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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November 5: Bad Brains, Buzzcocks, Circle Jerks, Ian Dury, Germs, The Stooges, The Stranglers

It’s time for another delve into the 1001 Albums You Must Hear! Whenever there’s an album on the 1001 I don’t recognise, it’s usually a punk album. So this week, I’ve decided to cover a whole week of punk, which will cover some of the core bands of the genre as well as some of the less familiar ones. There’s also loads of new-wave and post-punk on the list; we’ll give that a separate week later.

Bad Brains, ‘I Against I’ (link)

This 1988 album is ostensibly hardcore punk, but falls prey to a lot of the mainstream rock trappings of the era: flangey, trebly guitar, snares high in the mix. There’s also elements of reggae and heavy metal, while singer HR varies between whine and high-pitched squeak. This hasn’t dated very well; feels like all the naff elements of Faith No More’s 80s output without any of the hooks or weirdness.

Buzzcocks, ‘Another Music In A Different Kitchen’ (link)

Staples of “Best Punk Album Ever!”-type compilations thanks to ‘Ever Fallen In Love’, this album’s cover makes it look like a ZTT synth-pop album, but is of course full of melodic punk. The album is superior punk fare because it fuses tunes with urgent intensity (some left over by Howard Devoto, who left before the album was recorded), but also because it includes elements that anticipate post-punk: ‘Sixteen’ pauses for a noise break, while ‘Moving Away From The Pulsebeat’ sounds like a template for early Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Circle Jerks, ‘Group Sex’ (link)

Fourteen songs in just fifteen minutes, meaning that the album has no time to get boring. Not keen on this riff or idea? No problem, it’s over in a second. Like Napalm Death’s ‘Scum’, the brevity of the individual tracks almost renders them pointless to talk about: the cumulative effect is exhilarating, but maybe hard to get a handle on.

Ian Dury, ‘New Boots and Panties!!’ (link)

Recorded before the Blockheads were fully established, but featuring most of the members, Ian Dury’s only appearance on the list fuses a sort of funky rhythm section with pub rock piano, supported by Chaz and Dave (well, Chaz Janckel and Dave Young but…), Moog synths and saxophones popping in to flesh out the sound, and Dury’s Cockney blokey observations over the top. It’s an unusual album but, for one generally considered as punk, it’s rarely as raucous (apart from ‘Blockheads’ itself, perhaps). The Spotify version appends a load of tracks, including ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll’, which wasn’t on the first print of the album but which mysteriously appeared unannounced on the second. Whichever version you hear, though, this is worth checking out.

Germs, ‘GI’ (link)

The Germs were a hardcore punk band who briefly featured Belinda Carlisle on drums, but are best remembered for this, their only album. With Joan Jett on the controls and Pat Smear on guitar, it’s aggressively fast and hard, acting as a proto-hardcore album as it sprints through 16 songs in 38 minutes. The average song length would be even shorter if not for ‘Shut Down (Annihilation Man)’, closing the album and crawling along for 10 minutes. The album is often heralded for Darby Crash’s lyrics, but it’s hard to distinguish them through his hoarse spit.

The Stooges, ‘The Stooges’ (link)

As always with the Stooges, there’s a story: they tried to get away with submitting a five-track album to the label, assuming that would be enough; it wasn’t, and they had to write three more songs in 24 hours. This features some of their most famous songs: ‘No Fun’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, ‘1969’, and producer John Cale occasionally adds colour with viola and, of course, sleigh bells. I’m not sure I enjoyed this that much though: stripping rock and roll down to its core comes at a cost to its dynamic variety, at least here, where it’s the same riff all the way through a song until another one starts.

The Stranglers, ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ (link)

They could play, that’s the difference: particularly Dave Greenfield, who’s always appending Bach arpeggios onto the choruses. The Stranglers trade in fast punk where the bass is high in the mix, the keyboards add colour, and the musical competence means they can go anywhere they want (there’s a song in waltz time, there’s a reasonable attempt at reggae in ‘Peaches’, and one of the bonus tracks is in 9/4). They’d go on to do all sorts, including a weird sophisticated new wave version of themselves in the 80s. This is a good album.

Next week: a journey into something wacky ready for Sunday brunch: all the albums with food references! (Not including albums on Food Records).

Status update: 679 heard (68%), 322 remain.

February 7: Beatles, Kate Bush, Can, ‘Bitches Brew’, DJ Shadow, Eno, Iggy and the Stooges, Incredible String Band

I’ve been working through the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Luckily I had a head start, having listened to 130-odd already, but that still leaves 871 that I hadn’t. While this means I will listen to a lot of good music, there also appears to be some total dreck: I am particularly reluctant to listen to three Def Leppard albums, a Bees record and ‘Slippery When Wet’. Sarah-Beth suggested I write about them, so here are some.

The Beatles – ‘With the Beatles’.

All the famous ones are on the list too but I’d already heard them. This one is from the point where things like ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ covers were still acceptable choices for album tracks. The only famous Fabs song on it is their cover of ‘Money’ (not the Pink Floyd song obv). Okay, not great, still a couple of years away from the real game-changers.

Kate Bush – ‘Hounds of Love’.

Hits on the A-side, dull concept stuff on the B-side. The hits have dated better than the Fairlight jams. Bat for Lashes was taking notes.

Can – ‘Tago Mago’.

Starts off as a normal enough 70s Krautrock album, but changes shape with the 18-minute ‘Halleluwah’, which adds curious sound effects and edits over the funk-trance jam like a King Tubby record or something. Everything on the second disc is abstract experimentation, often without a clear melody line. Pretty good in places.

Miles Davis – ‘Bitches Brew’.

I’d never heard this, but Angelo Badalamenti obviously has – the cumulative discordance and noisy horn blasts often present in his work clearly originate from this album. I’m a total jazz philistine so the wild cacophonies were beyond me; ‘Spanish Key’ is the track that made most sense to me.

DJ Shadow – ‘Entroducing’.

Too long, but still sounds fresh and holds up well even after 20 years or however long it is. I’d heard Shadow’s stuff with UNKLE and Quannum Projects but never his solo work. Good album.

Brian Eno – ‘Before and After Science’.

Eno’s 70s were pretty great all in all. This isn’t as good as ‘Another Green World’ or ‘Here Come the Warm Jets’ but is more of the quirky, off-kilter rock he did that decade. Also surely the only album of the 1001 to use the phrase “not a sausage”.

Iggy and the Stooges – ‘Raw Power’ (Iggy Pop mix).

The album’s always criticised for its mixing and production: Iggy’s mix was so rudimentary that the label insisted Bowie remixed it; there wasn’t much Bowie could do with it though as the recording was so poor. This is, however, the original Iggy mix. The guitar is too loud, Iggy is too loud, the rhythm section is often inaudible. This must have sounded fantastic at the time – it does have melodies and structure, despite initial appearances – but bloody hell.

The Incredible String Band – ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’.

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci were always compared to ISB in their day; it’s possible that this was a derogatory reference. The ISB were a weird psych band from Scotland, so are contemporaries of the Canterbury lot. Without a rhythm section, these songs drift around and last forever, often sounding like extended sitar jams. Pretty dull.