June 24: Kate Bush, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Kraftwerk, Madonna, Van Morrison, Roxy Music

This week and next week, we’re taking a look at seven of the artists who have three albums on the list. All of these groups have been very influential so let’s get them under the microscope and see how their albums hold up to scrutiny.

Kate Bush, ‘The Sensual World’

Our last visit to Bush’s oeuvre also marks the slowdown of her output, as there were four years before the next album came out and 12 years after that. As much as you can have ‘typical’ Kate Bush, this is it: eclectic strands of world music (uilleann pipes, Dave Gilmour, a Bulgarian choir, her brother playing various unusual instruments) held together with the Fairlight and her otherworldly voice. As influential as Bush is, the synths have aged a bit in the thirty years since the album came out, and ‘This Woman’s Work’, the closer, is probably the strongest piece here.

The Doors, ‘LA Woman’ 

The final album to feature Jim Morrison, who died three months after its release. The early tracks are directly blues-y: pretty uninspiring fare, not helped by Morrison’s over-the-top baritone. It would be unfair, though, to write this off as purely lightweight blues, as there are also some songs that showcase the Doors at their best. I know I’m referring to the band by those who were influenced by them here but the title track has a similar drive and energy to Joy Division, while ‘Hyacinth House’ leaves me with a strong suspicion that Nick Cave has heard this record.

Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Electric Ladyland’

The final JHE album, by which time Noel Redding had formed his own band and was becoming less and less available, meaning the bass here is often covered by session players or by Hendrix himself. This double album has two tracks that top 10 minutes, including the 15-minute Fillmore-style blues jam ‘Voodoo Child’, which is weirdly followed by a Noel Redding-sung Carnaby Street number called ‘Little Miss Strange’. Largely blues filtered through a weird variety of effects pedals and psychedelic effects, this album ends with ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)’, two of the best songs of the 60s. Worth hearing but judicious skipping needed.

Kraftwerk, ‘Trans-Europe Express’

Our final visit to Kraftwerk’s output is also the most foreboding and ominous of the three albums, mainly due to ‘Trans-Europe Express’/’Metal on Metal’/’Abzug’/’Franz Schubert’, the suite that occupies the second half.  There’s something about the minor-key minimalism that feels cold in a way that their other two albums on the list don’t; deliberate, no doubt, but unattractive. The most pleasant thing here is the arpeggiating drones of ‘Europe Endless’, the ten-minute opener.

Madonna, ‘Like a Prayer’

We’ve already covered ‘Ray of Light‘ and ‘Music‘, so time to go back to the earliest Madonna album on the list. Of course, it’s possible that my attraction to this record is steeped in nostalgia – the singles would have come out when I was 8 or 9, the first time I was aware of music – but I don’t think it’s pure Proustian rush that makes it enjoyable for me. It’s an incredibly dexterous album, capable of trying out gospel, Prince jams, Sgt Pepper psychedelia and piano ballads about her father and getting them all right. Even as late as track 7-9, we get a string of hits (‘Cherish’, ‘Dear Jessie’, ‘Oh Father’), while the closer, ‘Act of Contrition’, mangles the title track in with metal guitars and a Madonna monologue that sounds like Public Enemy or something. Great record.

Van Morrison, ‘Moondance’

I wasn’t convinced by the meandering doodlings of ‘Astral Weeks’, and on the follow-up, Van structured his songs and arrangements in a more conventional manner. Maybe that means that this album is more ordinary but I preferred it: it’s a fine blue-eyed soul album with hints of ethereal mysteriousness. The best track, for me, is ‘Into The Mystic’, but it’s also one of the albums on the list (along with Drake’s ‘Bryter Layter’) where I recognised a song off ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’: that film concludes with the clavinet trills of ‘Everyone’.

Roxy Music, ‘Country Life’

The fourth Roxy Music album is the only one on the list without Brian Eno, who departed after their second album. It feels like the most accomplished from a singing and songwriting perspective, the production bathes everything in dramatic reverb, while the violin, sax, harmonica and keyboards add colour that differentiate them from their peers. The only problem is that gaudy, Playboy offshoot of a cover.

Next week: another set of bands with three albums each, as we get to the point where there’s less than 100 albums remaining!

Status update: 896 listened to (89%), 105 remain.

 

 

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September 3: Alice Cooper, Hanoi Rocks, Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music, Slade, Sparks, T-Rex

Today my band is playing Glitterfest so to celebrate, let’s have a look at that most glittery of genres, glam! It’s another 70s-centric week this week: I’m sure there were good glam albums released in the last three decades, but none on the list.

Alice Cooper, ‘School’s Out’ (link)

A Broadway musical about a quintet of seniors who like wagging lessons and bumming cigarettes, who hate school but realise when they graduate that maybe the real world isn’t all that either. It’s pretty much as theatrical as I’ve made it sound, to the extent that there’s excerpts from ‘West Side Story’ included and there’s even a grand finale. Not desperately worried about sounding cool, the ridiculousness suits Vince and the gang, and is indulged by producer Bob Ezrin (the rowdy school kids on the title track are the clue to his involvement). This overdelivered against expectations.

Hanoi Rocks, ‘Back to Mystery City’ (link)

With two of Mott the Hoople at the controls, the game Finnish quartet play for the stadiums with this, their only appearance on the list, and occasionally stop off for Adam Ant Burundi beats (‘Mental Beat’), street sound effects and Banshees bass (‘Tooting Bec Wreck’) and even flute-led folk (on the deliberately misleading kick-off ‘Strange Boys Play Weird Openings’). They’re not afraid of a little experimentation or of looking daft, but their riffs and melodies don’t give me much to get into or linger in the memory.

Mott the Hoople, ‘Mott’ (link)

Speaking of Mott, here they are with their lone entry on the 1001, a year after Bowie had given them a leg-up with ‘All the Young Dudes’. This was released in 1973, the same year as ‘Aladdin Sane’, but feels like an inferior version of the Spiders album: it doesn’t help that the arrangements are so similar (Ronson-ish guitar, Hunter’s Ziggy-esque voice, raunchy saxophone, piano). The most distracting thing here is ‘I’m A Cadillac”s eight minutes of wandering, or perhaps the piano opening of ‘Hymn For The Dudes’, while ‘Ballad of Mott the Hoople’ is as naff as its name (you’ve probably noticed they weren’t a band who were good at naming things).

Roxy Music, ‘For Your Pleasure’ (link)

Brian Eno is all over this list in various guises, whether that’s on his own albums, or as producer. Here, he’s in his final appearance as one of a band, lurking in the background of Roxy Music and putting everything through the VCS3. While his precise contributions are often hard to identify – he doesn’t really play an instrument as much as manipulate the sounds of the others – it’s almost certainly his involvement which makes this album more artsy and arctic than its contemporaries. Even ‘Do The Strand’, in theory just a glam stomper, sounds pregnant with menace, while ‘The Bogus Man’ and ‘For Your Pleasure’ burble around guitar, synth and sax jams for 10 and 7 minutes respectively. One listen probably isn’t enough to fully penetrate the mysteries of that second side, but this is a good album.

Slade, ‘Slayed?’ (not on Spotify)

Slade were a huge band in the 70s – three of their songs went straight in at Number One – but they’re mostly remembered now, of course, for their Christmas song, and only appear once on the 1001. So was any of their stuff any good, then? Well, this album has its moments. It’s an unsophisticated, but unpretentious, combination of Cheap Trick-ish melodies, big choruses, and terrace stomp’n’chant, with an obvious legacy in mega-selling 80s acts like AC/DC. Unusually, the hits all come from the second side of the album: ‘Gudbuy T’Jane’ and ‘Mama We’re All Crazee Now’ both sound pretty good. I suspect this will be the only time I listen to this record, although it probably seemed great live and down the pub.

Sparks, ‘Kimono My House’ (link)

I know, I’m sure you’re surprised I’ve never heard a Sparks album before (even their Franz Ferdinand collaboration). The band had relocated to London just before this album, recruiting a new rhythm section of British musicians, and yeah the Brits acquit themselves fine here but let’s not pretend the Maels aren’t the stars. Ron’s songs are flamboyant and ostentatious without being excessively camp to drown the melodies, and Russell’s voice is the perfect medium for the message. Clever dicks without being dicks. Yeah this is good. (It also features their biggest hit, ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us’, as the first track.)

T-Rex, ‘Electric Warrior’ (link)

The former hippies have an immediately recognisable sound: acoustic guitar, strings, bongos and female backing vocals, which serves as a very palatable backdrop for Bolan’s trans-Atlantic spaced out drawl. Made without any grandiose concept or plans for posterity, ‘Electric Warrior’ has in fact aged pretty well, mainly because Marc’s a good writer and Visconti’s production shies away from using any faddish trickery. This is the album with ‘Jeepster’ and ‘Get It On’ and ‘Cosmic Dancer’, but there are some curious moves, too: ‘Girl”s ramshackle Ornette Coleman horns sound like they’re from a Godspeed You Black Emperor intro, while heavy rock closer ‘Rip Off’ unexpectedly ends with a drone section.

Next week: time for something wacky: we’re looking at royalty (or at least bands and albums named after royalty)!

Status update: 616 listened to, 385 remain. Just over a year left on this project.

 

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