Category Archives: Music

Acclaimed Albums – Natty Dread by Bob Marley & The Wailers

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 130/250Title: Natty Dread
Artist: Bob Marley & the Wailers
Year: 1974
Position: #165

Previously on this blog, some 9 months ago, I listened to my first Bob Marley album: Catch A FireI left this album feeling as if I walked in with a pre-conceived notion of what reggae and it was pretty much validated. Did this change after listening to Natty Dread?

No. No, not really. I mean the sound of the music has moved on a bit. I wouldn’t go as far to say it has matured (mainly because I am not sure what matured reggae sounds like), but it there appears to be more of a blues influence in the songs.

Also, I could actually pick songs apart from one another; something I had serious trouble with when listening to Catch A Fire. Thanks to this I think I understand how ‘No Woman No Cry’ became the better known Bob Marley song.

I first came across this song during an ill-fated game of Singstar where the idea of having ‘cornmeal porridge’ amongst the lyrics felt completely alien to me. Now that I am older, and not trying to sing this song to gain maximum points, I think I can better appreciate it.

However, I still find myself in the position where I am left utterly cold by a genre and cannot see a reason for re-playing this album. I know this album further develops the political side of Bob Marley and some people go absolutely mad for his music. Just not me.

Acclaimed Albums – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not by Arctic Monkeys

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 129/250Title: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
Artist: Arctic Monkeys
Year: 2006
Position: #156

For a while I have been solely focused on whittling down the artists with more than one entry on the list. Makes sense until you get a hankering for something a bit more modern, which lead me to giving this Arctic Monkeys album a spin.

I swear I must be one of the few Brits my age to have not listened to this album. 11 years ago this album was absolutely everywhere. I mean, it was the fastest selling debut album in UK chart history and won a whole heap of awards. It wasn’t even a transient acclaim either (like you usually get with flavours of the month), this album and its tracks still feature highly on many ‘best of’ lists.

Yet this is the first time I have heard any of these other than the two singles (‘When the Sun Goes Down’ and ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’). And what do you know, this album is pretty damned good. I probably wouldn’t have liked this when the album first came out (I was coming out of a big stretch of Sugababes fandom and still deep into my Girls Aloud time) so it’s nice to have my first listen at a time where I could fully appreciate it.

1001 Songs – 1967: Part Three

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

And so we finish out another year with this third and final look at the songs from 1967 that feature in the 1001 book.

Montague Terrace (In Blue) – Scott Walker

Right, so a minute in and this song just explodes. This song is a bit heavy on the tingly chimes (in a weird way) and thick on the strings (in a good way), which just builds up to the big overblown chorus.

He doesn’t quite have the voice that would work for this. Now Jacques Brel, an influence of both this song and Scott Walker in general, probably would have.

So essentially we have a song that is seeing the chanson tradition through the lens of blues and pop. Interesting.

A Day in the Life – The Beatles

Okay so this is my mum’s favourite Beatles song. It’s yet another one of those songs that shows just how far ahead of their time The Beatles actually were.

There is a reason that I listen to these songs again even if I have done the album before – listening to a song in isolation is a different experience than as part of an album. I mean, I completely missed ‘Eleanor Rigby’ as it just got swallowed up by the rest of the album. Same goes for ‘A Day In The Life’.

It’s the closer for Sgt Pepper and so is the closing track on what is widely seen as one of the best albums of all time.

Is it a good song? In isolation it is and it means I am going to have to listen to the album properly again. It’s a prime example of Lennon-McCartney working well together and actually just how they were beginning to properly diverge.

Alone Again Or – Love

I still maintain that I know this song from somewhere else and I can not put my finger on it.

Listening to this properly outside of the rest of the album that follows it I really do appreciate that weird mariachi sound that they incorperated into this song.

It’s one of those songs that is the coming together of the 1960s musical trends of folk rock and baroque pop. My husband thinks it pales in comparison to the previous song… but I prefer this.

Tin Solder – The Small Faces

Interesting vocals on this song. Not only are they overpowered by the rock, but the mix of the voices sound like they had been poorly filtered.

I guess it makes sense in the way since this is a song that is experimenting with, what would become, heavy rock. Still though, sounded like there was somg gurling going on.

It’s a sweet song from the idea that it was written to impress a girl (who the writer would later marry), but on the whole it was a bit off.

See Emily Play – Pink Floyd

Beatles? Is that you? Seriously though, this sounds a lot like a song that the Beatles would have made.

This was released in the UK as a single, but in the US they got this on a re-issue of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

It’s an okay song, but right now it doesn’t feel like anything we haven’t heard before. It’s a well done example of a Beatle’s influenced song, but I think this is on here to signal the beginnings of, what would become, one of the big UK acts.

A Whiter Shade of Pale – Procol Harum

Yet another one of the extremely famous songs from 1967. Maybe, not anymore, as widely known as ‘Respect’, but still a most famous song from this year.

I mean how many songs can have a title that has entered common parlence than this one? It’s one of those nice phrases (like Watergate) that journalists cannot resist taking for a subheader.

When this is not the best and most recognised song in a year, you know it’s a good one.

The Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

Okay so the opening of this song is one that should be recognised by anyone who has listened to Heart FM. It’s like circus music and I think that’s the point.

It’s a great example of where pop and soul could meet in the world of Motown, even if it did take too long for me to cotton on that, yes, this was a man singing.

Sunshine of Your Love – Cream

There are many times where my album and song lists cross paths. This is, however, one of the first times that I have listened to the song without first crossing off the album. The other being Jefferson Airplane’s album Surrealistic Pillow.

When compared to ‘Tin Soldier’ this is a better executed example of an early hard rock song.

That guitar riff is so recognisable and very much like the sort you would have heard from Jimi Hendrix at the time.

Makes me wonder what the rest of the album is like.

Cold Sweat – James Brown & The Famous Flames

Thanks to many years of watching Saturday Night Live I cannot start listening to a funk song without Kenan Thompson strolling into my brain and doing his ‘What’s Up With That’ sketch.

This is one of the first example of funk songs and it’s profoundly dull. Just listening to it whilst sat on a sofa there isn’t that much to it. There is only one change and we just have James Brown grunting as he signals each member of his band to do a solo.

Seriously, Kenan and the rest of Saturday Night Live got this spot on.

The First Cut Is the Deepest – P.P. Arnold

There are many cover versions of this song. The first version I heard of this was by Sheryl Crow. I have also heard versions by both Cat Stevens and Rod Stewart.

This is my least favourite version. With the harp and the higher register occupied by P.P. Arnold it just feels a little bit twee.

I get that she had been through things with her husband that would make this song resonate with her, but at 21 (in 1967) she feels a bit young to be singing a song like this. Or maybe that’s just me?

Progress: 248/1021

Acclaimed Albums – Swordfishtrombones by Tom Waits

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 128/250Title: Swordfishtrombones
Artist: Tom Waits
Year: 1983
Position: #121

With a title as odd as Swordfishtrombones I am not sure why it took me so long to pick up this album and say: yes, this seems like the right time to listen to this. Having listened to it a few times (since this is definitely an album that needs that in order to sink in).

The term experimental is one that is banded about a lot when the word you really want to use is ‘odd’ or ‘weird’. All truth being told I think the last time I had an internal debate on the correct word to use was either Trout Mask Replica or Too Early/Too LateSo yes, this was a weird and experimental rock album.

However, this still begs the question of whether this album is one that I could actually enjoy. As much as I tried with the work of Captain Beefheart I was never able to make that leap from ‘what is this’ to ‘what IS this’. I got a bit further with Swordfishtrombones, but not yet far enough to make this album one of those albums I end up going back to (like Loveless or Psychocandy).

The thing is, there is enough here to give a listen once I have written this up. There is something in the strange arrangements, the use of horns and his rather dark brand of storytelling to make me come back. Sort of how I would imagine Nick Cave’s take on the first Goldfrapp album, which is then filtered through Captain Beefheart.

The cover made me expect something cabaret in style and what I am left with is wondering what he did to get his follow-up album, Rain Dogs, to a higher position on this list. Guess I’ll just have to find out for myself.

🎻♫♪ – Symphony No. 5 by Anton Bruckner

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 18/501Title: Symphony No. 5
Composer: Anton Bruckner
Nationality: Austrian
Year:
 1775-1778

As I sat in the box seats that I bought my husband as a birthday present and awaited the concert to start I was struck by one thought: if I hadn’t read Nodame Cantabile we would not be here right now.

I have mentioned it before as to how my reading of this manga series inspired both my husband and myself to start on the 1001 Classical Works list. It’s just cool that because of a manga we ended up watching the Philharmonia Orchestra perform live in a box at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

This is the first time that either of us had been to see a classical piece live (not counting ballet or opera because of the extra theatrical component) so I did wonder how I would end up doing with 80+ minutes of just watching an orchestra play. Honestly, I didn’t expect to be so transfixed, the time just flew by.

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 marks the first symphony that I have listened to for the list, as well as the first symphony that I made a conscious effort to listen to. Therefore this has been a real learning experience. I now know that a symphony is usually split into a number of movements (usually four) and features pretty much a whole orchestra. I know it’s silly, but I got a real kick of seeing someone actually playing a bassoon and developed a minor crush on the timpani player whilst watching him pay such loving attention to his massive drums.

I know it’s a cliche to say this about a piece of classical music, but I was genuinely moved whilst watching and listening to this. I listened to this the next day on Spotify and it really wasn’t the same. It did, however, help me to notice just how often the same motif is played in the whole symphony.

Now that I have seen a live orchestra play a symphony it feels like something has split open in my brain. Like, I am already looking for what I could be watching next. Maybe I won’t spring for box seats again right away, but it feels like a waste living in London and not really making proper use of affordable culture.

1001 Songs – 1967: Part Two

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane

Necessity is the mother of invention and Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane is one of those mothers. ‘White Rabbit’ is one of the first songs that managed to sneak drug references onto mainstream radio.

How? The entire thing is disguised by references to Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland which, to be honest, feels like it was one long drug fuelled piece of prose anyway.

The way that this song is just one big build up to the conclusion reminds me of how ‘Heroin’ tried to do a similar thing with how they paced their music.

Also, a female lead singer on a rock song. About bloody time!

Purple Haze – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

It’s been a while since I did my Jimi Hendrix album posts. It sounds like another drugs song, even though Hendrix describes this as a love song. You can write a love song about cars so why not about drugs right?

‘Purple Haze’ is a song where a lot of the impact has been lost to normalisation. We are used to a more metal sounding guitar and the chords that made Hendrix famous. This doesn’t sound like much that came before it so there is a lot to appreciate there.

I’m a Man – The Spencer Davis Group

Ah the Hammond organ, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard one of these for the songs list. Began to think that we had moved through this weird period of music. Nope, but soon!

I think that this is the first time in this list where I am completely colourblind with a song. The assimilation of blues and RnB into white music is now complete with songs like ‘I’m a Man’.

Venus in Furs – The Velvet Underground

It feels like a lot has happened in my musical development since I did The Velvet Underground & Nico for the albums list. The more I listen to tracks from this album, the more I see how exceptional they are.

‘Venus in Furs’ feels like a sexy song (I mean it does contain references to bondage, so it’s meant to be fairly sensual). Like you are walking into one of those sex parties from The Great Gatsby or Eyes Wide Shut.

Interesting blend of instruments in this too. You have that viola constantly screeching and then Lou Reed on a guitar where all the strings have been tuned to the same note. Weird.

Fire – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Speaking of interesting blends, here is a song that is just a mishmash of all the big musical trends at the same time. You have rock, psychedelia, some soul and a whole lotta funk.

I guess that’s what Hendrix was good at. A song that sounds like a lot of fun to perform, even if it started out over a comment of an actual dog wanting to be warm by the fire.

Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks

Okay this is actually a beautiful song. I’ve heard this song a few times before, but this is the first time I have properly listened to it.

It’s hard to get romance right in lyrics. You can be too schmaltzy, too overt or just get things wrong. This gets the balance perfect with its wistful lyrics.

What I love most is how this wasn’t about him in love, it’s about someone looking out of a window and seeing the same couple walking around Waterloo and romanticising them to the point of giving them names.

It’s the song that encapsulates the joys of people watching.

Ode to Billie Joe – Bobbie Gentry

Well this song took a turn. I had to pause the moment she sang the lyrics “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”.

Yes, this is a country song that tells of a family who are sat around the dinner table discussing the suicide of Billie Joe. Well most of it anyway. We end the song a year later where the narrator (Billie Joe’s sister) recaps the events after the suicide.

This is not the song I was expecting; a Southern Gothic tale of a family dealing with suicide. The throaty by Gentry is ideal for this yarn of a song. Wow.

The Dark End of the Street – James Carr

A song about a couple who are having to hide their love. Maybe they’re cheating on their spouses. Maybe they’re from families that wouldn’t approve of the match. The song is never explicit about this, but I would go for the former (I’d like to throw in a gay romantic interpretation of this… but I think that’s stretching it a bit).

You feel sorry for this couple who are clearly in love but are not allowed to be together. They may be cheaters or they may not be. In any case there is a lot of pain in this song and that’s what makes it good.

Suzanne – Leonard Cohen

I mentioned with ‘Waterloo Sunset’ about how hard it is to do a romantic song right. ‘Suzanne’ is another example, but this case it’s an unrequited love.

Suzanne was a real person that Cohen had a platonic relationship with. You listen to the lyrics and it sounds so much that he was in love with her, but could never act upon those feelings.

Something about her really touched him. Beautiful and sad.

Respect – Aretha Franklin

Ending on one of the most recognisable songs from the 1960s here. This has seriously been one of the best sets of songs that I have so far done from the 1001 list.

The fact that this song of female empowerment started out as a song about a desperate man wanting some respect from his wife just floors me.

Aretha Franklin truly made this song her own and the rest, as they say, is history.

Progress: 238/1021

Acclaimed Albums – Transformer by Lou Reed

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 127/250Title: Transformer
Artist: Lou Reed
Year: 1972
Position: #76

I had a surreal out-of-body moment when I had my first listen of Transformer. There I was sitting in front of my laptop and peeling the pericarp off of pomelo segments whilst watching my husband play The Witness. Just a typical Saturday night of married life to be honest (ain’t it grand).

It just got me to thinking how this album from 45 years has found itself being weirdly transplanted through time. I guess I had this weird moment of disconnect with Transformer and not some of the other albums because this is an album that is a weird mixture of recognisable, brand new, contemporary and of its time.

So as an album it just seems to float there like a strange thing outside of time. I promise you, I do not and have never done drugs… maybe there was something in the pomelo.

There aren’t a lot of people who will not have heard some version of ‘Perfect Day’ or ‘Walk on The Wild Side’ – the latter song first came into my awareness through the weird parody singing group called Hooray for Everything from The Simpsons. The version that was sung in that episode had been significantly toned down for their young audience, which is a weirdly specific joke that I only now get some 15 years after first seeing that episode.

I guess what I am trying to say, in a roundabout way, is that I really enjoyed this album. It’s got a few throwaway tracks here and there (like ‘Make Up’),  but on the whole this has held up extremely well since it was first released 45 years ago, despite some of the casually racist and sexist language.

1001 Songs – 1967: Part One

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

1967. For many appreciators of rock music this was a banner year. It saw the release of Sgt. Pepper, The Velvet Underground & Nico, two Jimi Hendrix albums and Forever Changes to name but a few.

Psychadelic rock was reaching the top of its game and I think this will end up being shown in the three song posts where I go through the 30 songs on the 1001 list that came out in 1967.

The End – The Doors

We start the year with one of the longer songs on the entire list, as well as being a song from I covered not too long ago.

When I looked at The Doors’ eponymous album the 12 minute closing track ‘The End’ didn’t exactly feature on my radar. Instead I preferred tracks like ‘End of the Night’ and ‘Break On Through’.

As a piece of work it’s impressive that this is meant to be one continuous take. However, I know the edited version used in Apocalypse Now and the context that cast it in probably stopped this song from connecting with me. It feels just so pleased with itself and that just turned me off.

Electricity – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

I maintain that this is one of the best names ever for a band. They are epitome of what happens when you take the conceit of psychedelic rock that bit too far and then add a hit of peyote.

It’s definitely more entertaining than the 12 minutes of The Doors I just listened too. Even more so when you read the story of when Captain Beefheart himself stopped a performance of the song because he saw a girl in the crowd turn into a goldfish.

Also, I need to talk about the use of a theremin. It’s hilarious and I don’t think it was meant to be.

Corcovado – Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim

Meanwhile down the Brazilian way and in the smoke-filled nightclubs we still had the bossa nova music playing. In 1967 Frank Sinatra released a Grammy Award-nominated album with Antônio Carlos Jobim, one of those at the forefront of bossa nova, and this is one of the songs that came from such a partnership.

Sinatra’s smooth voice works perfectly with the smooth beats of bossa nova. We are so used to him delivering songs with a big band, but honestly this is one of the best recordings I have heard from him. It’s a nice palate-cleanser between all this psychedelic rock.

Heroin – The Velvet Underground

This is the first of two songs from The Velvet Underground & Nico. Whilst this is not one of my favourite two songs, it certainly one of the most notable.

Firstly, we have the title of the song: heroin. No album had featured a song with such a blatant title. You have the lyrical content of the song which neither condemns nor condones the use of heroin. It just talks about the use of heroin and the dependency.

The big thing of interest is the structure. The song is intended to mimic the initial rush (the increased tempo) which is then broken by the comedown (the screeching viola). It’s just a really clever song that’s also very interesting to listen to.

Chelsea Girls – Nico

Oh the flute. That infernal flute. Poor Nico was right about the flute and the strings. She wanted more guitar and some drums, which would have totally helped this song.

Okay so Nico doesn’t have a voice that you can get into straight away. It works with the instruments you hear on ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, just not with this wistfully awful production.

Poor poor Nico.

For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield

The moment that the chorus started with “Stop, hey, what’s that sound?” I knew that I knew this song. I don’t know where from, probably from The Muppet Show if I know my own frames of reference.

A song like this gives an interesting insight into what the world was like in 1967. Just as you listen to it off the cuff you quickly realise this is a protest song.

What was it protesting? A curfew that was put in place on the Sunset Strip that young people felt was specifically targeting them. This lead to rioting by the young people of Hollywood and so this song was born.

The Look of Love – Dusty Springfield

The second of three Dusty Springfield songs on this list, and one of the select few that were nominated for an Academy Award.

This song started out as an instrumental piece for the James Bond film Casino Royale (the spoof 1967 version, not the serious 2006 version) with lyrics being added in later.

Whilst the smooth bossa nova beats would have worked as intended in the film, the addition of lyrics sung by the wonderful Dusty Springfield just elevates this song and, as is the tradition of James Bond, makes it sexy.

I’d Rather Go Blind – Etta James

It feels like it has been a long time since we last had a soul song and we get two in a row. I know that with it being a song about a woman who would rather go blind than see her lover leave her.

It’s a sad premise, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t find this delivery as effecting as I could have. Oh well.

(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher – Jackie Wilson

This is one of those songs everyone probably knows from an advert on the TV or because it’s regularly used as a piece of background music in tv programmes and films set in the late 1960s.

It’s a song that was originally intended to be a ballad, but the producer thought it would better as a more upbeat song. He wasn’t wrong. It just worked this way because it is a happy song and that would have been lost if it had been crooned.

Strawberry Fields Forever – The Beatles

This will have to rank as one of the more unusual singles ever released by the Beatles. It’s a song of nostalgia about the fields John Lennon used to play in as a child and it is weird.

It’s hard to put a finger on this song. At all. It’s just this weird melange of tempo, instrumentation and John Lennon murmuring ‘cranberry sauce’ in the background.

I can see why reviewers at the time might have been slightly perplexed by this song. I cannot, however, see how this song was able to contribute towards the downward spiral of Brian Wilson.

I still prefer ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and I don’t think I am alone there.

Progress: 228/1021

🎻♫♪ – Missa Pange Lingua by Josquin des Prez

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 17/501Title: Missa Pange Lingua
Composer: Josquin des Prez
Nationality: Franco-Flemish
Year:
 1514

After something so modern as Different Trains it is a bit weird to be back in the world of religious music. The piece that I listened to today is a 29 minute treatment of the Pange Lingua Gloriosi hymn written by philosopher and saint Thomas Aquinas.

It is a classical piece with five sections that correspond the the ordinary part of a Catholic Mass; starting with the Kyrie and ending with the Agnus Dei. Having taught in a Catholic school and being required to supervise the students during some of the rituals, I have picked up a thing or two. Osmosis is an interesting thing.

When I compare this to some of the earlier music from the list I think I am beginning to see some sort of development in the vocals. In places it feels more complex and harmonious, almost mellifluous.

I still can’t tell exactly when this piece moved between sections. When I think about some of the more obvious contrasts that we now see in music (as well as those in the Kreutzer sonata) it takes a lot to find the right amount of pause in the piece to signify that we are moving between parts.

In the end, this was rather soothing and one of the better vocal pieces that I have heard so far for the 1001 list. I know there are a lot more of these still to come before the world of classical music starts to properly include instruments in these large scale pieces. I still find myself missing the presence of a piano, violin or clarinet. However, this is an educational process and I feel that I am getting one.

Acclaimed Albums – Purple Rain by Prince

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 126/250Title: Purple Rain
Artist: Prince
Year: 1984
Position: #44

This is not my first time with a Prince album. That honour goes to 1999which left me pretty cold afterwards. I can happily say that the opposite was the case here, although I have no desire to watch the film after all the bad things I’ve heard about Under the Cherry Moon.

I will probably be in the extreme majority when I say that I prefer the second half of Purple Rain. For one thing it’s the side with ‘When Doves Cry’ on it. That song is epic and I only heard it for the first time when my mum played it for me after Prince’s death early in 2016.

The second half also has the pairing of ‘I Would Die 4 U’ and ‘Baby I’m A Star’. These are both great funk rock tracks in their own right, but it is the way that Prince mixed them to flow into each other that truly raises them up.

This is not to say that the first half of the album isn’t any good. It’s just that it pretty much pales in comparison to the second side of the disc. ‘Take Me With U’ is probably the standout track from the first side of the album, mainly because it’s the one where it feels like Prince is having the most fun before you flip the record.

I think that before ending this I need to ask something about the title track ‘Purple Rain’. Why is this the song included on the 1001 Songs list when ‘When Doves Cry’ is right there a few tracks earlier? I would argue that ‘When Doves Cry’ is the more experimental of the two and shows that particular spirit of Prince whereas ‘Purple Rain’ feels anthemic.

When my 1001 Songs playthrough reached 1984 at some point in 2019 (at this rate at least) maybe I will get more of a clue of its inclusion or completely fall for it like I did with ‘Eleanor Rigby’. Remains to be seen I guess.