mick Ronson. A beautiful live version appears on the Bowie at the Beeb four-LP collection released in 2006. Tactful cactus / By the window“.

10. Fill Your Heart

A jaunty Biff Rose cover not far removed from the original, featuring Rick Wakeman’s flighty and flippant piano prowess. Bowie tips his hat to the prolific American R&B session guitarist and arranger Art Wright on the rear album-sleeve notes, “Mick and I agree that the ‘Fill Your Heart’ arrangement owes one hell of a lot to Arthur G. Wright and his prototype“.

9. Kooks

Cheery music hall pastiche number written to herald the birth of his son Zowie (for small z), Kooks is a touching and at times amusing little song about parenthood, “Don’t pick fights with the bullies or the cads / ‘Cause I’m not much cop at punching other people’s dads.” Features a lovely Trevor Bolder trumpet cameo, and of course Wakeman’s piano.

8. Song For Bob Dylan

Now hear this Robert Zimmerman / I wrote a song for you / ‘Bout a strange young man called Dylan / With a voice like sand and glue“, directly referencing Dylan’s own ‘Song for Woody’ from his 1961 debut, “Hey, hey Woody Guthrie / I wrote you a song /
Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a-comin’ along“. One of the many cheeky tributes on the album, Ronson’s the star here and his perfect guitar tone.

7. Andy Warhol

An ironic tribute to New York’s finest artist when most of Britain had never heard of him, Bowie played it for Andy and unsurprisingly he wasn’t impressed, “He’ll think about paint, and he’ll think about glue / What a jolly boring thing to do.” This is a driving strum-along with David and Mick at their best on thunderous acoustics; it sits on side two, the ‘American tribute’ side of Hunky Dory

6. The Bewley Brothers

Bowie, aware insanity ran in his family, worried that he too was going mad. Have a look at Stardust – it’s not that bad, at least I enjoyed it. He revisits this theme raised on ‘All the Madmen’ from his previous album, and there is method to the quite literal madness in the scary-spikey imagery he’s throwing around on this powerful album closer.

5. Quicksand

I’m closer to the golden dawn / Immersed in Crowley’s uniform of imagery”. What an introduction to this open account of a man struggling to make sense of his own life and art, searching for a meaningful philosophy, adrift in the esoteric end of pop culture in 1971. “I’m sinking in the Quicksand of my thoughts / And I ain’t got the power anymore“. Whatever it’s about, it has an exquisite melody, and a stunning multi-tracked Ronson acoustic guitar.

4. Queenbitch

More than a Velvet Underground pastiche, it’s a great little rocker, unrepresentative of the album, but points the way ahead to the glam trailblazer Ziggy Stardust. The guitars are slashing like chainsaws over Lou Reed-inspired wordplay. The Spiders really rock and this track squawks like a bitch monkey bird. 

3. Oh! You Pretty Things

The magical glam stomp of Oh! You Pretty Things is a supremely self-confident lesson in songcraft and flamboyant arrangement, not to mention some of the cleanest singing and piano playing in Bowie’s career. Originally written, and a hit, for Peter Noone in July 1971 before it was re-recorded for Hunky Dory. Highlights include the Ziggy Stardust the Motion Picture medley with Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud and All the Young Dudes, and also Bowie at the piano on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1972.

2. Changes

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes, track one, side one, is one of Bowie’s most enduring and signature tunes, and something of a macro-manifesto of his pending superstardom: “Look out you rock ‘n rollers“. Bowie kept one step in front of the competition at all times, and on Changes he is effortlessly displaying his ability as a master tunesmith and sophisticated arranger, streets ahead of his rivals. Recorded a mere six months after The Man Who Sold the Word wrapped, the track features some cool Bowie sax and piano, and one of the greatest, catchiest, double-tracked vocal choruses of all time. “Time may change me / But I can’t trace time.

1. Life On Mars?

Sitting among Bowie finest work, the story goes he wrote this out of revenge or frustration for being passed over for writing My Way, but it’s much better than My Way. A specific tale of a sensitive young, mousy, girl finding escape in the cinema, it was reportedly written on the steps of Free Festival bandstand in Beckenham. Eventually released as a single in June 1973 at the height of Ziggy-mania, it was accompanied by an eye-popping video, and reached number 3 in the UK. Bowie later performed this on the Carson Show in 1980, another breathtaking performance well worth watching. 

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Bowie’s “selfie” in 1971, obviously proud of his second ever hit.

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Jamming with Mick Ronson (on bass) and Mick Woodmansy.

Posted in Bob Dylan, David Bowie, European Rock Pilgrimage, Lou Reed, Mick Ronson, On This Day, Rank the Songs, Velvet Underground, The | 8 Comments

Pavement – Top 50 Songs

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Pavement first appeared on the music scene in 1989, formed in Stockton, California when founding members and school friends Stephen Malkmus (SM) and Scott Kannberg (Spiral Stairs) met and started creating primitive indie-rock. Their music stood out amid the angst-fuelled grunge of the day, borrowing from the classic rock of The Clean, and even more heavily (and their let-me-throw-some-shit-together album art) from The Fall, they were armed with a combination of cynicism and spirit that caught everyone by surprise in the early-90s and, in an age of cod-metal bands with big hair, Pavement gave smart-aleck ‘readers’ a new way of being cool. 

They formed Pavement with the decade-older, yet vital, Gary Young on drums and cultivated a mystique by releasing three brash singles that sounded like you were listening to the surface of the sun, before a debut ‘cassette’ called Slanted and Enchanted in 1992 caused a buzz it so deserved. The alt-rock press, and even the likes of Rolling Stone immediately took to the band, posting rave reviews, branding them “slacker rock”, however despite the lo-fi angular quality, Pavement’s music was always warm and sunny – West Coast style – and unabashedly tuneful and anthemic.

With the eventual addition of a bass player (Mark Ibold) and two drummers (Bob Nastanovich more a percussionist/backup singer/keyboardist and general good guy, and Steve West replacing Gary Young), this five-piece band’s material went from searing combustible energy, sudden shifts in tone and tempo, soaring solos, shrieking vocals and fuzzy meltdowns, to resplendent and strikingly accessible classic rock with intriguing country leanings and breathtaking melodies and loping rhythms – and at their best live on stage. Their music was consistently fresh-sounding, and Pavement’s sonic roughness has preserved it from time: production values are never going to date on records that have minimal production values in the first place.

This scrappy band of brothers seared through the cynical haze of the decade, their guitars climbing higher than their feedback and voices reaching way beyond their own irony. A certain tossed-off cool touched everything they did as they developed and evolved throughout the 90’s making a marvel of mistakes, first-takes, deliberate self-sabotage, and mastering a beautiful looseness that seemed part of their craft before imploding at Coachella in ’99. And then, of course, they triumphantly reunited in 2010 to play a number of sold out shows worldwide throughout the year. Their perfect discography had a rare and refreshing breadth of songcraft and depth of musicianship, and were all lopsided, languid, carefree, crooning beasts, but at the same time well-constructed, well-paced, with an increasing diversity, all subtly different from each other.

I’ll never forgive Pitchfork for omitting David Bowie’s “Heroes” from their Top 100 Albums of the 1970’s, but please go easy as I send advance apologies to live favourites such as Brinx Job and Best Friend’s Arm, the majority of Terror Twilight, Fillmore Jive, No Life Singed Her, Type Slowly, Grave Architecture, and unfortunately many many more.

Join us at The Press as we count down the Top 50 songs from one of the most original, sincere and distinctive American rock bands of the Slow Century.

50. Westie Can Drum

Fact: Some of Pavement’s best songs do not appear on their albums. This is one of them. The B-side to Brighten the Corners’ (1997) single Stereo, this chromatically awesome ‘joke-song’ describes their drummer Steve West: “Lincoln’s beard / Why’s he got a horses body?” before finishing with: “Westie he cannot drum.” They then proceed to go completely fucking mental at the outro – one of Pavement’s finest and most rocking-est moments caught on tape.

49. Black Out

An effortlessly tuneful number found early on the track list on triple-sided masterpiece Wowee Zowee (1995). Matador Records re-released this in 2006 as part of their expansive Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition, and a lovely little promo 7″ with fellow album track Extradition, were both previously unheard versions and both very top notch. It also included a poster based on a painting that artist Steve Keene originally designed for the album cover. “…like rattlesnakes walkin’.

48. We Are Underused

Something of a band singalong, or maybe a band theme song, its a very tongue in cheek and as weirdly ambiguous as the band’s principal songwriter Malkmus’ gets on this dinner-party-gone-wrong epic: “Let’s thank the host / You’ve been such a great host / The roast / Was just so perfectly prepared.” The loping interplay is signature Pavement on this Brighten the Corners standout.

47. Forklift

Malkmus rambles over a Spiral Stairs live favourite featuring fuzzy guitar (like a lot of their early material), an overdubbed electronic Kraftwerk-like sound with an infectious ba-ba-badada hook. Recorded essentially as a duo pre-Gary Young, pre-Slanted and Enchanted (features Jason Turner on drums), Forklift was a fine opener to their six-track Drag City 7″ single Demolition Plot J-7, released in 1990.  

46. Greenlander

It’s incredible a song such as this was relegated to B-side status (if that, I recall it was just a song from a magazine CD at one stage), considering the beautiful lilting tune and outstanding SM lyricism. Check the vivid imagery in these couplets, “On an icy island in north, in the woods beside the church / We can bury crimson lockets filled with dirt“, simply dazzling on this criminally little-known, bittersweet classic. 

45. Elevate Me Later

The first track here featured from the stunning Crooked Rain Crooked Rain (1994) breakthrough album and one of the greatest rock albums ever made. As great as their debut Slanted and Enchanted was, this album put Pavement on the map, and they started travelling in a different direction including clean production and, particularly on this track, insidiously catchy melodies.

44. Motion Suggests

The poignant and delicate Motion Suggests is one of the many golden moments on the 18-track, initially oblique Wowee Zowee, Pavement’s third album. Recorded in Memphis, its a less well-rounded album than its predecessors but ultimately more rewarding. 

43. False Skorpion

A case of a B-side not making the Malkmus-sequenced Wowee Zowee kitchen-sink track list. Pavement had struck upon a particularly rich vein of form and put nigh on everything they recorded on the album, but not this one. This experimental and “random” punky nugget is instead inserted into the Rattled By La Rush EP, and is loaded with attitude and squally aggression. Fucked-up faux-hardcore, it’s probably a first take. Best line: “Whenever you misdirect me mama / You’re misdirecting a person / You wouldn’t want to misdirect!” This EP also includes a fine song called Brink of the Clouds which can also be heard live in Australia in all it’s free-form, improv glory (Johnathon Peel!) with Candylad on the Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition. Well worth a listen, unlucky to miss the cut.

42. Unseen Power of the Pickett Fence

This Crooked Rain-era track was worked up in those sessions and included on No Alternative, a rock compilation album released in 1993 to benefit AIDS relief. The album featured original tracks and cover versions from bands who went on to define the alternative rock scene of the 1990s such as Matthew Sweet, The Breeders, the Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, and of course our heroes, Pavement. The song is about the band REM, their albums, band members, their impact on the rock scene of the 80’s, and songs: “Time After Time / Was my least favorite song!” Malkmus sums up this great band with the final line: “And we’re marching through Georgia! / And there stands R.E.M.”

41. Rattled by the Rush

“Caught my dad cryin’.” Something of a curve ball for listeners after Crooked Rain, this single off Wowee includes some whacked-out poetry: “Getting off on the candelabra / We call her Barbara / Breeding like larva / She rabble-rousing, dental surf combat / Get out those hardhats and sing us some scat“. It includes one of the best guitar solos of all time, and the tune will lurk around your head for days if not careful.

40. Maybe Maybe

This noisy oddball can be found on Pavement’s very first 7″ single Slay Tracks (1933-1969) recorded over a four hour session and released in 1989. An accomplished and confident, semi-atonal, punky lo-fi romp with some sloppy noisy guitar beauty underneath Malkmus screams and the repeated line “MaybeMaybeMaybeMaybeMaybe” while the percussion tries to keep up. Catchy as hell.  

39. Loretta’s Scars

How can I / How can I / How can I / Make my body shed for you?” Perfect Slanted and Enchanted (1992) album track and live staple with Malkmus’ speak-style melody and lyrics, somewhere between sardonic and oblique absurdisms, mixed deep over half-a-dozen buried guitar hooks: “From now on I can see the sun….

38. Old to Begin

One of Pavement’s finest and most cohesive moments on record. They were very comfortable as a band when they recorded Brighten the Corners, and as great they were when chaotic, there’s something magical about the gentle flow to this track and the sublime guitar interplay. This song was originally entitled Chevy and pops up on the Brighten the Corners: Nicene Creedence Edition (2008). Interestingly they kept the Malkmus screaming at the end of the original take.

37. Easily Fooled

The lines are blurry between Pavement’s EPs and singles, and this track appeared on the Rattled By La Rush EP and you can see why they called them slacker posterboys. This has Olympic-sized slackness values and is on the verge of toppling over at any given moment until it erupts into an extremely tuneful falsetto-soul chorus. 

36. Conduit for Sale!

The goofy charm of Slanted’s Conduit for Sale is the rock-out moment when a live Pavement would explode into a high-volume extravaganza, as Bob Nastonich takes the mic and screams: “I’m Tryin’ / I’m Tryin’ / I’m Tryin’ / I’m Tryin’ / I’m Tryin’ / I’m Try.” As simple and anthemic as that is, it still makes a good case for securing the most elaborate lyric on the album: “Imagine if you were Herr Barockter / Alias and nobleman / Son of son of sky, and of scion / Part of his rich inheritance parcelled and generous divorce, sentence forthwith being.” 

35. We Dance

Certainly a strange song to open an album with (Wowee Zowee), Malkmus sings in a faux-Brit accent a la Hunky Dory-era Bowie over lush acoustic guitars and running water. Even stranger are the lyrics: “There is no castration fear” and “Chim chim chim sing a song of praise“,  SM must have spent a lot of time listening to a particular John Coltrane record during the recording of Wowee Zowee, and for lyrical inspiration. 

34. Price Yeah!

Cryptic angst, non-existent production values, and verbal acrobatics abound on this feedback-splattered and infectious closer off Slay Tracks. Gary Young stars here with a driving beat.

33. Wanna Mess You Around

The noisy, one-and-a-half-minute punk libido of Wanna Mess You Around appeared on the five-track Shady Lane EP in 1997. The jet-fuelled riffing and light-hearted energy of this track is the only thing missing off Brighten the Corners.

32. Stereo

With its ruminations about the peculiar oration of Rush’s bassist/singer Geddy Lee, and referencing the Lone Ranger’s catchphrase “Hi Ho Silver Ride!“, Brighten’s opener is a knowing dig at their level of popularity at the time and full of sonic and lyrical detail that really cuts loose in the huge chorus. 

31. Zürich Is Stained

A first-take primitive recording with guitars that are barely in tune (actually they’re not in tune at all), but the exquisite country-vibe melody more than make up for it on this short-but-sweet ‘shrug’ of a classic from debut album Slanted and Enchanted

30. I Love Perth

A short song about Western Australia’s capital city, I Love Perth name checks Noise Addict, a decent little band from back in the day (Ben Lee was it?). This glorious song can be found on an EP called Pacific Trim (1996) featuring only Steve Malkmus and Steve West, making good use of studio time originally scheduled for a Silver Jews session, which the late great David Berman couldn’t make. The full band and extraordinary BBC in-studio version is seventy-one-seconds of pop perfection and must be heard to be believed. 

29. Newark Wilder

A different kind of song for Pavement at the time, this one is on Crooked Rain and the band would go on to explore these tuneful sounds, weird guitar tunings, and darker lyrical themes more thoroughly on their follow-up albums. Rarely played live, the stunning ‘lounge-jazz’ of Newark Wilder is an underrated treasure.

28. Carrot Rope

A happy pill of a tune and just a great pop song with just a hint of melancholy. The closing number on Terror Twilight, so essentially Pavement’s last ever song and what a  way to go out. Malkmus could write these in his sleep, and Pavement could effortlessly pull it off, he just chose not to very often. This has a terrific film clip of the boys fooling around in raincoats singing their three-part harmonies. Carrot Rope should’ve been a big hit. Written when on tour in Brisbane, Australia, reference to the cricket wicket keeper, as their hotel was on Vulture Street and they were listening to a lot of test match commentary at the time. Howzat?

27. No Tan Lines

Faux-bossa nova beat and bitchy lyrics, its the great Brighten the Corners non-album track. Infectious does not pay it the props it so deserves: “Princess with a cold killer instinct / Winked at me from across the ice rink / Leather uppers soft for the spins / But she gives it away without a rest.” It’s genius. A fruitful era, and you could make the argument that the leftovers compiled on the expanded edition are some of the band’s best ever material. 

26. Shady Lane

A top 40 hit in the UK, this Brighten the Corners track is wistful with a summer-y vibe, yet quite disarming in its beauty and jauntiness. A lovely video by Spike Jonez accompanied the track, featuring a headless Malk, and stands tall among the other clips the band made during its ten year career.   

25. Box Elder

This is the base of everything Pavement. Essentially the first thing SM and Spiral recorded with Gary Young, its off Slay Tracks. Soon after its release John Peel was playing it, and then was covered by the Wedding Present. People were excited about it. Fanzines were writing about them, and that’s how Box Elder broke Pavement. 

24. Texas Never Whispers

Opening track to the essential Watery, Domestic EP released in 1992 between Slanted and Crooked Rain. A transitional release moving towards a cleaner sound, although Gary Young was still on drums and the song opens with a huge blast of molten guitar distortion. While only containing four songs, Watery, Domestic is one of the best overall things Pavement ever recorded.

23. And Then

Rally around the parking lot.” Recorded during the Brighten the Corners sessions and ended up as The Hexx, another beast entirely, for their final album, the Nigel Godrich-produced Terror Twilight. This is a more immediate and careering performance. Wound up the B-side to the Carrot Rope 7″.  

22. Father to a Sister of Thought

Some wondrous pedal steel guitar from Wowee Zowee engineer Doug Easley (Cat Power, Jeff Buckley, Wilco) on this country-rock-thru-lo-fi leanings number. The majority of the album was recorded at his Easley Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, and just when you thought the song couldn’t get any better, a bluesy riff comes out of nowhere at the end. As for the video, its all check-shirts and cowboys-on-rollerblades.

21. Two States

The band’s indebtedness to The Fall was never more apparent than on guitarist Scott  Kannberg’s mesmerising Two States, a major highlight off Slanted and Enchanted and a strong contribution to the album. Despite the obvious debt to their heroes, it’s a lot of fun, and one the best shout-along songs in their catalogue: “40! Million! Daggers!“, includes a scything Malkmus guitar line.

20. Frontwards

“I am the only one searching for you / And if I get caught then the search is through.” The Watery, Domestic EP was Pavement’s last work featuring original drummer Gary Young and their first with bassist Mark Ibold and percussionist/keyboardist Bob Nastanovich. It finds Pavement focusing on songcraft over riffs, tunes over noise, and as displayed on the lumbering melody of this live staple, even in their transitional phase they were still untouchable. 

19. Spit on a Stranger

The finely-crafted opening track and lead single off the band’s final album Terror Twilight has a glassy-clean guitar pattern and some soaring Spiral Stairs lead guitar  floating below Malkmus’ melody, who’s voice still has the detached slacker quality, but this time there’s some vulnerability to it as he reaches up into his falsetto on each verse: “Whatever you feel / Whatever it takes.” 

18. Kennel District

Why didn’t I ask? / “Why didn’t I ask? / “Why didn’t I ask? / Why didn’t I?” This fuzzed-up anti-anthem is a mini-masterpiece and is one of two Spiral’s exemplary contributions to Wowee Zowee (the other being the underrated closer Western Homes). As catchy as anything the band recorded, it dissolves into a haze of distorted guitars. A clear highlight, and as good as anything Malkmus delivered on the brilliant sprawling album.

17. Harness Your Hopes 

This obscure and forgotten B-side, recorded during the sessions for 1997’s Brighten The Corners has become Pavement’s top song on Spotify. One of the best songs the band recorded, it  sounds “normal” or similar to other songs until you listen to the lyrics–which are some of SM’s best. The song has rocketed up the charts to become number one on Pavement’s Spotify page, ending up with over 30 million plays to date, seven million more than…….  

16. Cut Your Hair

……the enduring 90’s slacker anthem and Pavement’s best-selling single. As effortlessly cryptic as it is catchy, Cut Your Hair snidely attacks the importance of image in the music industry and had a tenuous dalliance with the mainstream in 1994. They knew that they could easily be the next big thing, but was it really what they wanted? With an atypical, unbalanced chord structure, playful thematic lyrics, and a who give a fuck video, it sums up the aesthetic of not just the band, but Gen X as a whole.

15. Range Life

This is the song where Malkmus languorously bitches on the Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots: “Out on tour the Smashing Pumpkins / Nature kids / I, they don’t have a function / I don’t understand what they mean / And I could really give a fuck / Stone Temple Pilots, they’re elegant bachelors / They’re foxy to me, are they foxy to you?
I will agree they deserve absolutely nothin’ / Nothin’ more than me.” It’s actually a beautifully emotional song with a plaintively aching melody and vocal, especially when Malkmus half-hums that final “Dreamin’ dream dream dream.” 

14. Half a Canyon

Can-esque Wowee standout where the band switches abruptly from a slow lurching jam to smeared warped electronics and into a demonic motorik freak-out halfway through. It’s all about the huge sparkling guitars, Malkmus never played better than he does here without soloing. 

13. Here

Malkmus ruminates on fame, “I was dressed for success / But success it never comes“, on this slow woozy ballad from Slanted which features SM and Spiral recording as a duo. The effectiveness of the track lies in the resigned guitar note picked throughout under a beautiful vocal melody and intricate lyrics. “And I’m the only one who laughs / At your jokes when they are so bad / And the jokes are always bad.”

12. Silence Kid

Classic rock opener off Crooked Rain ushering in a breathtaking leap forward, production-wise, from what came before. This set the scene for the band’s breakthrough, and after a false start the track settles into that buoyant and endlessly joyous riff (with cowbell!). If you listen carefully you can hear the lead vocal is double-tracked, and awesome bass from Ibold. As is their want, “Silence Kit” careens off track mid-song and slows down where you get Malkmus’ admission that he’s “screwing myself with my hand.”

11. Grounded 

He foaled a swollen daughter in the sauna / Playing contract bridge / They’re soaking up the fun or doing blotters / I don’t know which, which, which!” Regular live opener for the band, this sinister Wowee Zowee centrepiece revolves around a slow-moving three note de-tuned guitar figure, a loping beat, and Malkmus’ seemingly endless flair for catchy epigrams and wondrous capacity for tightly knotted wordsmithary. On the marvellous Slow Century DVD package, it includes a live performance from Manchester 1999 where guitar-God Malk plays the guitar Hendrix-style over his head

10. Gold Soundz 

Pavement followed up Watery, Domestic with Crooked Rain: their masterwork and the absolute zenith of ’90s American indie rock. A major highlight on the album being this shimmering pop single. The charming video features the band in Santa Claus suits pursuing a stuffed chicken of course, and it fittingly opens things on Quarantine the Past: The Best of Pavement (2010).

9. Summer Babe (Winter Version)

The bumpy dream-pop of Summer Babe is the definitive Pavement song. The last time I saw Malkmus and the Jicks perform, this was the one and only Pavement track they played, and when they unexpectedly rolled out Summer Babe as the encore, all hell broke loose. This instant classic has vivid lyrics and is appealing in its melodic simplicity. Also popped up as a ‘single mix’ on Westing (By Musket and Sextant) which compiles all tracks on their first three singles.

8. Fight This Generation

The scattered Wowee Zowee found Pavement at their loosest, funniest and most willing to do whatever pops into their heads – unfocused but filled with mystery. None more so than on this meandering late-album cut that has an almighty genre-defying changeup mid-song, the band not bothering with such troupes as a chorus, bridge, or meaning. 

7. Stop Breathin’

The glacial track (perhaps) aligns tennis as a metaphor for a terrible breakup, and deliberate double-entendres abound: “Got struck by the first volley / Of the war in the courts / Never held my serve.” Pavement’s signature guitar tunings sounding off-kilter but still uniquely melodic. The slowly intensifying mid-song jam on this track is perhaps Pavement’s finest moment on record. 

6. Shoot the Singer (1 Sick Verse)

Opening with the abstract line: “Someone took in these pants“, this Watery, Domestic closer is full of raw energy and texture and has a subtle Velvet’s feel, finishing with a loping, jangly electric guitar riff and infectious ba ba bada ba-ba-ba hook. I remember hearing this live in Sydney in 1994 and making it my life’s mission to hunt it down. Malkmus sings the final lyric over and over: “Don’t expect” like a mantra.

5. AT&T 

On Pavement’s White Album (the erratic masterpiece Wowee Zowee), they turned their back on potential pop stardom, exemplified on the scattershot AT&T. It is Pavo at their most peculiarly poppy, idiosyncratic and sublime. It starts relatively sensibly with the strumming, “Maybe someone’s going to save me / My heart is made of gravy / And the laps I swim from lunatics don’t count“, but goes off the rails very quickly at the chorus, “Whenever, whenever, whenever, whenever, whenever / Whenever I feel fine“, where SM doesn’t even bother singing properly, the song slows down, speeds up; its all over the map, finally finishes up by collapsing in on itself, a seething mess, as Malkmus screams maniacally. A wild glorious ride.

4. Transport is Arranged

Pavement made a quasi-straightforward, potentially marketable follow-up to Wowee Zowee in Brighten the Corners, and this mid-tempo track with its sausage-link-strings of non-sequiturs is that remarkable album’s toppermost pinnacle. Structurally exquisite, the mood of the track is mellow and conventional, seemingly addressing the dynamic between relationships and life on the road, “A voice coach taught me to sing / He couldn’t teach me to love“, until two minutes in, the system breaks down entirely as destabilised rock yields to blistering magisterial prog riffage. 

3. Give it a Day

A casual yet killer pop song written and recorded at short notice in a day while making good use of scheduled Silver Jews studio time, it shows up on the essential Pacific Trim EP. Preceded by two years of touring around the globe, this recording only consists of Malkmus and Steve West and marks the end of their irreverent stage as they would go on to record the measured Brighten the Corners the following year, but the enjoyable and winding Give it a Day remains one of Malkmus’ best tunes.

2. Trigger Cut / Wounded Kite at :17

Lies and betrayals / Fruit-covered nails / Electricity and lust“, it was the first Pavement song I ever heard, that’s probably why it is so elevated on this list, but it shone like a glistening beacon out of the indie underground at the time. The standout track on Slanted and Enchanted possesses everything that’s good about Pavement: distinct delivery, undeniably wonderful songwriting, bizarre lyrics, stripped-back production and an irrepressibly catchy hook. I saw them, front and centre, at the ANU refectory in 1992 with about twelve other people, my mate picking them up from Canberra airport. It was great to chat to Mark and Gary post-gig but I still don’t know what chord shapes SM was playing on this track.

1. Debris Slide

The only track to appear here from their 10″ EP Perfect Sound Forever (1991) is number one on our Top 50 Pavement songs: the seething, primitive beast that is Debris Slide. It may be obscure, it may pay a debt to the great Mark E Smith, but Pavement fans would be more than familiar with this live favourite’s rapid fire drumming, the “ba ba ba da da Debris Slide!” chorus, the spiky ramshackle chaos, and sludge-wrapped one-minute-and-fifty-six-seconds of rocking perfection: “Eyes in the socket / Eyes are in the socket / So I’m gonna sock it.

Posted in Pavement, Stephen Malkmus, Top 50 Songs | 8 Comments

John Lennon 1980

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Posted in Images, John Lennon, On This Day | Leave a comment

#13: The Clash – Sandinista! (1980)

Here at The Press we take a look at expansive double albums (in this case triple) and trim it back to a single, filler-free listening experience, negating the need to reach for the skip button or needle repositioning. In some cases these albums can potentially benefit from a little tightening up. It is certainly the case for UnDoubled #13: The Clash’s rasta-punk Triple LP, rule book ripper, Sandinista! from 1980, the next album in our Double Albums: UnDoubled series.

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The Clash – Sandinista! UnTripled mp3

With each album over their short-lived career The Clash expanded their horizons and developed musically and lyrically, however the four-piece pulled off something exceptional in 1979 with an extraordinary career-best double album landmark that broke their punk shackles: London Calling. A certified masterpiece, it proved to be a difficult album to follow. Critics and fans adore it to this day, and for good reason, and it was on this album where the band’s love of reggae, ska and R&B showed through. Chart success accompanied the album on both sides of the Atlantic, and on 12 December 1980 they issued the ‘anything goes’ follow-up, Sandinista!, once again striving to expand their repertoire. The 36-track triple album certainly did that – and then some. Was it arrogance? Was it an over-abundance of creativity? Was it a misunderstanding of their record contract? Famously, it sold for not much more than a single disc, and in the end unfortunately did not reduce their obligations to Columbia by three albums.

The sheer volume and variety of styles spread across this daring and sprawling, genre-defying, patience-testing mess of an album is mind-boggling, and in retrospect, thoroughly confusing. From children’s choirs, straight ahead rock, reggae, dub reggae, world music, jazz, dance beats, gospel, rockabilly rave-ups, calypso, rap, hip-hop, it even touches on some ill-advised country & western elements – in a word: exhausting.

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Case in point: Side five includes a sound collage played backwards and dubbed, and side six is where it really goes off the rails. It includes five dub versions of songs we’ve already sat through, and another, a reworked track from their debut LP (kids singing Career Opportunities). Unsurprisingly a real producer was not present on the sessions (Sandinista! is produced by The Clash), and the album was received with mixed reviews upon release.

Standard Line: There is a good single-album length LP lurking in the murk and indulgence of Sandinista! A cliché, sure, but in this case, a truism – it may also be edited down to an awful double album. Seriously though, the album, nevertheless, does contain classic gems and some very interesting material.

Keepers include the funky opener (The Magnificent Seven), and its ultra-funky doppelganger Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice), the blistering Eddy Grant (via The Equals) cover Police on My Back, a couple of traditional Clash songs penned by secret-weapon Mick Jones (Somebody Got Murdered, Up in Heaven) proving the band still had one foot in its punk roots. There’s also some all time great moments on a more politically oriented Side Two from the super catchy Charlie Don’t Surf to show-stopper Something About England, notably several stoney Joe Strummer grooves such as The Equaliser, The Leader, Broadway and the jubilant politically charged anthem Washington Bullets.

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Significant omissions include the uninspired non-hit lead single The Call Up, the dreary Motown-inspired pop singalong with Jones’ missus Ellen Foley, Hitsville UK, and unsurprisingly the bizarre Topper Headon-sung Ivan Meets GI Joe. Gone too are multiple heavy dub, echoey, Jamaican-style remixes of songs found elsewhere on the album (eg: Version Pardner and Shepherd’s Delight, a lulling, slowed-down take on Police & Thieves) that are not up to scratch.

With the greatest respect of what this all-time great band was trying to do, there are too many poorly engineered and produced songs where the effects do not resonate. Nobody seemed to care if the overdubs made sense, or if the mixes were coherent; and it certainly sounds like no one was insisting that a song be fully completed even before the tape was rolling. The band wanted to do it all, and damn it if they didn’t try, but Sandinista! is not one of those albums where it is glorious in part because it’s a sprawling mess, warts and all.

Sandinista! UnTripled compiles two sides of six tracks each (the original album has six songs on each side), the extravaganza now makes sense, and importantly, is a little more digestible. Try it, take it in the spirit of the UnDoubled series. Sandinista! has now reduced it to a tight, thematically cohesive 49-minute LP. Who knows, it may have even been their second-best album.

Side One:

  1. The Magnificent Seven
  2. Police On My Back
  3. Somebody Got Murdered
  4. Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)
  5. Junco Partner
  6. Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)

Side Two:

  1. The Leader
  2. Broadway
  3. Washington Bullets
  4. Something About England
  5. Charlie Don’t Surf
  6. The Equaliser

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Further Reading:

SANDANISTA! – THE CLASH (1980) – Pop Spots: ALBUM COVER LOCATION – Camley Street (under the railroad tracks from St. Pancras Station), London. Photo by Pennie Smith.

Posted in Clash, The, Double Albums: Un-Doubled, Downloads, European Rock Pilgrimage, On This Day | Tagged | 16 Comments

The Beatles – The Final Images

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This is the last ever photo of The Beatles. The Beatles broke up 50 years ago, and their music remains embedded in the fabric of pop culture. By the time Paul McCartney sued his fellow Beatles, and their parent company Apple Corps, in London’s High Court of Justice in December 1970 to dissolve the band, their relationship had taken on the emotional pallor of a family bond that had gone very south.

Enjoy these images of The Beatles from their last photo shoot which took place on Friday, August 22, 1969 at John and Yoko’s home in Tittenhurst Park two days after their last recording session together. The photographers were Ethan Russell and Monte Fresco, with additional pictures taken by The Beatles’ assistant Mal Evans.

Paul McCartney’s wife Linda was also there, also taking footage on Paul’s 16mm camera, as well as Yoko. The final photos consisted of various images of the band in different places in and around the property, with Linda and Yoko also appearing in some of the behind-the-scenes shots (and Paul’s dog Martha, and a couple of donkeys). Also one of these shot was taken for the album cover of the good little compilation Hey Jude released in February 1970.

George doesn’t look too happy on the day. Also a good studio pic while recording Abbey Road.

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Posted in Album Covers, Beatles, The, George Harrison, Images, John Lennon, On This Day, Paul McCartney | Leave a comment

Bob Dylan and The Band – The Best of the Basement Tapes

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Haven’t trawled through the entire Bootleg Series Volume 11, six CD box set of Bob Dylan and The Band Complete Basement Tapes as yet? Here at The Press we’ve done the hard yards for you and compiled the best 17 tracks.

Bob Dylan and The BandThe Best of the Basement Tapes (1967) mp3

It was the birth of lo-fi. Dylan and the Band holed up in Big Pink, West Saugerties, New York from June to October 1967 to record a number of original songs, traditional numbers, and covers. The results were rough. Over time, the murk created its own mystique. The results were ready, and most importantly the results were brilliant.

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After floating around in bootleg form for years, a selection of those recordings were eventually released by The Band (and Dylan) in 1975 as The Basement Tapes which inexplicably included some new (very good) tracks recorded by The Band, but nothing to do with these sessions. Then in 2014 the official Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete collection was released, containing over 100 songs and alternate takes, snippets, goofs, and simply majestic moments from these famous home recording sessions.

Here is an alternative take on The Basement Tapes – a carefully selected and sequenced 17 track “Best Of”, containing the creme of the crop – the brilliant music these guys created, which has only recently seen the light of day in officially released format. Get Your Rocks Off to this.

  1. She’s On My Mind Again
  2. I’m Your Teenage Prayer
  3. The Auld Triangle
  4. Young But Daily Growing
  5. Tupelo
  6. Still in Town
  7. Big River (Take 2)
  8. Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad
  9. 900 Miles From My Home
  10. King of France
  11. My Woman She’s A-Leavin’
  12. Get Your Rocks Off
  13. All American Boy
  14. One Man’s Loss
  15. Dress it Up, Better Have it All
  16. Mary Lou, I Love You Too
  17. Silent Weekend

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Recorded in The Band’s shared house back in the late-60s, the famed Big Pink. The basement was accessible by way of a garage door out the front. On one of the reel-to-reel tapes keyboardist Garth Hudson wrote “Bob Cellar.” But “The Cellar Tapes” doesn’t sound as good, does it?

Posted in Albums That Never Were, Band, The, Bob Dylan, Downloads, Mixtapes | 11 Comments

Rediscover Live Music: Top 20 Live Albums

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Live music has been in short supply, so now is a good time to take a double-gatefold look at 20 of the greatest live LP’s of yesteryear to atone for all the cancelled gigs we were supposed to see in 2020. 

What once was a pleasurable and common occurrence, now seems like a distant memory.  This might be a minor inconvenience in the big scheme of things, but these hard times have shut off an essential part of our real lives. So forget the shaky footage recorded on your iPhone, immerse yourself in these 20 classic live albums.

20. The Birthday Party – It’s Still Living (1985)

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Recorded in 1982 at the Astor Theatre in Melbourne, The Birthday Party’s ferocious It’s Still Living encapsulates everything this frightening band was about: on-stage violence, shock, volume and wild rock and roll. The Birthday Party wrestle with continual technical difficulties, disfiguring the performance suitably; but they were never about perfection and polish. Nick Cave sounds unquestionably demented, as do the whole band, incorporating moments of dark humour between tracks: when introducing ‘Release the Bats’, Cave says “This is the song you love the most, and we hate the most”. The band, including guitarists Mick Harvey and Rowland Howard, provide a blistering sonic assault throughout this fitting live document of one of the most challenging and important post-punk bands of the early 1980s.

19. Miles Davis – Live Evil (1971)

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Released after Miles’ exciting and forward thinking seminal masterpiece Bitches Brew (1969), Live-Evil (Live spelt backwards) is an accessible and important part of his groundbreaking electric period (1968-1975). On this (mostly) live outing, Miles has gone full-on funky with a vengeance. Both unsettling and steamy, Live-Evil delivers two hours of pounding bass, spastic grooves and charged voodoo-funk; also notable for being the first album where Miles played his trumpet through a wah pedal – an obvious Hendrix influence. Monstrous opener ‘Sivad’ (Davis spelt backwards), the rhythmic freak-out of ‘Funky Tonk’, and the chic ‘Selim’ (Miles spelt backwards), are enough to make this album essential listening for anyone mildly interested in blistering jazz/rock fusion of the early 1970’s.

18. Jane’s Addiction – Jane’s Addiction (1987)

A sensation on the mid-80s LA club scene, Jane’s Addiction’s live debut album was this self-titled affair (a rare thing in the history of rock, a live debut) and recorded over a single night at the Roxy; punk’s original headquarters in LA, for virtually nothing. Several of the tracks appearing here (the rollicking ‘Pigs in Zen’ and their masterpiece ‘Jane Says’) would end up on their first studio album Nothing’s Shocking (1988). Elsewhere live materiel includes scorching Velvet’s (‘Rock and Roll’) and Stones (‘Sympathy for the Devil’) covers. It’s hard to believe this album came out in 1987, and love them or hate them, Jane’s Addiction offered an important contribution to ’90s alternative rock scene after the mostly hideous pomp and gaudiness of hair metal in 1980’s.

17. Talking Heads – The Name of This Band is Talking Heads (1982)

Talking Heads first live album, The Name of This Band is Talking Heads features materiel collated from their four excellent studio albums thus far, beginning with their debut ‘77, capturing the band when they were still something of an underground attraction. Heavy on the Afro-meets-electronica rhythms of the Eno-produced career-high masterpiece Remain in Light (1980), their show included a large ensemble: percussionists, backup singers and a scintillating Adrian Belew on guitar. This double album displays the band’s musical and creative growth more so than the much-heralded Stop Making Sense (1984) outing which is missing the scope and variety found here.

16. Thin Lizzy – Live and Dangerous (1978)

Bursting at the seams with raw energy and power, Thin Lizzy’s commanding live album was released in the mix of their hot streak of mid-70s albums (Fighting, Jailbreak and Bad Reputation spring to mind) and recorded over a number of dates between 1976 and 1977 on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite producer Tony Visconti’s ‘post-production’ studio fine-tuning, Live and Dangerous resembles a monstrous live classic in every sense of the word, and is the essential document from these under-appreciated Irish hard rock legends.

15. The Band – Rock of Ages (1972)

Rock of Ages was originally a 2-LP set compiled from recordings made during The Band’s series of shows in late 1971 at the Academy of Music in New York City where they were augmented by a five-man horn section, with arrangements by New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint and engineer Phil Ramone. The material consists of tracks lifted from their previous four albums, and sounds like a lovely, warm-hearted party, closing the chapter on the first half of their dazzling career.

14. Wilco – Kicking Television (2005)

This album contains material taken from four Wilco shows at Chicago’s Vic Theatre in 2005 and captures a stellar band in full flight, summarising their decade-long career as well as showcasing their latest album (2004’s tremendous A Ghost is Born). Featuring their strongest ever line-up (including new avant guitar-wiz Nels Cline), Kicking Television parades Wilco’s live strengths by delivering some of their best tracks via legitimate noise experiments (‘Spiders Kidsmoke’), and gorgeously well-written ballads (‘Jesus, etc.’). A uniformly strong testament from one of rock’s most engaging live acts.

13. Bill Evans – Sunday at the Village Vanguard (1961)

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Simply one of the best piano-bass-drums jazz recordings of all time, and a companion piece to the masterful Waltz for Debbie (also 1961), the hushed dynamics of Sunday at the Village Vanguard was recorded over five sessions and was to be the final recording featuring his trio, sadly bass player Scott LaFaro was tragically killed in a car accident shortly after the album’s release. Pure and thoughtful musicality permeates this quietly brilliant recording from one of the great jazz pianists.

12. David Bowie – Stage (1978)

David Bowie’s groundbreaking Low and “Heroes” world tour with arguably his greatest ever ensemble is captured over several dates in the US on this live outing: Stage. His long time rhythm section ‘Raw Moon’ (Carlos Alomar, Dennis Davis, George Murray) and guitarist Adrian Belew among others, join Bowie as he immerses himself in Euro-expressionist, synth-based music. Originally released with the songs in chronological order, since reissued with correct order in tact from the concert-opening majesty of the six-minute instrumental Warszawa, to the surprising electronic reworking’s of a handful of Ziggy classics, Stage finds Bowie at his bravest, artistically. He was in career-best form as a vocalist too.

11. Mott the Hoople – Live (1974)

Released at the peak of the band’s popularity, Mott’s Live was the only official live document of the band, a world-class live act, although the 30th Anniversary reissue has rectified many of the original issues that marred this collection such as song selection (mostly B-sides and album filler), and limited materiel (eight tracks and one lengthy medley) from two classic shows: New York City (Gershwin Theatre) and London (Hammersmith Odeon supported by Queen). Despite these shortfalls, the album captures one the great British 70s rock and roll bands ever to don thigh-high yellow plastic boots, H-shaped guitars, and permanent shades.

10. Lou Reed – Take No Prisoners (1978)

Lou Reed’s contribution to the double live album extravaganza of the 70s was this controversial Bottom Line club date, touring his masterpiece Street Hassle (1978) and there’s not an overdub in sight.  Take No Prisoners is a crisp sounding comedy/spoken-word affair (Lenny Bruce an obvious influence), capturing for better or for worse Lou at his chattiest, wittiest, and ass-holiest, delivering 15-minute monologues over some of his best known materiel, accompanied by his white-hot big ensemble of the day. 

9. The Doors – Alive She Cried (1983)

Released during the bands renaissance period of hyper-popularity in the 1980s, Alive She Cried consists of materiel recorded between 1968 and 1970. It includes two tremendous covers (an R rated version of Them’s ‘Gloria’, and a loose rendition of Willie Dixon’s ‘Little Red Rooster’) and five originals, including a colossal 10-minute version of Light My Fire, a rollicking You Make Me Real, and the blues-experiment The Wasp from their final album LA Woman, spanning their all-too-brief career. The album is succinct and brief and like 1968’s Absolutely Live, now utterly redundant due to many reissues and re-released live packages throughout the decades.

8. The Velvet Underground – 1969: Live (1974)

Among all of their live releases (and there are so many), this album represents the finest live recording from the late-60s era Velvet Underground lineup: Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, Moe Tucker and Doug Yule. Essentially recorded by a fan and released long after the band had dissolved, 1969: Live shows the band still had plenty of vivacity, sounding tight and alive on every track (Reed’s funk-vamp guitar playing was never better). This amateur yet definitive recorded document captures this highly influential band at arguably their live peak.

7. Kiss – Alive! (1975)

Kiss relied on their loud bombastic live show to win over the record buying public and in 1975 with the release of this impeccable double live set win them over they did. Alive! launched the band from cult support-band attraction to global superstars, and remains their most essential album in any format. The material consists of well-selected tracks lifted from their three muddy, low-budget, low-selling early albums of 1974/5 (Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, Dressed to Kill), but there’s not a dud track over the 2-LPs, and even the Peter Criss drum solo has its charms. The subsequent mega-publicity and constant touring saw Kiss headlining sold out arenas around the States within a year.

6. The Who – Live at Leeds (1970)

Coming hot on the heels of the band’s success at Woodstock and rock opera Tommy (1969), Live at Leeds’ distinctive brown cover, designed to look like a bootleg, is a tour-de-force of dexterity and power from one of the greatest live bands of all time. The album (originally a six track LP) manages to harness The Who’s kinetic energy and volcanic on-stage performance, capturing the band at a pivotal moment in their history, and delivering in spades

5. Iggy & the Stooges – Metallic KO (1976)

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Something of a semi-official bootleg for years, the definitive 12-track version of Iggy and the Stooges’ Metallic KO is the only rock album where you can actually hear beer bottles smashing against guitars as the audience-baiting Iggy Pop (“you can suck my ass you biker faggot sissies”) delivers the band’s final performance to a hostile Michigan Palace audience in Detroit. At the time Lester Bangs called it “a documentation of the Iggy holocaust at its most nihilistically out of control” and he wasn’t far off. It’s an awesome horror movie of a rock show, and as good as live rock and roll gets.

4. Led Zeppelin – How the West Was Won (2003)

Recorded from a couple of 1972 Californian shows, these tapes circulated for years as bootlegs before being compiled by Jimmy Page and receiving official release in 2003. Far superior to Zep’s official live document The Song Remains the Same (1976), How the West Was Won perfectly captures the ferocity, grace and improvisation of their live shows to tape. It has everything a live Led Zeppelin album should contain: massive guitars, gigantic drums and an ethereal energy glazing timeless classics.

3. The Allman Brothers – Live at the Fillmore East (1971)

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Recorded over three nights at the Fillmore East in New York City in early 1971, this live double LP with its seven lengthy songs spread over four vinyl sides epitomises the Allmans extended Southern rock jams at their most elastic (‘Whipping Post’), bluesy (‘Statesboro Blues’) and jazzy (‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’), and remains one of the best live albums in rock history.

2. The Rolling Stones – Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! (1970)

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Mostly put together from two Madison Square Garden concerts in late 1969, this outstanding live document is nothing short of the definitive Stones live recording. Their first tour with new guitarist Mick Taylor, and the first album where he appeared fully and prominently, the band at the time had pretty much everything to prove, and deliver they do. The nine-minute blues-grind workout of Midnight Rambler being worth the price of admission alone. The album title was taken from the Blind Boy Fuller song, and the cover design inspired by Dylan’s song Visions of Johanna.

1. Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series, Vol 6: Live 1964 (2004)

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Officially released in 2004 as part of the ever expanding Bootleg Series, but available as a bootleg for decades, this performance at the Philharmonic Hall in New York City touring his Another Side.. album is quite simply Dylan’s greatest ever recorded acoustic performance. Introducing for the first time remarkable tracks from the forthcoming album Bringing it All Back Home (Mr Tambourine Man, Gates of Eden and It’s Alright Ma), this recording captures a young Dylan at arguably his artistic pinnacle, masterfully performing folk, blues and rock with the effortless confidence, gravity and humour of a seasoned performer.

Posted in Allman Brothers, The, Band, The, Bill Evans, Birthday Party, The, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Doors, The, Gigs, Ian Hunter, Iggy Pop, Jane's Addiction, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Lou Reed, Miles Davis, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, The, Stooges, The, Talking Heads, Thin Lizzy, Top 20 Live Albums, Velvet Underground, The, Who, The, Wilco | 5 Comments

More Album Cover Outtakes

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Andy Warhol’s diary entry for Tuesday, April 12, 1977. “Mick wants me to do the cover on his next album. I’m trying to think of ideas, how to do “Rolling Stones.” The original Warhol design was without words, Andy believed that Jagger’s image alone would be enough for it to be recognised as a Rolling Stones album. It didn’t turn out that way.

The Rolling Stones’ Love You Love double album is perhaps remembered more for the cover art created by Andy Warhol than for any of the songs it includes, and the story about the title is not how it came to be so much as how it came to be written on the cover.

The Stones have a long history of album covers that leave the band’s name and album title off the cover, from their first two albums (1964 and 1965), Hot Rocks (1971), It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (1974), and A Bigger Bang (2005) to name a handful. Love You Live was to have done the same thing in 1977.

The double live album was recorded in Los Angeles, London, Paris and Toronto during the tour for 1976’s Black and Blue album, and in retrospect it’s an album that captures the transition of the Stones from a lean rock band to accomplished showmen. Showmen may not be as compelling as rockers, but they do know their art as Jagger and Warhol had collaborated previously on one of the most iconic album artworks of rock music history: Sticky Fingers (1971).

For the photo session Jagger rented a house in the East Hamptons of New York State during the summer of 1977 and Warhol took some of the polaroids of the Stones there and some at the Factory address at 860 Broadway in New York. Mick’s daughter Jade was there, as it is her hand Mick is “biting” on the cover.

A contact sheet of 11 photographs includes some but not all of the photographs used for the album and two made it on to the album cover: Jagger biting Jade’s hand and the Stones biting each other.

Warhol then highlighted features of Jagger’s face and Jade’s hand by outlining them a black felt tip pen. The hand-drawn thick block letter titles across the front in a script-like font were added by Mick Jagger, to Warhol’s dismay and anger:

I told Jerry [Hall] I thought Mick had ruined the Love You Live cover I did for them by writing all over it – it’s his handwriting and he wrote so big. The Kids who buy the album would have a good piece of art if he hadn’t spoiled it.”

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It did not prevent Warhol from attending the release party thrown by the band at the New York club Trax on September 27, 1977.

A hand-painted billboard of the original cover design, sans Jagger’s lettering, as Warhol preferred, was installed on Sunset Blvd along with the inner gatefold collage.

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Posted in Album Covers, Images, Rolling Stones, The | 11 Comments

MainMan Podcast

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MainMan are compiling a fascinating series exploring the history of the record label, which was a rights management organisation formed by entrepreneur and impresario Tony Defries that helped to develop the careers of many artistes including Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Mick Ronson, Mott the Hoople, Ian Hunter and David Bowie.

With behind the scenes stories from those who lived and breathed the heady excesses of the period the podcast delves in to the MainMan archive to present an evocative walk on the wild side.

Half a century ago an incredible journey began when Tony Defries met David Robert Jones aka Bowie. David was at a very low point in his career and was seeking a saviour to help him escape the theatrical mime, vaudeville niche he was trapped in and achieve the rock superstardom he craved. Together they ‘sophisticated the Barnum and Bailey routines by adding the gloss of intellectual pretence and the modish exaggeration of theatre’. Melody Maker 1974

Catch up on the episodes or visit the excellent MainMan website.

Episode Twenty One

Michael Oberman recalls David Bowie’s first visit to America in 1971.

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Episode Twenty

In this episode Dana Gillespie continues reading excerpts from her memoirs Weren’t Born a Man that recalls her MainMan years, tracing Bowie’s career up through Diamond Dogs, The Thin White Duke and his Berlin years.

Episode Nineteen

Dana Gillespie continues reading from her memoirs. These have actually been some of the best episodes in the MainMan series thus far. I like her style, recounting moments such as her single Andy Warhol, polaroids, that night at the Café Royale in Regent Street, and of course Bowie, all in good humour and her self-deprecating style.

Episode Eighteen

Dana Gillespie reads from her memoirs Weren’t Born a Man and recalls her MainMan years, when she wrote and recorded with Bowie, and had a damn fine time!

Episode Seventeen

In this episode Tony Defries continues to tell the story behind the release of Bowie’s third album The Man Who Sold the World, which was released in America 50 years ago in November 1970 on Mercury Records.

Episode Sixteen

The Man Who Sold The World – 50th Anniversary. Recently reissued as Metrobolist, the originally-intended title with an extraordinary new mix. Strongly recommend given it a good listen. It’s a new album!

The original running order that Bowie submitted to Mercury USA. This didn’t please him of course and David was very upset that the gothic nursery rhyme ‘After All’ hadn’t been maintained as the last song on the album. New cover, new mix…why not go with his original running order? I still like the mighty ‘Width of a Circle’ as the album opener.

Side One

The Supermen
Saviour Machine
Running Gun Blues
She Shook Me Cold
The Man Who Sold the World

Side Two

Black Country Rock
Width of a Circle
All the Madmen
After All

Episode Fifteen

Mime legend Lindsay Kemp recalls his work with David Bowie, including the famous gig at the Rainbow Theatre in August 1972.

Episode Fourteen

More Bowie, Bolan, Iggy and the birth of Glam.

Episode Thirteen

Bowie, Bolan and the birth of Glam.

Episode Twelve

Photographer Mick Rock talks about collaborating with David Bowie and taking that now infamous photo of Bowie and Ronno at the Oxford Town Hall in 1972.

Episode Eleven

Tony Visconti and Angie Bowie recall the early days of The Hype and the groundbreaking gig at Chalk Farm’s The Roundhouse.

Episode Ten

Some of the early visitors to Haddon Hall in South London’s Beckenham, recall their artistic adventures.

Episode Nine

Defries explains the influences for David’s early songs.

Episode Eight

Ronno: Defries explains Mick Ronson’s enormous impact on Bowie’s music, not to mention his ability to improvise, also displayed on his work with Dylan on stage during the Rolling Thunder Revue.

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Episode Seven

Defries leads an escape strategy to freedom, fame and fortune.

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Episode Six

Defries explains how Ziggy became a star…..

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Episode Five

Tony Defries explains how he deconstructed David, giving him the freedom to become ‘Bowie’.

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Episode Four

Dana Gillespie describes her adventures when the MainMan team moved to New York City.

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Episode Three

Dana Gillespie explains how she met and then collaborated with David Bowie.

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Episode Two

Tony Zanetta ‘Z’ tells how he introduced David Bowie to Andy Warhol in New York in September 1971.

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Episode One

Tony Zanetta ‘Z’ tells how he first met David Bowie.

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Posted in David Bowie, Downloads, European Rock Pilgrimage, Ian Hunter, Iggy Pop, Images, Lou Reed, Mainman, Mick Ronson, Podcasts | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Bowie’s Pin Ups

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Two Hours Of ‘Original’ Songs David Bowie Covered In His Early Career.

In this very special episode of Beat Orgy, RRR’s Steve Cross takes us through the original versions of the songs that David Bowie covered through his golden period from early ’70s and early ’80s. He also played the entirety of the 1973 covers album Pin Ups as the original songs, along with plenty of other material Bowie later covered.

You can listen to the entire show: simply click here on RRR’s website.

TRACKS

Amsterdam

The Belgian artist Jacques Brel recorded this dramatic live version at the L’Olympia,  Paris in 1964. This song appears on Scott Walker’s first solo album Scott (1967) and is possibly where Bowie heard it and recorded it for the BBC in February 1970 hosted by John Peel. Also the B-side to 1973’s single Sorrow.

Almost Grown

The B-side to Chuck Berry’s Little Queenie single from 1959, Bowie recorded it at a BBC Peel session in 1971.

Fill Your Heart

Obscure singer-songwriter and comedy sketch writer Biff Rose released this single in 1968. Bowie’s version is faithful to the original, covering it on the Hunky Dory (1971) album. More listenable than Tiny Tim’s version, the B-side to his Tiptoe Through the Tulips.

It Ain’t Easy

Bowie may or may not have covered the Ron Davies 1970 original on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972), as it had also been covered by Three Dog Night who had a hit with it in 1970, but more likely Long John Baldry’s 1971 version from his album of the same name.

I’m Waiting for My Man

Bowie recorded this 1967 Velvet’s classic at the BBC in January 1972 and played it regularly during the Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane period. He even recorded it in 1967 as part of the Riot Squad – known to be the first ever cover of a Velvet Underground song.

White Light/White Heat

Bowie covered The Velvet Underground’s title track to their 1968 album at a BBC Peel session in May 1972, and never appeared on a Bowie studio album however it was a live regular, appearing on Ziggy Stardust the Motion Picture (1983) recorded live at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973.

My Death

A 1959 Jacques Brel track (La Mort) that Bowie regularly performed live in the early ’70s, appearing on Ziggy Stardust the Motion Picture and Live at Santa Monica. Probably based on Scott Walker’s immensely dramatic version, again off his Scott album.

Round and Round

Originally slated for the Ziggy Stardust album, this Chuck Berry original from 1958 (B-side to Johnny Be Good) was covered by Bowie in 1971, eventually surfacing as a B-side to Aladdin Sane’s Drive-In Saturday in 1973. It was the final song of the final Ziggy Stardust show at the Hammersmith on 3 July 1973, although it was cut from the subsequent concert film (allegedly at the orders of Jeff Beck).

Let’s Spend the Night Together 

Bowie recorded this 1967 Stones classic and placed it on Aladdin Sane in 1973 as well as issuing it as a single in the US. Ironically the Stones would later cover Bowie’s glammed-up spoof.

The next 12 tracks are the original versions of tracks all from Bowie’s covers album Pin Ups, recorded and released at his commercial peak in 1973, paying tribute to all of the bands among his favourites from the ’64–67′ period of the London club scene.

Rosalyn

Recorded in France with an expanded and reworked Spiders lineup, this storming album opener is a faithful re-creation of the riotous original by The Pretty Things, their debut single from 1964.

Here Comes the Night

Written by Bert Berns and performed by Them with Van Morrison on vocals in 1965. Lulu recorded the first version of this track.

I Wish You Would 

A song originally recorded by Chicago blues musician Billy Boy Arnold in 1955 and covered by The Yardbirds as their debut single in 1964 with Eric Clapton on lead guitar.

See Emily Play

Pink Floyd’s mighty 1967 second hit single, Syd Barret was a massive influence on Bowie in the early 70s as Hunky Dory would attest.

Everything’s Alright

Bowie’s version on Pin Ups is faithful to the original written and performed by little-known The Mojos back in 1964.

I Can’t Explain

This classic written by Pete Townshend from The Who was released in 1965, it was their debut single. Bowie’s rendition is a standout on Pin Ups. A great song either way.

Friday on My Mind

A rollicking 1966 song by seminal Australian rock group The Easybeats.

Sorrow 

A song first recorded by the McCoys in 1965, later a hit for the Merseys, that version is more up-tempo than the folk-rock original. Bowie had a worldwide hit with this as the lead single off Pin Ups.

Don’t Bring Me Down 

A song written by Johnny Dee (road manager for British band the Fairies) and first performed by the rock band the Pretty Things in 1964. This band clearly had a big impact on Bowie’s progression, taste and psyche.

Shapes of Things

A second song by The Yardbirds, this 1966 track features Jeff Beck’s musical use of feedback. In 1968, Beck reworked it for the lead track on his great debut album Truth.

Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere

The second hit single released by the UK rockers The Who in 1965. Big in Bowie’s mind back then.

Where Have All the Good Times Gone

Effortless pop brilliance written by Ray Davies and performed by the Kinks, it was released as the B-side to Till the End of the Day in 1965.

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Growin’ Up

A Bruce Springsteen original appearing on his 1973 debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ, Bowie covered this during the Diamond Dogs sessions in ’73/’74 and was eventually released as a bonus track on a reissue of Pin Ups and, later, on the 30th anniversary reissue of Diamond Dogs.

Knock On Wood

A 1966 hit song written by Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper and originally performed by Stax Records soul artist Floyd. Bowie recorded it at the Tower Theatre, Philadelphia and it appeared on David Live (1974), also released as a single in September ’74. Something of an inspiration for an even bigger hit for disco queen Amii Stewart in 1979.

Across The Universe

The Lennon penned classic finally appeared on The Beatles’ Let It Be in 1970, Bowie’s controversial version is on Young Americans (1975) with Lennon in the studio on guitar and backing vocals.

Wild is the Wind

Written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington, performed by Johnny Mathis in 1957, and a remarkable version by Nina Simone in 1964, Bowie recorded this in 1975 and perfectly sequenced it to close out Station to Station (1976). Simply one of the finest moments in Bowie’s career.

It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City

Another Springsteen original, this one also appeared on Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ. It’s correct to assume Bowie’s excellent cover was worked up over a few sessions between 1973 and 1975. The drums are likely to be Aynsley Dunbar’s from the Diamond Dogs sessions and the rhythm guitar and piano are also pure Diamond Dogs. The Bowie and the Visconti strings and falsettos hint at Young Americans although apparently the track was discarded after The Boss heard it in the studio late ’74 remaining unreleased until eventually turning up in 1989 on the Rykodisc compilation Sound + Vision. The string arrangement could even be Mick Ronson’s as there was supposed to be an “American” Pin Ups with White Light/White Heat, the backing track eventually used on Ronson’s Play Don’t Worry. Spirit in the Night was demoed for the Astronettes at Olympic so maybe there was further overdubs there, and let’s not forget Growing Up recorded in Ronnie Wood’s basement studio in Richmond at same time as the Stones’ It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll with DB handclaps and backup vocals. A fascinating era ‘73-’76. Not that anyone remembers!

Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy

Ok now it’s getting weird, but somehow it works. The Trapp Family Singers we have here from 1951 with Little Drummer Boy. Originally aired on a forgettable 1977 TV special the video of Bowie and Bing Crosby, it had something of a second life with MTV and was belatedly released as a single by RCA after Bowie had left the label in 1982, and hit number 3 in the UK charts. I roll it out each Christmas and it’s always a pleasure. What we hear is the original choir version.

Peter and the Wolf

Originally written in 1936, this is the most famous version by the New Philharmonic Orchestra narrated by Richard Baker and conducted by Raymond Leppard in 1971. Bowie narrated this as a present for his son in 1977 and this one of the more charming versions of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Listen out for the particularly good pissy cat (clarinet).

Alabama Song

The English version of a song written by Bertolt Brecht in 1925 and was put to music by Kurt Weill for the play Little Mahagonny. Lotte Lenya (Weill’s wife) immortalised it, as she would other Brecht/Weill songs, with this version from 1962. The Doors also included this song on their debut album in 1966, and the song was part of Bowie’s setlist for his world conquering 1978 tour. He recorded and released in 1980 with an interesting Carlos Alomar arrangement.

Kingdom Come

Ex-Television front-man Tom Verlaine wrote Kingdom Come for his debut solo self-titled album in 1979. He was originally scheduled to be the guitarist for the Scary Monsters sessions in 1980 but it didn’t work out so Fripp was invited along. Bowie, a fan, recorded this song in NYC Power Station studios for that album, the first cover on a Bowie record since Station to Station.

The Drowned Girl

Once again we have Lotte Lenya performing Brecht/Weill’s Ballade vom Ertrunkenen Mädchen from 1957. Bowie would perform this song and a handful more numbers for the Baal television series and accompanying EP from 1982, recorded at Hansa Studios in Berlin.

Criminal World

Originally written and recorded by UK duo Metro in 1976 fusing early Seventies glam into new shapes, it’s an underrated gem of a song. Bowie picked it up and recorded it in December 1982, at the Power Station NYC for his mega successful commercial zenith that is Let’s Dance (1983).

China Girl

Iggy Pop’s co-write with Bowie from seminal The Idiot (1977). Bowie covered it again for Let’s Dance and had a mega hit on his hands.

Posted in Beatles, The, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Doors, The, Eric Clapton, European Rock Pilgrimage, Iggy Pop, John Lennon, Kinks, The, Lou Reed, Mick Ronson, Mixtapes, Pink Floyd, Podcasts, Rolling Stones, The, Scott Walker, Van Morrison, Velvet Underground, The | 9 Comments

Phil Collins’ Mystery Session

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Opportunity knocked for a nineteen year old pre-Genesis Phil Collins in May 1970. At this point in his stop-start, still embryonic music career, he was getting ready to have a bath and watch Top of the Pops on telly with his beans on toast in suburban London on a quiet Thursday evening when an acquaintance, Martin, who just so happened to be Ringo Starr’s chauffeur, called asking what he was doing tonight.

“Do you want to go to Abbey Road for a session?” was the only information provided to the down-on-his-luck drummer, but it was the mention of Abbey Road and he was suddenly not so disinterested. He didn’t know who the session was for but stepping into the studio where The Beatles had recorded was incentive enough.

“What time do you want me there?” Phil throws on a t-shirt and jeans and jumps in a cab uttering the immortal line: “Take me to Abbey Road please driver.” 

Abbey Road Studios

Upon arrival at the famous EMI studios in St John’s Wood, North-West London, Martin is there on the front steps: “Come in, we’ve been waiting for you.” After some small talk he’s shown into Abbey Road Studio Two to meet the musicians involved in this mystery session. They are taking in a photo shoot and there they are: George Harrison with his long hair; Ringo Starr; maverick producer Phil Spector; Beatles road manager Mal Evans; Peter Ham from Badfinger; Klaus Voorman; Billy Preston; Peter Drake, and engineers Ken Scott and Phil McDonald.

When the Beatles had split following the release of their final album Let it Be and each member started to pursue solo ventures, George Harrison started work on his now legendary solo album All Things Must Pass at Abbey Road Studios – and Phil is now in the middle of it.

The Session

As he steps into the studio he receives a few indifferent looks: Who is this kid? He’s informally introduced as ‘the percussionist’. George has a few casual words, Phil laughs nervously, quaking in his flared jeans, and while keen to impress, he’s confident and enthusiastic rather than cocky. No matter what you think of Phil Collins, he’s a great drummer first and foremost – however this skill that has nothing to do with ‘percussion’, which can mean a lot of things. 

The vibe is friendly and relaxed, if a little daunting. Eventually he’s placed in the studio behind a set of congas. On the right is Ringo’s drums, How does Ringo mic his kit? Oh, towel on the snare…that’s interesting, and on the left is Hammond virtuoso Billy Preston. The tape is about to roll and they’re recording a track called ‘The Art of Dying‘ a song addressing mortality, which he’d written in 1966.

There’s no dry run, no sheet music, no ‘This is how it goes Phil, and that’s where you come in‘. He’s not handed anything, just “one, two, three, four!” and recording. Phil’s bashing away on the congas and makes a few mistakes. He’s also trying to fit in, look cool, not drop the ball, or the beat. Nervous and awkward, he asks Billy for the first of many cigarettes. “Sure kid.”  

As the evening wears on, there’s take after take after take, and cigarette after cigarette, and in his cans he can here Phil Spector, “Ok, let’s hear the keyboards, guitar and drums … Now the the bass and drums only. …” Everytime he hears the word drums, he plays hard on the congas for fear of Spector shouting at him, “Why aren’t you playing man?” He’s really giving it, in the style of Elton John’s famously flamboyant percussionist Ray Cooper. He’s playing, and playing, and playing, and after a dozen takes, still not being asked to play anything specific, and not receiving any feedback, his hands are red-raw, blistered, and sore.

Finally he hears the fateful words from Spector. “Ok guys, let’s hear the congas.” Billy and Ringo laugh, they feel for him, knowing how hard the the teenage kid has been working all evening, to no avail, and they play it through a few more times. Then everyone disappears. There must be a party going on and he’s clearly not invited. No goodbyes, no opportunity to say “Thanks Ringo, thanks George, here’s my number.” Only a cab home is called. 

After the long journey home his hands are throbbing, but he’s played with half of The Beatles and recorded at Abbey Road Studios. A few weeks later a cheque appears in the mail for fifteen quid for the services to Mr George Harrison on the making of All Things Must Pass. He cashes it because he needs the money.

Crushing Disappointment

After pre-ordering the LP from his local record store in Hounslow, by late-November it has arrived, so Phil buses it to the store, hands over the money for the mega triple package thinking Inside here, it’s me, on a Beatle’s album. Outside the store he breaks it open and scans the credits. The cats he saw that night are all listed: Klaus Voorman, Billy Preston, Peter Ham, Ringo Starr, and many other musicians from the Stones’ saxophonist Bobby Keys and Traffic guitarist Dave Mason, to future Yes drummer Alan White. But Phil Collins’ name is not there. He’s gone from a soaring high to a crashing low.

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He’s devastated, but no time to lose, it’s home and for a good hard listen. At least if he’s not on the credits he can surely be heard within the grooves of the vinyl LP on ‘Art of Dying’. But as soon as he hears the opening bars he realises he’s not on the track, in fact they haven’t even used that arrangement they worked on that night. The leading musicians he has admired in his teenage years saw fit to dump him from the cut without telling him. He told himself they decided to go in another direction, or came up with a new vision for the song, so naturally he was going to change his mind. But the outright rejection has wounded him.

Then in 1982 he bumps into George again on a session and they are introduced to each other. “George we may have met before…” Phil says reminding him of the time back at St John’s Wood. “Really? I don’t remember that at all.” He’s ruined Phil’s life and doesn’t even remember it!

Then by 1999 they’ve met again a few times and familiar enough with each other for Phil to ask about it yet again, to no avail. George still doesn’t recall, but with an upcoming All Things Must Pass thirty-year anniversary remix in the works, word gets around that Phil was on the album. When asked about it by a journo, Phil plays it cool, “Well it’s a long story…”

Thirtieth Anniversary Edition

It’s been so long and he’s not holding his breath, then he receives a small package in the mail. It’s tape with a handwritten message that reads: “Dear Phil. Could this be you? Love, George.” He thought, this is it, he’s holding the Holy Grail, finally! He steps into his home studio and delicately inserts the tape, pulls up a chair and hits play. Hiss, then drums, the track starts. Ba-ba-da-doom! The sound of the congas lurches out of the speakers in an arrhythmic clatter, his shortcomings immediately apparent. Turn that off!

Phil is shell-shocked, he didn’t remember being that bad. It’s all over the place, and dreadful enough for Phil Spector to say get rid of that kid. It’s too busy, too amatuar, horribly hyper, and clearly not up to scratch for the likes of Harrison and Spector. The track peters out, and he can audibly hear George Harrison sighing: “Can we try that without the conga player?” There is the truth at last. He was fired. The rock stars didn’t go to a party that night. They were trying to get rid of him. Harrison had confined him to the dustbin, confirming his worst fears. 

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A few days later Phil is sitting around the house feeling a bit flat when the phone rings. It’s racing legend Jackie Stewart who asks him about the John Lennon tribute night recently put on at the Royal Albert Hall.

Was there a concert? I didn’t know.”

Jackie hands the phone over the George Harrison. “Hi Phil, yes there were a lot of conga players there too.” Phil’s confused. “Did you get the tape?”

Thirty years of pain tumbles out: “You bastard. For thirty years I had my own version of what happened that night, why I was chopped from All Things Must Pass. And it was because I was so lame that you and Phil fucking Spector had me fired.”

Harrison laughs. “No, no, no! We just made that tape the other day.”

“Eh? What do you mean?”

“Ray Cooper was in, helping me remix the album. I told him to play the congas badly over ‘Art of Dying’ so we could record a special take for you.”

Thirty years of rollercoaster emotion and now here’s another lurch. That wasn’t Phil Collins, it was Ray Cooper having a laugh with George. Did George Harrison ever tell him what happened to the actual take? No. He didn’t remember and had no recollection of that session. How can you remember not making All Things Must Pass

In the booklet for the reissue of the album, seven months before George died, there are new sleeve notes written by George himself, and there it is: “I don’t remember it, but apparently a teenage Phil Collins was there….”

– reference: Phil Collins’ Not Dead Yet (2016).

Posted in Albums That Never Were, Beatles, The, European Rock Pilgrimage, Genesis, George Harrison, Now Reading, Phil Collins | 20 Comments

The Gil Evans Orchestra – Out of the Cool

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In the wake of brilliant arranger Gil Evans’ emblematic triumphs of classical-jazz  collaborations with Miles Davis: Miles Ahead (1957), Porgy and Bess (1958), and Sketches of Spain (1960), this album, Out of the Cool, a title evoking his experiments in mood and form with Miles collectively known as The Birth of the Cool, was recorded in November 1960, and released on Impulse Records in 1961.

Evans, as well being a conductor extraordinaire, was one of the best and most innovative composers, arranger and pianists the genre has ever known, starting in the middle of the Big Band period at the end of the late-30s, before finishing with jazz fusion in the 1980s. The exquisite music on this album was part of a move by Evans towards greater freedom in his compositions and arrangements, no better display of this is the fifteen and a half minute, surging, film noir masterpiece La Nevada. 

It begins with a sparse and tasteful piano solo from Evans himself, developing a mysterious mood, then percussionist Elvin Jones’ shakers creep in before the double bass from legend Ron Carter provides a funky structure to the piece – a killer rhythm section if ever there was one.

There’s space and there’s an abundance of feel. A beautiful driving rhythm develops on the record as distant horns suggest themselves. The ensemble is now humming with some wonderful guitar treatments and strumming from Ray Crawford nicely up front in the mix, as sinister trombones muscle in on the act. A Budd Johnson sax solo develops and the shakers are replaced by Jones’ dry hiss of brushes on snare and cymbals of the drum kit.

As bandleader Evans provides exquisite fills and descending runs on the keys, an eloquent trumpet weaves through care of Johnny Coles as the guitar reappears and a flute soars serenely above proceedings. 

Elsewhere on the album there’s progressive big band numbers, a standout Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill number (Bilbao Song) where the solos are virtuosic, especially those from trumpeter Coles and Evans himself throughout, whose soloing is as fascinating as his arrangements.

The musical sensibility of the band and bandleader is breathtaking as they shift from a traditional workout to an avant garde freakout in a blink of an eye. Evans brings orchestral color and texture to the music here. He was a pioneer of the cool sound, and Out of the Cool is a fine example of perhaps the greatest contributor to jazz history and his prowess. 

Tracks:

  1. La Nevada (Gil Evans) – 15:38
  2. Where Flamingos Fly (Elthea Peale, Harold Courlander, John Benson Brooks) – 5:14
  3. Bilbao Song (Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill) – 4:13
  4. Stratusphunk (George Russell) – 8:04
  5. Sunken Treasure (Evans) – 4:16

Further Listening:

Claude Thornhill Orchestra – Snowfall (1941)

Miles Davis – Porgy & Bess (1959)

Gil Evans – The Individualism of Gil Evans (1964)

Miles Davis – The Complete Birth of Cool (1998)

Posted in Gil Evans, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, On This Day, Sting | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Mainman Podcast

This gallery contains 11 photos.

Originally posted on THE PRESS | Music Reviews:
MainMan are compiling a fascinating series exploring the history of the record label, which was a rights management organisation formed by entrepreneur and impresario Tony Defries that helped to develop the careers of…

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David Bowie – The Man Who Sold the World

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Hard rocking, heavy metal hybrid The Man Who Sold the World was released 50 years ago by Mercury Records in the US, Bowie’s third studio album, although considered the second of his ‘classic’ period. It’s release in the UK was delayed until April 1971, and a logical precursor to Ziggy, even though the piano-based, singer-songwriter classic Hunky Dory came in between. To celebrate the occasion, The Press is ranking the songs from this classic Bowie album.

Bowie had released a hit novelty single (Space Oddity) in 1969, followed it up with the flop Marc Bolan collaboration The Prettiest Star, then went on to recruit members of the soon to be Spiders From Mars, guitar maestro Mick Ronson and drummer Woody Woodmansy. Besotted with his new wife Angie, Bowie had the band move into his Edwardian Beckenham mansion, Haddon Hall, and set up in the basement where Tony Visconti, also on bass guitar throughout, had built a primitive studio space and it’s here where this album was written and rehearsed. It was a strange time for Bowie: he had recently discovered the delights of hash, and reportedly had to be cajoled to record his vocal parts. It was also when he was shifting to Mainman management, with all-controlling big-cheese Tony De Fries extricating the artist from a limited record contract with Mercury. 

Recorded at Trident Studios in Soho, central London with Visconti producing, the album’s sound marked a huge change in what had come before (and since for that matter), and is a unique moment in the Bowie oeuvre. Proto-metal meets prog rock with some lengthy instrumental guitar/bass/drums passages; the sound of the album is, at times, comparable to Zep, Sabbath and Cream. Add Bowie’s lyrics touching on themes of madness, sexual encounters and ghostly nursery rhymes, and The Man Who Sold the World is a thrilling listen.

What we see up the top of this page is the original and somewhat ‘random’ US album cover designed my Mike Weller: a cartoon of John Wayne standing in from of the Cane Hill asylum where Bowie’s schizophrenic half-brother Terry had been committed. The album cover for the UK release was the ‘man’s dress’ image, and when released worldwide by RCA in the wake of Ziggymania in 1972, we have the familiar ‘Ziggy kick’ album cover.

Originally entitled Metrobolist (a 50th anniversary release is well underway) the album’s name was changed at the last minute to The Man Who Sold The World – the original stereo master tapes were in fact labelled Metrobolist, with the title ultimately crossed out. Mercury’s publicity department gave it a bigger push, and the positive critical reception led to Bowie undertaking a three-week promotional tour of the USA in February 1971, his first visit there (the point of reference for upcoming biopic movie Stardust).

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The album was warmly received in the US however failed to trouble the charts elsewhere. When the album was reissued in 1972 it reached number 24 in the UK and 105 on the US Billboard 200. 

Tracks Ranked:

9. Running Gun Blues: Bowie’s strangled voice, demented and paranoid lyrics along with the off centre mix and bass-heavy blues rocker make this track one hell of a tongue-in-cheek riot. Grim stuff coming from Bowie at this early stage, here he assumes the persona of a Vietnam war veteran indulging in a killing spree.

8. Black Country Rock:Pack your packhorse up and rest up here on Black Country Rock.” This track was a b-side to non-album single Holy Holy in 1971 and features a cool Bolan vocal impression. A decent Ronno-led guitar/bass rocking number without peeling the paint off the wall. Riff-heavy blues-based boogie, all the rage in 1970. 

7. The Supermen: Great finish to the album, although Bowie pretending to understand Nietzsche and the whole “..so softly a Supergod cries!!!” with Mick Ronson harmonising (especially live) wearing a trifle thin. Almost a Bowie classic, it was very good live when Ziggy roamed the Earth and a suitable closer to this album. Interestingly the riff for the song was gifted to Bowie by Jimmy Page.

6. Saviour Machine: Heavy apocalyptic track and downright frightening, this dystopian tale preempts the oblique world of Diamond Dogs as Bowie sings from the POV of the machine before it destroys humanity or something. But what a driving chorus and amazing vocals as Bowie finds his voice.

5. After All: A hidden gem in the Bowie repertoire, this Gothic little waltz-time nursery rhyme ballad fits into the general theme of the album quite nicely, Bowie’s voice in delicate and lovely form tackling some nightmarish childlike themes that would be revisited later on the following album’s Quicksand.

4. She Shook Me Cold: Originally called ‘Suck’, Ronson isn’t Clapton and Visconti isn’t Jack Bruce yet this is as powerful as any early-70s hard rocking blues work-out gets. The instrumental freak-out interplay is really top-drawer and suits Bowie’s twisted, sexed up lyrics and electric-charged vocal performance. This swaggering and underrated track was never played live.

3. All the Madmen: Written for and about his half-brother Terry, Bowie seems to be questioning the whole idea of ‘sanity’ on this majestic song with scything Ronno guitar chords. There’s a little spoken word interlude after the soaring chorus giving it a beautiful demented quality (“..he followed me home..”). Fared well when trotted out on the Glass Spider tour in 1987, and is the first track of its kind in the Bowie repertoire. 

2. The Man Who Sold the World: A direct link to Ziggy, this certified Bowie classic rarely appearing for years on DB compilations or in a live format, until Nirvana payed homage and famously resurrected it on their MTV Unplugged with their good, straight, and honest cover. Bowie did do a magnificent version on SNL in 1979 with Klaus Nomi that’s well worth checking out.

1. Width of a Circle: This thunderous, prog-metal rifftastic album opener is one of the greatest tracks on any Bowie album. The whole band, particularly Ronson, shines here as they did on the Ziggy Tour performing this epic. The lyrics, informed by the likes of Aleister Crowley and Friedrich Nietzsche, slaughter anything Zep ever came up with. I don’t recall them singing about having a sexual encounter with the devil in the depths of hell:

He swallowed his pride and puckered his lips
And showed me the leather belt round his hips
My knees were shaking my cheeks aflame
He said you’ll never go down to the Gods again
(Turn around, go back)

He struck the ground a cavern appeared
And I smelt the burning pit of fear
We crashed a thousand yards below
I said do it again, do it again
(Turn around, go back)

His nebulous body swayed above
His tongue swollen with devil’s love
The snake and I, a venom high
I said do it again, do it again

Posted in Album Covers, David Bowie, Mick Ronson, On This Day, Rank the Songs, T.Rex | 3 Comments

Never Heard It Before…Until Now!

I’ve never heard this album before…..until now. Why? Because now is as good a time as any to sit down and listen to something I’ve never heard, right? I’ve actually had them lying around and never bothered, or someone’s given me a copy, or I’ve bought it on a whim. Not Polish jazz. Ok here we go…

Genesis – Three Sides Live (1982)

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Three Sides Live marked the tipping point where Genesis pivoted from prog-rock linchpins to pop-rock kingpins, and on this mostly live set containing recordings from their 80-81 tour, including a studio side (hence the title) the group’s second EP 3×3 (1982), the British three-piece (by now Collins, Banks & Rutherford) concentrate heavily on some fine material from Duke (1980), Abacab (1981). There’s one selection from Wind & Wuthering (1976) ‘Afterglow’, and while A Trick of the Tail (1976) is skipped over completely, they pleasingly roll out a 12-minute medley containing elements from Gabriel-era ‘In the Cage’, ‘Cinema Show’, ‘Riding the Scree’, and ‘The Colony of Slippermen’, the songs melded together beautifully and sung expertly by Phil, although crowd noise sounds like it was added as an afterthought. Another highlight includes the ultimate Genesis ballad ‘Follow You Follow Me’ from …And Then There Were Three (1978), and the studio set contains the toe-tapping and horn-driven ‘Paperlate’ hinting at what was to come with their pop zenith Invisible Touch (1986), or (gulp) Sussudio, however ‘You Might Recall’ is one of the best trio era songs. Secret weapon guitarist Steve Hackett is long gone, so the album is very keyboard heavy but is a good mix of all phases of their career from pop songs, ballads, and also successfully revisiting bit of prog, in other words something for everyone.  8/10

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Lou Reed – Street Hassle

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Lou Reed left us on this day seven years ago so today is as good a day as any to celebrate one of the man’s finest works. Reed’s influence as a solo artist and leader of the now canonised Velvet Underground touched countless rock fans and artists alike, and his prolific and eclectic solo career yielded some of the most seminal releases in rock. None more so than this colossal 1978 track: Street Hassle.

The quintessential New York street track; this 11-minute, three-part narrative tour de force oozes personal and very disturbing portraits of the city’s darkened alleys. It opens with a repetitive cello motif picked up by the guitar and continued on electric bass until the phrase becomes a near-hypnotic rhythmic spell. Reed turns graffiti into poetry, tying in themes of loneliness, sexual anguish and death, including erotic images, cynicism and strangely moving lyrical passages (plus a Bruce Springsteen cameo) until the final catharsis.  The title track off his best ever solo album is also the greatest love song in his entire catalog.

Posted in Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, On This Day | 2 Comments

Carnival As Life

The enduring carnival-as-life metaphor suggests that life is a path that offers infinite opportunities and enticements: amusing highs and confusing lows, imagery of bearded ladies, ghost trains and chance-taking carousel rides to know you’re alive. Intercut with an air of nostalgia and regret, suggesting better times, these sentiments are beautifully displayed on these two classic fairground-themed tracks from the early-80’s.

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And I been riding on a ghost train, where the cars they scream and slam
And I don’t know where I’ll be tonight but I’d always tell you where I am

Falling somewhere between their early pub-rock origins and becoming eventual arena-sized MTV stars, Dire Straits enlisted big-league producer Jimmy Iovine and E-Street Band pianist Roy Bitton for their third LP Making Movies (1980). The album encapsulated the band’s most wide-screen tendencies, and the album opens with Tunnel of Love’s organ arrangement curiously from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel Waltz”.

And girl it looks so pretty to me, like it always did
Oh, like the Spanish city to me, when we were kids

More than just a song about meeting a girl with a carnival backdrop and faultless guitar tone, the track references the seaside theme park Spanish City and carnival rides of Whitley Bay, part of the North Sea coast to the north-east of Newcastle upon Tyne. Throughout the post war years Whitley Bay had provided a holiday break for workers away from the heavy industry of Tyneside, where the Scottish-born Knopfler grew up, recalling the fairground rides at this popular place of teenage escape, and one train stop along nearby Cullercoats.

Now I am searchin’ through these carousels
And the carnival arcade, searching everywhere
From steeplechase to balustrades
In any shooting galleries where promises are made
To rockaway, rockaway
From Cullercoats to Whitley Bay

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It’s a song of longing and bittersweet romance, sentiments that run through a lot of the band’s best work. It is also one of the finest songs guitar virtuoso Mark Knopfler ever wrote, with a memorable and moving guitar solo outro, and despite it being one of the band’s most popular numbers, it inexplicably bombed as a single in October 1981, reaching only number 54 in the UK Singles Chart.

Let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time
You can waste your time on the other rides
This is the nearest to being alive

Meanwhile in 1980, Richard and Linda Thompson had recently been dumped from their record label, Chrysalis, and were on the verge of divorce. Somehow they overcame these miserable circumstances and managed to make a brilliant album of emotional depth called Shoot Out the Lights (1982), a masterpiece of despair and possibly Richard Thompson’s greatest album. It would spell the end of their collaboration and relationship, as by the time the album was released Richard and Linda’s marriage was over.

Well you’re going nowhere
When you ride on the carousel

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The album closes out with one of his finest songs, the bitter optimism of the wonderfully melodic circus-saga Wall of Death, a love song with a spin, literally and figuratively on romance as a scary and wild fairground ride. It’s an ode to carnivals and side shows that compares the death-defying ride to the risks and hardships of life, with an air of hope, even as danger lurks in the background.

The Tunnel Of Love might amuse you
Noah’s Ark might confuse you
But let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death

I love the optimism of both of these beautifully written songs, both career highlights from these brilliant songwriters and guitarists. To me, they’re about all of life’s possibilities where Mark Knopfler and Richard Thompson use the concept of carnival in relation to life: Everything in life is a risk, sometimes the outcome is positive, and sometimes it’s not. It all depends on how you look at it.

Posted in Dire Straits, Performance of the Day, Richard Thompson | 12 Comments

McCartney III – Part II

The Press might have got there first but now it’s official: McCartney III was announced today by Macca to be released on 11 December 2020 – freakin’ awesome news in a shitful year. Let’s face it, it’s going to be momentous!

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Like his other two self-titled albums, McCartney III is written, produced and performed entirely by Paul, and was recorded this year in Sussex, England. “I was living lockdown life on my farm with my family and I would go to my studio every day,” McCartney recently said in the press release:

I had to do a little bit of work on some film music and that turned into the opening track and then when it was done I thought what will I do next? I had some stuff I’d worked on over the years but sometimes time would run out and it would be left half-finished so I started thinking about what I had. Each day I’d start recording with the instrument I wrote the song on and then gradually layer it all up, it was a lot of fun. It was about making music for yourself rather than making music that has to do a job. So, I just did stuff I fancied doing. I had no idea this would end up as an album.

‘It’s just me’: an exclusive interview with Paul McCartney about McCartney III – Loud And Quiet

At what point did you realise that what you were doing was making McCartney III?

Right at the end of it, I’d just been stockpiling tracks, and I thought, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of this – I guess I’ll hang onto it,’ and then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, this is a McCartney record,’ because I’d played everything and done it in the same manner as McCartney I and II. That was a little light bulb going off, and I thought, ‘Well, at least that makes a point of explaining what I’ve been doing, unbeknownst to me.’ 

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The vocals sound really raw.

Thanks. I was trying to get them posh.

I meant that in a good way!I

I know, I know! Because I wasn’t aiming at a proper record release, I was just having a go. So I think it has ended up being exactly what it is – which is me not really trying very hard, except to have fun.

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Posted in Images, On This Day, Paul McCartney | 9 Comments

McCartney III

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Live And Let Dice. Amazing news: Looks like we might be getting Paul’s lockdown record. Still more inclined to consider Chaos & Creation in the Backyard (2005) the real McCartney III, but either way, very excited about this.

McCartney III is believed to be the third completely solo homespun Paul McCartney album, following 1970’s McCartney and 1980’s McCartney II, and strongly rumoured to be released in December 2020. 

I suppose I learned that you can’t take anything for granted and that it’s very difficult to predict the future now. In all honesty, I don’t think I learned much. I knew the value of my family and it’s been great being able to spend more time with them, but it doesn’t mean I want to do that all the time. I like working as well. But relationships are important. Family is important. Music is important. Like I say, I’m lucky, because what I do, it all starts with writing, and I can pretty much do that anywhere, so long as I’ve got a guitar. I like having stuff to do, as it keeps the brain busy. And on top of all my projects, I’ve had the luxury of just being able to sit down and write songs for no reason, which is great. It keeps me off the streets. – Paul Aug. 2020

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Let Me Roll It

Posted in Album Covers, Albums That Never Were, Paul McCartney | 6 Comments

David Bowie – “Heroes”

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“Heroes” was released 43 years ago today by RCA Records and is arguably Bowie’s artistic zenith. The only album to be recorded entirely in Berlin, “Heroes” is stylistically similar in structure to Low, although has a fuller and more chaotic overall sound, and significantly more muscular and expressive. To celebrate the occasion, The Press is ranking the songs from this Bowie masterpiece.

Recorded in an ornate former Gestapo Ballroom (Berlin’s Hansa studios) which had been used to record symphonies during World War II, “Heroes” (1977) is part two in the ‘Berlin trilogy’, although ironically was the only album written and recorded entirely there, apart from the Bowie-produced Iggy Pop proto-punk classic Lust for Life.

Back in 1977, the Hansa Studio was an imposing figure; the rear aspect of the studio overlooked the Berlin Wall and it’s mixing room overlooked the turrets packed with armed guards. The Hansa building was one of about four in the whole district that wasn’t flattened by bombs. It is well documented that Bowie found inspiration for the lyrics to the masterful title track when he observed Tony Visconti – album producer – and backing vocalist Antonia Maas, kissing by the wall.

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Bowie was studying art and immersing himself in the Euro-expressionist, synth-based music of the early 70s such as Kraftwerk and Neu!, at this point in his career the singer was extricating himself from the drug and party scene of his former home in Los Angeles. After a series of controversial public appearances where he was barely coherent, The Thin White Duke realised that he needed to separate himself from the dangerous rock and roll lifestyle he was immersed in and all of the perils and dreadful hangers-on associated with mid-70s Hollywood celebrity. It just wasn’t this proper British artist’s scene.

Infatuated with the electronic music emerging in Germany at the time, Bowie ultimately moved to Europe, collaborated with Brian Eno and Iggy Pop, and lived in relative anonymity in the Schöneberg district of Berlin while making the tour de force that is “Heroes”. Berlin was the first time in years that he had felt a joy of life and a great feeling of release and healing and the impeccable surprise single in 2013, ‘Where Are We Now?’, reflected on his years in Berlin with some poignancy.

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A man lost in time Near KaDeWe
Just walking the dead

Bowie’s 1977 was a busy and productive year for the star. He released Low in January, produced Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and Lust For Life (released in March and August respectively), toured as Iggy’s keyboard player with the Hunt brothers and Low guitarist Ricky Gardiner, starred in an albeit horrendous film directed by David Hemmings and starring (sort of) alongside Marlene Dietrich called Just A Gigolo, and narrated Peter And The Wolf for his son in his spare time.

Like Low, the instrumentals on Side Two are sparse, inventive and majestic, and “Heroes” Side One consists of some of Bowie’s best ever songs. Bowie was simply in career-best form as a lyricist and recording artist. Highly influenced by Iggy’s improvisational style, most of this was written in the studio and first take stuff on-mike. It should be said that Bowie was in career-best form as a vocalist. The subsequent Low/”Heroes” tour confirms that fact. Listen to 1978’s underrated live outing Stage, the band was a fine ensemble, again perhaps his best ever, and his increasing baritone utterly commanding.

This is when Bowie had perfected the icy gaze, and still had an air of menace about him, before he turned all smiley and tanned in the 80s.

10. Neuköln: Named after a district in Berlin, Neuköln recalls the sombre reflection of Low on one hand, but on the other is Bowie enthusiastically throttling his saxophone over a dramatic Eastern-European soundscape, painting a vivid image of a bleak post-war Germany. Closes with a finale spiralling sax wail.

9. Sense of Doubt: Thoroughly foreboding, this song represents fear and is based around a doom-y descending set of four piano notes accompanied by a dramatic organ. There’s something sinister creaking around in the background, and a lovely windswept beginning and end adds to the mystery and atmosphere of the piece. This is when Eno and Bowie were experimenting with the Oblique Strategies cards, a random aid to the creative process, which they used entirely for this track.

8. The Secret Life of Arabia: Unlike Low, “Heroes” finishes on a positive note with a hint of things to come in the Eastern sounds of Lodger. The melodic and jubilant The Secret Life of Arabia returns to the funk sounds and is blessed relief after the torment of Neuköln. It’s the album footnote with Bowie coming out the other end still intact.

7. V-2 Schneider: A tribute to the late Florian Schneider from Kraftwerk, Bowie acknowledged him a huge influence on him during his Berlin period. The horn section was accidentally turned around to the offbeat in the recording process and they stuck with it.

6. Sons of the Silent Age: This track was written well before going into the studio, unlike everything else on this record. An operatic vocal performance and some strangled sax from Bowie, he sings of Sam Therapy and King Dice with a breathtaking vocal performance. Unspeakable things happened to this perfectly majestic number on the 1987 Glass Spider tour.

5. Moss Garden: Bowie’s koto, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument, plays over Eno’s gorgeously tranquil atmospherics which ebb and flow as little dogs bark off in the distance. Earlier in the album Bowie had exclaimed he is under Japanese influence, and the exquisite Moss Garden is evidence of that.

4. Beauty and the Beast: A lurching synth-funk grind with a menacing double-tracked lead vocal (with a late-arriving bridge predating Ashes to Ashes’ self-examinational prose), Bowie’s new vocal style here is strikingly expressive (especially when compared to the monotone of Low), and Eno’s synthetic flute solo and Robert Fripp’s first-take lead guitar work are highlights. The intro to this song is a dead-ringer of Roxy Music’s ‘The Thrill of it All’.

3. Blackout: Written about Bowie’s own personal meltdown at the time (or more probable the NY blackout of ’77), Blackout veers spectacularly between a full on crescendo and a threatening tendency for low-key detachment, I’ll kiss you in the rain. A fitting chaotic rush of freak-out synths and triple-tracked Frippatronic guitar treatments boil over in a wonderful spoken word climax: “While the streets block off, getting some skin exppposure to the blackout”.

2. Joe the Lion: A bar-room epic, lyrically random and effortlessly brilliant, ex-King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp came out of retirement and flew in for a couple of days, to record his blistering guitar treatments for the album, often without hearing the initial track. Joe the Lion is one of those. Bowie’s yelping vocals were recorded on-mike as he wrote the lyrics : “….it’s Monday…slither down the greasy pipe…so far so good no one saw you….hobble over any freeway….you will be like you dreeeaaaams tonight!!”, an incredible moment and a career highlight in itself. As exhilarating as Bowie music gets.

1. “Heroes”: Undoubtedly the finest song in the Bowie canon, this is essentially an experimental piece of art-rock which sounds like no other song. “Heroes” possesses a hypnotic shudder (created by Eno’s synth playing) and producer Tony Visconti’s filter sweeps generating a superb oscillating effect that slowly builds and becomes more and more powerful towards the end as the vocals soar (there is no kick-drum whatsoever). A pure lyric of individual connection in adverse times (he wrote the lyrics during a break in recording looking out the windows of Hansa Studios at a strolling Visconti and backing singer Antonia Maass indulging in some covert smooching), complemented by some majestic reverb-drenched vocal histrionics, recorded using several gated microphones rigged-up down the corridor, capturing a great deal of natural reverb and in turn, a wall of sound. The chord changes are multi-layered and anthemic, the Fripp guitar loop spot-on, and the epic 6-minute album version definitive. Tony Visconti goes into detail on the fascinating recording process of the title track and explains how he captured Fripp’s guitar takes to shape the defining sound of the track.

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Posted in Brian Eno, David Bowie, European Rock Pilgrimage, Iggy Pop, On This Day, Rank the Songs, Robert Fripp | 18 Comments

Talking Heads – Remain in Light

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The name of the band is Talking Heads, and the name of the album is Remain in Light. Released in October 1980 it is simply one of the greatest records in music history. A record without precedence, it was released on Sire records and recorded in the idyllic settings of Bahamas and Sigma Sound in Philadelphia, it was the band’s fourth studio album, and their third and final album to be produced by visionary Brian Eno.

The band had experimented with West-African polyrhythms with launching point ‘I Zimbra‘, the opener off 1979’s Fear of Music, but here they expand and elevate the percussive drive of that track taking the music in unpredictable and futuristic new directions: experimental American funk world-music, with an electronic art-rock foundation…..or something. It simply defies categorisation.

Remain in Light is a full-blown exploration of polyrhythmic ebb and flow, and while the tracks are in 4/4, they are more constant and irresistible circular rhythms than just beats. The lyrics are spiky and obtuse. Bandleader David Byrne’s existential, stream-of-conscious and art-school cut-up onomatopoeic rhymes rarely reveal a narrative voice, and are delivered in an anti-vocal way that breaks with rock’s conventional forms.

Never seen anything like that before.
Falling bodies tumble ‘cross the floor. Well I’m a tumbler!
When you get to where you wanna be. Thank you! Thank you!
When you get to where you wanna be. Don’t even mention it!

The relentless pace of the band’s evolution in just a few short years from bare-bones NYC art-punk jangle to the post-modern funk orchestra of Remain in Light is extraordinary. Eno played for Byrne Fela Kuta’s 1973 album Afrodisiac the night they met in 1977 and the influence shows through. There’s also plenty of Parliament, Funkadelic (keyboardist Bernie Worrell would join the Heads’ ever-expanding lineup for the supporting tour), and James Brown, via Roxy Music, Bowie, and Eno himself contributing backing vocals.

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The electronic blips and bleeps are shaded with breathtaking bursts of guitar by Adrian Belew, fresh off a Bowie world tour and the Afropop fusion of 1979’s Lodger, he flavors the music with shape-shifting elasticity, his contributions vital, complimenting Byrne’s own funky and underrated rhythm guitar stylings. The communal feeling of the staggered choruses and gospel-tinged chorales join the grooves built up by ex-Modern Lover and multi-instrumentalist Jerry Harrison, and the rhythm couple: unwavering drummer Chris Frantz, and bassist Tina Weymouth’s deeply funky and serpentine basslines, forming a relentlessly fluid cadence.

The album consists of two definitive sides: Side One is three dense slabs of massively percussion-fuelled and at times disorienting electrofunk, where producer Eno worked rapidly, recording the musicians, looping and layering instrumental sections and then piecing together the sections in lieu of structuring the songs with conventional verses and choruses. Side Two is more conventional less jam-based song structures, shorter yet no less mesmerising. It contains the timeless radio favourite Once in a Lifetime, Talking Heads’ most popular song, propelling them to mainstream success via a surreal music video that became iconic of the early MTV years.

The ecstatic maximalism of Remain in Light marked the pinnacle of the ensemble’s considerably stellar catalogue and prompted questions of origins and ownership, of influence and appropriation, even before it came out, and was perceived as a major event in music when it appeared on record store shelves in 1980 with it’s striking cover and upside down A’s. It’s the daringly experimental and pop-accessible album the band struggled to surpass for the remainder of its career, and its masterpiece status has not even faintly dimmed 40 years later.

Side One
1. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) 5:49
2. Crosseyed and Painless 4:48
3. The Great Curve 6:28

Side Two
1. Once in a Lifetime 4:23
2. Houses in Motion 4:33
3. Seen and Not Seen 3:25
4. Listening Wind 4:43
5. The Overload 6:02

Released: October 8, 1980
Recorded: July–August 1980 at Compass Point, Nassau and Sigma Sound, Philadelphia

Further Listening:

Fela Kuta – Afrodisiac (1973)

Brian Eno – Before and After Science (1977)

David Bowie – Lodger (1979)

King Crimson – Discipline (1981)

David Byrne & Brian Eno – My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)

Tom Tom Club – Tom Tom Club (1981)

Posted in Brian Eno, David Bowie, On This Day, Roxy Music, Talking Heads | 7 Comments

Bowie – Chameleon

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Released in 1979 on the exclusive Starcall, an Australasian label owned and used by RCA, Chameleon is a funky and hard to find compilation featuring Bowie hits from Ziggy (1972) to Lodger (1979).

With its high-gloss laminated cover and quirky artwork, Chameleon is a lopsided affair, with side one featuring one track a piece from Ziggy, Aladdin and Pin Ups, and two from Diamond Dogs (yet again the track ‘1984’, RCA liked that one), then leaping to include a track from Low after completely skipping over mega-hits Young Americans or Station To Station. Chameleon also mercifully sidesteps The Jean Genie and Rebel Rebel – refreshing for a Bowie compilation from the 1970s.

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Side two features three tracks apiece from “Heroes” (the inclusion of V-2 Schneider is inspired) and Lodger. It’s a quaint compilation and was my gateway into a world of Bowie material back in the day. We get the full version of “Heroes”, rather than the brutal single edit, and elsewhere Diamond Dogs has an untidy fade-in on the word “genocide”, and unfortunately Beauty And The Beast’s intro is cut.

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The cover artwork comically integrates several previous Bowie eras and the rear sleeve contains colour drawings from various Bowie guises,featuring a track timeline of sorts.

David Bowie – Chameleon (1979) mp3

Side 1:
Starman
Aladdin Sane
Sorrow
Diamond Dogs
1984
Breaking Glass

Side 2:
“Heroes”
V-2 Schneider
Beauty And The Beast
Boys Keep Swinging
D.J.
Look Back In Anger

Posted in David Bowie, Mixtapes | 13 Comments

Tom Waits – Heartattack and Vine

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Heartattack and Vine was released 40 years ago, in September 1980 by Asylum Records. It was Waits’ final studio album for the label and last with long-term producer Bones Howe before a still-remarkable musical reinvention on Island Records with Swordfishtrombones in 1983, where he transformed himself into a curator of styles that he has made effortlessly his own: an experimental-vaudeville-industrial-kitchen-sink-melting pot with varying degrees of ferocity. To celebrate the occasion, The Press is ranking the songs from this classic Waits album.

Tom Waits had come a long way from the nightclub ballads of his initial recordings Closing Time (1973) and The Heart of Saturday Night (1974). Having backed himself into a hobo-hipster corner from the derelict poet-saint jazz of Small Change (1976) and Foreign Affairs (1977), and the inebriated masterpiece of melancholy Blue Valentine (1978), Waits laid low for two years before re-emerging with the half slinky guitar-blues, half epic-ballads of this transitional masterpiece Heartattack and Vine. This album echoes the past and foreshadows the future, and like all good Tom Waits albums is essential listening for the dissolute and the damned – even if only for nine tracks over 35 minutes.

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See that little jersey girl in the see-through top, with the peddle pushers
Sucking on a soda pop, well I bet she’s still a virgin but it’s only twenty-
Five ‘to nine, you can see a million of ’em on heartattack and vine

The Filmway/Heider’ Studio B in the RCA building on the corner of Ivar and Sunset in LA’s Hollywood had a healthy rock ‘n’ roll reputation in the 70s, and it was there where the material for Heartattack and Vine was recorded. His ensemble, many of whom would go on to work with him throughout the 1980s, is sounding more jagged than ever, suiting the caustic subject matter to a tee.

9. In Shades – A fine R&B instrumental complete with nightclub audience applause. Cool and slinky. False-ending, late-nite ‘closing time’ music. Lovely early interlude.

8. Saving All My Love for You – A Foreign Affairs outtake with a fifties film-score orchestration. Some great lines including one about a prostitute with too much makeup and a broken shoe.

7. Ruby’s Arms – Beautiful album closer Ruby’s Arms is a tear-jerker harking back to his early days, and something of a Salvation Army band showpiece. A moving ballad about a soldier leaving his lover sleeping in the early hours to board a train. 

6. Downtown – The rough and ready Downtown is first take recording at its best with a ripping Ronnie Barron amphetamine organ solo. This one rocks and remind me of ‘Union Square’ off Rain Dogs (1985), funky and bluesy, sung with gusto as only Tom knows how.

5. Jersey Girl – The album’s most famous number thanks to Bruce Springsteen who would incorporate it into his live set throughout the 1980s, Jersey Girl is about a guy walking down the street to meet his girl, it’s long and slow, orchestrated dramatically around Tom’s piano, it’s a gripping love song, evoking a simpler time of carnivals and boardwalks.

4. Mr Siegal – Sung in his trademark growl, once described as sounding like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car several times, this is drunken, avant-garde blues with some of Tom’s best ever lyrics: “How do the angels get to sleep when the devil leaves the porchlight on?”

3. Heartattack and Vine – The title track is essentially a slow, dirty guitar-based 12-bar workout, the drummer is using sticks not brushes, and Tom’s own electric guitar grinds along with his ghastly gargles. Waits gave up smoking around this time, you wouldn’t know it though. The cauldron that is his voice is more gravely than ever. 

2. On the Nickel – The magnificent On the Nickel was written for the Ralph Waites motion picture of the same name, a farewell to the era of music for Tom, this his grandest tribute ever to the hobos and downtrodden.

1.’Til the Money Runs Out – The scorching amped-up mambo beats of Til The Money Runs Out (“sold a quart of blood and bought half a pint of scotch“) is the album’s centerpiece full of bombast, violence with Tom spraying his lyrics out and investing in sounds he would be working through for the rest of his career. 

Posted in On This Day, Rank the Songs, Tom Waits | 7 Comments

More Album Cover Outtakes

John Lennon – Imagine (1971)

The photograph for the Imagine album cover was taken by Yoko Ono using a Polaroid camera. It was previously believed that the front cover photo was taken by Andy Warhol. It wasn’t. This is a little-know untreated Polaroid recently surfaced.

Half candy-floss half vitriol, Imagine’s album packaging has a beautiful dreamy front sleeve with clouds, Yoko’s quote, and the postcard of John holding a pig, a well known mock up of Paul’s Ram (earlier in ’71) album cover photograph. It’s the album that includes the vicious McCartney take-down How Do You Sleep?

Imagine is a bizarre mixture of vicious-ness and loveliness, with tracks such as the title track sitting alongside the venomous Gimme Some Truth. That said, It’s some of the best solo work of his career, and could easily have been split into two sides:

Side One (Sugar)

  1. Imagine
  2. Jealous Guy
  3. Oh My Love
  4. How?
  5. Oh Yoko

Side Two (Bile)

  1. Crippled Inside
  2. Gimme Some Truth
  3. I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama, I Don’t Wanna Die
  4. It’s So Hard
  5. How Do You Sleep?

 

Well worth checking out is another superb conversation between Robert Rodriguez and Erin Weber on the best Beatles podcast: Something About the Beatles. The most current Episode 201: The Break-Up and “John vs Paul”: with Erin Weber.

Posted in Album Covers, Albums That Never Were, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Podcasts | 2 Comments

David Bowie – Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

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Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) was released 40 years ago, in September 1980 by RCA Records. It was Bowie’s final studio album for the label and his first following the genre defining Berlin Trilogy of Low, “Heroes” and Lodger. To celebrate the occasion, The Press is ranking the songs from this classic Bowie album.

There’s a reason why every single Bowie album since 1987 has come with the tiresome caveat ‘the best album since Scary Monsters’. Until Blackstar, this nervy sweeping rock-opus was his last true classic and an extremely well-crafted and highly experimental one at that. The album has a sinister aura, containing the spooky space funk classic Ashes to Ashes, it’s the sound of a haunted man in recovery after a decadent 1970s.

Time and again I tell myself
I’ll stay clean tonight
But the little green wheels are following me
Oh no, not again

It’s his last album with his best band: Carlos Alomar, George Murray and Dennis Davis lineup, and (for some time) his best producer Tony Visconti, and sees a triumphant return of Robert Fripp (“Heroes”) and Roy Bittan (Station to Station). The album was written before hitting the studio, a novelty for Bowie at this point, and was well received upon its release. Its a return to the more conventional song structure and pop sound after his experimental electronic work and is an impeccable album aurally, particularly when listened to alongside some of its contemporaries such as comparative stinkers like Iggy Pop’s Soldier, Lou Reed’s Growing Up in Public or Roxy Music’s Flesh & Blood.

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This is the perfect album to close out the ’70s and his brilliant career with RCA (then onto EMI) up to that point, even the superb backward-looking album sleeve suggests as such. The perfect record and just faultless art.

10. Kingdom Come: Sung in his passionate but rarely heard Ronnie Spector voice, this track is a cover of a good song off ex-Television Tom Verlaine’s fine first solo self-titled album released the previous year. An ironic lament about life imprisonment and a dissection of a relationship, Verlaine was pencilled in to be the guitarist on this album and along with Adrian Belew, was dropped for Fripp at the last minute. The least best track on the album always gets a bad rap, it’s gorgeous.

9. Scream Like a Baby: New wave synth meets rock and roll, this brooding industrial experiment is an interesting rewrite of a song dating back to 1973 by Ava Cherry and the Astronettes called ‘I Am A Lazer’, which Bowie wrote and produced, with different lyrics. 

8. Because You’re Young: Beautifully melodic rock number, Pete Townshend plays on this, pointing towards Let’s Dance in sound, structure and emotional weight. An interesting demo version exists. Underrated and ignored, Because You’re Young should be on most Bowie best of compilations, but sadly never was.

7. Up the Hill Backwards: Underrated and un-Bowie, this surprise single has lyrics suggesting it’s his post-divorce song “with the arrival of freedom”. Ultra-catchy with a beautiful singalong shuffle was rolled out on the Glass Spider tour but rarely played live.

6. It’s No Game (Pt.2): Surprisingly the first track to be written and recorded for the album (and the only one at New York Power Station before a Bowie-requested sojourn, then resuming in London) and makes for an effective album closer. Bowie now brings a calmer and certain world-weariness with him to this track and an air of resignation, and finally the sound of tape flapping as the perfect album closes.

5. It’s No Game (Pt.1): An aural assault, and a frightening wall-melting album opener. The album opens with the sound of a tape reel being mounted before launching into one of Bowie’s wildest vocals ever, roaring out the words with abandon, matching the twisted squalls of Robert Fripp’s guitar and a macho Japanese spoken-word by Michi Hirota. This is actually a rewrite of a very old (early ’60s) and very beautiful song called ‘Tired of My Life’.

4. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps): The blistering title track and showcase for Fripp’s wild lead guitar is sung in a mechanical mockernee style and the semi-industrial track about a girl’s descent into madness is jarring and discordant and out rocks everything.

3. Teenage Wildlife: Bowie’s vocal histrionics (Bowie’s imitation of Ronnie Spector) is a highlight of this monumental classic. Somewhat of a sister song to the great “Heroes” and featuring textural and edgy guitar from Fripp, and newcomer Chuck Hammer, Teenage Wildlife is defiant and wordy (Bowie famously takes aim at his post-punk artistic godchild Gary Numan), and one of his longest and best songs ever.

2. Fashion: Motorik funk, irresistible with a killer beat, this classy neurotic dance song is also an effortless commentary on popular culture, Robert Fripp goes mental.

1.Ashes to Ashes: One of Bowie’s most popular and majestic songs, the timeless Ashes to Ashes is filled with innovative flourishes, sonic textures, space funk, spooky whisperings and George Murray’s slap bass. Haunting metaphorical lyrics, the iconic David Mallet video is still one of the best ever.

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Posted in David Bowie, On This Day, Rank the Songs | 2 Comments

The Lemon Twigs – Foolin’ Around/Tailor Made

In 2018 the Lemon Twigs released this effortlessly brilliant standalone double A-side 7″ single:  ‘Foolin’ Around/Tailor Made‘. They are two “Toddtastic” rock moments. Here the D’Addario brothers have nailed it, adding their own signature twist and freshness. Upon release, the band issued this statement about the songs: “Here are two rockers that we worked up 5 or 6 months ago. We had the urge to make some plain Rock and Roll. We thought we’d made some, but what’s plain about Rock and Roll?”

The Lemon Twigs – Foolin’ Around/Tailor Made mp3

Posted in Downloads, Lemon Twigs, The | Leave a comment

Bowie – I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour ’74)


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David Bowie’s 1974 North American tour is the stuff of rock legend. Promoting his first proper post-Spiders solo album (Diamond Dogs), Bowie recruited theatre designers for the stage set which incorporated his Hunger City ideas, pioneering the use of theatre design in a rock concert setting. The Tower Theatre shows for David Live (Upper Darby) in July 1974 were recorded, however by August, Bowie, completely over the choreography and lavish stage sets, indulged in his newfound penchant for the soul music of Philadelphia (and other indulgences a la USA and the drug of choice in the 1970s), re-branded it The Soul Tour, a radical departure from the first part of the Diamond Dogs theatrical extravaganza, even for Bowie.

This live show finds Bowie in transition, bridging the gap between Diamond Dogs and Young Americans. A fascinating juncture in the great man’s career, he’s no longer the spiky-haired glam-rock alien of Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane from the previous year, he had even ditched Halloween Jack from the dystopian Diamond Dogs. A break in the tour found him recording a new album called Young Americans (1975) at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia and by the time the band hit LA in September he was the besuited blue-eyed (plastic) soul boy. The tour’s elaborate six-ton stage set was drastically stripped back and the set list was overhauled to include as-yet-unreleased tracks from the Young Americans sessions at the expense of great tracks such as Width of a Circle. It is this new soul material that works best on this LP.

The Soul Tour also featured a revamped band, augmented to include musicians and vocalists from those sessions and rechristened The Mike Garson Band, introducing future Bowie mainstays Dennis Davis (drums) and Carlos Alomar (guitar). It was LA where there stage set was used for the last time, and it was also there where director Alan Yentob captured the skeletal and somewhat frightening figure in his Cracked Actor documentary.  

The Soul Tour has taken on a mythical status among Bowie fans, never properly filmed, only grainy footage has emerged, the tour visited twenty cities in the East and South of the US. Now Parlophone Records have announced the unearthing of this never released recording of Bowie in concert. This double live album was recorded during his final performance at the Michigan Palace, Detroit on 20th October, 1974 after a six night run in front of 20,000 fans each night.  

Generally the quality of the double vinyl LP is very good. The music has been sourced from the best available tapes and while the press release notes that the tapes at times sound their age, the quality never detracts from the performances and the historical significance of these recordings outweighs any possible sonic imperfections.

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Bowie – I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour ’74) mp3

TRACKS:

SIDE ONE

1. Introduction – Memory Of A Free Festival

The hoard of backing vocalists take on this Space Oddity closer as the announcer blasts: “From Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane it’s the Diamond Dog himself DAVID BOWIE” as he enters the stage….  

2. Rebel Rebel

Bowie sings very well but his voice sounds shredded already, although he and the band sound like they’re having so much fun it doesn’t matter. It is well documented that the cocaine intake was rampant. This is unrecognisable from the Diamond Dogs version; the backing vocals are front and centre and Sanborn’s sax prominent, a constant theme for the majority of the show.  7/10

3. John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)

Disco-influenced and fresh reworking of the 1972 track, Bowie had only just recorded this and was pencilled in to open the new album. On the lengthy outro the backing singers repeat “Dancing woo woo woo-oo” as Bowie jams.   7

4. Sorrow

Bowie’s vocals are drenched in delay on this Pin Ups cover. A pleasant surprise to have Sorrow rolled out in such a lovely restrained soulful version with this band. A rare sighting Sorrow, and it wasn’t on David Live either.  9 

5. Changes

Bowie’s voice is not at it’s best although he doesn’t miss a note on this Hunky Dory classic. The band sound good particularly bandleader Mark Garson on piano. Not dissimilar to the arrangement on the previous Ziggy tour.  7

6. 1984

The song that pointed towards Bowie’s new direction on Diamond Dogs. A faithful rendition, opened the show earlier in the tour, was already old news in Bowie’s eyes. Bowie had already dropped Sweet Thing and Big Brother from the set.  6

SIDE TWO

1. Moonage Daydream

Again Bowie’s voice is incomparable to his booming rock timbre just one year prior, or even his commanding baritone of just a couple of years later. Case in point: “I’ll be a rock and rolling BITCH for you”, Bowie sings and performs it well although his voice sounds thin and shredded, without the power, and its a strange soulful reworking on a glam-rock classic. Earl Slick adds a fine guitar solo.   6

2. Rock ’n’ Roll With Me

Superb moment in the concert performance. This underrated song in the Bowie canon suits the band and feel of the show. Bowie is exchanging a rose with a fan in the front row: “Be careful of the thorns.” Then a charming announcement to the audience after the first chorus: “This is our last night in Detroit but good evening. We’ve had a very lovely week, and you’ve been lovely, and I’ve enjoyed myself thank you.” Then into the second verse seamlessly. More delay on Bowie’s vocal in the outro – not sure if this has been added post-production.  9

3. Love Me Do / The Jean Genie

Bowie introduces The Jean Genie as being written in Detroit, then strangely into Love Me Do. Some fine harmonica from the man himself replacing the sax which is a relief. Massive vocal delay again although this concert staple works well with the band including another blistering lead solo from Slick.  7.5

4. Young Americans

A brand new track and the first in a run of new songs. The audience would’ve been hearing these Young Americans numbers for the first time, and this is faithful to the album version released in 1975.   10

SIDE THREE

1. Can You Hear Me

“That song, like the next two songs, that will be with you next year sometime, and I want to do them for you. These are two love songs, something I do know something about.” A highlight of the show, and a highlight of Young Americans.  10

2. It’s Gonna Be Me

A lovely track inexplicably left off Young Americans for the Beatles cover (Across the Universe), Bowie obviously rated this live show staple. Another concert highlight. Carlos Alomar is all over this fine subtle performance. Bowie’s singing at it’s best on these quieter more soulful numbers, at one stage he introduces a mercifully short sax solo with: “Mr Sanborn….”  10

3. Somebody Up There Likes Me

An underrated track in the Bowie repertoire, this Young Americans side two opener is a  super inclusion in the show and again works well with this band. His voice is in career best shape on that album, although unfortunately again he’s sounding thoroughly bushed. “Somebody Up There Likes You!”  9

4. Suffragette City

A sax driven Ziggy rave-up soul style. Surprisingly great. Bowie’s having fun despite forgetting the words in the first verse, and regularly laughs throughout the song.   9

SIDE FOUR

1. Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide

The climax to the Ziggy show and album is rolled out in soul style although a bit ponderous here – interestingly he throws in “All you gotta do is Win” a few times, perhaps the genesis of that Young Americans classic.  7

2. Panic In Detroit

The samba of this Aladdin Sane track gives way to a more funked-up version. Can’t really go wrong with this song.   8

3. Knock On Wood

4. Footstomping / I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate / Footstomping

5. Diamond Dogs / It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I like It) / Diamond Dogs

The encores were taken from the Municipal Auditorium, Nashville on 30th November, 1974 and are a lot of fun and go by in a blizzard of cocaine. You can here the yet to be written or recorded Fame loud and clear in Footstomping an obvious inspiration if not a direct rip. Bowie sang backup vocals on the Stones album title track, which he throws in here during a fine performance of Diamond Dogs.   8

The Mike Garson Band:

Earl Slick – Guitar

Carlos Alomar – Guitar

Mike Garson – Piano, Mellotron

David Sanborn – Alto sax, flute

Emir Ksasan – Bass

Dennis Davis finished the 1974 tour on drums.
Tony Newman (First Leg: June/July) – David Live in Upper Darby, July 1974
Greg Errico (Second Leg: Sep) – Cracked Actor in LA, September 1974
Dennis Davis (Final Leg: Oct-Dec)

Backing vocals – Warren Peace, Anthony Hinton, Luther Vandross, Ava Cherry, Robin Clark and Diane Sumler.

Posted in Albums That Never Were, David Bowie, Gigs, Never Heard It Before...Until Now! | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Lemon Twigs

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The stunning new Lemon Twigs album, Songs For The General Public, initially set for release on May 1 2020, the record is out today on 4AD and is available on the official website for independent record label 4AD. The wildly creative new album, with its glam-rock leanings is also available on the band’s Bandcamp page. Written, recorded and produced by the New York duo, the D’Addario brothers, at their home studio in Long Island, Sonora Studios in Los Angeles and Electric Lady in New York City, rock influences abound, but that’s all part of the fun.

Quality music: Think Todd/Bowie/Bolan/Mott/Elton/Iggy/Lou, via a big helping of the Dolls, with an ultra-talented and crazy twist. More than anything, it’s the sounds of the studios in that era, sonically. And do they nail it on this new album. A big step up from 2018’s quite good Go to School, the Lemon Twigs are hands down one of the best bands around, and certainly the best new album I’ve heard this year. The gleaming album cover in blue-black hue finds our heroes decked out in their favourite tight checker-print top, Ron Wood ostrich feathers, gold choker and turquoise eye shadow, its like an advertisement for the statuesque male gaze.

The Lemon Twigs – Songs For the General Public (2020)

cover

TRACKS:

Hell On Wheels: Few albums burst out of the gate with as much force and assurance: “Black Eldorado ripping through the streets”, this strong album opener has some subtle double-tracked guitars, dry jokes and hooky verses. The lead singer gets bored with his bratty style and goes for a Dylan and Bowie impersonation just for fun. This live piano-based version on late night with Seth Myers is a nice alternative to the Meat Loaf-sized album version.  9/10

Live in Favor of Tomorrow: Very 70s, sonically, but a very 60s song. Virtuoso and ambitious mainstream pop number expertly crafted and executed, with a twist.  8.5

No One Holds You (Closer Than the One You Haven’t Met): Glorious, the Twigs’ fanatical attention to detail of arrangement and craftsmanship gushes by in a haze of melodic brilliance on this multi-layered piano-based classic. Better the third time around, especially for the big pay: “I don’t even know what I would say to you!  9

Fight: First classic on the album, the perfectly assembled Fight includes a staggering middle eight at 1:47, followed by a sublime descending guitar solo chalked with distortion and shaking with vibrato.  10

Somebody Loving You: Puffed with ideas, this theatrical track really makes an impression with its falsetto verses, intricate melody, and retro synths leading into a huge multi-tracked soulful chorus.  8

Moon: The centrepiece of the album, this instant classic has to be heard to be believed. This four-minute cut contains hints of Born to Run-era Springsteen and features euphoric bursts of harmonica. The playing is adept and surprising, a showstopping melody mined from classic rock.  10

The One: Another effortless classic, this new single also has an enjoyable Michael Hili directed video which finds Brian and Michael clambering on top of their van for some outlandish, tongue-in-cheek rock posturing in the snow.  10

Only a Fool: This dizzying track sounds like an early Todd Rundgren number, sped up and played backwards, and resuscitated by the Twigs’ busy prog pop journey with multiple and intentionally herky-jerky melodies.  7

Hog: Flamboyant rock, Hog is another album highlight; moving and beautifully sung although possibly a song about killing his girlfriend, “the bed is soaked in blood.”  10

Why Do Lovers Own Each Other: A musical-theatre number, this giddy musical roller coaster ride is perfectly placed on the album between two awesome rock numbers, adding some variety. The singer uses theatricality and even ultra campy-ness to prove his sincerity.  7

Leather Together: Bursting with freakishly classic pop moves and theatrical flourishes, the Twigs are firing on all cylinders here on this sleazy lo-fi punk-glam classic that’s sung in a snotty faux-British sneer, it also includes a gigantic hook in the chorus.  10

Ashamed: What starts as a gentle Auld Lang Syne anthemic-ballad, halfway through turns into a broken heroin-addled epic with a perfect ‘Street Hassle’ sized climax and guitar solo to end the album.  9

ALBUM RATING: 10

VERDICT: It’s impossible to ignore the sheer audacity, creativity and ingenuity these guys infuse into every one of these 44 minutes. This is an epic, stunningly conceived album; head-spinning in its detail and execution by ultra-talented multi-instrumental musicians who play almost everything, save for some horns. Essential.

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More Album Cover Outtakes

Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel II (Scratch) (1978)

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Another Hipgnosis classic album cover, this was the second of four self-titled albums by Peter Gabriel after leaving Genesis. Due to the iconic nature of the image, it is often referred to as Scratch.

The artwork mirrors the cold and inhospitable atmosphere of the record and Hipgnosis carefully designed a cover that fits the music perfectly. The front shows Peter Gabriel who seems to scratch a photo of himself with his fingernails. The back shows a dreary winter city scene: Someone is walking under a bridge, freezing and longing for warmth, but their surroundings are cold, lonely and dark.

We took the picture quite quickly near our studio (Relight Studios, Hilvarenbeek, The Netherlands) but then spent ages cutting and tearing strips of white paper which covered the studio like ticker-tape. We stuck them onto the photo of Peter, adjusting and re-tearing to have them ‘join’ his fingers then tarting it up with Tipp-ex before re-photographing it all so it became one piece. Now, I don’t seriously expect anybody to be fooled into thinking that Peter is actually doing all this reaching out and back onto his photo, only that they may be temporarily bemused and mentally entertained by the impossibility of it – enjoying the idea then imagining it to be real.” – Storm Thorgerson 

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More Album Cover Outtakes

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Get Happy (1980)

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Packaging and artwork for Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ Get Happy!! sleeve was designed based on the above photo of Elvis lying down on a street grill, by brilliant graphic designer Barney Bubbles, who had worked with Costello at Stiff and Radar previously, producing the iconic covers for My Aim is True and This Years Model.

He did not receive a credit in line with his insistence on anonymity. The cover of this all-time classic album was designed to look like an old-school record from that classic soul period, complete with vinyl ring wear – mod imagery suggesting a 50s/60s vintage, knowingly filtered through a New Wave lens.

Bubbles’ visual stamp is all over the early Costello catalog – from the scuff marks pre-printed on Get Happy!! to referencing the visual stylings of Blue Note designer Reid Miles for Almost Blue, to the graphic tour de force that is Armed Forces

Posted in Album Covers, Elvis Costello, Images | 1 Comment

More Album Cover Outtakes

David Bowie – Tonight (1984)

Bowie’s ‘tash album? Or Bowie’s trash album? Here are three very cool Polaroid photographs that were taken by English designer Mick Haggerty for Bowie’s Tonight album in 1984, at the Carlyle Hotel NYC following the exhausting Serious Moonlight tour. 

While the Gilbert & George influence is obvious, Bowie had some ideas on how he wanted the sleeve to turn out:

When David Bowie called about doing “Tonight”, he was interested in making a very heroic and exotic image. He mentioned The “Green Lady” by Tretchikoff and talked about The Knights Templar. I shot a few reference Polaroids of him in his room at The Carlyle Hotel, from which I did the cover portrait drawing and then, dragging a large format camera around New York, assembled a library of images including flowers, time lapse exposures of traffic, and smeared paint. After about a month of work, I emerged from my studio with a single 8″ x 10″ color transparency. All I had done in fact was invent an analog version of Adobe Photoshop, producing an image which now might take me an hour, but back then it was much more laborious and hit and miss, but much more exciting. In this portfolio, using the same method, I also made the “Gamma 1” cover along with the piece which gives me the most pleasure – a cover for a special single release in Japan for Yellow Magic Orchestra “Solid State Survivor”. – Mick Haggerty

Haggerty also designed images and sleeves for many artists including the Police, Simple Minds, and Keith Richards.  To see more of Mick Haggerty’s work, visit his website at http://www.mickhaggerty.com/

Meanwhile Bowie cuddles Tina, has a bash on the bongos, has a quick chat to Hugh Padgham and generally sits around in style while other people make the album.

Posted in Album Covers, David Bowie, Images | 2 Comments

More Album Cover Outtakes

The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You (1981)

HK_Jagger_2015-11Ever wondered who that chick was on the Stones’ Tattoo You album sleeve? Well wonder no more, it’s Mick Jagger. This is the evolution of photographer Hubert Kretzschmar’s Jagger portrait into the album cover for their last bullet-proof classic Tattoo You, from concept origin, art direction and pop-art design by Peter Corriston, and illustration by Christian Piper. 

The album title was originally planned to be Fall Fire and then simply Tattoo. Jagger claims to this day that even he has no clue how the You became attached to the title. The title caused friction between Jagger and Richards, with Richards suspecting that Jagger had changed the title without seeking his input. 

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Notable examples of Corriston’s designs include Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti and four consecutive Rolling Stones album covers: Some GirlsEmotional RescueTattoo You (for which he won a Grammy Award in the category of best album package) and Undercover. Kretzschmar also worked on these Stones albums but did not receive credit in print. 

The image remains one of the most memorable album covers in the Stones’ discography and won the Grammy award in 1982 in the Best Album Package category. It was the first Grammy award for the Rolling Stones. Whatevs.

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More Album Cover Outtakes

David Bowie – Young Americans (1975)

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Bowie’s Young Americans sleeve was based on Toni Basil’s image on the cover of Sept ’74’s After Dark magazine. It inspired Bowie to commission the photographer Eric Stephen Jacobs to shoot and airbrush the cover image for Young Americans. Toni Basil had choreographed 1974’s Diamond Dogs tour.

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Eric Stephen Jacobs: The Young Americans shoot was done at some movie studio sound stage in L.A.  David found me through a cover I did for pseudo gay nightlife entertainment magazine called After Dark who had sent me Toni Basil, who was his choreographer at the time, and David saw the cover photo and said ‘that’s what I want for my next album cover’. Had I had more balls then, I never would have let him wear that awful shirt in the picture. It was pretty close to as I portrayed it in the hand coloured version. Horrible shirt.

September 18 will mark the 45th anniversary of his 1975 classic with the release of a gold vinyl edition.

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More Album Cover Outtakes

The Rolling Stones – Aftermath (1966)

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A mirror image of the band ended up on the cool sepia-tinted Aftermath album cover in 1966 for the Stones. The front cover photo for the British release was taken by master of the album cover Guy Webster, and the album package was designed by manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham, credited as “Sandy Beach”.

Webster also photographed and designed countless and timeless album covers such as: The Doors (1967), The Mama and the Papa’s If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Your Ears (1966), Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sounds of Silence (1966), and Captain Beefheart’s Safe As Milk (1967).

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Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks (1975)dylan_toronto_for_shop_2048x2048

Toronto photographer Paul Till snapped the profile shot of Bob and his Telecaster during a January 1974 concert in the city, and then used a combination of sophisticated dark room development techniques and photographic watercolors to produce the final haze of Bob’s head. It’s a photograph disguised as a painting, and a subdued and evasive image that provides the perfect cover for the music contained within Blood On the Tracks.

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Pink Floyd – A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)

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A Saucerful of Secrets was Pink Floyd’s second album and featured both Syd Barrett and David Gilmour as part of the band. The album cover was Storm Thorgerson and partner Aubrey Powell’s first commission for the band, and they would go on to design the band’s famous covers including Wish You Were Here. It was only the second time that an EMI band (The Beatles were the first) was permitted to hire outside designers for an album jacket.

The album cover contains hidden images based on a panel from a 1967 Dr. Strange comic book story. Thorgerson’s cover was also an attempt to represent the swirling, dreamlike visions of three “altered states of consciousness” – religion, drugs, and Floyd music.

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Performance of the Day: Have I Told You Lately

Van Morrison and Sinéad O’Connor perform Have I Told You Lately, with the Chieftains, on Letterman 1995 with interesting results.

They are accompanied by the legendary traditional Irish folk band the Chieftains, with original member Paddy Moloney present, looking intently and smiling. They start the Morrison-penned song beautifully: violins, mandolins, penny whistles, it’s off to a great start. For context, the Chieftains had released the hugely successful album The Long Black Veil a few months earlier with both Van and Sinéad, and others, contributing, including this song.

The famously grumpy Van the Man decked out in a hat, suit and shades, he could be one of his own tribute acts if not for being accompanied by the stunning Sinéad O’Connor, who appears to be carrying and wearing a Walkman for reasons that aren’t clear. I’d say Van met up with the Chieftains before this performance, and they had a session and the seven creamy pints on a tray just kept coming.

Van is in a good mood (a bit jarred), not quite smiling but not growling either, and during this extremely odd performance there are several brusque arm signals towards the band, like a novice conductor, yet he doesn’t appear to be in a strop. His vocal is semi-spoken, not ideal for the accompanying vocalist, in this case Sinéad O’Connor.

Halfway through, an obviously star-struck Sinéad decides to just sing it as straight as she can under the circumstances, and sing it gorgeously she does, as Van basically clowns around in the only way he knows how. There’s a touch of perversity to it with his vocal tics “blah blah blah blah” or “you you you you you you” – what’s he doing?

It’s a strange performance, and well worth sticking with ’till the end when Van sort of breaks the fourth wall, makes a goose of himself, but there’s something lovely about their interplay.

A magical song and equally magical performance.

 

Posted in Performance of the Day, Van Morrison | 4 Comments

Panthalassa: The Music Of Miles Davis 1969-1974 Reconstruction & Mix Translation By Bill Laswell

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In 1998 genius American musician and producer Bill Laswell revisited the electric-funk era of one of the most important and influential musicians of all time: Miles Davis. The music Miles recorded between 1969-1974 paved the way for all kinds of electronic, rock,  funk, and jazz genres and subgenres, and is now an exalted body of work.

The music moves from sound collages with horns and electric keyboards, to guitars clashing and harmonizing over percolating grooves and insane drum patterns. It was performed by some of the most legendary jazz musicians of the time, and the resulting Columbia albums and epic tracks were, at times, the product of much cutting and pasting by Miles and producer Teo Macero. Compiled and released as Panthalassa: The Music of Miles Davis 1969-1974, Laswell’s rendering, while controversial at the time, is presented tastefully and as a continuous, chronological tone poem, adding modern production techniques while doing some subtle splicing of his own.

Miles Davis fully embraced possibilities and delved into it. He was criticized heavily from the jazz side. He was supposed to be part of a tradition, but he didn’t consider himself part of a tradition.  Bill Laswell

There is no doubt that Bill Laswell was heavily influenced by this period of Miles Davis’ career. Upon creating this work, Laswell was offered access to the original multi-tracks from Davis’ sessions and subsequently premiered previously unheard passages; raised the levels of obscured instruments in the mix; added electronic drones; constructed moody transitions, breathing new life into the incredible music from a trio of Davis’ key electric albums: the entirety of seminal electric-jazz masterpiece In a Silent Way (1969); a good chunk of and some new material (the elaborate funk of ‘What If’ and the ominous march-like ‘Agharta Prelude Dub’) from the crazed experimental funk landmark On the Corner (1972), and truncated tracks from his explorative epic Get Up With It (1974), including the 32-minute opening monster ‘He Loved Him Madly’.

Ultra-prolific Laswell has been a key figure in music since the late-1970s. To put it very mildly, he has worked with some of the most famous, talented and interesting musicians ever, headed up record companies, worked as bassist, band member and collaborative artist, and released dozens of groundbreaking and thoroughly awesome contemporary electronic music over four decades, which he still does right up to today, and available on his expansive Bandcamp page. On top of that is the various and excellent records by his other projects Praxis, Painkiller, Tabla Beat Science, Material, and Massacre.

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It’s important to note this is not quite what I imagine a “remix” album to be. That’s because it’s not. It’s a “re-flow” album, and does not detract from Davis’s artistic intentions. It still sounds exactly like the Miles Davis stuff we know and love, and the original music is not compromised at all. This 1998 release is subtitled Reconstruction and Mix Translation by Bill Laswell – that says it all. Light an incense stick and acquaint yourself with this now largely forgotten, yet respective rendering of this cutting edge music, and experience it through a different lens.

TRACKS:

  1. In a Silent Way / Shhh Peaceful / It’s About That Time (15:20)
  2. Black Satin / What If / Agharta Prelude Dub (16:06)
  3. Rated X / Billy Preston (14:34)
  4. He Loved Him Madly (13:38)

Further Listening:

Producer & Collaborator:

Sly & Robbie – Language Barrier (1985)

Motorhead – Orgasmatron (1986)

Iggy Pop – Instinct (1988)

Ramones – Brain Drain (1989)

Bernie Worrell – Blacktronic Science (1993)

Bill Laswell & Pete Namlook – Psychonavigation (1994)

Pharoah Sanders – Message From Home (1996)

Material with Ginger Baker – Live in Japan (2019)

Hardware – Third Eye Open (2020)

Solo artist:

Bill Laswell – Invisible Design (1999)

Bill Laswell – Permutation (1999)

Bill Laswell – City of Light (2018)

Bill Laswell – Against Empire (2020)

As Bassist:

Material – Temporary Music (1979 – 1981)

Material – Memory Serves (1981)

David Byrne/Brian Eno – My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)

Brian Eno – Ambient 4: On Land (1982)

Herbie Hancock – Future Shock (1983)

Public Image Ltd – Album (1986) incl. producer

Peter Gabriel – So (1986)

Posted in Bill Laswell, Downloads, Miles Davis, Mixtapes | 8 Comments

More Album Cover Outtakes

The Police – Outlandos d’Amour (1978)

Janette Beckman shot this photo for the cover of the Police’s first album Outlandos d’Amour in a tunnel on London’s South Bank, near Waterloo Station, in 1978. Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland unveiled a striking new image, all sporting bleached-blonde hair and, despite their inherent virtuosity as musicians, played with enough aggression required to appease the punks.

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The photo location was taken in one of the many super secret tunnels under Waterloo Station, which includes not so secret Leake Street, an authorised graffiti area. My European Rock Pilgrimage did not miss this stop, although finding exact locations was nigh on impossible.

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The accomplished British photographer who had photographed likes of the Sex Pistols, The Specials, Blondie and PiL, with a particular focus on music and youth culture, had this to say about shooting this iconic Police album cover:

That is the cover for Outlandos d’Amour, it’s the first Police album cover. I’d been doing stuff for A&M Records, I shot Squeeze for them and I’d done a couple of other bands and the art director and he was like, “Oh, there’s this new punk band, do you want to do an album cover?” and it was going to be my first album cover so I was super excited and I went and I spent every single last penny I had on buying a Hasselblad because the album cover was square and I didn’t have a square format camera, I had the basic Hasselblad, and it was what I used for the next 25 years. I didn’t really know how to use it, but I just thought I’d figure it out. I went with the art director and we met these guys in Waterloo and we were going to shoot them in this tunnel and we wanted them to wear these American parachute suits, and I had bought a flying suit on my first visit to New York. Andy was a small guy who ended up with my flying suit. So it was just me, the art director and these guys and I had a flashgun and that was it. It was my first album cover. We ended up doing a whole load of publicity pictures outside and one of them posing against walls, one of them turned out to be the cover for the “Roxanne” single and I think they used the other ones for a bunch of 12-inch, 7-inch singles and those pictures were used everywhere. When I came to America later, I see them on posters and T-shirts and bubblegum wrappers and I’m like, “I guess I’m famous” thinking little about how Miles Copeland was taking advantage of me, I didn’t know. He just used my pictures on all the merchandising. That was okay, it was all great. And I was happy. That was my first album cover and they were just three punks. – Janette Beckman.

Further Reading:

Album Cover Outtakes

More Album Cover Outtakes

Even More Album Cover Outtakes

Look Closely: Simon and Garfunkel’s Moustache

Look Closely: Supertramp’s Breakfast in America

Look Closely: Dylan’s John Wesley Harding

Look Closely: The Beatles’ Rubber Soul

Posted in Album Covers, Andy Summers, European Rock Pilgrimage, Images, Police, The, Sting | Leave a comment

Bowie Now

Bowie Now

For an RCA Records US-only promo released in 1978, the intriguing Bowie Now is a surprisingly fine album-track selection of Berlin-era Bowie material and originally something of a rare artefact. The purpose of this record was to draw attention of the all-powerful US radio station programmers to Bowie’s masterful Berlin work.

Re-released for its first commercial release 40 years later on Record Store Day in 2018, the tracks are drawn from the groundbreaking Low and “Heroes” albums, and audio remastered from the A New Career In A New Town box set released in 2017. The handsome package features a newly designed inner sleeve with rarely seen black and white images taken in Berlin in 1977 by Corrine Schwab.

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Side A

1-1 V-2 Schneider (3:10)

Bowie’s tribute to Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider…splendidly demented…check Bowie’s multi-tracked saxophones.

1-2 Always Crashing in the Same Car (3:26)

Bowie’s evocation of a dream is a powerfully recurring foreboding of DOOM!!…anticipation of violence and imminent disaster…Ricky Gardener’s seering guitar riffs excite.

1-3 Sons of the Silent Age (3:15)

All I see is all I know“…fragmented lyrics are a juxtaposition of traditional chorus with a cut-up William Burroughs-style verse.

1-4 Breaking Glass (1:42)

Urban time bomb set to self-destruct…”You’re such a wonderful person, but you got problems“…love/pain relationship captures the dark side of contemporary soul.

1-5 Neukoln (4:34)

An area in Berlin where Turks live in very bad ghetto conditions…an isolated community unnervingly and vividly surreal…instrumental impressionism…Eastern sounds…Bowie blows outrageous sax…jazz riffs above Eno’s glacial overture of rising chords.

Side B

2-1 Speed of Life (2:45)

It seems that Bowie has changed his motivation for running through life at breakneck speed…self-confidence rather than paranoia is the driving force…intergalactic roller rink music…life in the fast lane?…theme song for the New Wave.

2-2 Joe the Lion (3:05)

Compassion for people and the desperate situations they’ve gotten into..illustration of future panic and social disintegration…”Nail me to my car, and I’ll tell you who you are“…Christ-like madman haunting the late-nite spots with murder and terror in mind (Son of Sam? Boston Strangler?)…breathlessly psychotic…song runs at 4 or 5 speeds simultaneously.

2-3 What in the World (2:20)

Confused generation in search of a cause…radical dreams…realpolitik…”What in the World Can I do?

2-4 Blackout (3:50)

Inspired by newspaper accounts of New York’s own…mental failure, emotional breakdown…”Get me off the streets, get me on my feet“…”Nothing to lose, nothing to gain“…

2-5 Weeping Wall (3:25)

Walls of sound envelop the listener with layers of rising and falling pitch, volume, and emotion…electronic masterpiece sets the tone for “Low“…all instruments played by Bowie.

2-6 The Secret Life of Arabia (3:35)

Unashamedly romantic yet tongue-in-cheek.

*comments taken from original 1978 sleeve.
Posted in Albums That Never Were, Brian Eno, David Bowie, Downloads, European Rock Pilgrimage, Images, Mixtapes, Robert Fripp | 2 Comments

What Colour Is Sound? Vol. 2

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A welcome 15-song sequel to the What Colour Is Sound? series is out now on Bandcamp. This exotic various artists compilation veers wildly from expansive psych-folk, low-key acoustics, to dramatic soundscapes and everything in between, on this pay-what-you-like release with all proceeds going to The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon

The intriguing art-meets-artist project is again overseen by UK-based, Australian singer-songwriter and all round dark troubadour Michael Plater, who is deftly carving out a niche in the world of independent music, this set churning out choice cuts from a multitude of performers around the globe, creating an intimate musical world of buried treasures and wistful emotion.

Evocative opener ‘Seattle Rain’, by Denver’s space-folk duo Astralingua, is an emotive, barefoot affair with a stark arrangement, allowing eerily-harmonised Joseph and Anne Thompson’s versatile pipes to impress, ushering in ultra-prolific Londoner David CW Briggs with his edgy ‘Time Has Not Been Kind’. It’s a bittersweet synthesis of layered acoustics and fuzz-tone space-rock soloing, the song stretching out over the six-minute mark then fading into the skilled acoustic instrumental delights of fellow-Londoner Sand Snowman with the ever-building energy of ‘Just Like Home’. Calm and confident as an ambient sunrise, it makes way for the ethereal vocals of Kat Amiss draped across the smoky atmospheric restraint of Melbourne three-piece Light Magnetic and their cascading ‘Weeping Willow’.

The next track is ‘Very Sad Very Alone’ by Melbourne-based studio engineer/producer Loki Lockwood, also known as Velatine. Delivering a seductive warped-country instrumental, the lo-fi guitar virtuosity is lean, precise, and full of fire, and flows nicely into Plater’s immense Saint John’s Eve featuring the classic couplet “Broken Gods / And suicides / Graveyard ghosts / And corpse lights”. A monstrous career-peak for the artist, the soaring intensity gives way to respite; the charming pastoral majesty of UK’s The Field Bazaar and their decorative ‘The Bane Tree’, a track akin to a stroll through the radio dial and hitting upon that perfect mystery channel.

The ghostly resilience of ‘More Than This’ by former-Berliners House of Light adds dark post-rock elements to proceedings, before an awakening into some fine piano balladry (‘Animal Song’) by Andrew McCubbin, an album highlight. The established Melbourne artist delivers a moving melody of broken domestic bliss in an accomplished croon and elegantly expressed misery: “Neighbours keep askin’ / How you getting along / I say that you’re doing well / And that you won’t be long”.

Legendary guitarist Deniz Tek from Radio Birdman, and musicians from Japan’s psychedelic rock underground, accompany renowned Australian guitarist and vocalist Penny Ikinger on a track lifted from her highly regarded Tokyo (2018) album; a beautifully textured flute accompaniment, a bucolic contrast to the concrete nu-prog of ‘Tokyo City’, relatively linear in comparison to the freewheelin’ indie-rock lifer Mark Spinks’ project Mark’s Paranormal Dysneyland, returning here on Vol 2 with ‘Too Much Confusion’. It’s all indie-quirky and addictively catchy on the surface however upon closer inspection (“One million lives are barely recognised / Systemic breach of trust / They’re holding out on us“), darkly relatable.

A band comprised of the varied talents of May Stone, Clare Bligh (Hannah Francis & the Fake News), Brendan Gray & Ashley Jones is Ill-Gotten Booty. They have a knack for storytelling, wordplay and a warm voice carrying sufficient wit and energy to ride their shanty undercurrent on ‘Pale Moon’, then a suitable thematic sequence into Rosie Haden’s stunning ‘The Indian to His Lover’, a track lifted from her and Greg Hoepner’s current self-titled album. You can’t help but smile at the faux-bossa and swelling verses on a song that likens a romantic walk on the beach with a lover to: “Here we were lonely ships / Wander wherever with woven hands / Murmuring softly lip to lip / Across the grass along the sands”.

Tony Millman’s soul-bearing collaboration with fellow Australian artist Jane Cameron, ‘Thousand Years Ago’, is a curiously tasteful and dramatic performance, conjuring a vibe of crushed velvet and dried flowers, with traces of heaviness into a cacophonous climax, really finding itself in the tender moments. The album closes out with Italian multi-instrumentalist Massimiliano Gallo’s ‘Before the Void’, a lysergic collage of hazy synths, strobing repetitions and shifting layers, it recalls Tim Hecker’s cosmic excursions on Radio Amor, but with an impulse towards dreamy abstraction.

And with this, What Colour Is Sound? continues to provide an increasingly noteworthy aesthetic charm amid simmering acoustic laments both macabre and reassuring, deserving of our attention now more than ever.

Posted in Downloads, Michael Plater, Mixtapes | 2 Comments

Didn’t Know It Was a Cover?

Jet Airliner

Steve Miller Band’s classic track off the 1977 blockbuster Book of Dreams is a cover. I learnt this today. The track was originally written by underrated blues/rock artist Paul Pena in 1973 about his airplane trip from Boston to Montreal to play the first-ever gig with T-Bone Walker’s band. Miller heard the track via his producer/keyboardist at the time, Ben Sidran, who was also producing the very good Pena.

Paul’s original, scheduled to be included on his Bearsville Records album New Train, remained unreleased after running into a contractual dispute with owner and allround hardass Albert Grossman. Producer Sidran gave an unreleased copy of the album to Steve Miller who then snapped up Pena’s quite awesome bluesy treatments and made it his own, even adjusting some lyrics, as you do. The Steve Miller Band track was a major US hit single and was Pena’s primary source of income in his later years. New Train was finally released in 2000, 27 years after it was recorded, features Jerry Garcia and is a ruddy good listen.

 

Posted in Didn't Know It Was a Cover, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Didn’t Know It Was a Cover?

King of the Night Time World

Ever wondered why Kim Fowley was writing with Kiss in 1976? That’s because King of the Night Time World is a cover!

In a weird situation Kiss covered this song by little-known power-pop band the Hollywood Stars. The sole album they released during their heyday, 1977’s self-titled effort, sunk without a trace and was an overcooked disappointment with too much polish and not enough punch. Their version was eventually released in 2018, even though it was recorded in 1974.

The Kiss rewrite that ended up on Destroyer (1976) was juiced up by Paul Stanley and producer Bob Ezrin really lifting the song up to a new level. Paul tightened it up and gave the melody some traction on the verses, however the original is still pretty fun! Who knew?!

 

Posted in Didn't Know It Was a Cover, Kiss | 2 Comments

The Rolling Stones – Top 5 Modern-Era Tracks

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The Stones have only released four albums since becoming an enormous multi-million dollar money-spinning stadium-filling travelling rock’n roll museum. What these indestructible rock ‘n rollers have released, however, has teetered on the edge of back to basics rock, and a voyage of discovery of rock ‘n roll relevance.

What has always made the Stones so great was Keith’s bluesy traditionalism being nicely balanced by Jagger’s pop-chart-driven opportunism, and vice versa, and this latter-day Stones stuff is no exception. It has in fact received positive critical reception in most cases, and time has afforded these albums an unassuming grandeur, certainly more so than pedestrian 80’s releases such as Undercover, Dirty Work or Steel Wheels.

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The recorded output, while far from prolific, is strong Stones product, filled with economical riff-trading, serviceable mid-tempo balladry and rock-tastic standoffs. While the band are not as creatively stagnant as Bill Wyman labelled them upon his departure in 1992, or as artistically irrelevant as the public consciousness would lead you to believe, it’s not all Sticky Fingers and Let it Bleed quality.

There’s harmony but inevitable lapses of judgement and pedestrian misfires side-by-side strong content on hard rocking Voodoo Lounge (1994), the uneven technology-driven extravaganza Bridges to Babylon (1997), lengthy late-career classic A Bigger Bang (2005), and the scintillating post-war Chicago blues covers surprise LP Blue & Lonesome (2016). Over the decades there’s also been countless greatest hits packages and best of’s that feature inevitable new fare like the underwhelming Doom & Gloom.

They don’t make rock stars like the Stones anymore, they are a permanent institution in the annals of rock history, and always will be, whether it be in the studio or on stage running rings around performers young enough to be their grandchildren. So with the imminent release of the Goats Head Soup (1973) expanded edition, and continuing talk of a new album of originals, now is as good a time as any for a deep-dive into five true classics from the Stones’ modern era.

5. Sweethearts Together

This great mid-album track off the Don Was-produced Voodoo Lounge finds Mick and Keith in sync, harmonising Everly Brothers-style, eyeball-to-eyeball with an acoustic guitar each, symbolising the (tongue-in-cheek?) reconciliation of childhood friends the Glimmer Twins. Ron Wood adds some beautiful lap steel touches, and the track has a Tex-Mex vibe thanks to first-take overdubs from Portuguese musicians Luis Jardin (percussion) and Flaco Jiminez (accordion). Top-drawer veteran singer Ivan Neville and Bernard Fowler also feature on backing vocals.

4. Back of My Hand

A Muddy Waters-style blues number, A Bigger Bang’s Back of My Hand, surprisingly features Jagger on a supple slide guitar for the first time ever on a Stones record. A hidden skill! He also plays bass and maracas, leaving only Keith to lay down a subtle rhythm part on top of Charlie’s simple bass drum. And that’s that. Back of My Hand is down-and-dirty and authentic, and would’ve slotted in nicely on Beggars Banquet.

3. Everybody Knows About My Good Thing

Jagger had been performing this song for a few decades and actually appears as a B-side to one of his 90’s solo singles. Resurrected for the Stones labour-of-love covers album Blue & Lonesome, it’s a standout track on a strong LP, vividly capturing the band live in the studio loyally rendering the music of their heroes. Eric Clapton, who was recording next door, guests on some nice lead guitar flourishes.

2. I Go Wild

I Go Wild is delight with a classic Stones groove brimming with energy. This essentially Jagger-penned track is a major highlight on Voodoo Lounge heavily featuring Keith’s signature open G-tuned five string Telecaster and Ron’s accompanying slide work. Jagger’s nuanced vocal delivery works well on this track and even includes some adrenaline-charged spoken-word fun towards the end, Shattered-style.

1.Saint of Me

A minor hit single in the UK, Bridges to Babylon’s menacing Saint of Me begins quietly with a guitar and voice before sliding into a nice groove before building to a rock crescendo Stones-style, featuring for the first time since Goats Head Soup the great Billy Preston on organ. Built up from a Jagger/Watts demo, the experimental Bridges To Babylon is certainly a ‘Jagger’ album, but despite Richards’ absence here (that’s right Keith is not on this track!), Mick dazzles on Saint of Me, seeking redemption from his past sins via a Gospel vibe and lyrical references to symbolic figures from Christianity. Eventually a beautiful bridge creeps in with great backing vocals and it does alot to add to this Stones classic and golden modern-era moment.

 

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More Album Cover Outtakes

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The Beatles album cover for originally the Please Please Me album in 1963 and later for the 1969 promo-copy for the never-eventuated Get Back album, were taken at the now demolished EMI Headquarters, 20 Manchester Square, Marylebone.

It showed The Beatles looking down from a stairwell, and when recreated, used the same pose, camera angle, setting and even the same photographer Angus McBean. The photos were also used for the famous Red 1962–1966 and Blue 1967–1970 Greatest Hits albums.

The Beatles with record producer George Martin the day of the first photo shoot in 1963, in front of the EMI House balcony.

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The Sex Pistols also signed by EMI recreated the pose in the glass atrium of this building in 1977.

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Besides the atrium, the exterior of the EMI building at 20 Manchester Square in London was often used as a convenient backdrop for a lot of artists including Pink Floyd and Diana Ross and the Supremes.

Unfortunately this modernist building was demolished in 1995, and replaced with a very bland promo office block.

For more of my photos on rock history stuff, from a London visit, click here.

 

Posted in Album Covers, Beatles, The, European Rock Pilgrimage, Images | 4 Comments

Guided By Voices – Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia

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Guided By Voices’ third album Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia was released on this day in 1989. It marked the beginning of the golden age of Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices, when the band moved past its influences and defined the GBV lo-fi sound. This is also the first album by this Dayton, Ohio rock institution that feels like a classic GBV album.

Recorded to 8-track in a garage, genius vocalist/guitarist Pollard, his brother guitarist Jim Pollard, bassist/guitarist Steve Wilbur and drummer Peyton Eric, were using lo-fi techniques and fragmented, angular minimalism to their advantage, Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia is their best album up to that point. It’s noisy, it’s strange, it’s a beautiful psych-pop treat of an album.

It’s also grounded in classic rock, a big influence for Bob, and possessed with an ability to pen astonishingly melodic pop songs, he and his band were beginning to find the audience they would firmly secure with the release of definitive college-indie-rock albums such as Propeller (1992),  Bee Thousand (1994) and Alien Lanes (1996), to name but three. This is the lo-fi entry point for a rock and roll band on their way to becoming one of the greatest to ever grace the face of this Earth.

TRACKS:

The Future is in Eggs – a sludgy experimental start. First a thudding bass drum underneath a singular guitar dirge, then Bob’s singing begins low and dark, but sweetly melodic. Spiffy kids in combat suits/Who crushed with marching army boots/The fearless leader on his back/Dead from a cocaine heart attack. Then into a crashing finale.  7/10

The Great Blake St. Canoe Race – fuzzy 60s pop rock with some nice double tracked harmonies from Bob. Oh please don’t misuse this information now
Oh try not to swallow too much pain, it’s only order. 6

Slopes of Big Ugly – classic rock abounds and Bob out-Daltrey’s Roger before a sudden finish off a cliff. 6.5

Paper Girl – an acoustic folky pop gem that only Pollard could toss off so effortlessly. This is the tip of the iceberg for Bob’s pop songcraft abilities. 9

Navigating Flood Regions – trebly slap-back repeat/echo vocals, this is a true GBV classic and would become a live favourite for decades. 9.5

An Earful O’ Wax – a mini-epic. Underwater vocals, start/stops, a track bursting with melody. There’s a lot in this 4-minute track, the longest track on the album – heavy metal, indie rock – then a remarkable guitar solo closes things out. 9

White Whale – a driving indie rock number, consisting of multiple catchy tunes therein. Very lo-fi, clumsy drumming however the singing, harmonising and song structure more than make up for it. 8

Trampoline – duel guitars summoning the Velvet Underground and more otherworldly lyrics: The man with the hair on top of his ears drove past me at eight with a cooler of beer. A mini classic. 8

Short on Posters – again with the exquisite melody, this fly-by gem is over all too quickly. One verse/one chorus/finish. Typical GBV, so good so short, a world of song crammed into a minute and a half. 9

Chief Barrel Belly – anthemic hard rocking live fan favourite recorded before GBV had even played live. 9

Dying to Try This – a voice and a plucked acoustic guitar is all that’s needed here on this throwaway ditty: “A cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other.” 6

The Qualifying Remainder – a chaotic thrasher that build to quite a climax. 6

Liar’s TaleLet me tell you a story/About the way she was. In a word: exquisite. A magnificent song, Pollard’s brilliance is clear as a bell on this very short tremolo-guitar masterpiece. It’s tracks like this that lead me down a dark path ending up a decades long GBV junky-casualty (now reformed). Could’ve been a 60’s mega pop hit in the hands of Phil Spector. 10

Radio Show (Trust the Wizard) – good little singalong closer. “It’s another day today.” Cut and Paste and mixed backwards vocals, it’s weird before resuming back to a normal song and strumming guitars. 7

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The Rolling Stones – Still Life

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The Rolling Stones – Still Life (American Concert 1981) mp3

The aural equivalent of a Stones t-shirt? Maybe, but I have plenty, and love them all. Rushed out in 1982, this short single-disc live album is very much a shameless personal favourite dating back from a time when the critics derided the Stones as ancient grotesques and musical incompetents. The album has a bad rep. Coming out when the Stones were enjoying a second life in popularity and  touring the now canonised Tattoo You, it was recorded during the band’s 1981 American tour and released in time for the European leg.

Almost pop in its approach and just slick enough to get away with it, Still Life sashays exuberantly through the decades. Opening with a scintillating ‘Under My Thumb’, moving onto ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ and a blistering ‘Shattered’, the weaving guitars of Ron and Keith are at their brilliant best as Charlie effortlessly keeps time with pre-departure Bill (although no Bobby Keys, still on the outer with Mick). The rhythm section and band interplay is exemplary. A concert movie was also released to accompany the album and Mick’s banter after the opener is priceless: “Welcome to everyone watching on TV, hoping everyone’s having a good time, sinking a few beers, smoking a few joints…alright!” They don’t make them like this anymore.

The album is heavy on covers: ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ and ‘Going to a Go-Go’, both blues classics, are all garish mannerisms from Mick as he runs from one side of the stage to the other in spray on tights, as Ron and Keith smile and nod at each other with their perennial cigarettes. There’s occasional vocals from Keith that sound like “Return of the Living Dead the Musical”, before they launch into an awesome ska version of Emotional Rescue’s ‘Let Me Go’. It’s delivered at break-neck speed, then Keith breaks out the trippy tone of his MXR Phase 100, a signature sound for this era, for the marvellous classic that is ‘Time Is On My Side’. Keith’s guitar treatments are subtle and as always sublime and his plaintive riff ringing out across the crowd is even more bittersweet.

We have room for another cover Some Girls‘ Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me), a show stopper as Mick, Keith, and Ronnie sing together at the mic – a classic middle-era Stones moment. Then the high octane ‘Start Me Up’ and a super-fast ‘Satisfaction’ are exhausting just listening to them and they close out the album all too soon. It does finish rather abruptly. I was having a lot of fun but it was brought to a sudden close and the outro ‘Star Spangled Banner’ (the Jimi Hendrix recording) chimes in as the Stones depart stage left.

Despite the album being truncated, super-ultra-brief and probably released as a cash grab as a tour promo, it’s an amazingly enjoyable short burst of Stones live frivolity and brings back some great summer memories. While it doesn’t document the overall performance of the 1981 live shows, it is representative of who the Rolling Stones were at the time: a great live rock ‘n roll band, delivering an entertaining a live set as any. The album cover, a painting by Japanese artist Kazuhide Yamazaki whose work inspired the tour’s extravagant stage design, is very much of its time.

Happy 77th Birthday Mick!

Tracks:

  1. Under My Thumb
  2. Let’s Spend the Night Together
  3. Shattered
  4. Twenty Flight Rock
  5. Going to a Go-Go
  6. Let Me Go
  7. Time is On My Side
  8. Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
  9. Start Me Up
  10. Satisfaction

Produced by the Glimmer Twins. Mixed by Bob Clearmountain at Power Station Studios.

Posted in Downloads, Gigs, On This Day, Rolling Stones, The, Wig Outs | 2 Comments

Down in the Cockpit – XTC in the 80s

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A group that produced melodically challenging and high-vitality post-punk rock, XTC deserved more than they ever received, gaining enormous popularity in the UK while, despite the popularity of mid-80s breakthrough single ‘Dear God’, remained essentially a cult favourite in the US. Emerging from the new wave scene of the late 1970’s, aspiring to be wholly original and by extension non-conformist, they enjoyed some chart success, but their uncompromising artistic genius and narrow commercial focus did them no favours with record sales.

Veering away from the high-pitched nervous energy of their early work, XTC exploded into the 80’s with their definitive rock sound on Black Sea (1980). The sharp hooks and cranked guitars were then eclipsed by the pastoral majesty of the followup English Settlement (1982), produced by Steve Lillywhite and engineered by Hugh Padgham, it was one of the best albums of the 1980’s, showcasing an impressive variety of styles, and defining the sound of the decade.

Suffering from chronic stage-fright, bandleader Andy Partridge then retired XTC from touring indefinitely. Drummer Terry Chambers left, however singer-songwriters Partridge and Colin Moulding, along with secret weapon guitarist Dave Gregory, didn’t bother to replace him, instead carrying on as a threesome, recruiting session drummers on an album-per-album basis.

They remained studio-bound for the rest of the decade, taking production cues from The Beatles and The Beach Boys, and making occasional live appearances on radio and television. What followed were the wilderness years. U.S. label Geffen released the underrated Mummer (1983) and the classicist English pop of The Big Express (1984), before a stepping out with two hugely successful releases by the band’s 60s throwback alias Dukes of Stratosphear (more on that amazing stuff later). What followed for XTC was a career peak and commonly known as their masterpiece; the lush, progressive, Todd Rundgren-produced Skylarking (1986).

The album proved to be their most popular so far, a fully realised psych-pop masterpiece and an oddity among an era of all things synths and synthetics. Thematically the band effortlessly tackles major life issues like love, marriage and religion with melodic and lyrical accuracy. Re-energised, XTC managed to consolidate their commercial fortunes with the psychedelic-flavoured double Oranges and Lemons (1989), a wonderful album stuffed with cracking songs, held together with a lavish kitchen-sink production.

What we have here is a 20-track playlist highlighting XTC’s key 80’s output – a difficult task, more an introduction – a war chest of top class material and some of this band’s finest work of that decade. Despite a lack of major sales, chronic difficulties with producers, and an outright refusal to tour since 1982, the band cultivated a reputation, and remains, one of the best songwriter-oriented pop bands of the 1980’s, and beyond.

  1. Respectable Street – Black Sea
  2. Generals and Majors – Black Sea
  3. Towers of London – Black Sea
  4. Senses Working Overtime – English Settlement
  5. Down in the Cockpit – English Settlement
  6. No Thugs in Our House – English Settlement
  7. Wonderland – Mummer
  8. Love on a Farmboy’s Wages – Mummer
  9. Wake Up – The Big Express
  10. Reign of Blows – The Big Express
  11. All You Pretty Girls – The Big Express
  12. Another Satellite – Skylarking
  13. Summer’s Cauldron – Skylarking
  14. Grass – Skylarking
  15. The Meeting Place – Skylarking
  16. Earn Enough for Us – Skylarking
  17. Dear God – Skylarking
  18. Garden of Earthly Delights – Oranges & Lemons
  19. Mayor of Simpleton – Oranges & Lemons
  20. Chalkhills and Children – Oranges & Lemons

Posted in Downloads, Mixtapes, XTC | 7 Comments

#12: XTC – Oranges & Lemons (1989)