Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 5

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No. 5 – The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)

I’m a huge fan of the cinematic genre Film Noir. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, movies of this category usually involve seedy bars, private detectives, poisonous women and hundreds and hundreds of cigarettes. The classic phase of noir is thought to have started in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon and ended in 1958 with A Touch Of Evil. As befits the time, there was no explicit sex or violence in these films, everything was implied. The gravitas in these movies came from the shadowy, angular camera work and the colossal charisma of the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre. Except for one seldom seen picture from 1950 called Kiss Me Deadly. The first scene features a screaming woman, naked under a trenchcoat, desperately trying to thumb a lift on a unlit back road. The intro titles somewhat disconcertingly roll down rather than up the screen, and there are scenes of genuinely brutal violence. The underlying premise is of an underground government plot to conduct nuclear experiments and there is a particularly sinister scene in which the protagonist effectively pimps out his own girlfriend in order to gain information. Pretty heavy for 1950, I’m sure you’ll agree. Fast forward eighteen years, and while over here the likes of The Beatles, The Small Faces and The Rolling Stones were performing minor drug-induced miracles with the music they were making, they weren’t really ramming what they were doing down people’s throats. Over on the west coast of America, it was all about the peace and love and hippiness, morons in kaftans and leather headbands proclaiming that everyone should have a hug a day and idiotically trying to convince people that The Jimi Hendrix Experience were a great band. In New York, meanwhile, a smell as toxic as that of Kiss Me Deadly could be inhaled.

The Velvet Underground are the single most influential band of all time and the coolest band of all time. There is a very famous quote from Brian Eno that I could insert here but I won’t because he’s a very boring man who makes terrible records. Quite apart from The Beatles and Bob Dylan’s nods and winks towards their drug use, The Velvet Underground were the first band ever to say “Yep, there’s lots of people taking drugs, we know cos we take drugs. Yep, there’s lots of people indulging in extreme sexual practices, and we’re writing songs about it. Yep, this guitar can make sounds other than E, A and D.” They are by a distance America’s greatest ever band and begat two of the all time greats, John Cale and the late Lou Reed.

Obviously, no-one bought this record. They were utterly terrified of it. Andy Warhol, knowing controversy when he saw it, made them the centrepiece of his arts collective The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which consisted of mime artists, beat poets and one young lady who waded into the audience wearing a leather bustier and screaming at couples “Are you happy with him? Does he fuck you good?” The band would play a set of four or five songs, each lasting between seven and twenty minutes and garner no applause at all. Warhol funded the album and put his own name on the cover, along with an certain iconic piece of fruit. So, where The Beatles were singing “All you need is love”, The Velvets were slurring “Taste the whip, now bleed for me.” The guitars were drenched in repulsive feedback and an uncommonly beautiful woman had been transplanted into the middle of this cacophony to drone away in the same manner as the band.

It would all amount to nothing without the songs. But they had the songs. They tried to smother them with the racket, but they had the songs. The album begins with the ultimate hangover ballad, Sunday Morning, with its soft echo vocal, xylophone and hopeless refrain of “It’s nothing at all”. It is the sound of being happy to be in pain. The relentless chug chug chug of Waiting For The Man follows, the narrative of a junkie desperate for the arrival of his dealer, truly seismic for 1968. They had full-on rockabilly belters (distorted beyond measure, obviously) in Run Run Run and European Son, and sweet sweet doo-wop in Femme Fatale and I’ll Be Your Mirror, both “sung” by the teutonic chanteuse Nico. The latter was played at the wedding of my colleague Dr Barnes, and when I heard about this she instantly flew into the top five of my cool list.

The true core of the album lies with the genuine experiments, though. Venus In Furs is one of the most explicitly lascivious songs ever written, a candle-wax slow grind about the joys of sado-masochism with screeching viola and the most reptilian groove of all time. Listen to it now and your pelvis will automatically start to move. Heroin is obviously the spindle of the album, a song designed to simulate the rush of shooting up, a slow build spiralling into an unrestrained row where all thought of musical structure is completely abandoned as Reed chuckles and gasps and sings “It’s my life, and it’s my wife.” This song didn’t get on the radio.

The other two tracks are why I love this album so much. I went to an exhibition of underground rock art at the Tate Modern in 2005 entirely by chance and a one of the exhibits was a video of The Velvet Underground performing All Tomorrows Parties and The Black Angel’s Death Song, sometime in 1967. I’d bought the album about six years before that and instantly adored it, but after I’d toddled into this tiny booth all by myself and seen, at the age of twenty three, these five weirdos all clad in black, looking so aloof yet so threatening, I realised you could scare people with art. You could hurt them with words, you could offend them with music. The two songs in question were complete opposites; one a crushing glacial dirge and the other a howling spiralling din of feedback and atonal strings while Lou scats all those amazing lines of the most visceral imagery, and seeing them on that screen had pinned me to the wall.

Of all the white rock acts that have emerged since this album was released, arguably only Van Morrison and Rod Stewart have escaped its influence, which is probably a good thing, as no-one wants to see them in leather jackets singing about bondage, but I think the single biggest pointer I could give to the huge legacy this record gave to the world was from an exchange I had on Facebook about two years ago. I had acquired a fantastic boxset comprised of records from the late fifties and early sixties entitled The Best Of The Girl Groups. As my status update I put something like “Just listened to The Best Of The Girl Groups. Wasn’t everything sweet and innocent before The Velvet Underground turned everyone into perverts?” and a friend of mine replied “Yes, but thank God they did.”

And I agree Kelly, thank God they did.

Best Tracks: Venus In Furs, All Tomorrow’s Parties, The Black Angel’s Death Song

Best Moment: The gorgeous backing vocals in There She Goes Again, the song that Johnny Marr would rip off for There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.

Like this? Try: Psychocandy by The Jesus And Mary Chain, 1985

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014

Al’s Top 30 Albums – No. 6

 

No. 6 OK Computer – Radiohead

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Think back to good old 1997. The Spice Girls straddled the world like a day-glo coloured colossus, Tony Blair was being elevated to the level of an all-conquering romantic hero who could only be played in the cinema by Robert Redford and Tom Hanks’s lovechild, and Oasis, The Verve and The Prodigy between them were telling all right-minded indie kids that everything would be grand provided we all hoovered the requisite wheelie bin-full of jazz salt up our collective hooters. So why did this hunch-shouldered, lazy-eyed miserable ginger dwarf have to shuffle into view to tell us that in fact everything wasn’t grand, that this enormous socio-political orgy would soon result in a catastrophic information implosion, that soon we would need someone to pull all of us kicking screaming gucci little piggies out of the aircrash? Why did he have to spoil the party?

Confusion, overload, static, seclusion in Jane Seymour’s mansion and a diet of Bitches Brew and Maxinquaye were the inspiration for OK Computer, the most critically worshipped English album since Revolver. And where the year’s other major releases, Be Here Now and Urban Hymns, seemed like a desperately out-reaching celebration of everything that was going on in the world, Radiohead’s third album instead seemed vacuum-packed, hermetically sealed, a cryogenically preserved nugget of life on the eve of the millennium, waiting to be discovered by races of the distant future.

The recording process was fascinating. Lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood had asked on the bands website for fans to send him unusual chords, Airbag was conceived to sound like “a car crash”, No Surprises “like a child’s toy”. The glacial Exit Music (For A Film) was based on the Baz Lurmann interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, and where a minor chord ballad in the hands of any other band would be perhaps whimsical and romantic, here it is brutal; a desolate tumbleweed-swept strum of acoustic guitar with a moaned vocal so crisply recorded you can hear the spit in the corners of Thom’s mouth, then a grotesque bass line hoofs through the dirge while the drums flail away and the moan becomes a heart-wrenching wail. We hope that you choke, indeed.

1997 was the year for ridiculous choices of singles. D’Yer Know What I Mean, Risingson, Smack My Bitch Up. Paranoid Android was more ridiculous than all of them, and the track on which Radiohead show that it was they, rather than Oasis, who truly picked up the baton of the Beatles and David Bowie as the future of british music. A preposterous three-act rock opera, hyper-modern lyrics and the most innovative musicianship since the early years of the Factory label, it got to number two in the singles charts, helped no doubt by the bizarre promo video featuring Paramount Channel mainstay Robin, and uses the word “Gucci” as a term of abuse. It is astonishing.

OK Computer could have been the most influential album of all time; it was mind-bogglingly inventive, fearless, and a mainstream success. Yet, it almost seemed as if their contemporaries were afraid to try and follow it. Every band in its slipstream would release albums that revelled in retro-chic, such as The Strokes and The White Stripes, and after Radiohead drained themselves of all their creative juices with 2000’s remarkable Kid A, they would disappear up their own rectal cavities for seven years until the beautifully executed release of In Rainbows. It seems, in hindsight, like a glorious opportunity wasted. This was music that could melt candles; from the blissful voyuerism of The Tourist to the terrifying domestic prowler narrative of Climbing Up The Walls (listen to the scream at the end) these were songs that connected on a human level like no other band since The Smiths. They weren’t miserable, they weren’t depressing. They were just utterly brilliant.

Best Tracks: Exit Music (For A Film), Let Down, Climbing Up The Walls

Best Moment: The glorious crescendo to Let Down, where Thom and Ed’s vocals soar and swirl like grains of pollen on a summer breeze and this saddest of lyrics produces one of the most inspiring passages of music of all time. Radiohead’s finest ever moment.

Like this? Try: So obvious, Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd, 1973.

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014

Introducing – Alex Harvey by Andi Ware

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Like so many people the first time that I encountered Alex Harvey was when I saw some old Top of The Pops footage of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band performing their 1975 cover of ‘Delilah’. Alex, looking like a blue print for the Jack Sparrow character waltzed around the stage in a ballet-esque manner whilst seducing a selection of broken mannequins. And then there were SAHB (Sensational Alex Harvey Band) themselves with the clown painted Zal Cleminson (a shamefully under rated guitarist) with stage moves that made Brett Anderson appear butch. I remember being completely enthralled by the performance as never before had I witnessed such theatrics from a ‘rock and roll’ band. I was nine, maybe ten years old and I don’t think I’ve witnessed anything quite so peculiar and yet utterly genius since.
But the theatrics were merely the tip of the ice berg. You see SAHB, led by the disgustingly gifted Alex Harvey, were a phenomenal band. Their songs oozed with scorn, humour, emotion and sometimes flippancy (see ‘Gang Bang’ from ‘Next’, 1973). What made SAHB so phenomenal was their leader and tiny mountain of charisma Alex Harvey. Born in a deprived area of Glasgow in 1935 Harvey’s initial flirtations with popular music were in the form of his love of Skiffle and Dixieland Jazz. He formed Alex Harvey’s Big Soul Band in 1958 and from then until their demise in 1965 he gained a reputation as a kind of Scottish Tommy Steele. Despite other projects, including a failed attempt at a solo career, SAHB didn’t materialise until 1972 when Harvey recruited ex members of prog rock band Tear Gas. From then until their split in 1982, the year of Harvey’s death, SAHB made a total of thirteen studio albums.
So what makes Alex Harvey so special? Well there’s the quality of his songs. From Boston Tea Party to Swampsnake Harvey’s work possesses all of the swagger of say, Mott the Hoople and the eccentricities of Jethro Tull. Harvey is often referred to as a glam rock artist. This does him and SAHB a great disservice. He was in fact a pioneer of the British blues movement (see ‘Framed’ from Framed 1973) in the same vein as Rory Gallagher. Like Gallagher Harvey didn’t subscribe to any of the traits that you might associate with rock stars of his era. Unlike so many of his contemporaries Harvey managed to retain his hard-nosed working class wit and a humility that you would find in any Glasgow pub. Listen to the ‘The Sensational Alex Harvey Band; British Tour 1976’ and you will hear, in tiny snippets between songs, a successful rock star with a sense of humour; something a rarity. Above all Harvey was, in every sense, an ordinary working class Glasgow lad that happened to front a successful rock band.
Harvey, as in life, was beautifully ordinary in death. He died in 1982 after suffering a heart attack whilst awaiting to board a ferry returning from a rare North European tour (Harvey had retired from performing in 1977 due to back problems) with his new band Electric Cowboys. He died in the Zeebrugge, a small Port town in Northern Belgium the day before his 47th birthday.
If I had to describe Alex Harvey to a new comer I would say that he had all of the throat of Bon Scott and the stage presence of David Byrne. Of SAHB I would simply say that they were a Uriah Heep for those that had actually lost their virginity.

Ten Songs by Andy Richardson

1.Jackie Wilson -Higher & Higher
This was my taste of classic R&B, quarter of a century ago at the age of 7. I heard this song, like most people making a toaster dance in Ghostbusters 2. I think at a young age while you’re still cultivating your music tastes and you hear a song like this how can you not join the toaster dancing to such an upbeat, feel good song?

2.Marilyn Manson – Fight Song
To some Marilyn Manson is as mad as a box of frogs, to be fair they are a bit but their so much more. To me he was a General in the army of teenage rebellion and this song was my call to arms! Amazing rock porn really.

3.Foo Fighters – My Hero
They say everybody knows their own funeral song, this is my first of two? Selling points being the amazing guitar work, roaring bridge/interlude, and just the lyrics “there goes my hero, watch him as he goes, there goes my hero, he’s ordinary” instantly reminds me of my father.

4.Warren G – Regulate
If you was a teenager in the 90’s and thought you was a bit gangsta! Then I bet you know all the words to this song. To my eternal shame thought I was Tupac from the age of 14-18, I know, people change, jeez! Still, soon as you hear “MOUNT UP” you’re that annoying teenage version of you again for the next 3 minutes haha.

5. 3 Days Grace – Riot
Gym goers are getting knocked a bit in the media lately, being portrayed as superficial, metrosexual dandies with a keener eye for fashion than Cher from “Clueless” NA! Don’t get me wrong that stereotype does exist but only because they don’t have music like this on their playlist. The anger from this song helps me focus on a workout.

6.Bob Dylan – Knocking on Heavens Door
No explanation needed other than WOW!

7.Kansas – Carry on my Wayward Son
The 2nd of my funeral songs. This belter is a medley of classic rock guitar riffs, confirmed by its appearance on the Guitar Hero 2 play list. To me this song is a shining example of classic 80’s rock!

8.Traffic – Mr Fantasy
I first heard this on one of my favourite tv programmes. Our 2 tough as old boots protagonist brothers loose their only constant father figure, and in a moment of mourning play this song. Not only is it a touching moment but the lyrics are relatable “please don’t be mad, if it was a straight mind you had, we wouldn’t have known you all these years”. Even in 67 there was still a place for us “strange” people in society.

9.Odetta – Hit or Miss
I feel this song is confidence personified in the form of music. Soulful Motown that reaffirms the need to be yourself rather than follow a crowd and being a sheep. Especially in this day and age of hashtags, trending and following, the message in this song is as important as ever! Can have a good boogie to it too!

10.Puddle of Mud -She Hates Me
Ultimate break up song! I remember getting dumped once and sitting on my bed with this on repeat smoking 20 lamberts one after the other till I wasn’t depressed anymore. “Trust”

Andy Rich picAndy Richardson is a 32 year old male in the Hull area with an acute Peter Pan syndrome which he wears on his sleeve with pride. It could be said Andy is a little obsessed with superheroes, enjoys the gym, has just taken up archery and is known to like a drink.

The Monkeys on Their Backs…. By Martyn Taylor

Many bands work for their entire careers trying to get a signature sound or score a big hit single that they will always be remembered for. It might not be a sound that makes them well known, it might be a gimmick, memorable music video or their fashion sense. Slash had his top hat, Iron Maiden have ‘Eddie’ and Kiss have their over the top outlandish make-up. Once a sound picks up its own personal sound, they will more than likely find them selves stuck with it, no matter how far they try to remove them selves from it. Their future releases will always be compared to the debut, and they will always be stuck with this monkey on their back.

1. The Bluetones. These fellas were your typical post ‘Brit-pop’ era groups who hit the big time when their debut album ‘Expecting to Fly’ hit the shelves in early 1996. It sold bucket loads and went platinum in the U.K. The first single release off the album was ‘Slight Return’, and with the help of a re-release made it to number 2 in the charts (It was kept off the top spot by Babylon Zoo’s ‘Spaceman’) This brilliant song was their signature, but the whole album (although overlooked) was a cracker. ‘Slight Return’ is more than likely the only song off The Bluetones most people will know, despite them releasing 6 studio albums and 20 singles.

2. Supergrass. Ok, Ok, I know, another ‘Brit-pop’ band, but get used to it ‘cos it’s all I know! Supergrass were a bloody brilliant band, their debut album ‘I should Coco’ made us dream of a carefree life, and our silly youthful ideals made more sense when we listened to it (basically, it rocked!) Many great albums followed containing catchy tunes like ‘Moving’, ‘Grace’ and most memorably for me ‘Late in The Day’ The problem once again with Supergrass (as it was with The Bluetones) is that people couldn’t see past their biggest hit ‘Alright’, with its memorable chorus, guitar solo, and its, ‘of the time’ video, people would always favour and associate them with it.

Supergrass. A photo that proves that Charles Darwin was right.

Supergrass. A photo that proves that Charles Darwin was right.

3. Chumbawamba. Chumbawamba were a group made up of many colourful characters. Their career spanned over 3 decades, where they played punk influenced pop (if there ever could be such a thing) anarchistic music. Their songs often tackled subject matters such as animal rights, feminism and anti-fascism. Unfortunately writing songs about gay liberation and class struggles wasn’t paying the bills. They released their biggest mainstream hit ‘Tubthumping’ in 1997. Unfortunately, their hardcore fans didn’t favour them turning ‘face’. The millstone around their necks was the fact that they had seemed to have ‘sold out’, but they still protested against government, most famously at the 1998 Brit Awards where they changed the lyrics of their biggest hit to protest against the Labour Party’s treatment of the Liverpool Dockers, then going on to throw water over the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.


4. The Boo Radleys.
Here is an example of a hit single totally obliterating all of a bands previous good work. The Boo Radleys plodded through the early 90’s releasing typical northern guitar music (which isn’t a bad thing) but when they released their 1993 album ‘Giant Steps’ NME magazine awarded 9/10 and hailed it as “…an international masterpiece…”. They then went on to rank it second on their albums of the year (topped only be Bjork’s brilliant ‘Debut’). So things couldn’t have been rosier for the boys from Merseyside. Still relatively unknown , they released ‘Wake Off Boo!’ in the spring in 1995. Unfortunately for these guys, this would be their only hit single, and catchy as it was, it wasn’t a patch on the offerings on ‘Giant Steps’ and became a proverbial albatross on their careers. Things never really picked up them after the summer of 1995.

The Boo Radleys: "They want to use one of our songs in an advert you say? Cool... which one?"

The Boo Radleys: “They want to use one of our songs in an advert you say? Cool… which one?”

5. The Stone Roses. Now please wait for a minute while I big up these guys, after all, they are in my top 3 bands of all time. They were one of the most pioneering bands of my time. The Stone Roses released only 2 studio albums, but oh what albums they were. Their debut album was and still is considered as one of the greatest openers to a career, and ‘Second Coming’ their follow up, was a change up in style, but always tainted from the off because of the success of their debut (as I have noted previously in this blog here http://wp.me/p38ZXT-cE) The only thing that winds me up about these guys, is the fact any time you talk about the band with others, and ask which is your favourite song of theirs. 9 times out of 10 people will say ‘Fools Gold.’ For me ‘Fools Gold’, great as it is, would barely make it into my top 10 Stone Roses song. People probably say they favour ‘Fools Gold’ because it is played mostly on the radio these days.

No funny comment. Still one of the greatest bands of all time.

No funny comment. Still one of the greatest bands of all time.

I do hope that when listening to music, you don’t just listen to bands biggest hits. You might just find that you are missing out on the next ‘Giant Steps’ album or ‘Late in the Day’ song.

mart questionsMartyn Taylor is a 31 year-old father of three and lives in Hull. His pastimes include watching 80s action films over and over again and and debating the all-time Premiership XI with Mr Miles. His knowledge of American sitcoms of the 90s stands second to none. He once walked into a men’s public lavatory absent-mindedly singing the theme tune from Two And A Half Men. You can find him on http://www.twitter.com/shirleysblower but he never tweets, so just follow him on here.

 

Bands I didn’t Like, But Do Now…. By Martyn Taylor

As I wrote in a previous blog, the kind of music I listen to now is a lot different to the sort of stuff I used to like. My teenage years were dominated by generic indie bands that were aboard the ‘Britpop’ gravy train. I have already told you about the 5 bands that I used to like but no longer do (which you can find a link for here  https://sittingontheswings.com/2014/01/16/bands-i-liked-but-dont-now-by-martyn-taylor/) so I feel it is time for me to produce the 5 acts that I never held a flame for in my youth, but have now, not only grown to love, but idolise.

1. Pulp. These reluctant ‘Britpop’ figures formed in 1978 and struggled for a decade or so trying to gain prominence in the U.K. By the mid-90’s they hit the big time with their Disco influenced pop infused social commentary (try saying that after a few drinks) Their 3 90’s album releases spawned many sing-along classics The reason why I didn’t like appreciate Pulp at the time was simple. I didn’t like Jarvis Cocker! His styling was totally against the grain of the time. He was never seen in a parker, and his ‘Weed in tweed’ fashion was not attractive to me. Luckily in my more recent years, I have grown to overlook his appearance, and now love Pulps 3 90’s masterpieces.

2. The Smiths. By the time The Smiths were known to me in the early 90’s, they had already split and Morrissey was already well into his more successful solo career. During the 80’s The Smiths poetic commentary from the council estates defined an era in Thatcher’s Britain. They were later known as the most influential British group of the decade. I know what you’re thinking: “how could he not like them?” My brother idolised Morrissey. He wore turned up jeans, NHS glasses and sported a quiff even Elvis himself would envy. My Bro would play all the of the Smiths’ brilliant albums over and over again on his tape deck in the bedroom we shared. He wouldn’t let me play my Jive Bunny cassettes so I took it out on The Smiths hating them Nowadays, the red mist has lifted and my admiration for Morrissey and The Smiths is still growing.

Nearly thirty years later, Johnny's hair is suspiciously still the same colour.

Nearly thirty years later, Johnny’s hair is suspiciously still the same colour.

3. Radiohead. Thom Yorke and his falsetto voice haunted the airwaves of Radio 1 in the 90’s. Radiohead had an expansive sound and themes of alienation which propelled them to international fame. Their dramatic change in style at the turn of the century could have been career suicide, but it turned them from celebrated rockers, into championed experimental digital stars. Mr Yorke and his wonky eyes, quirky lyrics and massive student following made me dislike the band. I hated everything to do with the student scene. However my dislike of all things student was only a phase, and I now see that I was missing out on a revolution, and some of the all time greatest albums had passed me by. Radiohead released great rock albums, but their early rock evolved into one of my favourites of all time in O.K Computer.

Normally, a man who looked like this would be asking you for a pound so he could "get into the hostel tonight."

Normally, a man who looked like this would be asking you for a pound so he could “get into the hostel tonight.”


4. Nirvana.
The death of Kurt Cobain in 1994 was massive news worldwide at the time. I couldn’t have given a toss! I didn’t know him, his band, his music or problems. I thought I should check it out. I didn’t like it! It was noise to me. I went to my 2 Unlimited C.D and Adidas trackies. When I left school in 1998, I caught a recording of Nirvana Unplugged on MTV . Kurt’s version of Bowies ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ was pure brilliance. It led me to revisit Nirvana’s albums and renew my interest in them. Cobain’s death left many questions unanswered. The question I’d like answered is, what might have come next?

Someone's just told Kurt the wife's on the phone.

Someone’s just told Kurt the wife’s on the phone.

And finally
5. Take That.
This choice might seem a little strange considering what I have picked already. During my Kelvin Hall days I hated all Boy Bands. I was into ‘Britpop’, and girls snubbed us because we didn’t possess Boy Band good looks. Take That had the cheeky one, the cute one, the song writer, the dancer and the other one. Their split in 1996 was celebrated among me and my friends. When I look back now, I don’t think there was a single song that they released that I didn’t like. When they reformed in 2006 as a Man Band, I was surprised by the quality of Gary Barlow’s writing and was converted as a fan. In 2010 Robbie Williams re-joined to complete the original line up, they were rejuvenated and were more entertaining than ever. Up yours Justin Bieber!!!

 

mart questionsMartyn Taylor is a 32 year-old father of three and lives in Hull. His pastimes include watching 80s action films over and over again and and debating the all-time Premiership XI with Mr Miles. His knowledge of American sitcoms of the 90s stands second to none. He once walked into a men’s public lavatory absent-mindedly singing the theme tune from Two And A Half Men. You can find him on http://www.twitter.com/shirleysblower but he never tweets, so just follow him on here.

Al’s Top 30 Albums – No. 7

bob blood
No. 7 Blood On The Tracks – Bob Dylan

I could write a million words. I really could. Not just on this album, obviously, but on the phenomenon of the human race that is Robert Allen Zimmerman. Lots of people don’t like him. Because he can’t sing. Bollocks to them, they’re morons. They’re the same people who say that Ringo was a crap drummer and Noel can’t play guitar. Sometimes virtuosity is not important. Maybe you should stop listening to people who chuck shit against a wall and just listen to words and melodies, because that is what makes a great song. And in the history of popular music, there has never been a greater exponent of the song. Not Lennon, McCartney, Ray Davies, Neil Young or Van Morrison.

Blood On The Tracks is Bob Dylan’s divorce album. He was at a low creative ebb in 1974, Planet Waves had (I think) been his lowest seller for quite a few years and he appeared to be coasting. He hadn’t toured since 1966 and his lyrics, once the inspiration for almost cultish adoration, had become rather lack-lustre, toothless. Where once he sang the head-spinningly brilliant litany of socio-political insults that is It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding, now he crooned of domestic bliss and farmyard animals. And in comparison to his run of six albums that started in 1963 with Freewheelin’ and burnt out three years later with Blonde On Blonde, arguably the hottest streak any musician has ever hit, at this point in his career he had released a string of average to awful records, with only John Wesley Harding and New Morning garnering anything more than a six out of ten review. So, in a classic shit or bust scenario, two things happened; firstly, he took up painting, which he claimed put him back in touch with his creative powers; and secondly, he started touring again, probably with a rocket up his arse having signed the biggest recording contract in history at that point. And obviously, he found himself knee-deep in groupies, drink and drugs within a very short time. Not unreasonably, his wife found this rather contrary to their wedding vows, and gave him the sack. And there is the premise of the greatest document of human relationships ever set to music.

It starts with Tangled Up In Blue. It’s like a drug hit. He tells a story of several years in less than six minutes. There’s a strip club, adultery, a spliff, a job fishing, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and a girl who sold everything she owned. It is a story beyond comparison, and arguably the best opening track of any album ever. You’ll notice here that the most famous bad singer of all time has actually found his voice, and he is no longer sneering as he had done so many times before. For the remainder of the album he sings with as much passion, conviction and melody as any soul singer, as much venom as a punk singer and as much eloquence as any poet you could ever hope to find.

It is an album that is not so much crafted as intuitive. The group of musicians Dylan assembled had been hand-picked over a period of time, he thought nothing of sacking session players within minutes if they couldn’t keep up with him. He was in deadly focus, and ruthlessly pursued his vision. There is a fascinating bootleg of the studio sessions called Blood On The Tapes, in which he is singing certain lyrics to the melodies of different songs on the album. It’s as if he knew he had something, he just couldn’t quite piece it together. But when he finally did, it was quite magnificent. It is an album of stark contrasts, the music switches between warm and aggressive, the words between hateful and regretful. Simple Twist Of Fate and Shelter From The Storm are gorgeously intimate songs about looking back wistfully on past relationships, and You’re A Big Girl Now and If You See Her, Say Hello are two of the most heartfelt confessionals of not being able to maintain a relationship you’ll ever hear. Indeed the latter may well be the saddest song in rock music’s entire cannon.
There are two great blues songs where Dylan actually shows his musician’s chops for once, Meet Me In The Morning and Buckets Of Rain, the latter featuring the line “Everything about you is bringing me misery.” There is the customary nine-minute storytelling-epic in Lily Rosemary and The Jack Of Hearts, and a wonderful throwaway folk song called You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go which has a harmonica intro that sounds like an old steam train setting off. And then there’s Idiot Wind. Oh Hell’s bollocks. Idiot Wind.

The centerpiece of the album, Idiot Wind is an eight-minute howl of pure hatred. It is a vicious diatribe of ill-will that is purveyed through one of the most poisonous vocal performances in history. It is the bitterest song ever written by someone that isn’t called Alanis Morrisette. Listen to it now, and hear the screaming, see the spit flying from Bob’s lips and take in some of the most remarkable lines ever committed to tape:

“I can’t remember your face anymore, your mouth has changed, your eyes don’t look into mine.”
“I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the books you’ve read/ Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishing I was somebody else instead.”
“I kissed goodbye the howling beast on the borderline that separated you from me.”

The next time people heard music this confrontational, it was being made by the Sex Pistols.

There is a version of Idiot Wind on a live recording of the subsequent tour called Hard Rain. He finished the set with it. The gig was lashed by torrential rain and the band kept getting electrical shocks from the stage. Our hero was hungover to fuck, having spent the past few days gorging on groupies and booze. His wife was at the side of the stage, with the kids, demanding to know what was going on. It is intense to the point of being voyeuristic.

I will write extensively about some of the staggering feats of innovation and musicianship from this point upwards on this list. There are albums that I will talk about from here on in that encompass creative talent that I can’t possibly comprehend. But in many ways, great songwriting is simply about putting words to music. And if you can put the most exquisite poetry into those words, and such beautiful melody into the music, then you are a great songwriter. And if great songwriting really is about just words and music, then Blood On The Tracks is the greatest album ever made.

Best Tracks:
Tangled Up In Blue, Idiot Wind, Shelter From The Storm

Best Moment: Two moments in Idiot Wind that show what a genius Dylan is:
The booming last verse: “You’ll never know the hurt I suffered, or the pain I rise above
And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love
And it makes me feel so sorry….”
And the very last line where he tips the story on its head and manages to blame himself for the whole thing:
“We’re idiots, babe, it’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.”

Like this? Try:
American Recordings by Johnny Cash, 1994

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014