March 18: Barry Adamson, Aerosmith, Afghan Whigs, Anthrax, Joan Armatrading, The Associates, Bad Company

Welcome back to 1001 Albums for the 100th post! I’d like to thank everyone who’s followed it this far, through over two years of doing this. There’s still over 200 albums to listen to, too, so we’ve still got at least another seven months to go (after which I haven’t completely decided what will happen).

This week’s collection are unified only by their alphabetical position on the list, so a mixed bag of styles and eras awaits. Let’s jump in!

Barry Adamson, ‘Moss Side Story’ (link)

I’d enjoyed the jazzy electronica of ‘Oedipus Schmoedipus‘ so I was interested to hear another Adamson album, this one from 1989. This one is positioned as a soundtrack to a film noir, so it’s all spooky incidental music, strings piling up and doomy horns. Maybe this would be better in context, you think: yet there’s no actual film, it’s just a concept album. The chilling soundscapes convincingly recreate the genre he’s operating in, and I can see how it might have influenced cinematically-minded acts like Portishead, but it’s an exercise solely in textures rather than melodies. The bonus tracks include such inessentials as ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’, which is that show’s theme tune played straight on clarinet through a load of delay pedals. Not exciting.

Aerosmith, ‘Toys in the Attic’ (link)

The mega-selling bubblegum hard rockers surprisingly have three albums on the list. This is the earliest of the three, which features ‘Walk This Way’ (the original, prior to Run DMC’s involvement) and ‘Sweet Emotion’ (which sounds pretty good). There’s also a rockabilly swing single-entendre called ‘Big Ten Inch Record’ and an opportunity for Steve Tyler to do an Eartha Kitt impression on decent ballad closer ‘You See Me Crying’. Not yet playing for the stadiums, I can objectively see why this sold loads even if it isn’t to my taste.

Afghan Whigs, ‘Gentlemen’ (link)

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a single Whigs song before despite listening to Steve Lamacq forever: like Mark Lanegan, Greg Dulli has had a lengthy career which I’ve somehow managed to completely miss. Released in 1993, this album is a sort of romantic grunge, somewhere in the space between Grant Lee Buffalo and Suede. Not much about this jumped out to me I’m afraid: a bit DULL-I, a wit might say (and I’m sure many music mags made that exact pun). This is the only appearance by the band.

Anthrax, ‘Among the Living’ (link)

The last of the big thrash bands to make the blog, this album isn’t quite as impactful or devastating as the band’s chemical weapon namesake, but unlike the bio-warfare it’s pretty palatable. It has the same high-octane riffing as you’d see in a Metallica or Megadeth, but adds massed backing vocals of the sort common with more commercial metal bands of the era. It feels like a good execution of a style I’ve never been desperately excited by: it reminds me of going to rock nights when I was 18 and putting up with hours of thrash waiting for them to play something I liked, like Nine Inch Nails or White Zombie.

Joan Armatrading, ‘Joan Armatrading’ (link)

Although you’d think with a title like that it’d be her debut, this 1976 album was in fact Armatrading’s third. She was hailed at the time as a British, black counterpart to Joni Mitchell, and on songs like opener ‘Down To Zero’ you can see common elements. She’s clearly an accomplished vocalist, comfortable with any style that the album throws at her, but the album doesn’t leave much of an impression: her biggest hit, ‘Love and Affection’, sounds wretched here with its syrupy saxophone.

The Associates, ‘Sulk’ (link)

What if it was Soft Cell but instead of being recorded on borrowed equipment in a bedsit, it was recorded in a really expensive studio with a load of Sparks records for reference? This album is the answer to that question you may not have asked. It’s a severe, theatrical take on synthpop where Billy Mackenzie yelps in anguish and frolics over octaves while Alan Rankine adds gothy guitar lines and ominous synths (there’s a rhythm section, drenched in reverb, holding it down in the background). There’s ‘Party Fears Two’ and a bizarre cover of ‘Gloomy Sunday’ because why not eh? This must have seemed unusually overwrought and bleak even by synthpop standards. It’s like watching an outdoor theatrical performance during a blizzard: ornate and opulent but bracing and cold. A fascinating album with many astonishing elements, this expensive folly is worth hearing at least once.

Bad Company, ‘Bad Company’ (link)

Something of a supergroup with four accomplished musicians, Bad Company were the singer and drummer from Free, the lead guitarist from Mott the Hoople and, improbably, the bassist from King Crimson. They’re certainly more in line with the straightforward hard rock of Free than anything else, and the first couple of tracks in particular sound like they’re ready to go on a Fathers Day album. Despite the overfamiliarity of the sound, there’s something likeable and unfussy about tracks like ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ (not the Beatles song). Not bad, not an album I’ll likely play again.

Next week: This wasn’t the best of weeks, so let’s see whether the bands on the opposite end of the alphabet have any more choice cuts.

Progress update: 798 listened to (79%), 203 remain.


March 11: The Mothers of Invention, Randy Newman, Orbital, Elliott Smith, Supergrass, The The, Wilco

As we head towards the last 20% of the project, there are still a few artists who have a couple of albums on the list who we haven’t met yet. This week, the albums selected are connected only by how often the artist appears on the list. Let’s have a look at what’s on offer.

The Mothers of Invention, ‘Freak Out!’ (link)

One of the first rock double albums (along with ‘Blonde on Blonde’), ‘Freak Out!’ is also acknowledged by rock critics as being one of the first conscious attempts at making an album as a piece of art rather than a collection of songs. It’s a combination of familiar-ish bluesy rock sounds, psychedelic wig-outs, doo-wop, sound collages, jazz smatterings and juvenile racket. It can often sound like 60s rock as interpreted by the characters in ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’. Usually interesting but often a test of the patience, the Mothers’ supposed magnum opus is elsewhere on the list.

Randy Newman, ‘Sail Away’ (link)

You probably know Newman for ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’, his contribution to the ‘Toy Story’ soundtrack, or his appearance in ‘Family Guy’ where a safe haven in the apocalypse is ruined by Newman singing about everything he sees. If you know either of those appearances, you’ve basically got the idea of this: it’s cinematic vaudeville with Newman’s peculiar rasp over the top of it. He kind of sounds like a male Carole Kane or something, despite being from LA, and his voice certainly doesn’t suit ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On’ (one of his own compositions, who knew?). Only 30 minutes long, felt longer.

Orbital, ‘Orbital’ (‘Orbital 2’/’The Brown Album’) (link)

I knew Orbital for some of their singles in the late 90s and early 00s – ‘Chime’, ‘Nu Style’, ‘Satan’ – but I’d never heard a full album of theirs. They’re not into conventional melodies and song structures as much as layering and textures, gradually adding extra samples, Roland 303, 808 and 909 lines and synth riffs as the songs go on. My favourite song on this is ‘Halcyon + On + On’, a late-album bit of downtempo electronica with a vocal sample driving it (albeit backward-masked), which feels like the welcome advent of dawn. A bit disappointing: accomplished but felt like background music.

Elliott Smith, ‘Either/Or’ (link)

As with Nick Drake, my only previous exposure to Smith was on the soundtrack of ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’, where a deeply upsetting scene features ‘Needle in the Hay’ (taken from Smith’s self-titled debut). There’s nothing quite as dark on this album – ‘Either/Or’ is seen as pretty upbeat by his standards – but there’s still something that puts me in mind of drinking alone at 1am in Elliott’s soft, muted tones and his low-register guitar. Even on the cover, his face is obscured by shadow, he’s not quite in focus.

Supergrass, ‘I Should Coco’ (link)

Perhaps surprisingly, the Britpop moppets have two albums on the list. They came out when I was 13 or 14, probably the perfect time to hear them. While I didn’t pick up the albums at the time, ‘Alright’ still gives me a Proustian rush back to discovering rock music, going to V96, Euro ’96 and so on, even if the song’s intro is such an omnipresent shorthand for Britpop that actually you never need to listen to it again. Front-loaded with all the hits – ‘Mansize Rooster’, ‘Caught By The Fuzz’, ‘Lenny’ – the Undertones-like youthful ebullience carries them through everything even if they want to sound like the Monkees on one track and the Cardiacs on the next. The last two tracks are nowt special –  their titles ‘Sofa (Of My Lethargy)’ and ‘Time To Go’ succintly describe them – but the album generally overdelivered against expectations.

The The, ‘Soul Mining’ (link)

The The were around in the 80s and only troubled the lower reaches of the Top 20 a few times: consequently I don’t think I’d ever heard a single song of theirs before. Officially the band’s debut (although an earlier album by frontman Matt Johnson has since been retconned as a The The album), ‘Soul Mining’ starts off with a song whose pounding drums sound like Nine Inch Nails, six years in advance. It’s not necessarily representative of the whole, though: the rest is post-punk, albeit mostly played on synths and a range of world music influences and instruments. For example, single ‘This is the Day’ leads with accordion and fiddle (the best track here, ‘This is the Day’ was later covered as a single by Manic Street Preachers.) This is almost certainly the only appearance on the list for Jim Thirwell, aka Foetus, who plays “sticks” on ‘Giant’, and surely the only time that Foetus and Jools Holland appear on the same record.

Wilco, ‘Being There’ (link)

Technically Wilco have three albums on the list, but I’m using the slippery excuse that the third is a collaboration with Billy Bragg and therefore technically a different artist. Whether they have two or three albums on the list, though, it’s about time we cover them. This is an alt-country double album (must be the season for them after last week’s ‘Southern Rock Opera‘) whose first disc sounds great. It’s a combination of Neil Young/Rolling Stones-tinged countrified indie, with occasional moves into power-pop and clavichords. Maybe I’d worn myself out at that point, though, or been spoiled, as the second disc feels a bit superfluous: too much of a good thing, maybe, as the album is light on duds. Odds are I wouldn’t have been interested in this at all when it came out in 1996, but 22 years on, I can appreciate the songwriting, direct delivery and performances. Worth a listen, I’d say.

Next week: Another list of people united only by the list itself: we’re going for the first alphabetically on the list!

Status update: 791 listened to (79%), 210 remaining.

March 4: The Cars, The Crusaders, Drive-By Truckers, Elton John, Ozomatli, Pavement, Traffic

This week, Storm Emma means all the roads are at a standstill. So what better time to do a week dedicated to bands and albums named after driving and road surfaces? Seven of the best follow.

The Cars, ‘The Cars’ (link)

The Cars are best known for their corny New Wave ballad ‘Drive’, while I know Ric Ocasek for producing Le Tigre and thwarting Car Seat Headrest (who wanted to use an interpolation of ‘Just What I Wanted’). This album, their debut, is quirky power-pop with synthesizers, featuring one of the Modern Lovers on drums. It vacillates between sounding cheesy (‘You’re All I’ve Got Tonight’) and sounding pretty good (‘Just What I Wanted’).

The Crusaders, ‘Street Life’ (link)

I knew the title track, of course, and assumed that the band were a fairly bland soul act. Here, stretched out to ten minutes, the song sounds a lot better than the AM radio edit, but isn’t necessarily representative of the whole: mainly, they’re a kind of tasteful instrumental jazz-funk act who have enough natural cool and rhythm to overcome the gaucheness of counterparts like Weather Report.

Drive-By Truckers, ‘Southern Rock Opera’ (link)

What would you expect an album called ‘Southern Rock Opera’ created by a band called Drive-By Truckers to sound like? A 94-minute concept album about growing up in Alabama (although the band are actually based in Athens, GA, Of Montreal’s hometown), featuring a spoken word piece about Ronnie van Zant and George Wallace, a singer credited as Cassie Gaines (it isn’t her) and slide guitar and harmonica everywhere, this is probably the most Southern album you’ll ever hear. Yet surprisingly it’s quite palatable: the scope of the album makes it easy to immerse yourself in it.

Elton John, ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ (link)

The first of two albums by Elton is generally regarded as his best: a double album mostly recorded in a chateau in France in 1973. At times it’s fairly clear that he’s heard ‘Ziggy Stardust’ – ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ is essentially ‘Suffragette City’. But the sort of proggy glam that Elton adopts is surprisingly enjoyable; even ‘Candle in the Wind’ sounds pretty good! The only dead spot is ‘Jamaican Jerk-Off’, an ill-advised attempt at white guy reggae (the album was meant to be recorded in Jamaica but studio issues nixed it). Also worth noting the album’s opening track, ‘Funeral for a Friend’, which is where the band got their name.

Ozomatli, ‘Street Signs’

Ozomatli are a kind of Latin hip-hop fusion band who come from LA and whose previous members include two of Jurassic 5 (both of whom guest here). Initially I thought this sounded a bit like Santana’s ‘Supernatural’ – traditional South American sounds fused with modern-day tech – and cornball cha-chas like ‘(Who Discovered) America?’ sound about as revolutionary as Ricky Martin. However, I did find myself drawn to the combination of Eastern strings and Latin jams on the opening two tracks, ‘Believe’ and ‘Love & Hope’. Okay if not amazing, and an absolute pain to find online, this doesn’t appear in the 2016 version of the book.

Pavement, ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ (link)

Another band with two albums on the list yet turning up fashionably late to the blog, I’d always figured a Pavement album would be a fairly shambolic listen with the occasional lucid single. While Stephen Malkmus rarely sounds like he’s too committed to his vocals – he often sounds like he’s been for a five-mile run before he starts singing – he does put plenty of effort into his songwriting, particularly in the first half of the album (‘Cut Your Hair’ among the highlights). It tapers off a little in the second half – ‘5-4 = Unity’ and ‘Hit The Plane Down’ are dud experiments – but finishes strongly with ‘Fillmore Jive’. Worth a listen.

Traffic, ‘Traffic’ (link)

Our first but not final visit to Steve Winwood’s gang, these are difficult to pigeonhole, moving around from sounding a bit like Hendrix to a bit folksy to a bit jazzy, meaning that every song is slightly different. It’s the sort of 60s rock that I’ve felt a bit burnt out on lately, but it’s unpredictable enough to be enjoyable, and I’m a sucker for the flute. ‘Vagabond Virgin’ is probably my favourite here but the best song title is ‘(Roamin’ Thro’ The Gloamin’ With) 40,000 Headsmen’.

Next week: There’s still seven bands on the list who’ve got two albums each, and who we haven’t met yet, so let’s cover them.

Status update: 784 listened to (78%), 217 remain.

February 25: The Auteurs, The Chemical Brothers, Crosby Stills and Nash, GZA, The Incredible Bongo Band, New Order, Throwing Muses

This week on 1001 it’s editor’s choice. Thanks to forcing some restraint and patience on myself, there are plenty of albums left on the list that I was excited about hearing. Let’s have a look at some of them.

The Auteurs, ‘New Wave’

Luke Haines is a character I’m fascinated by, although more for his surreal projects in the last ten years than his bands necessarily: ‘The North Sea Scrolls’ and ‘9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and Early ’80s’ have had plenty of listens in my house, yet I’d only heard one Auteurs album. This, their debut, is an oddity for its era: the instruments are recorded relatively starkly for 1993 (most records of the era seem to be drowned in reverb) but the arrangements are cluttered and the vocals are mixed too low. This was seen as something of a forerunner to Suede, which I guess I see, although Haines is interested in something subtler and more acidic than them. He doesn’t appear on the list again.

The Chemical Brothers, ‘Dig Your Own Hole’

‘Surrender’ is a good album, featuring sleepy contributions from Hope Sandoval and Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue, but that’s as far as I ever got with the Chems. This is one album earlier than ‘Surrender’, and the one that broke them, but I don’t think it’s as good. Mixed as more or less one continuous piece of music with no (or few) pauses, we have ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ and ‘Setting Sun’, but the best things on the album are at the end: ‘Where Do I Begin’, with Beth Orton, sounds like a precursor to downbeat electronica like Bent, and ‘The Private Psychedelic Reel’ throws analogue jams and sitar riffs together with Donahue in an unfamiliar position on the clarinet.

Crosby, Stills and Nash, ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’

There’s plenty of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young left on the list (a CSN&Y one and various Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and solo projects) so it’s high time to get one of the albums covered. Mostly driven by Stephen Stills, who picks up the majority of guitar, bass and keyboard duties here, it’s the kind of rustic, loosely psychedelic folk rock that feels like the perfect setting for Neil Young to spill solos all over, so no wonder he joined. The harmonies are on point and some of the touches, like the backwards solo on ‘Pre-Down Roads’, are very good.

GZA, ‘Liquid Swords’

Wu-Tang solo records are ten-a-penny (whereas of course one of their collaborative albums is one-a-million-dollars), and we’ve covered Raekwon earlier in the list. Here, the GZA (pron. ‘Gizza’ rather than ‘Geezer’) doesn’t stray too far from the Wu-Tang template: dusty beats, samurai samples and chilly soul samples are all present and correct. But while the Wu Tang are always a few steps from levity with goofballs like ODB and Method Man in the clan, GZA keeps it serious and focused. It’s slightly too long, but this is a good album.

The Incredible Bongo Band, ‘Bongo Rock’

This ludicrous idea originally came about when MGM needed a soundtrack for ‘The Thing With Two Heads’, so recruited weirdo producer Michael Viner to sort it out. Viner roped in a load of session hacks including the Wrecking Crew to do funk covers of 50s and 60s standards, often leading to lengthy drumkit, bongo and conga jams in the middle. It sounds like the anonymous journeymen are having a whale of a time with these loose, sprawling versions of ‘Raunchy’ and, believe it or not, ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’, while hip-hop DJs coming to the records later couldn’t believe their luck with so many unaccompanied drum lines to sample. The most famous song here is ‘Apache’, memorably covered by the Sugarhill Gang and made immortal by ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’, but this ridiculous album is a riot throughout. Sadly no space for one of Viner’s other efforts, an album called ‘The Best of Marcel Marceau’ (14 minutes of silence and 1 minute of applause on both sides).

New Order, ‘Low-life’

Arriving fashionably late to our blog, New Order have two albums on the list. Released in 1985, this sees them shedding their post-punk Joy Division roots and essentially becoming a synth-driven dance band. It feels disappointing, though, or at least unsurprising. The best thing is the slow burn of ‘Elegia’; the worst thing is the Robert Smith impression Bernard Sumner does on closer ‘Face Up’, which probably isn’t the wisest choice for such a limited vocalist. Later album ‘Technique’, their most famous, will be along later.

Throwing Muses, ‘Throwing Muses’ (1986)

The only appearance on the list for the Muses (and there aren’t any other Tanya Donnelly or Kristin Hersh records either), confused by the band releasing two albums of this name. The one on Spotify is a 2003 album, mostly without Donnelly: it is good. The 1986 album edges it though: Hersh’s voice is somewhere between Stevie Nicks and Courtney Love, the guitarists bring an 80s alt jangle, and the rhythm section adds muscle without being overpowering. Worth checking out.

Next week: it’s time for another cheesy link. We’re on the road with albums and artists named after transport or roads!

Status update: 777 listened to (77%), 224 remain.

February 18: Leonard Cohen, Derek and the Dominos, G Love and Special Sauce, Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz, The Magnetic Fields, The Modern Lovers

It was Valentine’s Day on Wednesday so in celebration I’ve brought you flowers, chocolates, and seven of the albums on the list with ‘love’ in the name. They may not actually be romantic albums but hey, at least it’s thematically consistent. Let’s roll.

Leonard Cohen, ‘Songs of Love and Hate’ (link)

It doesn’t feature any of Cohen’s most famous tracks, but this album feels closest to how I imagined him to sound when I started this project: singing in barely one note, minimal accompaniment, generally downbeat. There’s a mere eight tracks this time, the majority of which sprawl over six minutes, although more to get all the lyrics done: musically, ‘This Year’s Man’ barely changes at all. Joan of Arc features on two different songs: odd that the list would have two albums where that’s the case (OMD’s ‘Architecture and Morality’ is the other). This is our final of four visits to Len’s oeuvre; alas, the project has not converted me.

Derek and the Dominos, ‘Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs’ (link)

The legacy of this album is driven, of course, by the title track, whose riff immediately puts you in mind of three-disc “The Best Driving Anthems in the World…Ever!” adverts around Father’s Day (see also ‘Smoke on the Water’, ‘Born to be Wild’, etc). As everyone’s no doubt aware, ‘Layla’ also has a wild backstory: it’s a love song to George Harrison’s wife, who Clapton fell in love with while she was married to Harrison. Clapton made an advance that was rebuffed, and sank into heroin addiction. Then Patti ended up leaving Harrison (because Harrison was having an affair with Ringo Starr’s wife!) and marrying Clapton, but that didn’t last either. Romance, eh? It sucks. ‘Layla’ shows up late on this double album, which largely sounds like upbeat blues rock made out of the joy of playing together. Duane Allman shows up on virtually every track playing bottleneck slide guitar, and there’s a version of ‘Little Wing’ which is perhaps the second best song on the record. Guess what: it’s too long. And yes it is “dominos” rather than “dominoes”.

G Love and Special Sauce, ‘G Love and Special Sauce’ (link)

G Love is the name of the singer, guitarist and harmonica player, and Special Sauce are presumably the rhythm section. This is a ramshackle and not especially to my taste album from the late 90s in a peculiar position somewhere between Roots and The White Stripes: it’s semi-acoustic, sloppily-played blues which has a vague flavour of alternative rap. Initially it sounds pretty cool but it doesn’t last all the way through the 57-minute running time: I was tired of it before it finished.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Axis: Bold as Love’ (link)

The bassist gets a song (‘She’s So Fine’, sounding like The Who covering ‘Tomorrow Never Knows) and the drummer’s voice is the first one you hear on the album, but this is still Hendrix’s world really, dominating the songwriting and the arrangements even while putting more emphasis on songwriting and less on guitar chicanery. The best song is ‘Little Wing’ (a rare week where the same song appears on two different albums), the best guitar bit is the backwards solo on ‘Castles in the Sand’, and the UFO radio interview turned quadrophonic panning experiment of ‘EXP’ is the most sonically exciting thing here. ‘Are You Experienced?’ feels like the one with all the memorable hooks and tunes on, though.

Lenny Kravitz, ‘Let Love Rule’ (link)

Something of a surprise entrant on the list, the ‘Hunger Games’ star and old flame of Nicole Kidman is best remembered for ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way?’ and ‘Fly Away’, neither of which appear on this, his debut album. Picking up most of the instrumental tracks as well as the vocals, Len goes for a sound part Hendrix, part Funkadelic, part Prince: which is fine, but it’s difficult to replicate the jam band energy of the former two when it’s just you jamming with yourself, and he certainly doesn’t have the eccentric charms of the latter. Many of the songs here are just one four-chord riff stretched over five or even six minutes. Not recommended.

The Magnetic Fields, ’69 Love Songs’ (link)

I’d been putting it off because of how long it is, but this is finally the week I do this one: the only triple album on the list and, I think, the second longest album (beaten only by the quintuple-disc Ella Fitzgerald one and even then only by 20 minutes). Originally a synth-pop band, the Fields cover a huge range of styles here: acoustic folk, 30s musical ballads, experimental sound collages, anemic punk, accordion jazz played by Lemony Snicket… It starts to feel like a series of pastiches, but who can begrudge such an exhaustive commitment to making every song sound different to the one that precedes it, or the talent required to carry it off? Highlights include the banjo jangle of ‘All My Little Words’, the 60s girl group song ‘When My Boy Walks Down The Street’ (which sounds like Hunx and his Punx) and the murder ballad ‘Yeah! Oh Yeah!’. Really good.

The Modern Lovers, ‘The Modern Lovers’ (link)

This is an album recorded in 1972 (it’s referenced on ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’: “I heard the lovers/the Modern Lovers/they sounded very good/they sounded as they should”), but only released in 1976, confusingly a mere three weeks after ‘Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers’, a different album by the same singer/songwriter but with a different backing band. Richman’s solo career is the sort that’s critically acclaimed but in a way which doesn’t feature him making any more appearances on the list, but the Lovers are where it’s at. They’re from Massachusetts but sound as New York as Television, primarily through distilling the sound of the Velvet Underground and giving it a polish that makes it glisten without completely obscuring the scuzzy energy or abstract artsiness. Probably that’s due to their choice of producer; having written ‘Roadrunner’ – almost a cover version of the VU’s ‘Sister Ray’ – and a near-one-note song called ‘Pablo Picasso’, they compounded the joke by roping in John Cale to produce. I loved this album: the songs are great and the production is great. Well worth a listen.

Next week: it’s editor’s choice, so prepare for some random assortment of weirdness.

Status update: 770 listened to (77%), 231 remain.

February 11: Ryan Adams, Coldplay, Deep Purple, Flaming Groovies, The Lemonheads, The Mamas and the Papas, Small Faces

Welcome back to 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, where this week we’ll be looking at albums whose titles reference a body part. Yes, it’s another one of those tenuous theme weeks! Let’s dive in.

Ryan Adams, ‘Heartbreaker’

I wasn’t thrilled by ‘Gold‘, which felt stifled by over-production in its attempt to reach the mainstream. So this solo debut, justly heralded for its simplicity, was refreshing. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings appear here, as they do on ‘Gold’, and perhaps Adams was taking cues from them, or wanted to do something direct and stripped down following his band Whiskeytown’s last album. Whatever, it feels relaxed and the songs hit home.

Coldplay, ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’

Derided for diluting Radiohead’s sound in order to shortcut their way into the mainstream – not that translating Radiohead’s oblique style is necessarily a bad thing – Coldplay do have the occasional banger in them: had slow-burning anthem ‘The Scientist’ been recorded by Sigur Ros, it’d probably have been heralded as a masterpiece. Much of the musicianship here is a tastefully restrained arrangement staying out of the way of the melody: it’s unfussy but sometimes you wish for a burst of virtuosity, or at least something unexpected, to add some colour and prevent the album disappearing into the background.

Deep Purple, ‘Machine Head’

Not to be confused with the dreary thrash act who later took the album title for a band name, this is our final visit to Purple’s output. Perhaps I’m just desensitized to their style now but it feels pretty tame compared to the other albums: ‘Smoke on the Water’ lacks the crackling energy it has on ‘Made in Japan’, for example. While it doesn’t contain any drum solos, for which we should be thankful (although it does find time for a bass solo), I’d say ‘Machine Head’ is the weakest of the three albums on the list. As usual, the artwork is atrocious.

Flaming Groovies, ‘Teenage Head’

You can probably guess what this sounds like from the band name alone, but if not, this is a proficient if not terribly exciting take on rockabilly played at a thousand miles an hour and with slide guitar all over it. Sometimes it sounds unacceptably retro (the album came out in 1968 and has tendencies towards sounding like 1958), sometimes it sounds like proto-Sex Pistols. The Spotify version bolts on a load of covers of 50s hits such as ‘Shakin’ All Over’.

The Lemonheads, ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’

The only appearance on the list from this band is also Juliana Hatfield’s sole album as Lemonheads bassist; the band were already on their fourth drummer by this point; they are only a trio. It’s trebly, disengaged-sounding music from a band that sound like insolent slackers: ‘Bit Part’, half-a-dozen songs in, is the first one that sounds like there’s any passion involved, and the most pleasant texture is the pedal steel-ish slide guitar from guest Jeffrey ‘Skunk’ Baxter. It probably took loads of effort to sound this effortless, I know, but I prefer my music a bit more passionate.

The Mamas and the Papas, ‘If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears’


Never mind the toilet, the real aberration on the cover is the grocer shop punctuation (‘The Mama’s and the Papa’s’ indeed). Anyway, while this starts off with ‘Monday Monday’, the most dramatic song on the first half is closer ‘Go Where You Wanna Go’. On the stream, we get Side B opener ‘California Dreamin” straight after that: quite the one-two. The folky, vaguely psychedelic pop is a charming listen, as you’d probably have guessed.

Small Faces, ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’

A fairly early concept album, the first half is a selection of psychedelic rock workouts interspersed with gorblimey Cockernee knees-ups including ‘Lazy Sunday’, a sort of 1960s ‘Parklife’. The B-side is where the concept kicks in, as comedian Stanley Unwin tells a wittering story in his weird argot which doesn’t make a great deal of sense even in ordinary English, and in the pauses, the band play songs connected to the theme. It essentially reduces Small Faces down to Unwin’s backing band, and the songs aren’t great. This was a real disappointment: it just feels like a pissabout.

Next week: it’s Valentine’s Day, so let’s do a week of love-themed albums.

Status update: 763 heard (76%), 238 remain.

February 4: The Black Crowes, Country Joe and the Fish, Def Leppard, Dinosaur Jr, The Eagles, The Monkees, The Penguin Cafe Orchestra

This week in 1001 we’ll be adventuring in the animal kingdom with some of the people on the list named after other species. Lots of bands name themselves after wildlife, of course: as well as the seven here we’ve also got Byrds, Super Furry Animals, Snoop Dogg and many more. This also marks the point where we’re three quarters of the way through, as we pass #750. Let’s roll.

The Black Crowes, ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ (link)

As unpretentious as you’d expect with that title. Aiming for the stadiums but still smelling of the stale beer of the saloon bar, the Crowes sound sort of like an updated 90s version of ZZ Top (with whom they unsuccessfully toured). Here, they adopt a maximalist approach but lack any sort of unique qualities. Impressions that come to mind: stetson and shades. Leather jacket. Confederate flag? Guitar-shaped swimming pools. I’m over this sort of album.

Country Joe and the Fish, ‘Electric Music for the Mind and Body’ (link)

Country Joe is the singer, The Fish is the guitarist and there’s a drummer called Chicken (there’s an organist and a bassist too). Together, this debut record from 1967 bounces between psychedelic rock workouts and blues-rock. The psyche is slightly more interesting than the blues but it makes me wonder whether there are psychedelic albums I haven’t yet heard which will capture my imagination.

Def Leppard, ‘Pyromania’ (link)

Less bubblegum than ‘Hysteria‘, ‘Pyromania’ features similar ingredients: screechy lead vocals, gang backing vocals, occasional keyboards on loan from Prince’s ‘1999’. Feels like a transition towards ‘Hysteria’ but without the excessive polish of that record: they spend a lot of time talking about how they’ll rock you hard and occasionally (like on ‘Too Late For Love’), actually deliver on the premise. Despite having a song called ‘Die Hard the Hunter’ and what appears to be the Nakatomi Plaza on the front, this album came out in 1982, six years before the movie.

Dinosaur Jr, ‘You’re Living All Over Me’ (link)

In a way it kind of all sounds the same: the trebly guitars, the louche vocals. But dynamic variations come to light: ‘Little Fury Things’ sounds like shoegaze, ‘Sludgefeast’ sounds like My Vitriol, ‘Lose’ sounds like Sonic Youth. It sounds like everyone because it influenced everyone. Officially it ends with Lou Barlow’s ‘Poledo’, a weird mix of lo-fi ukulele and tape noise, but re-releases occasionally tack on their hilarious cover of ‘Just Like Heaven’, which suddenly ends mid-chorus (apparently because they ran out of tape and decided to just leave it like that).

The Eagles, ‘The Eagles’ (link)

The first album from the all-singing quintet comes before they’d completely decided on their sound: half the band wanted to sound country, the other half wanted to go harder. The side pushing for country make the more persuasive argument on this album: the most ear-catching things are the banjo on ‘Take it Easy’ and ‘Earlybird’. Most of the harder stuff sounds like a pub band in a Southern saloon in a film. The harmonies all sound great, whatever the setting: obviously a theme for avian-named bands of the era.

The Monkees, ‘Headquarters’ (link)

The TV band’s lone appearance on the list comes when they finally wrested creative control and wrote and performed the majority of this album themselves: all the members contribute songwriting and lead vocals. Mike Nesmith’s songs are the strongest – or at least, the ones performed with the most gusto – but this is an album full of charming personality, even when (or maybe because of) there are experimental duds like the dead-end ‘Band 6’ or the acapella ‘Zilch’. Opener ‘You Told Me’ is obviously just the Beatles’ ‘Dr Robert’ working locum.

Penguin Cafe Orchestra, ‘Music from the Penguin Cafe’ (link)

These were named after a poem that main man Simon Jeffes imagined during a food poisoning-enforced fever dream, and the music is as idiosyncratic as that might sound. More than half the tracks are performed by Zopf, a group with the same line-up plus a couple of auxiliary members. It’s a kind of avant-garde, experimental version of instrumental folk, occasionally taking on world music influences and rambling on for 11 minutes at a time. The violins are pleasant, but the tendency to ramble means it’s mostly doodling in the background. You’d think this would be the sort of thing the Sex Pistols would be dying to kill off, and yet when Sid Vicious did ‘My Way’, who was orchestrating the strings if not Simon Jeffes himself?

Next week: Another in a trilogy of daft themes, we’ll be looking at albums written on the body. Not as in “instead of written on the guitar”; I mean ones which reference the head, heart, arms and so on in the title. You get it.

Progress update: 756 listened to, 245 remain.