December 10: The Byrds, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Sonic Youth, Talking Heads

This week’s 1001 features no new artists – we’ve met all of these musicians at least once and will meet many of them again, as these are (among) the artists with the heaviest representation on the list. No surprise to see any of these giants of rock music on the list (and they are all rock – no jazz or rap musician appears on the list more than four times), but are this week’s selection deserving of inclusion? Let’s find out.

The Byrds, ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers’ (link)

The Byrds were in disarray while recording this album – Gene Clark almost totally gone, David Crosby most of the way out of the door too – yet against all odds, the album is pretty coherent, drawing together the Byrds’ trademark elements (12-string guitar, harmonies, Indian interests) with disparate elements like brassy soul (‘Artificial Energy’), weird sound effects (‘Draft Morning’) and 5/4 songs (‘Tribal Gathering’). It feels like the best Byrds album I’ve heard so far, and certainly contains the most lovable song in ‘Goin’ Back’.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, ‘Henry’s Dream’ (link)

Cave’s hallmark sound is to sound like a lurid radio play in which a local in a small town is murdered at a travelling freakshow. That’s an acquired taste, which isn’t for everyone. Still, this seems like a strong version of that model, with strong melodies and motivated musicians backing up Cave’s melodramatic bombast. Atypically, nothing outstays its welcome either: the longest songs here are around the five minute mark. We’ll see a lot more of Cave in 2018, with three more of his albums on the list.

Bob Dylan, ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ (link)

The first of Dylan’s albums on the list, this one sees him mostly accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica with no other musicians, although when a full band eventually show up on ‘Corrina, Corrina’, they’re understated enough to not seem intrusive. The album has ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’, but even in the midst of Dylan’s newly woke songwriting, my favourite on here is ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’. It influenced plenty of people, but I don’t think I’d reach for this one again.

Led Zeppelin, ‘Led Zeppelin III’ (link)

The first half of this album seems to be an attempt to win me over via sheer weirdness: the unexpected groove of ‘Immigrant Song’, ‘Friends’ sounding like two songs played at once (almost a raga with Robert Plant singing a blues song over the top), the smoky Pink-Floyd-at-a-jazz-club sound of ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’. The second half, mostly acoustic, didn’t quite land as well with me, but did expand their sound in readiness for the folksy digressions on ‘IV’. I think ‘IV’ is still my favourite, but this one is better than its reputation suggests.

The Rolling Stones, ‘Aftermath’ (link)

As ever with the Stones, the best track is the opener: this time, we start with ‘Paint It Black’ (at least on the North American version). The other crucial cut on here is ‘Under My Thumb’. Despite Brian Jones’s best efforts to vary the sound with whatever instrument he could find (sitar, koto and dulcimer make appearances), the melodies don’t register, and ‘Goin’ Home’, one of the first 10+ minute rock songs, could have done with about eight of those minutes (or all 11) shaved off. This is the seventh Stones album I’ve listened to: with one more to go, they feel like a great singles band.

Sonic Youth, ‘Goo’ (link)

Sonic_Youth_Goo

Our final visit to the dissonant grouches features probably their most famous cover art, thanks to its T-shirt friendly nature, and one of my favourite songs of theirs in ‘Kool Thing’. This wasn’t Youth’s easiest album to record, but it feels like their most successful attempt at marrying their no-wave noise leanings to their pop sensibilities, to the point where this is perhaps their most accessible record.

Talking Heads, ‘Fear of Music’ (link)

Last week we did live albums, this week we do Talking Heads, and it is at this point I regret to inform you that ‘Stop Making Sense’ does not appear on the list, despite its reputation. Anyway. This is the third Heads album and perhaps the first great one, fusing the band’s scratchy funk with world music elements (‘I Zimbra’), electronic treatments and the album’s outstanding number ‘Heaven’. There wasn’t really anything like this lot. We’ve covered almost their whole representation on the list: ‘Remain in Light’ will follow at some point.

Next week: In the last update before Christmas break, we’re riding through the desert on a horse with no name: exploring the America-themed albums on the list.

Status update: 714 listened to (71.3%), 287 to go.

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December 3: Live – Jacques Brel, Sam Cooke, Grateful Dead, Jerry Lee Lewis, Motorhead, The Who, Neil Young

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Last time we did the live albums was a big hit. So the only reasonable thing to do is come back for an encore (crowd screams). We’ll be looking at a few little ditties that you might have heard, and maybe one or two that you haven’t. Are you ready, 1001 readers? Let me hear you! (crowd screams). Alright, 1-2-3-4:

Jacques Brel, ‘Olympia 64’ (link)

Ecoute: le chanteur plus celebre en France – le roi de la chanson Francais. Nous commencons avec ‘Amsterdam’, un chanson que je connais grace a la version de Dresden Dolls. Cette disque est 28 minutes seulement: il est assez bien, mais, pour moi, un petit peu trop ridiculeux, avec l’accordeon et la Theremin et les chansons traditionelle, malgre la voix fantastique de M. Brel et la reaction enthousiaste du public.

Sam Cooke, ‘One Night Stand! Live at the Harlem Square Club’ (link)

Like the James Brown album on the last live round-up, it seems that soul in this era was best when performed in front of a receptive audience, at least for master showmen like Brown and Cooke. While many live albums indulge in studio skulduggery to fix stuff, this one seems to have been released with all its rough edges left in, giving it a raw, exciting feel together with the masterful performances by Cooke and band. Great stuff here. This is Cooke’s only appearance on the list. At the time, he was running a label and writing and performing his own songs at a point where that was unheard of. Who knows where he would have been had he not been killed in mysterious circumstances aged just 33.

Grateful Dead, ‘Live/Dead’ (link)

The Fillmore clubs have become synonymous on this list with long, improvisational jams (Allman Brothers being another example) so of course the Dead lugged their 16-track into Fillmore West to record this, an album which starts with a 23-minute song (‘Dark Star’). With fewer than ten songs over 90 minutes, it felt like I was listening to this forever, but it achieves its presumable intended purpose as background music (probably for skinning up to).

Jerry Lee Lewis, ‘Live at the Star Club, Hamburg’ (link)

Maybe the best rock’n’roll album ever? Recorded during Lewis’s early 60s wilderness period (the record-buying public did not like the fact he married his cousin’s daughter, who was 13), this is a performance of extraordinary energy, pace and intensity. The songs are played so fast it’s as if the performers had to catch a plane in an hour; when Lewis says he’ll slow it down (with ‘Your Cheating Heart’), it’s only relative to the 1000mph speed of the rest of the set. You’re exhausted just listening to this stuff, particularly on the Spotify version, which turns a 37-minute album into a breathless 22-minute sprint. There are Megadeth albums with less aggression and tempo than this.

Motorhead, ‘No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith’ (link)

It’s fairly surprising to have two Motorhead albums on the list, as while everyone justifiably loves classic single ‘Ace of Spades’, less have explored the ‘Head back catalogue, and a lot of the stuff on Best Of albums suggests that the band only has one mood. This live album, surprisingly recorded in locations other than Hammersmith, features ‘Bomber’ and ‘Motorhead’, but doesn’t teach me anything new about Lemmy, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke or ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor.

The Who, ‘Live at Leeds’ (link)

Recorded around the same time as ‘Tommy’ (which we’ve not covered yet, but which we will), this album sees the band generally playing the hits: ‘Substitute’, ‘I’m A Boy’, ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘My Generation’ and ‘Magic Bus’ all appear (the latter two dragged out to 15 and 8 minutes respectively). There’s also covers of ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘Shaking All Over’. The Who’s reputation as a great live band precedes them, of course, and they were a great studio band as well. I’m not sure there’s anything essential here that you couldn’t get out of a Greatest Hits, but it was hardly an ordeal to listen to.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ (link)

Our seventh and final visit to Young comes at a time when he was feeling threatened by punk and concerned about his own obsolescence. His response was this, a live album with no previously-released material, most of the audience reaction mixed out, and studio overdubs, attempting to take his sound into new territory as he headed into the 80s. There’s an acoustic side and an electric side. It proved inspired: ‘Powderfinger’ is regarded as one of his best songs, and ‘My My Hey Hey’ opens the album with Young playing solo in wistful, mournful style, and finishes the album with Crazy Horse playing it in a heavy, bleak style. I’m not sure about ‘Welfare Mothers’ or ‘Sedan Delivery’, one-note thrashes, however, there’s a whole lot to like on this.

Weird to think the live album ever died when you listen to albums of this quality; however, these were different times. The rise of the VHS, the DVD and ultimately the YouTube video made it easier to understand a band’s dynamic in a live setting, meaning the live album nowadays is pretty much a dead scene, used generally to paper the cracks when the artist hasn’t got anything new, or to fleece more money out of the marks. Still, there’s some genuine thrills in this week’s batch: check them out. (In case you’re wondering, no, ‘Stop Making Sense’ is not in the 1001.)

Next week: A look at some of the most heavily-represented artists on the list.

Status update: 707 listened to (71%), 294 remain.

November 26: Cardigans, Stevie Wonder, Underworld, Big Star, Soft Machine, Eric Clapton, Alice Cooper

This week, as a one-off, we’re going to go numerically through some of the albums on the list which have a number in their title! Choosing a theme each week is a bit of a free for all as we get this deep into the project, and there aren’t even any records by 5ive! Let’s get down to it.

The Cardigans, ‘First Band on the Moon’ (link)

I always thought ‘Gran Turismo’ was their big album – certainly it had two of their big hits, ‘My Favourite Game’ and ‘Erase/Rewind’ – but the one on the list is this one, which features their breakthrough, ‘Lovefool’. It kind of feels like it’s a product of its era, that point in the 1990s which was heavily influenced by the 1960s. It’s okay, but struggled to resonate with me.

Stevie Wonder, ‘Fulfilingness’ First Finale’ (link)

Following ‘Innervisions’, this awkwardly-titled album contains none of the big hits, and feels like much the same things that I’ve come to expect from Stevie: keyboard-led funk with the occasional saccharine ballad. The best song, despite its name, is ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman’, where Wonder’s own synth bass and drumming replicates an up-tempo funk jam band. It’s refined and surprisingly concise but can’t match ‘Innervisions’. Just one more of his albums on the list.

Underworld, ‘Second Toughest in the Infants’ (link)

Apparently named from one of the band’s nephews boasting, this album came out around the same time as Underworld’s biggest hit, ‘Born Slippy.NUXX’, which doesn’t feature here. It’s a collection of lengthy electronic tracks, pausing occasionally for guitar interludes, and topped with Karl Hyde’s muttered vocals. ‘Pearl’s Girl’ is the closest thing to a banger here, so it’s no surprise that it was chosen as the single. This is fine. I think, however, that my favourite song of Underworld’s other than the ‘Trainspotting’ one is ‘Shudder/King of Snake’, a kind of merging of ‘Born Slippy.NUXX’ and Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’.

Big Star, ‘Third/Sister Lovers’ (link)

Singing about ‘Cool Jerk’ while the drummer bangs a saucepan, doing a wet version of ‘Femme Fatale’ with his girlfriend on vocals, playing a slow-motion piano dirge and calling it ‘Holocaust’… Alex Chilton had some strange ideas at this point in his career. As a rock album, this is all over the place, but as a document of Chilton’s apparent disintegration, it’s compelling. A Big Star album in name only – only two of them even appear on the album and it was originally recorded either under Chilton’s name or as Sister Lovers (Chilton and Jody Stephens’s girlfriends were sisters).

Soft Machine, ‘Third’ (link)

Never the most imaginative when it came to naming their albums, Soft Machine save their wild ideas for their music, which here mark their transition from prog rock to free jazz. Wait, come back! This does start with their most objectionable song, ‘Facelift’, all random doodlings and Miles Davis parping. The second disc, with Robert Wyatt’s ‘Moon in June’ and the closer ‘Out-Bloody-Rageous’, feels more cohesive and coherent, and feels pretty palatable. This is the band’s only appearance on the list.

Eric Clapton, ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’ (link)

I was kind of dreading listening to Clapton – bluesy old guy rock, whose previous appearance here was in the Blues Breakers – but I found myself enjoying the heck out of this. Clapton’s first album after three years of heroin addiction, he sounds like he has a point to prove, and sounds as though he’s found some musicians he’s having fun with. Good harmonies and good songs here, although we learn nothing new about Marley’s ‘I Shot The Sheriff’.

Alice Cooper, ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ (link)

Suddenly huge after the success of their triumphant ‘School’s Out’, the Alice Cooper band were both bewildered by their fame and attempting to equal it. Commercially, this was a triumph which essentially codified heavy metal and shock rock: songs about necrophilia with a cheesy stage show. Artistically, though, I’m not sure it has a consistent motif in the same way as ‘School’s Out’ does: ‘Hello Hooray’ is a great bit of Ziggy Stardust peacocking, but the dallying with glam and proto-metal doesn’t quite gel with me in the same way as ‘School’s Out’ does.

Next week: back to the live albums! *audience cheers*

Progress update: 700 listened to (70%), 301 remain.

November 19: Jorge Ben, Willie Colon and Ruben Blades, Getz/Gilberto, Gotan Project, Machito, Os Mutantes, Suba

¡Hola amigos and welcome back to 1001! This week, it’s freezing outside but blistering hot in here, as we cast our ears over some of the South American albums on the list. There’s slightly too many to fit on just one update, so look out for the occasional smattering of Latin sounds in the weeks and months to come, too.

Jorge Ben, ‘Africa Brasil’ (link)

Ben is a Brazilian musician of Ethiopian descent who released this album during a creatively fertile time in the late 70s (this one released in 1976). Combining clavinet-heavy funk and samba percussion, this subsequently sounds pretty great even to a tone-deaf limey like me. Other musicians were clearly paying attention too: ‘Taj Mahal”s melody would later appear, unauthorised, in ‘Do You Think I’m Sexy?’ The summer holiday vibe is one of the most enjoyable things I heard this week.

Willie Colon and Ruben Blades, ‘Siembra’ (link)

Blades is a Panamanian singer and songwriter, and Colon is a Nuyorican (New York Puerto Rican) arranger and orchestra leader. This is one of four collaborations between the two, none of which I’d ever heard before, and it came out in 1978. Essentially it’s a samba album with elements of jazz and rhumba, with cinematic-sounding horns. It’s the deviations that make it though: ‘Pedro Navaja’ throws in street noise, police sirens and lines from Neil Diamond’s ‘America’, ‘Maria Lionza’ starts with booming piano dischords and Burundi beats, and the bassist throws in a fretless funk solo whenever he gets the opportunity. Blades’s songwriting and Colon’s arrangements are both equally important to this unusual, captivating album.

Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, ‘Getz/Gilberto’ (link)

This imaginatively-titled album features saxophonist Getz paired up with vocalist and guitarist Gilberto, who occasionally brings in his wife Astrud to provide the vocals. The album also features usual suspect Tom Jobim, who contributes piano and his song ‘The Girl From Ipanema’, sung by Astrud and a standard from then on. The album is tasteful, minimalist bossa nova which sounds almost exactly the same as the other Getz I heard, ‘Jazz Samba’. Music for an August sunset.

Gotan Project, ‘La Revancha del Tango’ (link)

The 1001 has a bit of a soft spot for ‘Clothes Show’-style acid house muzak and this album feels like another example of that: it’s 808 State-esque, with Latin percussion and just a hint of accordion preventing it from going all the way into novelty hit cheese. For me, the album works better as ambient background sound: it rarely fades all the way into the foreground. Oddly, this album is younger than I thought, as it came out in 2001, making its early 90s vibes seem curiously retro. Spotify listeners be cautioned: the album has an extra 30 minutes worth of remixes.

Machito, ‘Kenya’ (link)

Machito was a Cuban bandleader who described his sound as Afro-Cuban jazz, coupled by its cover full of spooky tribal masks:

kenya

‘Kenya’ is energetic, branching off into lengthy percussion jams (on ‘Wild Jungle’) and occasional jazzy solos (such as ‘Congo Mulence’). As it’s 100% instrumental, or maybe because all the best stuff is at the start of the album, the novelty kind of wore off for me a while before it finished.

Os Mutantes, ‘Os Mutantes’ (link)

Here’s a band who seem to be highly regarded in certain circles, but who I’d only previously known for The Bees’ ghastly cover of ‘A Minha Menina’. The original turns up on this album, and it turns out that the Bees replicated it virtually note-for-note: it’s just as annoying in its original form. Yes, I pretty much hated this album, which is never more than a second away from doing something irritating, whether that’s the kitchen sink throw-it-in arrangements or the lengthy deviations into twatting around or fading out then back in TWICE ON ONE SONG. Kind of like if Sgt Pepper-era Beatles decided to do a kids’ show soundtrack, but only had a week to work on it. Os Mutantes are regarded as spearheads of the Tropicalia movement, but this album felt anathema.

Suba, ‘Sao Paolo Confessions’ (link)

A moody hour of electronic dance music which, despite its name, does its best to circumvent cliched Latin sounds. While Suba himself is Serbian, the album maintains the Latin theme, covering a Tom Jobim track and adding a carnival loop to the downtempo vibe of ‘Samba da Gringo Paulista’. I listened to this while doing some writing and while it never jumped out, it was also never obnoxious.

Next week: as we reach 700 albums, we’ll be looking at some of the albums on the list which have a number in their name, and trying to contain our disappointment that 5ive aren’t on the list.

Status update: 693 albums listened to (69%), 308 remain

November 12: Belle and Sebastian, Neneh Cherry, Elvis Costello, Malcolm McLaren, Moby Grape, Sebadoh, Tom Waits

It’s Sunday, the day of the week where you traditionally enjoy a delicious roast, or some other super-heavy dinner. So it’s perhaps fitting that this week’s septet are united only by their reference to food in their album titles. Yeah, it’s tenuous, but now that we’re over 2/3rds of the way through the project, with fewer than 350 albums remaining, we might have to do a couple of these weird association weeks. Let’s roll.

Belle and Sebastian, ‘Tigermilk’ (link)

The 1999 Brit Award winners for Best Newcomer had released this, their first album, three years earlier. I guess if you know me, it might be a surprise that I hadn’t listened to Belle and Sebastian before: a bookish indie band who sound like a bunch of librarians. They always seemed, though, like they were a slightly lesser version of the things I did like: not as smart as the Divine Comedy, not as ambitious as the Delgados, not as eclectic as Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. Listening to this album twenty years after the fact, I’m still not completely moved. There’s plenty to get your teeth into: generally they sound like ‘Bryter Layter’ as played by the Triffids, but there’s also horns, strings, even a blueprint for Casiotone For The Painfully Alone on ‘Electronic Renaissance’. Yet there’s something that doesn’t quite coalesce for me: maybe it’s too shy, too timid. I get the feeling that if they haven’t won me over now, they never will.

Neneh Cherry, ‘Raw Like Sushi’ (link)

Sort of a British-Swedish take on ‘All Hail The Queen’, ‘Raw Like Sushi’ opens with Cherry’s best-known song, ‘Buffalo Stance’, all 808 rhythms and bubbling distorted synths (also a section in Cockernee for whatever reason). The rest of the record largely leans on Cherry’s spunky personality and the drum machine, with cameos from Massive Attack and Bjork collaborator Nelle Hooper. It was a fine listen, although besides the ace single, I forgot most of it straight away.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions, ‘Blood and Chocolate’ (link)

Now there’s a combination you wouldn’t want to see on Zumbo’s Just Desserts. Recorded a few years after the Attractions had nominally split up, this is in places looser and less inhibited than many of Costello’s albums: ‘I Want You’ goes on for nearly seven minutes, while ‘Honey Are You Straight Or Are You Blind’ is uncharacteristically raucous. Costello also adds a vaguely Buddy Holly vibe to some of the songs (‘Next Time Round’ for example). The production is perhaps a bit too clean for the objective, though, meaning that for all the band’s work it still sounds a little tame.

Malcolm McLaren, ‘Duck Rock’ (link)

I’d heard about this album but with bafflement: how can the Sex Pistols manager have released an album widely regarded as one of the most influential albums in early hip-hop, referenced as late as Eminem’s ‘Without Me’? Listening to the album makes it a bit clearer, as McLaren’s direct involvement on most of the songs appears to have been as project manager rather than performer, with Trevor Horn and The Art of Noise responsible for the delivery of much of the music and The World’s Famous Supreme Team delivering much of the rapping and interstitial pirate radio segues. The music takes in Latin and African styles as well as old-school hip-hop, mixed seamlessly. Turn it off before the final song, a dogshit hoedown sung by McLaren called ‘Duck for the Oyster’ and this is a good album.

Moby Grape, ‘Moby Grape’ (link, some songs unavailable)

These were a San Franciscan psychedelic rock act from the 60s who had an unexpectedly troubled life due to the mental state of their rhythm guitarist, Skip Spence. Superior Californian rock due to the band’s taste in melodies and harmonies, the album’s standout is the Byrds-ish ‘8.05’, which alas doesn’t start 8.05 into the album and doesn’t last 8.05: was nobody paying attention. This is their debut album, which suggests a promise that alas they never really fulfilled due to their personal and personnel issues: they don’t appear on the list again, despite a seven-album career, and seem to be regarded as what could have been, more so than what was.

Sebadoh, ‘Bubble and Scrape’ (link)

Lou Barlow’s post-Dinosaur Jr project, this is an obvious relation to DJ’s Sonic Youth/grunge/J&MC mix, but perhaps a bit more abrasive, shouty and violent, with acoustic songs and (on ‘Fantastic Disaster’) Violent Femmes facing off with Ennio Morricone. Initial impressions deceive, however: opening track and single ‘Soul and Fire’ sounds like a college-radio-friendly unit shifter at odds with the discordant energy of much of the rest of the album.

Tom Waits, ‘Nighthawks at the Diner’ (link)

One of the things this project has illuminated is that sometimes live albums are a better representation of an artist than their studio albums: I’d previously thought of live albums as contractual obligations, but many of the albums on this list have shown them to be a showcase for the artist’s personality. Artists don’t come more charismatic than Tom Waits anyway, but here his rambling, seemingly improvised intros to ‘Emotional Weather Report’ and ‘Better Off Without A Wife’ really lift the personality of the songs. Not that it’s often easy to tell where the intro ends and the song starts, as he rarely starts singing and carries on making Ginsbergian abstractions while the jazz band behind him keeps up. This is probably my second favourite of the Waits albums I’ve heard: just one more visit to Waits on the list.

Next week: We’re off to South America as we mop up the last of the Latin albums on the list.

Status update: 686 listened to (68%), 315 remain.

 

November 5: Bad Brains, Buzzcocks, Circle Jerks, Ian Dury, Germs, The Stooges, The Stranglers

It’s time for another delve into the 1001 Albums You Must Hear! Whenever there’s an album on the 1001 I don’t recognise, it’s usually a punk album. So this week, I’ve decided to cover a whole week of punk, which will cover some of the core bands of the genre as well as some of the less familiar ones. There’s also loads of new-wave and post-punk on the list; we’ll give that a separate week later.

Bad Brains, ‘I Against I’ (link)

This 1988 album is ostensibly hardcore punk, but falls prey to a lot of the mainstream rock trappings of the era: flangey, trebly guitar, snares high in the mix. There’s also elements of reggae and heavy metal, while singer HR varies between whine and high-pitched squeak. This hasn’t dated very well; feels like all the naff elements of Faith No More’s 80s output without any of the hooks or weirdness.

Buzzcocks, ‘Another Music In A Different Kitchen’ (link)

Staples of “Best Punk Album Ever!”-type compilations thanks to ‘Ever Fallen In Love’, this album’s cover makes it look like a ZTT synth-pop album, but is of course full of melodic punk. The album is superior punk fare because it fuses tunes with urgent intensity (some left over by Howard Devoto, who left before the album was recorded), but also because it includes elements that anticipate post-punk: ‘Sixteen’ pauses for a noise break, while ‘Moving Away From The Pulsebeat’ sounds like a template for early Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Circle Jerks, ‘Group Sex’ (link)

Fourteen songs in just fifteen minutes, meaning that the album has no time to get boring. Not keen on this riff or idea? No problem, it’s over in a second. Like Napalm Death’s ‘Scum’, the brevity of the individual tracks almost renders them pointless to talk about: the cumulative effect is exhilarating, but maybe hard to get a handle on.

Ian Dury, ‘New Boots and Panties!!’ (link)

Recorded before the Blockheads were fully established, but featuring most of the members, Ian Dury’s only appearance on the list fuses a sort of funky rhythm section with pub rock piano, supported by Chaz and Dave (well, Chaz Janckel and Dave Young but…), Moog synths and saxophones popping in to flesh out the sound, and Dury’s Cockney blokey observations over the top. It’s an unusual album but, for one generally considered as punk, it’s rarely as raucous (apart from ‘Blockheads’ itself, perhaps). The Spotify version appends a load of tracks, including ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll’, which wasn’t on the first print of the album but which mysteriously appeared unannounced on the second. Whichever version you hear, though, this is worth checking out.

Germs, ‘GI’ (link)

The Germs were a hardcore punk band who briefly featured Belinda Carlisle on drums, but are best remembered for this, their only album. With Joan Jett on the controls and Pat Smear on guitar, it’s aggressively fast and hard, acting as a proto-hardcore album as it sprints through 16 songs in 38 minutes. The average song length would be even shorter if not for ‘Shut Down (Annihilation Man)’, closing the album and crawling along for 10 minutes. The album is often heralded for Darby Crash’s lyrics, but it’s hard to distinguish them through his hoarse spit.

The Stooges, ‘The Stooges’ (link)

As always with the Stooges, there’s a story: they tried to get away with submitting a five-track album to the label, assuming that would be enough; it wasn’t, and they had to write three more songs in 24 hours. This features some of their most famous songs: ‘No Fun’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, ‘1969’, and producer John Cale occasionally adds colour with viola and, of course, sleigh bells. I’m not sure I enjoyed this that much though: stripping rock and roll down to its core comes at a cost to its dynamic variety, at least here, where it’s the same riff all the way through a song until another one starts.

The Stranglers, ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ (link)

They could play, that’s the difference: particularly Dave Greenfield, who’s always appending Bach arpeggios onto the choruses. The Stranglers trade in fast punk where the bass is high in the mix, the keyboards add colour, and the musical competence means they can go anywhere they want (there’s a song in waltz time, there’s a reasonable attempt at reggae in ‘Peaches’, and one of the bonus tracks is in 9/4). They’d go on to do all sorts, including a weird sophisticated new wave version of themselves in the 80s. This is a good album.

Next week: a journey into something wacky ready for Sunday brunch: all the albums with food references! (Not including albums on Food Records).

Status update: 679 heard (68%), 322 remain.

October 29: The B-52s, The Beta Band, The Kinks, Kraftwerk, Joni Mitchell, Tom Petty, Sister Sledge

This week’s seven are united only by my having wanted to listen to them. The good thing about the 1001 is that it gives me an excuse to listen to these records. I’ve exercised uncharacteristic restraint by not listening to all the albums I was excited about straight away. This tactic that should yield dividends as we enter the final year of the project because there are still at least 60 albums I’m looking forward to: one in every six albums. So what are we listening to this week?

The B-52’s, ‘The B-52’s’ (link)

Best known for their peppy 1989 single ‘Love Shack’, the first album from the new-wave band features their second most famous track ‘Rock Lobster’. If you know ‘Rock Lobster’, then you’ve got a fair idea of the template used here: kind of like if the Cramps went surfing. It’s oddly minimalist, light on bass (they use a keyboard bass) and using the sort of keyboards that must have sounded ancient even in 1979. On songs like ‘Planet Claire’ you can see the influence on riot-grrls like Bratmobile as well as later post-punk, while the album closes with a cover of ‘Downtown’ that suggests the band are only vaguely familiar with the original. Both kitschy and catchy, this is a good album.

The Beta Band, ‘Hot Shots II’ (link)

I was a huge fan of the three EPs (later consolidated into an album called, um, ‘The Three EPs’), but the first proper album’s ramshackle doodlings put me off and I never went back to them. ‘Hot Shots II’ (surely ‘Hot Shots, Part Deux’) was an attempt to regain some of the lost ground, jettisoning their stoned ten-minute jam songs for conventional songwriting which fused indie-rock and contemporary Timbaland rhythms, relying on keyboards and Steve Mason’s monastic chant of a voice to hold it together. The album sounds okay but in cutting out the improvised shambling, they also lose their unpredictable spontaneity.

The Kinks, ‘Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire’ (link)

Originally meant to soundtrack a Granada sitcom of the same name, the Kinks found themselves back to square one when the sitcom’s funding was pulled, so put it out as an album instead. The album opens with ‘Victoria’, but Side A’s key song seems to be ‘Australia’, a seven-minute noodle that I found kind of unbearable as it twatted around to the point of overkill ‘Be Here Now’ style. There’s plenty going on here: for example ‘Yes Sir, No Sir’ includes strings, Motown brass, marching band oompah and blues lead guitar in a mere 3:46. There’s also elements of folk, Californian psyche and harpsichords. Yet I didn’t really like any of it.

Kraftwerk, ‘Man Machine’ (link)

Kraftwerk

Between ‘Autobahn‘ and ‘Man Machine’, Kraftwerk had expanded from a duo to a quartet, having presumably assembled the two drummer bots in the interim, and streamlined the sound to focus exclusively on metronomic electronica (so no flute or violin solos). This approach yielded one massive hit, ‘The Model’, which kicks off Side B, and contains five other songs in a similar vein. The deadpan lyrics and factory-setting dress sense have been easy material for parody, of course, but this feels like the pinnacle of this genre.

Joni Mitchell, ‘Hejira’ (link)

Joni Mitchell never lies, but she only caught my ear for the first time with the shocking ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns‘, her audience-alienating experimental album. This album is less hostile than that one, based on and written during a long road trip. As you’d perhaps expect for an album with that context, it’s sprawling and lyrical, most of its nine songs taking five or more minutes to unravel. What sets Mitchell apart from her contemporaries and imitators is her arrangements and rhythms; the album mixes in jazzy elements (Weather Report’s Jaco Pistorius brings the Bass of Doom on four songs) and country sounds (what sounds like a pedal steel on ‘Amelia’, Neil Young wheezing on harmonica on ‘Furry Sings the Blues’). This album’s unhurried, reflective air is best suited to a Sunday afternoon.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, ‘Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ (link)

We lost Petty a few weeks ago, of course, so a good opportunity to check out his only appearance on the list. Released in 1970, these ten tracks in 30 minutes kind of fall somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello, while sounding like an influence on bands as diverse as Razorlight (on ‘Rocking Around (With You)’) and Bon Jovi (on ‘The Wild One, Forever’). I wouldn’t typically go for this type of music but something about these simple, heartfelt songs impressed me. I’m not sure I was keen on Petty’s voice, somewhere between Neil Young’s wail and the yelpy, slurred Tom Verlaine-ish style, but the album is good.

Sister Sledge, ‘We Are Family’ (link)

In which the Sledge trio are paired with Chic, and Nile and Bernard respond by making an album which may as well just be another Chic album: it’s got the same combination of killer singles and mid-side saggy ballads. Still, more Chic is hardly a bad thing, and Rodgers and Edwards gave some of their best ever songs to this album: ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer’, ‘Lost In Music’, ‘Thinking of You’ and the title track are all great. And when there’s only eight tracks, who can complain? The Spotify version dumps superfluous remixes onto the end: as usual, press ‘stop’ before you get there.

Next week: Hold your T-shirts together with safety pins and get a nose ring because it’s PUNK time.

Status update: 672 listened to (67%), 329 remain.