May 27: Billy Bragg and Wilco, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sheryl Crow, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Husker Du, The Stooges, Style Council

Imagine if the 1001 Albums list was a map of a town. What would you see there? Would the main road be ‘Autobahn’ or ‘Highway 61 Revisited’? Would you walk down ‘Abbey Road’ or ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’? What else would be on the map? This week, we try to flesh out the map with some of the edifices, roads and establishments in the area.

Billy Bragg and Wilco, ‘Mermaid Avenue’

In which the folk mainstay and the alt.country gang attempt to put music behind a series of unfinished and unrecorded lyrics by Woody Guthrie: sort of like a 1998 version of ‘Journal for Plague Lovers’. The highlights on this collection are mainly Wilco’s: an attempt to bring the Guthrie sound into the 1990s and generally succeeding, although there are a couple of wrong turns that make it sound like Nizlopi. Okay but not urgent.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Cosmo’s Factory’

Somewhere between the swampy jams of the first record and the tilted-at-charts ‘Green River‘, this is pretty accessible but starts with a seven-minute bottleneck jam called ‘Ramble Tamble’ and has a wild Fillmore East version of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ which lasts over eleven minutes. This has a lot of elements I’m not generally keen on, and they had obvious influences on terrible bands I heard first like Reef, but I found this quite listenable. This is the last CCR album, both chronologically and on this blog, to appear on the list.

Sheryl Crow, ‘Tuesday Night Music Club’

I listened to this on Thursday due to inept planning: go me. This is the one with ‘All I Wanna Do’. You’d expect that track to open the album, but it staggers in hungover at track 9 like a libertine late for a party, immediately attracts a crowd and elevates the tempo of the album by about 30BPM. It almost feels glued on, as the rest of the album is a slow-motion alt.country record with some sleepy jazz elements and a disastrous rap-as-in-‘Rapture’-by-Blondie song called ‘The Na-Na Song’. Possibly she would have continued in this direction if not for the hit, which took her down a different path and probably for the best.

The Flying Burrito Brothers, ‘Gilded Palace of Sin’

This week could almost be an alt.country week, couldn’t it? This awfully-named band were another Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons deal (we covered a similar one in ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo‘), and follows a similar template of harmonies and prairie longing. Okay but not especially interesting.

Husker Du, ‘Warehouse: Songs and Stories’

Falling apart due to disagreements between songwriters Grant Hart and Bob Mould, Husker Du put out this double album and split almost immediately afterwards. Hart was going through a tough time: he was trying to kick heroin and he’d been diagnosed with HIV (ultimately, a misdiagnosis), so no wonder the band was disintegrating. Still, whatever conflict they were having isn’t necessarily reflected on the record, as they both play on each other’s songs. In fact the real victim is the child of the divorce, bassist Greg Norton, whose parts are often replaced by Mould or Hart. If Husker Du had been able to keep their shit together, maybe they could have been contenders, as at the time this would have sounded exactly the same as REM, and look what happened to them. As it is, their third and final report is a pleasant but overlong 68 minutes of trebly guitars and vaguely-recorded vocals which is best on the second disc.

The Stooges, ‘Fun House’

Iggy and the Ashetons’ template is scratchy riffs so repetitive that even The Fall would take umbrage. Here there are some concessions to varying the formula: a couple of songs on the second side have saxophone (albeit it sounds like it’s playing a different song), and some even have a clear verse/chorus structure, most notably ‘Loose’, with its riff on loan from ‘Kick out the Jams’. It’s odd that such a seminal band leaves so little impression on me: I can see their influence on The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Sex Pistols, Death in Vegas and many others, but I don’t think it’ll ever be the Stooges albums that I pick up to listen to.

The Style Council, ‘Cafe Bleu’

A sophisti-pop album made by Paul Weller and one of Dexy’s sounds like a curio rather than an essential listen, yet here it is as one of the 1001 albums you must hear before you die. The first half of this is mainly jazzy instrumentals, punctuated by a solo Weller track called ‘The Whole Point of No Return’ and a smokey bar cut sung by Tracey Thorn. The flipside is a bit more palatable, with Weller fronting soulful cuts in a more conventional band set-up. He’s not bad at it: you couldn’t imagine, say, one of The Clash or the Pistols doing the same, but somehow the Jam frontman gets away with it. What he doesn’t get away with, mind, is ‘A Gospel’: a rap track with all the credibility of Duran Duran’s cover of ‘911 Is A Joke’.

Next week: A look at some of the artists who appear on the list twice, including one making their first appearance on the blog!

Status update: 868 listened to (87%), 133 remaining.

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April 8: Bjork, Tim Buckley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Fall, Peter Gabriel, The Smiths

This week, and not for the first time, we look at seven artists who have three albums each on the list. There’s not a lot else uniting these groups, so let’s jump straight in.

Bjork, ‘Vespertine’ (link)

I listened to Bjork’s Greatest Hits (from 2002) loads when it came out: apart from the mandatory new-for-the-album track, the newest tracks on the compilation all came from ‘Vespertine’ (‘Pagan Poetry’ and ‘Hidden Place’). Putting these tracks in the same space as ‘Big Time Sensuality’ or ‘Bachelorette’ served to underscore that she was going for something very different with her latest album: something which played less to the feet than to the brain. The main ingredients here are music boxes, harps, spectral choirs and barely audible Timbaland-ish rhythm skittering; it’s as if acting as a soundtrack to the planet Neptune (not The Neptunes). It’s easy to admire the uniqueness of the project and her UN amabassador-style attempt to unify incongruous elements in dialogue, but it’s certainly not immediately accessible.

Tim Buckley, ‘Greetings From LA’ (link)

I’d enjoyed Buckley’s ‘Goodbye and Hello‘ and, while I knew he did sex-funk albums later in his career I wasn’t expecting to actually hear any of them. Yet here we are, on this album with a mere seven songs, listening to Buckley trying to get sexy. It’s an unpredictable, Of Montreal-ish career trajectory. Let’s just say it’s not an organic fit for him: on the opener ‘Move With Me’, he sounds like a suburban dad doing the Rolling Stones on karaoke. There are some decent tracks. The second, ‘Get On Top’, is a War-ish jam which survives Buckley’s mannered wail mostly unscathed even in the face of his least subtle lyrics. ‘Hong Kong Bar’ is a country blues number comfortable enough to make it sound like the bar is Buckley’s regular watering hole. An unusual album but too abnormal to get the recommendation.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Green River’ (link)

The previous Creedence album on the list sounded like a fallen tree covered in lichen decaying in a Louisiana swamp. This one is sort of like a bayou version of ‘Crocodile Dundee’: it attempts to reach out to the wider world while not forgetting that it’d ultimately be happier drinking and wrestling alligators. Featuring both a Ray Charles cover and their most famous song ‘Bad Moon Rising’, it mostly sounds pretty good. There are some rumours that John Fogarty plays all the instruments on this, having secretly overdubbed his bandmates’ parts: I could believe it, I guess, but to me it sounds like four guys playing together.

Dexy’s Midnight Runners, ‘Too Rye Ay’ (link)

Deciding to evolve his band’s sound after ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’, Kevin Rowland recruited two violinists, only for his entire horn section to decide to leave: something of a challenge, as the trombonist was one of the main songwriters. Rowland persuaded them to hang around long enough to get the album done, which proved to be the best decision for everyone as ‘Too Rye Ay’ was both creatively and commercially fruitful. It adds Kate Kissoon on backing vocals and brings in falsetto and Van Morrison influences (and songs), and the pay-off for the band is two of their biggest hits: ‘Jackie Wilson Said’ and, of course, closer ‘Come On Eileen’. Another good album from these.

The Fall, ‘Live From The Witch Trials’ (link)

The band’s first album, recorded in a day and mixed in another, established them as something of a weird sore thumb in the post-punk scene. In some ways they’re skinny and Wire-y, but they add Argos keyboard, remove choruses and often drone around one riff like they’re Neu or something. This version of the line-up doesn’t seem to have any skilled musicians, which means they eschew cliches (Bramah on ‘Music Scene’ sounds like John McGeoch without a flanger) but also restricts them: the imperial era with Brix still sounds more palatable to me. Spotify adds ‘Bingo Master’s Break-Out!’ and a minor-key vamp called ‘Dresden Dolls’, from whence the Boston duo’s name (at least in part).

Peter Gabriel, ‘Peter Gabriel’ (‘Melt’) (not on Spotify)

There are four self-titled Gabriel albums, none of which are on Spotify, which adds a layer of complexity to seeking them out online. Fans call this one ‘Melt’, more in reference to the artwork than a denigration of the musician. Anyway, this one throws in marimbas, bagpipes, Zulu-ish chants, Kate Bush, the dread Chapman Stick, some of King Crimson and Phil Collins – many of these elements are found in the same song. But while there’s usually something interesting going on in the arrangements, the songs themselves are oddly unengaging: none of the hooks, melodies or lyrics caused me to prick up my ears, and it felt long even though it’s only 45 minutes long.

The Smiths, ‘Meat Is Murder’ (link)

The Smiths’ second album (their first doesn’t make the list) came out in 1985 and in many ways sounds like a product of its age: the reverb-y drums especially are like opening a time capsule. Most of the lists I looked at – NME, Guardian, Stereogum – had this ranked as the band’s third or fourth best album, and despite a few well-known songs (‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’, ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have’) it lacks the sparkling wit or dynamic immediacy of their best stuff. Although there’s a surprising rhythm-section-only outro on ‘Barbarism Begins At Home’, the standout is Johnny Marr, who almost never plays solos yet covers more melodic and rhythmic ground than Nile Rodgers.

Next week: I’ll be looking at another seven albums with body titles!

Status update: 819 listened to (82%), 182 remain.

January 22: Tim Buckley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music, Simon and Garfunkel, Yes

Welcome back to 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die! This week, I’ll be looking at seven artists who each have three albums on the list, but which I’d never heard.

Tim Buckley, ‘Goodbye and Hello’

I had Jeff’s dad down as a gloomy folky, so it was something of a surprise to hear him being so direct and engaged with a full band complementing him. Released in 1967, the album is far out even by the standards of the decade: ‘Pleasant Street’ twists Buckley’s androgynous falsetto into a wail of despair while ‘Hallucinations’ has a disarmingly cacophonic arrangement. The only wrong move is the title track: a preposterous, overloaded pomp-folk wander nearly nine minutes long. Some of the arrangements would have benefitted from some restraint (the choir on ‘Morning Glory’, say) but this is a pretty wonderful album.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Bayou Country’

Even though Creedence were from California, you can imagine boating through the Louisana swamps with this album playing, imagery supported of course by the titles. The best-known track on this album, and in CCR’s repetoire, is ‘Proud Mary’, which is also the song least concerned with heavy blues riffs, sludgy harmonica and Robert Plant wailing. I don’t generally care for this sort of sound, but some of the songs are good examples of the genre, such as ‘Born on the Bayou’. Other songs sound half-finished: ‘Keep on Chooglin” for example.

Dexy’s Midnight Runners, ‘Searching for the Young Soul Rebels’

All three Dexys albums from their original run appear on the list (none from their comeback). This is the first, which symbolically starts with a radio being tuned away from Deep Purple and the Sex Pistols. Like me, you probably think of Dexys in dungarees playing violins. We’ll come to that era later: on their debut, they’re all about brassy soul with organs and, of course, that Kevin Rowland yelp, surprisingly listenable over the course of an album. While the B-side can’t match the A-side (the A-side has ‘Geno’, for one), I really enjoyed this.

Peter Gabriel, ‘Peter Gabriel’ (I/’Car’)

Gabriel’s solo debut and the first of four self-titled albums, this album is unusually hard to find online, which is possibly the influence of anti-streaming Crimson King Robert Fripp, the album’s guitarist. While Fripp’s contributions here are among his most unremarkable of the decade, Gabriel himself has an abundance of ideas: ‘Down the Dolce Vita’ goes straight from orchestral bombast to clavinet funk, ‘Excuse Me’ features a barbershop quartet and the second track’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ was a legit hit. Nothing struck me as demanding multiple listens here, but it’s clearly the work of an imaginative songwriter. I look forward to hearing more Gabriel.

Roxy Music, ‘Roxy Music’

Brian Eno is on the list about a million times in some form. Of course he started off in Roxy, and this album sees him mostly in the background, manipulating the other instruments and adding spacey VCS3 effects. The sound is unusual enough already, blending artsy experimentalism with sexy glam rock and regularly using an oboe, an instrument rarely used in rock music. I’m not sure I was entirely convinced by this. Still, the good one is meant to be ‘For Your Pleasure’, which we’ll come to later.

Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’

Would it surprise you if I told you this album starts with ‘Scarborough Fair’? The duo’s third album was recorded with 60s regulars The Wrecking Crew (‘Pet Sounds’, ‘Forever Changes’ and so on) and is a pretty enjoyable folk-pop album. As you might imagine, it’s a very 1966 album: one song has the subtitle ‘Feelin’ Groovy’ and another is a cover of ‘Silent Night’ with Vietnam war footage played underneath it. The major bummer is ‘A Simple Desultory Phillipic’, an awful Dylan pastiche.

Yes, ‘The Yes Album’

When I was growing up, Yes had a kind of reputation for unbearable pomposity, probably thanks to fifth album ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’, an 81-minute, four track double album. Posterity has been kinder to ‘The Yes Album’, however, insofar as it sounds pretty damn good to these ears. Refreshingly free of excess despite the long song length, the album combines McCartney-style melodies, long solo guitar instrumentals, three-way harmonies and fuzzy organs and at 41 minutes it’s a concise introduction to the band.

Next week: I’ll be checking out all the reggae on the list. I’m sure there’s plenty!

Status update: 395 heard (39%), 606 remain