Last week on 1001 we looked at all the remaining albums at the top of the alphabet. This week, we’ll look at the albums at the bottom half of the alphabet. Not a very imaginative theme I know, but as we get into the last 200 and it becomes harder to cohesively group the albums, there’s a fair chance that this sort of arbitrary coupling will be more frequent. Let’s roll.
Tom Waits, ‘Rain Dogs’ (link)
Our last of five non-chronological visits to Waits’s oeuvre, this was his eighth album and the follow-up to ‘Swordfishtrombones‘ (still my favourite of his). His general vibe – erratically arranged, clanking swamp blues interrupted by schmaltzy ballads – is a familiar one to me at this point, albeit uniquely his own. Here, we get a central role for the marimba, accordion interludes and at least one spoken word section. Late-album cut ‘Downtown Train’ sounds like it would have been a hit if not for Waits’s spluttering, hoarse vocal, and sure enough it was a smash for Rod Stewart.
The Who, ‘Tommy’ (link)
Maybe the most famous album we’ll come to this year, this is I think one of only two albums on the list which were adapted into a movie (‘The Wall’ is the other; of course there are a few soundtrack albums too). The story of a deaf, dumb and blind kid whose internal voyages result in amazing insights, Tommy’s narrative is only really understood through the prism of Eastern philosophy (it’s based on the teachings of Meher Baba) and its emphasis on meditation, silence and introspection. Even then, it’s not clear how or why Tommy plays a mean pinball. Concept albums were common enough at this point but there’d never been an album quite like this, as interested in singles as in continuity, and if it doesn’t all work – ‘Fiddle About’ and ‘Tommy’s Holiday Camp’ are pretty gauche both in and out of context – it does also contain some of the band’s best stuff (‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’).
Steve Winwood, ‘Arc of a Diver’ (link)
We only just bumped into Winwood a few weeks back on the Traffic album, but here he is again on his second solo album, playing all the instruments and doing most of the recording too. Released in 1980, this hasn’t dated terribly well: Winwood’s Genesis-ish voice invokes terrible memories of the Phil Collins albums of the era, and the synths on stuff like ‘Spanish Dancer’ sound antique these days. The most contemporary thing here is ‘Night Train’, the eight minutes of which sound like they could have been released this year by an 80s-influenced indie band. Generally though this is pretty uninspiring.
Bobby Womack, ‘The Poet’ (link)
Maybe it’s different expectations, maybe it’s the force of personality infusing it, but even though it’s even cheesier and more 80s than the Winwood album, this album by Womack from Womack & Womack (or is it & Womack from Womack and Womack? Which Womack is which?) felt more enjoyable. With the highest available production standards and a cheesy front cover making Bobby look like a cruise ship entertainer, this combination of Marvin-ish soul and Prince-like funk would probably be in the bottom 500 of the 1001 if it was ranked that way, but it’s entertaining enough crud.
Stevie Wonder, ‘Talking Book’ (link)
This is our final of four visits to Stevie’s output, but this is the earliest of his albums to make the list (he’d already done 14 albums, none of which make the list; all four of the next four albums make the list). ‘Talking Book’ features indie disco staple ‘Superstition’, but I don’t think this can compare to ‘Innervisions’ or ‘Songs in the Key of Life’: the backing vocal and instrumental arrangements seem overly cluttered and the sequencing allows for a six-minute jam as early as track 2. The B-side is better than the A-side, however I don’t think this is one I’ll return to.
Robert Wyatt, ‘Rock Bottom’ (link)
English psychedelia often sounds like dropping acid during the lunch break of a cricket game, and like an England batting collapse in the second innings, it’s often drawn-out and deeply frustrating to sit through. I guess it’s the expressionistic jazz influences that cause the songs to sprawl and meander, whereas American psychedelics often come from a blues background? Written before Wyatt had an accident that left him paraplegic, but recorded after it, it feels more of a test of the patience than a cathartic release. This may be Ivor Cutler’s only appearance on the list: he contributes vocals on a couple of tracks and harmonium & concertina on another.
Youngbloods, ‘Elephant Mountain’ (link)
An enjoyable enough, if wholly inessential-feeling, late-60s combination of Young Rascals-type guitar-based rock (‘Smug’), folky rock of the type that appears on ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ (‘Darkness, Darkness’), electric piano-driven instrumentals (‘On Sir Francis Drake’) and relaxed-sounding studio chatter. Nice, harmless enough fare that The Coral or The Wombats might aspire to in their own songwriting, this could easily have come out in the last 20 years – even when listening to it I couldn’t exactly pinpoint when it had come out. Harmless stuff, which doesn’t demand further listens but which wouldn’t be offensive on a second play.
Next week: everybody on the floor as we look at seven of the best dance albums on the list.
Status update: 805 listened to (80%), 196 remaining.