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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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 12: Requests edition – The Byrds, Dandy Warhols, Grandmaster Flash, Queen, Ride, Scott Walker, Waterboys, Muddy Waters

This edition is mostly driven by requests via Facebook (aside from the Byrds and Waterboys) – thanks to those who requested.

The Byrds, ‘Mr Tambourine Man’.

The 60s janglers were Bob Dylan’s protegees, as you can tell by the multiple songwriting credits on this album (including the title track, probably the Byrds’ best-known work). The band’s trademarks, at least at this point, were the distinctive sound of the 12-string guitar and their harmonies, which are showcased throughout. It does make the album sound very similar throughout, which makes me think there’s better Byrds albums to come, particularly when Gram Parsons shows up later. Still, at least it’s a very pleasant trademark sound. The album ends in an unlikely way, with a cover of ‘We’ll Meet Again’. It sounds exactly as you’d expect.

The Dandy Warhols, ‘Come Down’.

This was the occasional nudists and Brian Jonestown Massacre frenemies’ second attempt at a major label debut after Capitol rejected their first attempt for not having enough songs, resulting in a not-particularly-harmonious combination of stoner droners with power-pop interludes. At one point there are three or four space-rock numbers in a row, which are so slow that when ‘Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth’ comes along, it ironically feels like an injection of speed. The louche bohemians are better at the power-pop (‘Cool Like Kim Deal’, ‘Boys Better’, ‘Every Day Should Be A Holiday’), and of course it was this style which eventually made them millions in the form of Vodafone jingle ‘Bohemian Like You’.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, ‘The Message’.

Best known for the socially-conscious title track which closes the record, the Five (or Six I suppose) don’t seem entirely sure what their strengths are here, oscillating between party rap (the good opening tracks), electro experiments (‘Scorpio’) and abysmal ballads (most of Side 2). The Stevie Wonder tribute is especially bad: later hip-hop would pay tribute to Wonder by just sampling him (‘Gangsta’s Paradise’, er, ‘Wild Wild West’). Not enough fury, or enough Grandmaster Flash for that matter, since most of the songs were created by live musicians rather than from Flash’s turntables. You can’t argue with the title track though, a bona-fide classic from the early hip-hop era.

Queen, ‘Queen II’.

The album art (replicated memorably in the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ video) is probably more famous than anything on the album itself, which mostly takes place in a fantastical imaginary word called Rhye. Despite its grandiose lyrical conceit, the first half of the album feels like a standard rock album, but it completely loses the plot/massively improves with the ridiculous ‘Ogre Battle’, which is more akin to the preposterous operatic rock that would become the band’s trademark.

Ride, ‘Nowhere’.

Unusually for a shoegaze band, Ride were (yecch) all male, which is perhaps why their stuff on this album at least seems more boisterous and aggressive than My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, the Cocteaus etc, but at the cost of the twinkly beauty that often defines the latter trio, and results in some flat vocals that might have been better lower in the mix. The textures are fascinating though, and elevate the album above a lot of its peers, particularly the screeching noise breaks of ‘Dreams Burn Down’ and the piano/drum battle that closes ‘Paralysed’. This must have been wonderful at ear-splitting volume live. The album ends on a flat note with the dated ‘Vapour Trail’, which sounds like the weakest track but was nonetheless the single.

Scott Walker, ‘Scott 2’.

Noel Engel’s more recent albums have been unsettling wanderings in avant-garde, hanging out with drone merchants like Sunn 0))), which was an unpredictable transition for one of the Walker Brothers. Still, even in this early solo outing, there are clues even among the lush orchestration and baritone crooning: the peculiar, uncommercial lyrics of ‘Jackie’ (a Jacques Brel translation), the urgent, nervy ‘Next’ and the weird echoes and dirge breaks in ‘Plastic Palace People’. ‘Scott 4’ is his famous one but this is worth your time.

The Waterboys, ‘Fisherman’s Blues’.

I picked this one out due to a fleeting obsession with ‘The Whole of the Moon’, the band’s grandiose 80s tribute to Prince and CS Lewis, to which this album bears no resemblance. Here, the band take their cues from Irish folk music and Van Morrison. It starts off well with the first four songs, but a lot of interminable songs (three songs here are over seven minutes long) bog down the album until you’re waiting for it to end. The longest track here is called ‘And A Bang On The Ear’ – this is not how you have sex, Mike Scott!

Muddy Waters, ‘Hard Again’.

Recorded in 1977, at which point Muddy was already in his sixties, this sounds like an overjoyed comeback album. Even the producer can’t hide his delight, whooping excitedly through one-chord opener ‘Mannish Boy’. It’s a blues album, so it uses every standard woke-up-this-morning riff in the genre, but the high standards of production and the overall sense of inspired fun makes it a good listen. It makes it sound like you’re in a great Beale Street bar listening to the best band in town.

Next edition will be an If I Must edition featuring some of the albums I’ve not been looking forward to hearing. This will be more fun for you than for me.

Current progress: 252/1001 (25%), 749 albums remain.