July 22: Aerosmith, The Carpenters, David Crosby, Electric Light Orchestra, Janis Joplin, George Jones, Cluba de Esquina

This week’s 1001 takes us to the 1970s, which has yielded some of my favourite fruit from the project (‘Marquee Moon’, ‘A Wizard, A True Star’ etc). Let’s see what this Seventies seven have to bring to the table.

Aerosmith, ‘Rocks’

The third of an inexplicable three entries for Aerosmith on the list, this doesn’t feature any of the band’s best known songs, but does feature their characteristic hard rock without any of the commercial trappings of the mega-hits. I mean I guess it sounds about as fine as a hard rock album from 1976 is likely to sound: hard rock has never really been my bag and the 1001 has failed to convert me.

The Carpenters, ‘Close to You’

I’ve always associated Karen and Richard with schmaltzy MOR, only slightly offset by watching Karen’s goofy energy when playing drums. This album does feature some of their most famous easy listening cuts: ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’, and Bacharach/David’s ‘Close To You’. It’s only later in the album when the claws come out: the peculiar ‘Crescent Moon’ and the spiteful ‘Mr Guder’ are both strange deep cuts from the record. There’s also an awful cover of ‘Help’, performed at the tempo Lennon allegedly originally intended.

David Crosby, ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’

This album’s origins lie in two key events: the recording of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album that preceded it, and the 1969 death of Crosby’s girlfriend Christine Hinton. It’s hard to get a grip on the album that came out, which is steeped in harmonies (Nash and Young both feature, along with Joni Mitchell) and peculiar, lengthy instrumental passages. In some places, like the intro to ‘Tamalpais High’, it sounds like a precursor to Slint. Elsewhere, it sounds like a contemporary of Devendra Banhart or Newton Faulkner. A strange one, and it didn’t impress everyone at the time (Christgau gave it a D+, calling it a “disgraceful performance”).

Electric Light Orchestra, ‘Out of the Blue’

A double album written in a burst of inspiration by Jeff Lynne and featuring their most famous song, ‘Mr Blue Sky’. If you’ve heard that – and who hasn’t – you’ll know what they’re about: a twist on 60s pop with orchestral strings. They’re often compared to the Beatles, but there’s also a Beach Boys element to it: ‘Across the Border’ sounds like it has the same melody as ‘Heroes and Villains’. There’s some really good stuff here – ‘Summer and Lightning’, ‘Mr Blue Sky’, and the weird pub-rock meets Bolero of ‘Birmingham Blues’. You can also hear echoes of this stuff on Super Furry Animals, among others.

George Jones, ‘The Grand Tour’

Jones was one of Tammy Wynette’s husbands. At the time, their marriage was disintegrating, which they of course take pains to insist is not the case in dreadful closer ‘Our Private Life’. Of course, all the other lyrics and songs suggest the exact opposite (the title track is about a break-up, there’s a song defiantly titled ‘Once You’ve Had The Best’, etc). It’s a sophisticated take on country without any desire to cross over into pop, but it’s also too steeped in Nashville cheese to overcome my natural reservations about country. ‘She’ll Love The One She’s With’, despite having almost the same title, chorus and theme, is not related to the Stephen Stills song.

Janis Joplin, ‘Pearl’

The only solo album of Joplin’s to make the list sees the production and playing refined and polished in order to allow Janis’s own natural roughness to shine through. It’s a fine platform for her strong voice and personality, and gives us two of her best-known songs in ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ and ‘Mercedes Benz’. Unfortunately she was unable to capitalise: she died four days after recording ‘Mercedes Benz’, and one song on the album ended up going on there without any vocals.

Milton Nascimento and Lo Borges, ‘Cluba de Esquina’

This is a sort-of ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ deal where the musicians were a loose collective who gathered around the titular Cluba de Esquina: Nascimento and Borges are the singer/songwriters around which it rotates (they alternate lead vocals, but never appear on the same song). It’s a double album so it is – guess what – too long, but its roots in, or similarities with, psychedelic rock make it an easy enough album to appreciate even if you don’t speak Portuguese. You can see similarities with the dazed Californian folk scene, or in later shimmery mostly-acoustic outfits like Fleet Foxes.

Next week: predictably enough, we hit up the 80s to see what we’ve got left there.

Status update: 924 listened to (92%), 77 remain.


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.

June 7 – 50 Cent, The Adverts, Aerosmith, Big Star, Missy Elliott, The Kinks, Kraftwerk, Neil Young

50 Cent, ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin”.

This was on my ‘if I must’ pile due to repetitive singles ‘In Da Club’ and ‘P.I.M.P.’ and the dreaded tinge of Eminem producing, which usually guarantees tinny guitars and cheap synths. I blame Mike Elizondo, in-house musician for the Dre stable. Surprisingly, however, the album is generally an improvement on its two key singles. There’s an “everyone hates me, don’t care” defiance that you might expect from someone who’s been shot, but tinged with a metaphysical dread, while the Dre/Mathers production sounds motivated. Some gripes: the album tails off towards the end, and the haphazard sequencing makes it sound more like a home-made compliation than a coherent album (unusually for a rap album of its time, it’s light on skits and segues).

The Adverts, ‘Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts’.

I didn’t know much about this album going in, having forgotten ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’. Unusually, I warmed to this album as it went on, perhaps because it feels like the band’s playing and writing improves as it goes on (the early songs, including giveaway ‘One Chord Wonders’, betray the band’s punkish lack of musical chops). It doesn’t feel essential though.

Aerosmith, ‘Pump’.

A couple of great early songs and that’s it. You wouldn’t have thought that the same album would have ‘Love in an Elevator’ and a didgeridoo interlude, yet here we are (the album has three pointless interludes on unlikely instruments). The great, expensive-sounding production explains why this sold in such high volumes.

Big Star, ‘#1 Record’.

I listened to this a few weeks ago and forgot to add it to any other reviews. Sort of a predecessor to Weezer in its power-pop feel, this is occasionally quite lovely and occasionally quite sloppy, dependent on which of the two singers’ songs are being performed.

Missy ‘Misdemeanour’ Elliott, ‘Supa Dupa Fly’.

Producer Timbaland was the man in the early years of the century, and his childhood pal Missy his most charismatic foil. This album is fun enough but I think Elliott’s more immediate spoils (i.e. the hits) are on her later albums, none of which, alas, are on the list.

The Kinks, ‘The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society’.

In which the wonky pop act have a stab at Qualuudes-and-cuppa psychedelia, referencing steam trains and cricket as well as the titular village green. The album’s rarely dull and, as well as the obvious influence it had on Blur, you can see the shadow cast over early Of Montreal and (on the Mellotron-and-vocal track) Eels. Good.

Kraftwerk, ‘Autobahn’.

The first Kraftwerk album that sounded like Kraftwerk, even though the two drummer robots were yet to be assembled (sorry I meant “recruited”). ‘Autobahn’ is a delightful combination of synths’n’rhythm machine grooves interspersed with organic instruments (there’s an acoustic track on this album!). REAL MUSIC YEAH

Neil Young, ‘Harvest’.

Another album I came to with some reticience given the threat of harmonica, typically an instrument that serves as an avatar for a certain strain of dreary music (rootsy, ‘real’, male). However, there are seven of this guy’s albums on this list so in I went. Turns out I liked this album despite myself: the songwriting and his voice are strong enough to overpower the stench of authenticity in the arrangements. ‘Out on the Weekend’, ‘Heart of Gold’ and ‘Old Man’ are all familiar, but not in a way that feels cliche. Plus there’s a live track? What is this, ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’?