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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June 4: Elvis Costello, Radiohead, Rolling Stones, Sonic Youth, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Neil Young

This week on 1001 Albums it’s another look at the artists whose back catalogues are most heavily represented on the list (but where I’ve not heard all of it already: the Beatles and Bowie both have seven albums on the list but I’ve heard them all).

Elvis Costello and the Attractions, ‘Armed Forces’

I’ve complained about Costello’s over-representation on the list before, but this is the first time that I’ve thought the list might be onto something: Costello serving as the link between Bruce Springsteen and Abba, and Pulp and Mull Historical Society (or stuff like Scouting For Girls). There’s a clear fusing of his pop sensibilities with unusual song structures (‘Accidents Will Happen’ for example). The album also contains ‘Oliver’s Army’ and ‘What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding’, the latter of which features an unusually husky vocal take. The only criticism I’d level is that it sometimes feels like a collection of songs rather than a cohesive album, particularly due to the use of the dreaded fade-out, but this is the best album I’ve heard by this Elvis.

Radiohead, ‘Hail to the Thief’

If you think of bands who love using puns in their output, you’d probably reach for Super Furry Animals, Eminem, or a million other bands, before you got to Radiohead, which makes the lame gag in this album title more distressing (“more like ‘Hail to the THIEF’ amirite boys?”). But then they’ve always been an inscrutable act: with ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac‘ they’d gained a reputation for making almost inpenetrable music but still selling loads, yet this album has a song called ‘A Punchup At A Wedding’ (which appears to be their equivalent of – oh dear – the Stereophonics’ ‘Mr Writer’, written after reading a review they didn’t like). Anyway, this is probably their most accessible album post-‘OK Computer’: ‘2+2=5’ resembles a conventional rock song, the Bat For Lashes-ish toms of ‘There There’ are direct enough to explain the song’s placing as lead single, and the Goldfrapp-y sawtooth synths on ‘Myxomatosis’ serve as a clear hook even if the song’s in a bizarre rhythm and/or time signature. There’s also a dirge called ‘We Suck Young Blood’ that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Portishead’s second album. Definitely an album with more entry routes than normal, even if the band themselves have cooled on it since. This is our last visit to Radiohead’s back catalogue: I’ve heard all their stuff on the list now.

The Rolling Stones, ‘Let It Bleed’

This is the sixth Rolling Stones album I’ve heard and I’ll tell you this: if every song on a Stones album was as good as its opener, we’d be looking at some unbelievable albums. This one kicks off with ‘Gimme Shelter’, an incredible track full of dread and violence and so intense that guest singer Merry Clayton miscarried hours after recording it. Understandably, the album doesn’t sustain that intensity, but it’s frustrating how quickly it’s squandered: the second song is a laidback song with a Ry Cooder mandolin solo and the third is a country version of ‘Honky Tonk Woman’. The best tracks aside from the opener are the two closing tracks: ‘Monkey Man’ sounds like it was designed for a rap sample, while ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ is a preposterous step outside their comfort zone with both a boys choir and Pink Floyd soulstress Diana Troy stopping in.

Sonic Youth, ‘Dirty’

The NY kool katz are in a sour mood on this album (aren’t they always?) which adds a sneering heaviness to their usual sound. More than usual, Kim Gordon steps up to take lead vocals, her hoarse spit most electrifying on the standout ‘Drunken Butterfly’, perhaps the album’s most famous song. Geffen were apparently expecting big things from lead single ‘100%’, but even in the era of Nirvana it’s not clear why: the song has no chorus, and ‘Sugar Kane’ and ‘Youth Against Fascism’ have superceded it as the album’s most famous cuts (other than ‘Drunken Butterfly’). My other favourite on this is the spacey ‘Theresa’s Sound-World’. As always with the Yoof, their abrasive style is exhausting given how long the album is (59 minutes): there’s no obvious duds here, but fifteen fewer minutes might have made for a punchier record.

Bruce Springsteen, ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’

Following on from ‘Born to Run‘, this evocatively-named album scales the arrangements down from ‘Born To Run”s cheesy sound while retaining the same cast (the E Street Band), and as a result is slightly less ridiculous. Highlights include the sombre piano on ‘Racing in the Street’ (not to be confused with ‘Dancing in the Street’, or ‘Dancing in the Dark’, or – y’know what forget it), the dramatic crescendo bridge of ‘Candy’s Room’ and the vaguely Dylan-ish sound of ‘The Promised Land’. Maybe it was just in contrast to the Sonic Youth album, but this album felt really short, despite being 42 minutes: the title track finishes the album while I was settled in for another 10 minutes. Guess it just passes quickly.

Tom Waits, ‘Bone Machine’

Three albums into Waits’s career and I’m starting to feel as though I know what I’m going to get: this alternates between Waits’s two default settings of clattering percussive racket and sombre, drunk-at-2am ballads. (Were the latter designed to appease a spooked label, or does Waits just vacillate between these two moods?) The sonic palette isn’t entirely restricted though: there’s some blaring horns on ‘Dirt in the Ground’, some twangy guitar provided by Keith Richards on ‘That Feel’, and ‘Goin’ Out West’ sounds like a template on which Nick Cave based much of his career. Tom himself contributes some rudimentary, idiosyncratic guitar throughout, too. This one didn’t grab me like previous albums did: ‘Who Are You This Time’ is the most accessible track and that’s a distant cousin of ‘Jersey Girl’, while melodies are in short supply – maybe half-a-dozen over 16 tracks. Still, this won a Grammy so I’m wrong.

Neil Young, ‘On The Beach’

“I’m a barrel of laughs.” ‘Tonight’s The Night‘ is the sound of a shell-shocked party continuing despite one of the partygoers overdosing and being taken to hospital, a frenetic urgency to have a good time because of that. ‘On The Beach’ was recorded around the same time, but came out first, and feels more like the Sunday afterwards where the party’s host wakes up hungover as hell and finds out the guest died at the hospital. Quite the follow-up to ‘Harvest‘. The first half feels more like accessible ‘Harvest’-sequel fare – ‘Walk On’ and ‘See The Sky About To Rain’ introduce the electric piano to Young’s output but are otherwise conventional enough – but the crash happens on the second half, with the word ‘blues’ appearing in three song titles, one of the songs crawling on for seven minutes and the closer ‘Ambulance Blues’ taking nearly nine. It’s good but ultimately gruelling: would not recommend this as an entry point to Young.

Next week: we’re looking at another nation’s output and looking at some of the Irish albums on the list.

Status update: 527 listened to (52%), 474 remain.

December 11: The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, The Rolling Stones, Sonic Youth, Tom Waits

This week, we’re covering some of the most regular artists to appear on the list. Each of this week’s artists are represented with five or more entries on the 1001. Justifably? Let’s find out!

The Byrds, ‘Fifth Dimension’

Written after the departure of main songwriter Gene Clark, and with no Bob Dylan songs for the first time, ‘Fifth Dimension’ had mixed reviews at the time and ever since, making its inclusion a surprising one. Some of the songs sound like Crosby and/or McGuinn attempting to replicate Clark and Dylan, but these are less successful than the weird psychedelic freakouts of ‘What’s Happening?!?!’ and ‘Eight Miles High’. There’s also a crappy, lightning-speed freakbeat version of ‘Hey Joe’ and a weird cockpit sounds-and-instrumental closer called ‘242 (The Lear Jet Song)’. It’s alright but nothing special: feels a bit like one of those post-Barrett Pink Floyd albums where nobody’s in charge and nobody knows what to do.

Bob Dylan, ‘Blonde on Blonde’

After a few attempts, I finally find a Dylan album I like as much as his reputation warrants, as this one is crammed with gorgeous tunes, particularly on the first disc. I don’t love it unconditionally: the blues tracks are pretty unremarkable and the less said about ‘Rainy Day Women #12 and 35’ the better. The run from ‘Visions of Johanna’ to ‘Stuck Outside of Mobile…’ is, however, pretty much perfect. This eclipses ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ as my favourite of his albums, but either way it’s obvious that the electric rock style suits him. It almost sounds like an early Lou Reed album, probably thanks to Dylan influencing Reed.

Led Zeppelin, ‘Led Zeppelin’

The first Zep album and one of two self-titled debut albums in this week’s round-up, the A-side often sounds more like psychedelic rock than the heavy blues that the band would become better known for (‘Dazed and Confused’ is on this album). The B-side is more of an indication of the style that they’d go on to master in later years, ‘Communication Breakdown’ especially. I’m becoming kind of ambivalent about LZ: I wasn’t looking forward to listening to five of their albums, they haven’t converted me, but the albums are decent enough. If I gave out ratings here they’d be pretty solidly in the three-star range for me.

Radiohead, ‘Amnesiac’

‘The Bends’ and ‘OK Computer’ are essentials of course, guarantees on any list of this type, but they’d divided opinion with ‘Kid A’, which seemed to have come from another planet. Recorded at the same sessions as ‘Kid A’, ‘Amnesiac’ sounds more like a live band album than its predecessor’s laptop dabbling, but at the same time seems a long way divorced from anything else indie rock was doing at the time: it’s only with ‘You and Whose Army’ that a standard rock band structure emerges, by which point there’s already been a single (‘Pyramid Song’)! There’s something perversely pleasurable about such oblique, inaccessible music selling in such huge quantities, but this is an easier album to admire than to love.

The Rolling Stones, ‘The Rolling Stones’

This is the Stones’ debut album, back when Brian Jones was just the rhythm guitarist. It may surprise you, but this is an album owing a debt to 50s R&B. Lacking in Jagger/Richards collaborations, this one is pretty unexciting fare: highlights include the surprisingly bottom-heavy ‘Mona’, later covered by ‘Neighbours’ star Craig MacLachlan of all people, and closer ‘Walking the Dog’. I think my favourite Stones album thus far is ‘Between the Buttons’, but alas that does not appear on the 1001. (I also listened to ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ this week: there’s a lot of crap on it, but the highlights are pretty bloody good to be honest.) There are still three Stones albums on the list, so one may convert me; this one on the other hand isn’t essential at all.

Sonic Youth, ‘Daydream Nation’

The Youth’s best-known album starts with a killer A-side: ‘Teen Age Riot’, ‘Silver Rocket’ and ‘The Sprawl’ are a formidable trio of melody, spat-out slacker lyrics and noizzze breaks. The rest essentially serves as varieties on those themes, but even on filler like piano-and-radio-noise ‘Providence’ you can see them inventing a language that later acts like Trail of Dead would become fluent in. It’s too long, but with at least five really good songs, you get at least 30 minutes of excellent music here. Seems churlish to complain.

Tom Waits, ‘Heartattack and Vine’

This was Waits’ sixth album and his earliest studio album on the list (there’s an earlier live album). It features a combination of jazzy blues and sentimental ballads, including his best-known song ‘Jersey Girl’, later a hit for Springsteen. His barbecue coals voice is the most distinctive feature – although I wonder if there’s any Waits album you can’t say that about – with Ronnie Barron’s Hammond its most prominent and distinctive instrument. I mean it’s accomplished, but his voice just suits further-out fare, which luckily was just around the corner with ‘Swordfishtrombones’.

Next week: I’ll be deliberately picking seven albums about which I know absolutely nothing. Who knows what we’ll be getting.

Status update: 366 albums listened to (36%), 635 remain.

August 9: 808 State, Fugazi, Gang of Four, Jefferson Airplane, ‘Tubular Bells’, Koffi Olomide, ‘Exile on Main Street’, ‘Graceland’, Nina Simone, Neil Young

808 State, ‘808:90’.

Containing their most famous song, ‘Pacific State’, this album both sounds exactly like you’d expect a dance record of its time to sound and pretty good.

Fugazi, ‘Repeater’.

Angry as hell 1990 underground punk which finishes with the almost perfect ‘Shut the Door’ (so of course there’s an extended version of the album with three superfluous tracks glued onto the end). It’s good, but the previous day, I had listened to its most obvious influence, which is…

Gang of Four, ‘Entertainment’.

All post-punk is arty, but there’s a certain branch of it which was snappy and angry rather than sprawling and/or gothy. Wire and Mission Of Burma are in this territory, but so too are Gang of Four. ‘Entertainment!’ takes a few tracks to get going, but starts delivering from ‘Damaged Goods’, the fourth track, and is pretty much brilliant from there.

Jefferson Airplane, ‘Surrealistic Pillow’.

This excellently-named album from the psych-folk sextet contains their big “hits” ‘White Rabbit’ and ‘Somebody to Love’. Nothing else is as good as those songs, but it’s a pleasant enough listen. Hard to listen to them without thinking of the awful crimes they went on to commit in the unspeakably terrible form of Starship.

Mike Oldfield, ‘Tubular Bells’.

The first album on Richard Branson’s Virgin Records contains the tune from the ‘Exorcist’, a Piltdown Man impression, a hornpipe and the guy out of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band reading the instruments. It feels like a lot of farting around that’s a bit too pleased with itself for my liking, but it’s unpredictable at least.

Koffi Olomide, ‘Haut de Gamme: Koweit, Rive Gauche’.

Okay but a bit naff-sounding, Olomide is a Congolese soukous musician known for his sharp dress sense and his Mark E Smith-ish habit of assaulting his collaborators (he is currently in jail). I feel pretty ignorant when reviewing this sort of music, but it didn’t do an awful lot for me.

The Rolling Stones, ‘Exile on Main Street’.

Generally regarded as their best album and a landmark in music and so on, this sprawls over two records of blues, country and soul. Still struggling to see the appeal of Mick and the gang though: this just sounds like white boys playing pub rock with harmonicas, honky-tonk piano and all the other trappings of by-the-book boredom.

Paul Simon, ‘Graceland’.

Speaking of albums everyone loves, this is the hipster record du jour and, in fairness, it is pretty good. No wonder Ladysmith Black Mambazo became stars off the back of it: their harmonies are the best thing on the album. Unusual to see later Nine Inch Nail Adrian Belew credited on a few tracks; what a strange career he has had.

Nina Simone, ‘Wild is the Wind’.

The voice is impeccable of course but the sedate pace that the entire album crawls by at makes this one a bloody slog. David Bowie’s cover of the title track was faster (probably a side-effect of the cocaine), elevating it to ‘mid-tempo’.

Neil Young, ‘Everybody Knows This is Nowhere’.

An early-70s album with Crazy Horse, this is the second of Young’s albums I’ve heard, and suffers a bit by comparison with ‘Harvest’. Still, there are three great songs on this album which, combined, last over half the running time of the record – good going.

February 28: Adam Ant, Destiny’s Child, PiL, ‘Beggars Banquet’

Adam and the Ants, ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’.

A weird combination of tribal drumming, post-punk guitar and glam vocalist, nothing sounds exactly like this. It opens with two hits in a row, but the non-singles are also great too.

Destiny’s Child, ‘Survivor’.

Front-loaded with terrific hit singles, everything after track 3 is a bit hit or miss (‘Dangerously in Love’ appears, but is an anonymous ballad) and the last two songs (a gospel medley and the album’s thank yous over a cutting-room-floor beat) are a total waste of time.

Public Image Ltd, ‘Public Image’ (or ‘Public Image: First Issue’).

This sounds really fresh still, probably because everything sounds like it these days, but its abrasive drones aren’t always an easy listen. It makes sense that Banshees guitarist John McGeoch later joined PIL, as Keith Levene’s flangers-on-sustain guitar lines remind me a lot of McGeoch.

Rolling Stones, ‘Beggars Banquet’.

Perhaps the wrong choice of Stones records to start with, as harmonica-infested blues workouts are never my favourite things. A good track opens both sides (‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘Street Fighting Man’) but a lot of the filler tracks sound like spoofs of country and/or blues cuts by Robert Johnson or Bo Diddley.