October 15: Booker T and the MGs, Ray Charles, The Everly Brothers, Little Richard, Tito Puente, Ray Price, Sarah Vaughan

If you consider the start of the album-as-artform to be mid-1960s, where rock artists worked to produce whole novels rather than just short story collections, then this week’s collection pre-dates that. This week, we’re looking at some of the oldest albums on the 1001. We’ve already covered much of the jazz, folk, country and Sinatra from the 50s, so this week’s list takes us into the early 60s. Saddle up.

Booker T and the MGs, ‘Green Onions’ (link)

One interesting thing about the 50s and 60s for the pop archivist is that instrumental pop music sold massively. Nowadays, an electronic dance song can sell very well, but Number Ones with no vocals are exceptionally rare; vocal-driven pop really is the dominant medium. But in the early 60s, an instrumental bluesy number played on the Hammond could be a huge hit and stick around forever. You’ll know the title track, then, and you’ll know ‘Twist and Shout’, although maybe not the MGs’ ebuillent take on it. The rest – a fusion of jazz, blues and soul – all pretty much sounds exactly the same, not helped of course by the fact that the fourth track, ‘Mo’ Onions’, is just a reprise of the title track. Of course, the organist who gives the band its name is no relation to the wrestler Booker T.

Booker-T

Ray Charles, ‘The Genius of Ray Charles’ (link)

Our second and final visit to Ray Charles is an album of two halves: upbeat big band on the first half, ballads drenched in strings and woodwind on the second. The big band side features at least two of Charles’s famous songs (‘Let The Good Times Roll’ and ‘It Had To Be You’), but the arrangements feel overdone, as if two big bands turned up by mistake and they just used everyone. The ballads are prone to Disney arrangements – massed backing vocalists, glockenspiel – but generally the songwriting and Charles’s performance are strong enough to overcome the dated orchestrations.

The Everly Brothers, ‘A Date With The Everly Brothers’ (link)

The Everlys are kind of the nice boys who study hard and who most mums would be happy to let their daughters date. Look at the album cover, straight out of Lisa Simpson’s Non-Threatening Boys magazine:

Adatewiththeeverlybrothers

With angelic harmonies and twangy guitars, the Everlys play the sort of country-tinged rock and roll that James from ‘Twin Peaks’ must have loved. With none of the tracks approaching three minutes, these 27 minutes bridge the gap between the 50s pop of, say, The Crickets and the 60s pop of, say, Gerry and the Pacemakers.

Little Richard, ‘Here’s Little Richard’ (link)

Pop albums from this era don’t have very imaginative names, huh? This is the one with ‘Tutti Frutti’ kicking things off, and the lion’s share of the album follows the same template: this was an album designed to dance to. Richard’s energy drives the set: on both vocals and piano, he barely sounds like he can be contained by the songs, while the rhythm section just about manages to keep up, and saxophones stopping by to add some raunch. It’s kind of like ‘This is Fats‘ on dexedrine.

Tito Puente, ‘Dance Mania’ (link)

Celebrating its 60th anniversary next month, ‘Dance Mania’ might be the only mambo album on the list, but if you know Puente’s signature sound, there won’t be many surprises here. A vibraphone instrumental and some vocals from an uncredited female vocalist are the features that leap off the speaker, however the rest of the album mostly sounds like incidental music from an award ceremony. Of course, when I think of Puente I mainly think of his Simpsons cameo when he was suspected of shooting Mr Burns…

tito

Ray Price, ‘Night Life’ (link)

A downbeat bit of honkytonk ideal for a late-night listen, this features Willie Nelson on guitar and one Johnny Paycheck playing almost all the other instruments. This seems to be vaguely conceptual: it opens with a spoken word section and seemingly focuses on barflies and other post-curfew activity. It’s the second ‘Twin Peaks’ reference this week, but I can imagine this music playing in the Roadhouse. I think this album overdelivered against my expectations: maybe I’m just a sucker for a vaulting tenor and a shimmering pedal steel.

Sarah Vaughan, ‘At Mister Kelly’s’ (link)

Recorded live in 1957 at the Chicago bar, an unnamed host (Mr Kelly?) manages the audience’s expectations by telling them Vaughan will be using lyric sheets. Vaughan still somehow manages to under-deliver on chaotic interpretations of ‘Willow Weep For Me’ (“I’ve really fouled up this song real well”, she sings, before remarking “they’ll probably use that one”) and ‘How High The Moon’, where none of the performers seem to know the song well enough to perform it, least of all Vaughan. It’s an unusually sloppy set to put out on a major label, then, but there’s something charming about the laidback pissing around interrupting otherwise by-the-book Irving Berlin vocal jazz.  This stuff’s never going to be a personal favourite of mine, but I enjoyed hanging out with Vaughan here more than I probably would on any of her studio albums.

Next week: time to delve back into some of the prog, Kraut and other outlying weirdness on the list.

Status update: 658 listened to (65%), 343 remain.

 

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October 8: Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Marianne Faithfull, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Wyatt, Neil Young

Pop music fans are capricious, meaning that most bands’ careers are shorter than even that of a professional footballer.  It’s generally accepted that artists’ best work is normally done by the fifth album, when the combination of initial passion and musical accomplishment is still at its peak. Beyond that, many artists go on to make albums which are either dignified but play mainly to their core fanbase (Eels, for example), or are derided as embarrassing experiments (Lou Reed is the king of this, but see also Korn’s dubstep album). Even a band like Pulp, whose commercial peak came as late as their fifth album, were all but done by their seventh.

Yet there are some exceptions to this rule. This week’s entries are all artists who released critically regarded albums 15 or more years into their careers. Of course, we’ve met many of these artists before.

Johnny Cash, ‘American IV: The Man Comes Around’ (link)

Pretty much the definition of this week’s list, this album is, of course, best known for his dignified cover of ‘Hurt’. The Nine Inch Nails cover – surprisingly credible, doing justice to both the original song and to Cash’s legacy – serves as a reasonable summary of the album, which mainly features covers or previously-recorded Cash compositions in a stripped down, restrained manner. The best other song is Sting’s ‘I Hurt My Head’, which sounds strong (I don’t know the original). Several singers show up to complement Cash, but with mixed results: on ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, Fiona Apple sounds as if she was singing to a different version of the track, while Don Henley does nothing notable on ‘Desperado’; only Nick Cave adds any value (on ‘I’m So Lonesome I Might Cry’). While this is perhaps a few tracks too long, it serves as a high point to go out on. This is the last of his albums on the list and our final visit.

Leonard Cohen, ‘I’m Your Man’ (link)

Not many artists do their most well-regarded album aged 53, but Cohen was never an ordinary artist; besides, he only started making music in his thirties. One of just two 80s albums from the never-prolific Len, this one backs him with an unusual combination of female hackette backette vocalists, a crummy-sounding synclavier and a bunch of near-Eastern instruments, while Cohen himself rarely expands his vocal range beyond a single note. In an odd symbiosis, his monotone baritone almost sounds as if he’s taken cues from his own acolyte Andrew Eldritch. This is a popular album with Cohen fans and features some of his best known songs, but sounds like an album where the writing is better than the execution, whether due to cheesy arrangements (‘Ain’t no Cure For Love’) or dud playing (the synth solos in ‘Tower of Song’ for example). I’ve not gotten a lot out of Leonard yet; we do however have another (earlier) album of his to explore.

Bob Dylan, ‘Time Out of Mind’ (link)

Dylan’s idiosyncratic later career has seen him doing three albums of standards and a Christmas album, as well as winning a Nobel Prize he scarcely bothered to acknowledge. Before all that, though, he made a 1997 record with Daniel Lanois which was widely acclaimed. In some ways, the shimmering sound makes it as much a Lanois album, but the odd way Bob’s vocals are recorded doesn’t do any favours. Dylan’s contributions, meanwhile, are some of his most direct lyrics, delivered in a guttural semi-croak that became his late-era trademark. ‘Not Dark Yet’ is very good, ‘Can’t Wait’ sounds like a Tom Waits cut, but overall I don’t think this is a contender for Dylan’s top three (with or without the 17-minute blues cut at the end). We’ve covered Bob many times on this blog, but there are still two more of his albums to go.

Marianne Faithfull, ‘Broken English’ (link)

Marianne in 1979 was younger than any of the other artists this week, but she’d spent a lot of time in the wilderness after a fairly prolific 60s and had wrecked her voice with smoking, drugs and laryngitis, so the quality and success of this record was seen as something of a surprise. Re-inventing herself as a new wave artist with the help of Steve Winwood and others, the synth-heavy cuts on this album often sound like Blondie (‘Guilt’, the title track), or are fresh post-punk takes on ominous, brooding folk songs (‘The Ballad of Lucy Jordan’, Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’). The album ends with the fantastically crude ‘Why’d Ya Do It?’, an explicit story about sex with the wrong woman strewn with Berlin trilogy guitar which, amazingly, was originally written for Tina Turner (Faithfull astutely realised Turner would reject the track and took it for herself).

Bruce Springsteen, ‘The Rising’ (link)

If I told you that this was Bruce’s 2002 album, made in response to September 11, and featured the E Street Band, you could probably figure out what it sounds like without me elaborating. But in case you’re struggling to picture it: it’s 70 minutes long, is arranged with plenty of musicians, a lot of organ, and nothing gets out of second gear tempo-wise: all very classy but not very edgy. There is, however, some pretty good stuff here: ‘Lonesome Day’ is a good opener, ‘Worlds Apart’ has an unexpected Qawwali intro (I guess to demonstrate that being a working-class Yank doesn’t mean you’re anti-Islam), and ‘The Fuse’ starts off with what sounds like an organic stab at the ‘Head Like A Hole’ intro.

Robert Wyatt, ‘Shleep’ (link)

This is the first album of Wyatt’s I’ve heard, and features a bunch of old boys, but maybe not the ones you’d expect: rather than Canterbury pals like Ratledge and Ayres, it’s 70s geezers like Eno, Manzanera and Weller. I’ve always found the jazz-influenced Canterbury psychedelic sound a bit cluttered and finicky for my tastes, and this album often has the same issues. There are some exceptions, though: ‘Free Will and Testament’ is the sort of frazzled sighing Wayne Coyne excels at, the melody and backing perfect for Wyatt’s mannered, splintered falsetto. The best on the second half is ‘Blues in Bob Minor’ borrows a template from ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ for Robert to ramble unusual words like ‘intercontinental’ and ‘genuflecting’ over the top. This came out in 1997 and it’s odd that Wyatt didn’t – never did – make an album with young fans who’d taken this sort of sound into the top 50. You’d think the Flaming Lips, Gorky’s and Grandaddy would have loved to make a record collaborating with him, but it never happened.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, ‘Ragged Glory’ (link)

Young is one of my big discoveries from this project: this is about the 10th album of his I’ve listened to, and I hadn’t listened to any 18 months ago. Here we are in 1990, just before he enjoyed a kind of resurgence in the 90s, due mainly to his veneration by the Seattle scene: he made some records with Pearl Jam, and he was notoriously quoted in Cobain’s suicide note. Still, Young wasn’t just coasting on endorsements: he made very good albums like ‘Harvest Moon’ in this time. ‘Ragged Glory’, like his other albums with Crazy Horse, allows many openings for lengthy guitar workouts (‘Over and Over’, ‘Country Home’). Which is fine on a 40-minute, 6-track album, but feels a bit like overkill on 10 tracks in 62 minutes. The grizzled old boys do sound up-to-date here, with something of a Frank Black feel: ripe for a career revival. We’ve almost listened to everything on the list from Young’s solo career: just one album remains.

Next week: we’ll be getting into the DeLorean and going back to the 1950s with some of the oldest albums on the list!

Status update: 651 albums listened to (65%), 350 remain

October 1: Blood Sweat & Tears, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Smith, Weather Report

Jazz was one of those genres I had hardly any relationship with prior to this project. It’s been pleasant working through the list and finding some albums that I thought were really cool (Herbie Hancock and Charles Mingus for example). This is the final all-jazz week, though, as we’ve listened to nearly all the jazz representation on the list: so a few names this week that you may or may not be familiar with.

Blood, Sweat and Tears, ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’ (link)

The nontet’s second album, and their only appearance on the list, this combines late 60s rock with a regal-sounding horn section, occasional jazz organ solos and two versions of Satie’s ‘Gymnopedies’ which bookend the album. ‘Spinning Wheel’ is the most famous original song here, written by husky vocalist David Clayton-Thomas, used for years on a British TV advert, and a fairly routine rocker before it interrupts itself for a Miles Davis section. This album certainly kept me guessing – most of the songs are very different from the one that preceded it – but I don’t expect to come back to it.

Dave Brubeck Quartet, ‘Time Out’ (link)

Brubeck is best known for ‘Take Five’, which appears here and is probably the most famous song in 5/4. The number of musicians in his band seems to be the only even number in his repertoire, as we also have songs in 9/8 and 7/4 – and the album finishes on track 7. It’s the sort of cool jazz you hear in 70s cartoons (indeed Brubeck himself scored for Charlie Brown), but the Rachmaninoff interludes, time signature shifts and other spooky wanderings mean that it never recedes entirely into the background. Already nearly 40 when this came out, Brubeck carried on releasing albums as late as 2005, when he was in his mid-80s.

Miles Davis, ‘Birth of the Cool’ (link)

The earliest Davis album on the list is technically a compilation album, a 1957 culling of his 1954 78rpm releases. All of the releases seem to have a different running order: I listened to the ‘Complete’ version. Davis is accompanied by eight musicians in this version of the band, which (despite the name) often sounds more like hard bop or a tricky, polyphonic take on Duke Ellington’s sort of sound than the stripped down cool jazz of ‘Kind of Blue’. The slow motion horn pile-up of ‘Moon Dreams’ is an early highlight, but this became background music more than once.

Bill Evans, ‘Sunday at the Village Vanguard’ (link)

Evans’s line-up on this live album is him on piano accompanied by a rhythm section, so the album mostly comprises of him leading with Satie-ish plinking, Thelonius Monk chord clusters and Ellington melodies, and a whole load of bass solos by Scott LaFaro, often with the audience audible in the background. Perhaps the intervening 60 years has dulled its impact somewhat, but this didn’t really leap off the speakers for me. Alas, this was LaFaro’s final recording: he died in a car crash less than two weeks later.

Ella Fitzgerald, ‘Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook’ (link)

Opening up Spotify and seeing one of these classic albums with a three-hour running time is standard fare these days given the amount of additional dross that gets added onto, say, ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ (six-hour version on Spotify including Nico’s ‘Chelsea Girls’ album in full). On this occasion, however, there’s not much extra dross: the original album is indeed 54 tracks long and three hours. It’s in no hurry either: the first thirteen minutes are instrumental easy-listening orchestrations which don’t even feature Fitzgerald! There’s certainly nothing wrong with Ella’s voice, or George’s compositions, which incorporate Latin rhythms, rag-time, sassy big band and showtune-ish ballads. Ira’s lyrical approach, on the other hand, gets wearisome after… well actually straight away, as the routine of clever-dick rhymes and “here’s a thing, here’s how it relates to our relationship” formula is a bit too pleased with itself for its own good. I mean, the guy rhymes “hour” with “Schopenhauer”. Highlights include ‘Just Another Rhumba’, ‘Somebody from Somewhere’ and ‘He Loves and She Loves’, but ultimately the sheer quantity of music is overwhelming. This isn’t even Fitzgerald’s only three-hour album: she also recorded the Duke Ellington songbook and took just as much time to do it.

Jimmy Smith, ‘Back at the Chicken Shack’ (link)

An artist about whom I knew nothing going in, Smith was an organist whose line-up was an unusual ensemble of organ, sax, guitar and drums, with Smith’s Hammond B-3 serving as lead instrument, accompaniment and bass. The sax and guitar are mainly used as solo instruments, and the musicians deliver with aplomb. Smith himself is a restrained backing musician and a skilled soloist. But it all kind of sounds exactly the same. More muzak in a big week for it.

Weather Report, ‘Heavy Weather’ (link)

The latest album of the week (and possibly the most recent jazz album on the 1001, depending on where you categorise Amy Winehouse), this came out in 1977. Its most famous song is its opener, ‘Birdland’, which paves the way for a lot of synths, fretless bass wankery from Jaco Pastorius and soprano saxophone solos. There’s a percussion duet called ‘Rumba Mama’, a bit of steel drum, some mandocello and a lot of stuff that sounds pretty awful. A lot of component parts that I don’t like combining to Frankenstein’s Monster effect. This album was credited for showing there was life in the flagging jazz-fusion scene; to me it just begs for the genre to be put down.

Next week: we’ll be looking at some of the best late-career and comeback albums on the list.

Status update: 644 listened to (64.3%), 357 remaining.

September 24: Janet Jackson, The Jam, Billy Joel, Quicksilver Messenger Service, XTC, Frank Zappa, ZZ Top

Welcome back to 1001 Albums You Must Hear, where this week’s loose collection are gathered together because they’ve chosen to start their name with one of the four least common letters for artists’ names: J, Q, X and Z. Of course, you can probably think of lots of great artists whose names start with any of those four, but here’s some of the ones whose albums I hadn’t already heard. Six of the seven are making their blog debut; let’s climb onboard.

Janet Jackson, ‘Rhythm Nation 1814’ (link)

I doubt I’d be alone in saying that while I’m familiar with much of Michael’s output, I hadn’t explored his sister’s work beyond the occasional single. Released in 1989, this has a similar drive to ‘What’s Going On’: covering socio-economic issues using a contemporary musical language. While the Gaye classic joins the songs together as essentially one continuous piece of music, Janet links between the tracks with interludes, while using Prince’s Linn-and-Fairlight template as the dominant arrangement. How much you get on with this will depend to what extent you like that late-80s/early-90s R&B pop sound; it sounds pretty good to me, but my favourite track is ‘Black Cat’, an unexpected shift into glam-metal written (and mostly produced) by Jackson on her own.

The Jam, ‘All Mod Cons’ (link)

The Modfathers make their debut on the list with their third album, which was something of a commercial breakthrough for them. Their sound is kind of an aggressively punkish take on the British rock bands of the previous decade: The Who, The Kinks (there’s a cover of the latter on here). That’s pretty much what I expected going in, but what I wasn’t expecting is how enjoyable I found it. It’s perfectly sequenced, allowing each song to breathe without being overwhelmed by the songs around it. Highlights include the commuter warfare of ‘Mr Clean’, the ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ solos on ‘In The Crowd’ and the acerbic closers ‘A Bomb In Wardour Street’ and ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’. Worth a listen. We’ll come to a later Jam album down the line.

Billy Joel, ‘The Stranger’ (link)

Joel’s only appearance on the list feels like what his critics always accuse him of: piano-based soft-rock. It’s best-known track is ‘Just The Way You Are’, which sounds like Stevie Wonder: and is that 10cc’s ‘synthesizer made of voices’ trick on the backing track? While it’s a palatable listen, nothing on the album jumps out of the speakers and into my heart (hang on, is this the right Billy?).

Quicksilver Messenger Service, ‘Happy Trails’ (link)

You might remember the Allman Brothers’ adventures in long guitar explorations ‘At Filmore East’, and here’s an earlier band doing guitar improv largely at the same location (and at San Francisco’s twin venue, Filmore West). The whole of the first half is given over to a lengthy digression on a Bo Diddley track, ‘Who Do You Love’; amusingly, the song is broken up into sections with titles that riff on the song name (‘When You Love’, ‘How You Love’ etc). The best bit is when the audience participate on handclaps and shouts, which sounds like a good time. The choice cut from the album, though, is on the B-side: ‘Calvary”s 13 minutes of spaced-out spaghetti Western, as if depicting a dogie run on the prairie undertaken during an acid trip.

XTC, ‘Apple Venus Volume One’ (not on Spotify)

Our final visit to Andy’n’Colin sees them curiously out of time: in 1999, when big beats were in and Britpop was becoming passe, they released an album with virtually no drums and couched in McCartney/Ray Davies songwriting. Feeling like quite a long album despite its 50-minute running length, ‘Apple Venus’ builds around keyboards, pizzicato strings, horns and acoustic guitar in unconventional arrangements and structures. By this point XTC had spent over 15 years as a studio-only band, and it feels like this is evident in the album’s focus on craft and structure rather than hooks or urgency.

Frank Zappa, ‘Hot Rats’ (link)

The good thing about a project like this is it gives you in-roads into genres that you don’t know anything about: for example it’s acted as a gateway for me into Afrobeat, jazz and country, all of which I knew barely anything about. It also gives pointers on where to begin with artists like Zappa: I’ve tried before with him but his 109-album back catalogue, with no hits, doesn’t have any obvious starting places, and it’s hard to know which, if any, are representative of the whole (the classical albums and Synclavier stuff probably aren’t, but is the novelty hit with Moon Unit?). So hoorah, there’s one on the 1001. ‘Hot Rats’ is mostly an instrumental psych-rock album, with a cool rhythm section holding things together under the various guitar, horn, keyboard and violin (!) melodic and solo lines. There are some exceptions: ‘The Gumbo Variations’ takes a left turn into abrasive Ornette Coleman skronk, and ‘Willie the Pimp’ features Captain Beefheart in a typically idiosyncratic appearance. Well worth a listen.

ZZ Top, ‘Eliminator’ (link)

The band alphabetically last on the list (obviously?), ZZ Top have two entries in the 1001. This is the later of the two, but is also the one with all the hits (‘Give Me All Your Loving’, ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ and so on). It’s the sort of music I’d hear on the radio all the time in my early years: that kind of bluesy boogie you’d expect to hear if you hitch-hiked with a long-distance truck. There’s something artificial about it though: suspicious of the metronomic drumming, I found a post by the album’s engineer which suggests that all the drums were programmed and even half the bass was done off a Moog. I mean, it made them millions of dollars so I’m sure they’re not too concerned, but it hardly feels like an authentic capturing of the band.

Next week: Time to go back to genre as we do an all-jazz week for the final time.

Status report: 637 listened to (63.6%), 364 remain. A year left, more or less!

September 17: Joan Baez, Billy Bragg, Donovan, Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Pentangle, Simon and Garfunkel

This week, we’ll be taking another dip into the folk selections on the list, after previously covering some here. Still a few more folk records on the list, but not enough for a third visit, so we’ll have to meet those along the road like a magician in a folk song.

Joan Baez, ‘Joan Baez’ (link)

Recorded in a mouldering theatre where you could do all your tracks in one take “unless a dog ran in”, Baez’s only appearance on the list sees her almost solely accompanied by her own guitar picking. The material is traditional songs, including ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and a Spanish-language cut, ‘El Preso Número Nueve’. Baez’s quavering soprano is full of feeling but the stark minimalism makes it feel as old as it is (released in 1960).

Billy Bragg, ‘Talking with the Taxman about Poetry’ (link)

You or I can probably imagine what most Billy Bragg albums sound like: just the king of the Glastonbury Leftfield tent and his guitar. Indeed, his first two albums were nothing more than that. Here, he broadens his sonic palette a bit to include a rhythm section, a mandolin, and Kirsty MacColl on vocals, sandpapering some of the coarseness from Bragg’s bolshy delivery. Recorded in 1986, this is both lyrically and musically a very 80s album (and not just because there’s a song called ‘There Is Power in a Union’), but it’s pretty listenable.

Donovan, ‘Sunshine Superman’ (link)

In the same way that the Bragg album couldn’t have been recorded in any other decade, this album could only have been recorded in 1966: there’s a song for solo tambura, a harpsichord features prominently, and the session hacks include a pre-Zep Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. More a psychedelic rock album than strictly a folk one, this invokes the images of swinging Carnaby Street in summer. ‘Legend of a Girl Child Linda’ sounds kind of like Nico’s ‘Chelsea Girl’, ‘Guinevere’ gets a bit cutesy-mystic for its own good, but the upbeat feel of the majority of the tracks is worth a recommendation.

Fairport Convention, ‘Liege and Lief’ (link)

Fairport weren’t resting on their ‘Unhalfbricking’ laurels, putting this one out just six months after its predecessor (they’d put out ‘What We Did On Our Holidays’ at the start of the year too, meaning 1968 had three FC albums). Based mainly around traditional English folk songs, it’s the contributions of Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson that set them apart from the pack. Denny’s voice, songs and choices of trad songs mean that they don’t get bogged down too much in blokey rocking, but Thompson’s robust guitar playing adds muscle where it would be tempting to concede the stage to Denny’s floaty voice. Another killer album by the member-fluid collective, this is alas their final appearance on the list.

John Martyn, ‘Solid Air’ (link)

I got an advance preview of this album this week when I was in a pub in Bristol, surrounded by cats (literal cats, not cool jazz dudes) and somebody put this on the turntable. It sounded pretty cool, but it killed the atmosphere, as we went from ‘Are You Experienced?’ to the minimalist folk-jazz of the title track. Listening to it at home reinforced the feeling that this is a pretty far-out album. ‘Don’t Want To Know’ sounds like the sort of jazz-tinged soft-rock that Steely Dan would later make their trademark, while ‘I’d Rather Be The Devil’ is an old blues cut arranged for clavinet and delay pedal. The occasional Rhodes piano (always too high in the mix) and synthesizer (!) add to the disorientating feel of the album. I’m not sure I definitely loved this – Martyn’s husky, bluesy mumbling seems like an acquired taste – but further listens will no doubt be worthwhile. Give this a listen.

Pentangle, ‘Basket of Light’ (link)

Sort of a supergroup of folksters, Pentangle (or ‘The Pentangle’) are best known for the interplay between guitarists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch (we’ve met Jansch before). Their material is kind of jazzy folk, while sitars and glockenspiels give the arrangements a psychedelic tinge and Jacqui McShee’s spooky vocals give the whole affair a ‘Wicker Man’ vibe. This album, only 40 minutes long, felt like it went on for a long time.

Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Bookends’ (link)

One of these “first half is a concept album, second half is leftovers” jobs that I’ve seen before, although I’m struggling to think of too many examples: ‘Diamond Dogs’ maybe is another. This weird record’s first proper track, ‘Save the Life of My Child’, starts with a Moog bassline drenched with reverb-heavy tape cacophony: an intro so confusing I had to check I’d put the right album on. The album also features a collage of old people’s home residents talking (‘Voices of Old People’, obviously) and a mid-song interruption apparently recorded in a grocers (‘Fakin’ It’). On the B-side, all the hits are stockpiled at the end: ‘Mrs Robinson’, ‘Hazy Shade of Winter’ (which sounds great), ‘At The Zoo’. A wild, unpredictable ride throughout. Who knew S&G had it in them?

Good week this week.

Next week: We take a look at the few artists on the list whose names start with J, Q, X or Z. Speculate now!

Status update: 630 listened to (63%), 371 remain.

September 10: Dictators, Kings of Leon, Elvis Presley, Prince, Queen Latifah, Queens of the Stone Age, Stereolab

To celebrate Prince George’s first day at school, perhaps, this week looks at some of the ruling classes: any artist with a suitably regal name or album title. I wish I’d come up with this idea when we still had BB King, Carole King, King Crimson, and Queen still to review, but there’s still seven albums ready for your perusal this week. Let’s dive in.

Dictators, ‘Go Girl Crazy!’ (link)

I had absolutely no idea what this album was going in, but I forgot the golden rule: on the 1001 and you’ve never heard of it? It’s punk. This lot were a mid-70s act doing proto-punk: it’s a tongue-in-cheek take on rock’n’roll where everyone’s acting as dumb as possible. They’re playing fast and loud and kind of sloppily, as if everything could have done with a few more takes, including a deliberately daft cover of ‘I Got You Babe’ given away as early as track 2. If the Tubes aren’t on the 1001, and they aren’t, there’s no real reason for this to be.

Kings of Leon, ‘Youth and Young Manhood’ (link)

Now that Kings of Leon are a huge stadium act, it’s hard to remember that back in the day they sounded like this, kind of like The Strokes if they were into Creedence Clearwater Revival, with clean production where they should sound like they’ve been dragged out of a swamp. The Marmite on top of this fairly bland bread is Caleb, who barely sings an intelligible line at any point. Imagery evoked: A bunch of massively hungover drifters go on a hike across the desert with hilarious results.

Elvis Presley, ‘Elvis is Back!’ (link)

Well, he is the King after all. Presley had been serving in the army for the previous two years, and while he had still managed to record some singles in that time, this was sort of a comeback record for him. As with ‘Elvis Presley‘, it feels kind of like a mixed bag despite the quick recording and consistent backing band: there’s rock’n’roll, doo-wop, country and a cover of ‘Fever’ among other tracks. I guess it was a different age: get the album recorded and released quickly so that people didn’t forget about you. The last two tracks are probably the strongest on an album that’s a decent collection of songs which don’t quite cohese as an album. This is our last look at Elvis; I reviewed the chronologically latest of his albums on the list here.

Prince, ‘Purple Rain’ (link)

I’d struggled to get on with ‘1999’ and ‘Sign O’ The Times’ with all its screechy peacocking and minimalist funk, but the Purple One seems more focused on this album, trimmed down to 42 minutes and remembering to invite The Revolution to the studio for once. It feels like a concise summary of his entire schtick: the synth-funk (‘Computer Blue’), the melodramatic ballads (‘The Beautiful Ones’), the guitar solos (‘Purple Rain’), the filthy sex (‘Darlin’ Nikki’), the hits (‘When Doves Cry’). Yeah this is real good. Dig if you will.

Queen Latifah, ‘All Hail The Queen’ (not on Spotify)

The future Academy Award nominee wasn’t the first female rapper or even the biggest-selling, but is perhaps the best known of her generation. While the early stages of the album sound like just another Daisy Age album (De La Soul show up on ‘Mama Gave Birth To The Soul Children’, mucking about with sped-up voices), Latifah quickly deviates, dropping 808-heavy house rhythms on ‘Come Into My House’ and cutting down amateurs at rap battles over a King Tubby dub plate on ‘The Pros’. The Queen’s lyrical delivery feels sharp too: she somehow manages to sound like Chuck D and Flavor Flav at the same time. She’s not made a rap album since 2003 – she switched over to singing at that point, and then acting became her thing – but this is a good example of what brought her to the game.

Queens of the Stone Age, ‘Queens of the Stone Age’ (link)

The first album from the future megastars, who were at this time just Josh Homme and drummer Alfredo Hernandez; weird to see this here and not ‘Rated R’ or ‘Songs for the Deaf’. While those albums built on the Queens template and diversified, here there probably aren’t enough cooks around the pot, as the monotony of the repetitive ‘robot rock’ quickly becomes apparent. The samey formula and monochromatic arrangements mean the novelty wears off early; I was ready for this to be done by the tenth track, although at least the final two tracks are good. Be careful: the 2011 re-issue adds superfluous pissabouts mid-album.

Stereolab, ‘Emperor Tomato Ketchup’ (link)

Stereolab were one of the very first bands I saw as they opened up V96 when I was 14, although I was nonplussed by their sound. Listening now, it’s easy to see why: I’d never heard of them and their indirect fusion of Serge Gainsbourg and Kraftwerk isn’t the most compelling combination for a teenager at a summer festival. It’s easier to enjoy it 21 years later: you can see how their Gallic loungey qualities paved the way for not just the likes of Air but the likes of All Seeing I or Zero 7 too, while producer John McEntire (of Tortoise) injects energy on tracks like ‘The Noise of Carpet’. I think it’s probably too long – it’s 57 minutes – but it’s fine.

Next week: a less daft reason for a collection as we listen to that most traditional of genres, folk!

Status update: 623 listened to (62%), 378 remain.

September 3: Alice Cooper, Hanoi Rocks, Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music, Slade, Sparks, T-Rex

Today my band is playing Glitterfest so to celebrate, let’s have a look at that most glittery of genres, glam! It’s another 70s-centric week this week: I’m sure there were good glam albums released in the last three decades, but none on the list.

Alice Cooper, ‘School’s Out’ (link)

A Broadway musical about a quintet of seniors who like wagging lessons and bumming cigarettes, who hate school but realise when they graduate that maybe the real world isn’t all that either. It’s pretty much as theatrical as I’ve made it sound, to the extent that there’s excerpts from ‘West Side Story’ included and there’s even a grand finale. Not desperately worried about sounding cool, the ridiculousness suits Vince and the gang, and is indulged by producer Bob Ezrin (the rowdy school kids on the title track are the clue to his involvement). This overdelivered against expectations.

Hanoi Rocks, ‘Back to Mystery City’ (link)

With two of Mott the Hoople at the controls, the game Finnish quartet play for the stadiums with this, their only appearance on the list, and occasionally stop off for Adam Ant Burundi beats (‘Mental Beat’), street sound effects and Banshees bass (‘Tooting Bec Wreck’) and even flute-led folk (on the deliberately misleading kick-off ‘Strange Boys Play Weird Openings’). They’re not afraid of a little experimentation or of looking daft, but their riffs and melodies don’t give me much to get into or linger in the memory.

Mott the Hoople, ‘Mott’ (link)

Speaking of Mott, here they are with their lone entry on the 1001, a year after Bowie had given them a leg-up with ‘All the Young Dudes’. This was released in 1973, the same year as ‘Aladdin Sane’, but feels like an inferior version of the Spiders album: it doesn’t help that the arrangements are so similar (Ronson-ish guitar, Hunter’s Ziggy-esque voice, raunchy saxophone, piano). The most distracting thing here is ‘I’m A Cadillac”s eight minutes of wandering, or perhaps the piano opening of ‘Hymn For The Dudes’, while ‘Ballad of Mott the Hoople’ is as naff as its name (you’ve probably noticed they weren’t a band who were good at naming things).

Roxy Music, ‘For Your Pleasure’ (link)

Brian Eno is all over this list in various guises, whether that’s on his own albums, or as producer. Here, he’s in his final appearance as one of a band, lurking in the background of Roxy Music and putting everything through the VCS3. While his precise contributions are often hard to identify – he doesn’t really play an instrument as much as manipulate the sounds of the others – it’s almost certainly his involvement which makes this album more artsy and arctic than its contemporaries. Even ‘Do The Strand’, in theory just a glam stomper, sounds pregnant with menace, while ‘The Bogus Man’ and ‘For Your Pleasure’ burble around guitar, synth and sax jams for 10 and 7 minutes respectively. One listen probably isn’t enough to fully penetrate the mysteries of that second side, but this is a good album.

Slade, ‘Slayed?’ (not on Spotify)

Slade were a huge band in the 70s – three of their songs went straight in at Number One – but they’re mostly remembered now, of course, for their Christmas song, and only appear once on the 1001. So was any of their stuff any good, then? Well, this album has its moments. It’s an unsophisticated, but unpretentious, combination of Cheap Trick-ish melodies, big choruses, and terrace stomp’n’chant, with an obvious legacy in mega-selling 80s acts like AC/DC. Unusually, the hits all come from the second side of the album: ‘Gudbuy T’Jane’ and ‘Mama We’re All Crazee Now’ both sound pretty good. I suspect this will be the only time I listen to this record, although it probably seemed great live and down the pub.

Sparks, ‘Kimono My House’ (link)

I know, I’m sure you’re surprised I’ve never heard a Sparks album before (even their Franz Ferdinand collaboration). The band had relocated to London just before this album, recruiting a new rhythm section of British musicians, and yeah the Brits acquit themselves fine here but let’s not pretend the Maels aren’t the stars. Ron’s songs are flamboyant and ostentatious without being excessively camp to drown the melodies, and Russell’s voice is the perfect medium for the message. Clever dicks without being dicks. Yeah this is good. (It also features their biggest hit, ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us’, as the first track.)

T-Rex, ‘Electric Warrior’ (link)

The former hippies have an immediately recognisable sound: acoustic guitar, strings, bongos and female backing vocals, which serves as a very palatable backdrop for Bolan’s trans-Atlantic spaced out drawl. Made without any grandiose concept or plans for posterity, ‘Electric Warrior’ has in fact aged pretty well, mainly because Marc’s a good writer and Visconti’s production shies away from using any faddish trickery. This is the album with ‘Jeepster’ and ‘Get It On’ and ‘Cosmic Dancer’, but there are some curious moves, too: ‘Girl”s ramshackle Ornette Coleman horns sound like they’re from a Godspeed You Black Emperor intro, while heavy rock closer ‘Rip Off’ unexpectedly ends with a drone section.

Next week: time for something wacky: we’re looking at royalty (or at least bands and albums named after royalty)!

Status update: 616 listened to, 385 remain. Just over a year left on this project.