Category Archives: Music

Acclaimed Albums – My Generation by The Who

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 135/250Title: My Generation
Artist: The Who
Year: 1965
Position: #239

I have been skirting around doing My Generation for a long time because of its precarious placement in the lower end of the list. However, with my most recent post of the 1001 songs list reaching 1969 it’s become a bit odd having some of these older albums still to do, especially those that still so highly thought of.

When I started listening to My Generation I found it shocking that this was The Who’s first album. If you listen back to the debut releases of The Beatles, Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones you find albums that are littered with covers and only offer a hint of what was to come.

Whilst My Generation does feature some covers, they feel like they are a more cohesive part of the album that something stuck on there either at the last minute or to pander to the crowd. In fact the covers are interesting in themselves as they take on R&B songs from 10 years previous, which are then updated to fit in on the album.

Well I say fit in. As cohesive as this album is The Who still veer between genres. There are influences from R&B and classic rock and roll, as you would expect, but rather than just playing to those My Generation is taking these genres forward.

Tracks like ‘My Generation’ and ‘The Kids Are Alright’ are prime examples of the new rock genres that were starting to develop – genres that would properly evolve into hard rock, punk rock and metal. These aren’t quite yet at the proto-punk levels of music that comes out soon afterwards, but these are steps in the same direction.

Whilst not as prevalent on all songs, there are hints of this same purposeful roughness throughout the album. There are discordant harmonies, raging drums and (not quite, but almost) shredding guitars. This really does feel like a band brimming with confidence – and this album was a rush job to capitalise on successful singles.

Maybe the fact that this was a rush job ultimately helped the album out. The great thing about this album overall is that it feels natural and not overthought. Overthinking can help with some albums (otherwise we wouldn’t have beautifully produced tracks like ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ – but sometimes overthinking ends up giving us ‘Chelsea Girls’. Gross.

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1001 Songs – 1969: Part One

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

My Way – Frank Sinatra

For many legendary artists there are songs that come to define them. Aretha has ‘Respect‘, ABBA has ‘Dancing Queen’, Nirvana has ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit‘ and Frank Sinatra has ‘My Way’.

This is very much US crooning through the lens of the French chanson. Few American male singers of note have had the voice and range to do justice to this song about looking back on a life lived. It’s not about necessarily having a good life, but about having a life on your own terms. It’s a defiant and somewhat remorseful song that should only be attempted by singers in the final or penultimate act of their life.

When I hear Sinatra sing it I imagine an abusive father being kicked out of the house and trying to show some semblance of pride. I can imaging the Denzel Washington character in Fences being a huge fan of this song.

I guess what I am trying to say is… if this was sung by someone who was less of a piece of work than Frank Sinatra I might be more on board with this despite the fact that the production is so overblown. But I’m not.

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face – Roberta Flack

So this was recorded and first released by Roberta Flack in 1969 and ended up winning her Grammys in 1972. It’s weird how the Grammys work. Then again – Lemonade.

As is obvious from the title, this is a love song. Interestingly it is a song written by Ewan MacColl for the woman he would later marry… who would also be his third and final wife. So that’s kinda sweet.

Roberta Flack clearly has a big set of pipes, but manages to show remarkable restraint when delivering the song. It comes out every now and then, but she keeps a lid on it for over five minutes. Not going to say that I didn’t get a bit bored during this though. It could have been cut for time.

I’m Just a Prisoner (of Your Good Lovin’) – Candi Staton

Probably better known for the immortal singles ‘You Got the Love’ and ‘Young Hearts, Run Free’ we are at the first of Candi Staton’s three entries on this list. All three songs are incredibly different with ‘I’m Just A Prisoner’ being an example of soul done well.

There’s a rasp to her voice that gives her that extra bit of personality compared to other singers of this era – although we won’t see that rasp in full force until her later songs. I look forward to reaching 1976.

She Moves Through the Fair – Fairport Convention

Here we are back in blighty and we have an early example of electric folk. This particular song is a rather traditional Irish folk song that is beautifully sung by lead vocalist Sandy Denny.

It’s an understated affair that brings in influences like Van Morrison and Simon and Garfunkel to update traditional songs to present day using contemporary instruments and arrangements. As music goes it isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it shows just how these influences can separate off.

Many Rivers to Cross – Jimmy Cliff

Okay this selection of songs is a rather downplayed bunch. We’re crossing many genre borders and that’s not something that could have been done when starting off on this list.

According to Wikipedia this is a reggae/gospel ballad – more emphasis on the gospel thanks to that electric organ in the background. For some reason I am getting a massive hint of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ which would place this song more into the soul category… which makes a lot more sense than reggae.

I guess that thanks to all these different genres sprouting the ability to section them off really is starting to get harder. Although, I would be hard-pressed to call this reggae.

In the Ghetto – Elvis Presley

Thank you South Park for ruining this song. I listen to this and all I can think of is Eric Cartman singing this about Kenny’s family.

Then again, this is an incredibly overdone song with it’s ghostly backing vocals and Elvis’s affected emotion. The lyrics are fascinating to listen to and, honestly, I wish this had retained the original title of ‘The Vicious Circle’. It’s all about the vicious cycle of poverty and how there are many that cannot escape it. All a bit rich when sung by Elvis Presley who didn’t want to do a political song.

It’s also worth noting that in 2007 Lisa-Marie Presley did this song as a posthumous duet with her father…

Oh Well, Parts 1 & 2 – Fleetwood Mac

So this is the first song in a good while that’s mostly instrumental. Part 1 (which is the first 2 minutes of this 9 minute song) features vocials and is more inkeeping with the rock music of the time, but the rest is more classical.

You have to hand it to Fleetwood Mac for trying to have a 7 minute instrumental track inspired by Spanish guitar as a single. The use of the first two minutes as the A-side was against the songwriter’s wishes with it being a throwaway piece for the B-side. Somewhere along the way the tracks got swapped and it is those first two minutes that went on to be a hit.

Despite being a throwaway ‘Oh Well, Part 1’ went on to be an influential song because of how it fused harder rock with blues rock. As a single it showcases two very different sides of the same songwriter – so I’m glad that I got to hear both parts,

The Real Thing – Russell Morris

Oh psychedelia. We are seeing you on your way out by now in most markets and being replaced with harder rock or a revival of folk… so of course we see a bit example of Australian psychedelia. Without the instant sharing of musical influences things would have trickled around the world so much slower.

It’s not your regular psychedelic rock song. This had the whole music producer toolkit behind it which lead to a lot of interesting effects being used that make this song rather unique and mindbending. The ending alone where it appears that another song is trying to intrude on ‘The Real Thing’ is remarkably odd.

At the time this was the most expensive song in Australian history, coming in at about the same cost as an average album.

Progress: 276/1021

Acclaimed Albums – Electric Ladyland by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 134/250Title: Electric Ladyland
Artist: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Year: 1968
Position: #26

It has been over two years since I listened to the other two Jimi Hendrix albums. With any other artist I would need to be more specific, but The Jimi Hendrix Experience is the only group to have all the albums that they ever released to be in this Top 250.

The thing that continues to surprise me is that all the albums that Jimi Hendrix released in his lifetime came from his time in a trio. Most people would know who Jimi Hendrix is and might just about be able to name a song. However, I bet you most would assume he released this work solo, rather than with two Englishmen.

Having listened to Electric Ladyland all I can do is double down on what I said last month when I specifically listened to the final track off this album. Say what you want about the music that Jimi Hendrix created but you cannot deny his talent as a guitarist. Obvious, but it is worth repeating.

One thing, however, that is extremely striking is how much his sound has evolved from Axis: Bold As Love. Honestly, this was probably my least favourite of the three Jimi Hendrix albums for this reason. It’s not that I disliked the music, but two discs and 80 minutes is a bit much for me. Same goes for the two tracks that both come in at over 13 minutes.

So that’s it for Jimi Hendrix. I’ve come out of it respecting his talent, but still unable to give the name of a particular track that I would see as a highlight. Didn’t really expect anything else, but at least I gave it a go.

🎻♫♪ – Finlandia by Jean Sibelius

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 22/501Title: Finlandia
Composer: Jean Sibelius
Nationality: Finnish
Year:
 1900

Since my visit to the Baltics I knew that the next classical piece that I needed to listen next was Finlandia. Why? Well, my time in the museums of Tallinn, as well as the ubiquitous Estonian Song Festival, really demonstrated the power of music in the national awakenings of this region. Finland is no exception with Sibelius’s Finlandia being the most important piece.

The significance of Finlandia is so much that the final movement of this 7-9 minute song, which is known as the Finlandia Hymn, has become a song in its own right and is an important national song – like Jerusalem has in England. However… unlike Finland, we in Britain haven’t had to look to music to reinforce our national identity as our country was occupied.

In a similar fashion to The Isle of the Dead Finlandia is a tone poem where most of the piece is a orchestral tumult that highlights the subjugation of the Finnish people as their national identity was quashed.

The release of Finlandia also coincides with the Russification of Finland whereby the Russian Empire were attempting to impose their own culture on Finland whilst erasing the native ones. It speaks to the power of music that Finlandia emerged as a form of resistance – especially since this piece went by a number of tongue-in-cheek names in order to prevent the Russians from censoring it.

Truly the power of music.

Acclaimed Albums – Disraeli Gears by Cream

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 135/250Title: Disraeli Gears
Artist: Cream
Year: 1967
Position: #174

As album titles go, Disraeli Gears has to be one of the best on this list. Much like A Hard Day’s Night it came about as a slip of the tongue in conversation and the band liked the phrase so much that it immediately became the title of the album. It’s little things like this that can really endear an album to you.

With this ticked off I am officially done with albums from 1967. It’s one of those miniature landmarks on the way to completing this list that just forces you to look back a bit. This was a year where the predominant acclaimed music was psychedelic in nature, with Aretha Franklin and Leonard Cohen being the only artists to provide some degree of contrast.

Taking all these other albums into account Disraeli Gears falls onto the harder side of the rock spectrum. Arrangements on songs like ‘Swlabr’ are feel a lot more loud and forceful than you would find on other psychedelic albums of the time, and yet they keep with the feel of the times with lyrics like “You’ve got that rainbow feel but the rainbow has a beard”

The 1001 Songs list picked up on this, but ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ is the real standout track of this album. While the rest of the album is a good listen, they never really live up to the second track.

The exception to this is ‘Outside Woman Blues’ which, for me, is another highlight of the album. Not entirely sure this song worked for me, maybe it was all the repeated motifs.

Now, let’s have a quick word about the final track, ‘Mother’s Lament’. It’s awful. It’s bloody awful and doesn’t belong on this album at all. It’s a completely different genre and, whilst it is clear they had fun singing it, should have been relegated to the archives to be found on some sort of anniversary re-release.

Is this an album I would listen to again? Yes, as long as you take off that god-awful final track. It’s not an album I would pay full attention to, but makes for a good background.

1001 Songs – 1968: Part Two

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

Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud) – James Brown

Compared to the previous James Brown I listened to – where I was unable to get SNL’s Kenan Thompson out of my head – this song actually had a bit more meat to it. I mean we are talking about a time where racism was more prevalent (it’s still pretty prevalent, but you know what I mean) and the Black Power movement was still gaining traction. So a song like this about black Americans being abused by the police became a powerful song to use.

My main problem is still this: this song is incredibly repetitive. It works a bit more here as a protest song, but he does this in other songs so I am not sure how much of a point there was to that as it feels generally improvised.

Hard to Handle – Otis Redding

Here is a song that something more to it. I know this is more soul and James Brown is funk, but this actually has a changing structure and recognisable parts. It’s actually been a while since I last listened to an Otis Redding album and I was reminded of why I enjoyed it.

I think it goes to show that, at this point in time, I like soul a lot more than funk.

A minha menina – Os Mutantes

Okay now for something unlike anything I have heard on this songs list. I enjoy it when random acts of fusion begin to happen as the next round of musicians start to take on the work of other cultures. Here we have the more traditional Brazilian bossa nova music combined with the psychedelic rock that was coming out of the US and the UK.

What you have when these are mixed is something completely new and would form significant part of Brazilian cultural identity in the late 1960s and beyond: Tropicália. It’s fresh, it’s different and it’s something that could only come out of a country of such contrasting cultures as those found in Brazil. I hope a few more of these songs turn up along the way.

Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones

Okay so we have two songs in a row that have fused rock music with Latin American influences – in this instance the samba. I mentioned two years ago about how much Beggar’s Banquet (the album where this song acts as an opener) left me cold. I even signalled out ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ as a song that did nothing for me.

Here we are two years later and I am able to enjoy this song more. I love how the upbeat samba forms a strange contrast with the satanic lyrics. The thing that gets me is just how highly this is rated on best song lists. It’s fine, it’s fun and it’s very repetitive. Listening to it makes me wonder just how many times they are going ‘woo woo’ in the background. I feel like I am in the minority when it comes to rock music, but that’s okay.

Pressure Drop – Toots & The Maytals

You know that scene in Spongebob where Patrick dreams of riding a coin-operated horse and he is moving up and down in the same repeated fashion? That’s reggae music to me.

I have to admit that ‘Pressure Drop’ is better than most of the reggae music I have heard. The upped tempo instantly makes this better than ‘Israelites‘ and any of the Bob Marley that I’ve listened to so far. The song itself is about weather pressure as a metaphor for karma, which I did not get but can appreciate the poetic choice of.

Cyprus Avenue – Van Morrison

Wow it has been years since I listened to Astral Weeks for my album list. It’s one of those albums where it’s difficult to choose a specific cut because it’s all meant to be listened to together as a song cycle. Still, if a song had to be picked it makes sense that it’s ‘Cyprus Avenue’.

There is an awful lot going on in this song. You have Van Morrison singing about his younger years in Belfast (where Cyprus Avenue is a street) with strings, a guitar and a harpsichord playing over and underneath him. It is whistful, sentimental and dreamy all at the same time – but should not be listened to by itself. This song belongs in the heard of Astral Weeks and just gets cut off at the end as it starts to pick up the pace.

Hey Jude – The Beatles

So here we are at the end of an era – the final Beatles song on the 1001 list and it’s arguably one of their biggest ones. The genesis of this song is a actually quite weird (but sweet). Paul McCartney writing this to comfort John Lennon’s son in the wake of John Lennon’s divorce from his first wive as caused by his affair with Yoko Ono.

Pretty much everyone in the UK will know this song and have quite possibly sung to the fade out. I have talked about repetition a lot in this section of 1968 (or at least it feels like I have) and here we have an example that works. For the final 4 minutes the lyrics and the basic instrumentation are the same, but they play with it every now and then. Also, the reason behind it as a song to cheer up Julian Lennon just brings a smile to your face. I have to hand it to Paul McCartney here – he done good.

Voodoo Child (Slight Return) – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Okay so I was expecting to find out that the Rogue Traders song had taken a sample from this or something. Not the case sadly as that would have been this little except written up for me right away.

‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ acts as the closing song of Electric Ladyland – the final album that Jimi Hendrix released when he was alive. It revisits and expands on some of the musical themes that came up in ‘Voodoo Chile’, which was a track on the same album.

For me this track continues to support the image of how amazing a guitarist Jimi Hendrix was. He is lauded for a reason and this song just shows why. The waste. The sheer unadulterated waste.

The Pusher – Steppenwolf

The single that Steppenwolf released before this was biker themed anthem ‘Born to be Wild’, so it’s interesting that the list instead went for this one about a drug dealer. Taking the subject matter onboard I cannot say I disagree with that decision. I mean, sure, this isn’t the more famous song, but the way that this song chooses to tackle the war on drugs is interesting.

It takes the stance that a lot have people still take nowadays – that there is a difference between hard drugs like heroin (sold by the pusher) and softer drugs like grass (sold by the dealer). Of course we’re only now getting into the position where this separation is being reflected in politics, but it’s interesting to see that 50+ years ago we were already having this conversation.

The Weight – The Band

Okay so this is where the folk-country part of my music taste wants to come out and make itself known. I really enjoyed this song goes honky-tonk as it hits the chorus line with it’s chunky piani line and singalong lyrics.

Speaking of honky-tonk, I can see this as being one of those great drinking songs that can get a rise out of many a drunk as they start to slip into unconciousness. It feels like one of those comfortable songs that we all know even if we’ve never heard it before.

Days – The Kinks

How do I know this song? Seriously, can someone please tell me as this song was immediately recognisable to me and I have no idea from where. I don’t think it’s like ‘The Weight’ where I feel like I have gotten to know this as part of the collective subconscious, I know I have heard this somewhere and it is really bugging me. Yes, this is a bit of a weird note to end on. It’s a really nice song, but I wish we’d ended with The Band.

Progress: 268/1021

🎻♫♪ – Motets by Nicolas Gombert

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 21/501Title: Motets
Composer: Nicolas Gombert
Nationality: Franco-Flemish
Year:
 1530-1550

Excuse me, but I think I’m suffering from a bout of motet blindness. I think I am getting to the point with this classical list that I am starting to find it difficult to tell some of these earlier pieces apart. This isn’t a slight at any of the performers whose recordings of these pieces I have heard up to this point.

The thing is – when you have this sort of choral music it can be hard to distinguish between composers if months have passed between pieces. What I can tell from listening to Nicolas Gombert in isolation is that these motets are an example of polyphonic choral music – something that we didn’t have in some of the earlier pieces of music.

Other than that I’m out. The problem with this in particular is that there didn’t necessarily feel as if there was any underlying story or throughline for each of the motets. It just felt like voices coming in, choosing whether to harmonize or not.

Hey ho, as with 1001 it isn’t a guarantee that you’ll like all the stuff that’s early in the chronology. It just helps with that overall learning experience.

Acclaimed Albums – Definitely Maybe by Oasis

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 134/250Title: Definitely Maybe
Artist: Oasis
Year: 1994
Position: #111

We go into any piece of media with preconceptions. I remember how huge Oasis were when I was very little; to the point where I remember my mum playing What’s The Story (Morning Glory) on our first CD player. We sang  ‘Wonderwall’ in school music lessons (where they insisted that we sang it as ‘wonderwahl’ instead of ‘wonderwaall’). They were massive in terms of their popularity and in terms of being pricks.

So I went into this thinking that I would like this and then feel a bit ‘ugh’ because of how I remember the Gallagher brothers acting. I was pretty much correct. It saddens me to say that I really prefer Definitely Maybe over ParklifeThen again, Gorillaz are amazing and I would listen to them over Oasis any day; so it’s swings and roundabouts.

However, I don’t I actually knew any songs from Definitely Maybe. I guess I am just too young to remember when this album came out, but I swear later songs in their catalogue still get more radio airplay than songs from this debut album.

I’m not sure why that would be either. For one thing, this is one of those albums that has actually made me feel happy as I listen to it. I’ve seen this album’s lyrics described as being ‘optimistic’ in some reviews – and I have a hard time disagreeing with that. I know that these contemporary reviewers will have welcomed a more positive type of rock music coming out after a few years of grunge music being in vogue. I mean, as much as I thought Nevermind was a good album, it wasn’t exactly cheerful.

As far as my limited knowledge of Oasis goes, I will pretty much stake a claim that this is likely to be the album of theirs that I like the most. It’s not as poppy as they would become (where at times they would feel like they are trying to become the next Beatles) and instead is far more on the glam and hard rock side of the musical fence.

Acclaimed Albums – Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 133/250Title: Surrealistic Pillow
Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Year: 1967
Position: #173

Sticking very much in 1967 after my last album. I was planning on knocking out one of the Oasis albums instead, but figured that since I was going on a long walk it would be better to listen to something with a little more life in it.

I always had a certain image of what Jefferson Airplane; mostly from what the spin-off groups became. When you think of songs like  ‘We Built This City On Rock and Roll’ and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ you would be excused of expecting Surrealistic Pillow to be a bit twee. Also, while I am at it – it’s actually impressive that this group were still finding relevance and getting hits and award nominations some 20 years later.

Surrealistic Pillow is not twee. It’s inconsistent, yes, but not twee. In places it is some of the best music that I have heard coming out of the 1960s – well in two actually. There is a reason that ‘Somebody to Love’ and ‘White Rabbit’ are the tracks that are best remembered – they are exceptional.

I think most people my age will know ‘Somebody to Love’ from the cover by Boogie Pimps with that weird video of parachuting babies. For me, the thing that immediately came to mind was one of my favourite movies: A Serious Man. Needless to say, this song and the vocals from Grace Slick are both exemplary.

I’ve talked about ‘White Rabbit’ before – but I think it’s worth mentioning this song’s appearance in Futurama where it is sung by Richard Nixon’s head. Still cannot believe this song got away with all the drug references just because it hid them under the thin veil of Alice in Wonderland. Bravo Grace Slick, bravo.

The rest of the album is fine, but you come for the two Grace Slick solo songs. I think the inconsistency problem lies in that the writing credits are very spread out among the group. It makes it feel like the album, and therefore the group, doesn’t have a clear and consistent voice.

Acclaimed Albums – Songs of Leonard Cohen by Leonard Cohen

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 132/250Title: Songs of Leonard Cohen
Artist: Leonard Cohen
Year: 1967
Position: #149

With Songs of Leonard Cohen I have broken my recent streak of only doing albums where the artist still has multiple entries on the list. It’s getting to the point where my playing through the 1001 songs list has started to catch up to the point that I am hearing songs before I have heard the whole album.

As it turns out I have a bit of catching up to do; especially since I have now reached 1968 on the songs list. At some point I will get to Jefferson Airplane, Cream and another album by The Who.

Honestly, I only chose this album because Leonard Cohen was amongst the many lives claimed by the spectre of 2016 and I’ve already done albums by David Bowie and Prince. Now that I have listened to Songs of Leonard Cohen I don’t think I quite get why it appears in the list.

As far as I am concerned there are two really good songs on this album and the others just feel a bit… generic. Yes, I know that what would feel generic now after years of development in folk music would have been huge back then. I also feel that a lot of the songs here are just another person doing Dylan and (with the exception of ‘Suzanne’ and ‘So Lone, Marianne’) not as well.

Maybe I am underestimating him here because he, primarily, is known for the lyrics of his songs and I didn’t really give them the opportunity to be fully digested. Then again, if it isn’t enough to entice the wanting of a further listen then I have no real reason to go back.