Tag Archives: david bowie

Acclaimed Albums – Blackstar by David Bowie

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 149/250Title: Blackstar
Artist: David Bowie
Year: 2016
Position: #179

So, I already did a write-up for Blackstar as part of my best of 2016 list where it placed at #17. Now that I am over a year removed and have listened to this album again I’d say that I got it about right for me – although some albums (like Margo Price’s debut) will have shuffled around it.

This still remains a powerful album because of the proximity to his death, especially the opening track which feels like the soundtrack to some sort of religious cult. For me the album does peter a bit out towards the end with closer ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ giving a bit of lift towards the end.

As with a lot of albums that I listen to on for this list, Blackstar is not an album that was able to find it’s way into any sort of regular rotation (which mostly consists of K-Pop at the moment for some reason), but is played a few times a year. Every time I listen to it there appears to be something that I have missed or a new layer that gains a bit more clarity.

Maybe in a few years time I will be in a position to re-appraise this. Maybe this will happen after I have listened to more of the David Bowie back catalogue. Until then, a few times a year works for me.

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1001 Songs – 1971: Part One

Time to start on a new year. Hopefully I’ll be able to complete this one in less than six months. I don’t know why, but these 1001 songs posts are getting harder and harder to find time for to set up.

Life on Mars? – David Bowie

I don’t know how the order of songs within a year are decided, because it is not chronological, but it makes sense to start off 1971 with one of the regular contenders for best song of the 1970s.

For an artist as ever-changing as David Bowie it makes sense for one of his signature songs to sound like nothing else that came out at the same time. Part Rachmaninoff, part cabaret and all crescendo, ‘Life on Mars?’ goes well beyond in a parody of the Frank Sinatra version of ‘My Way’.

It’s a song that is able to stir up emotions that aren’t quite easy to pin down. You just feel… moved.

Get It On – T.Rex

Well that’s it, I guess that between the first two songs from 1971 we have the signal that glam rock has arrived. We had rumblings of this with The Velvet Underground in previous years, it’s just that the message has reached the UK.

Where ‘Life on Mars?’ feels very much a European-influenced creation, ‘Get It On’ takes on the Hammond organ and some funk elements from across the pond to create a glam rock sound that is almost American.

Blackwater Side – Anne Briggs

A bit of a folk break now (with one of my favourite 1970s folk songs coming up soon) as we stay in the UK for something rather traditional. Compared to the previous two songs ‘Blackwater Side’ is incredibly stripped back with just Anne Briggs and her guitar and does make you wonder if a song really does need all the window dressing we give it.

If you look at Anne Briggs’ discography it would be fair to assue that she’d died or went through some sort of accident. Quite the contrary, she is still very much alive and just decided to stop singing because of nerves. It’s a pity.

I Don’t Want to Talk About It – Crazy Horse

Something a bit more country here, but in a depressing dirge-like way. This song is like that annoying friend who clearly wants to talk to you about their ex-boyfriend, but won’t unless you’ve asked them 3 or 4 times. By the end of it you feel like you’ve watched someone flagellate themselves repeatedly and is ready to go off for a good wallow.

A Case of You – Joni Mitchell

Where Anne Briggs was singing a traditional song that told a story of someone that died a long time ago, here we have Joni Mitchell singing something a lot more personal.

Compared to ‘Blackwater Side’, ‘A Case Of You’ has so many layers of emotional nuance because of Joni Mitchell’s proximity to her own feelings. It’s a song about being so drunk in love with someone, but written after that particular relationship has ended (much like the rest of Blue). The song itself is in the past, but the delivery is in the present and so there is a mix of sadness and joyousness in her voice. It’s like what Butters once said in South Park about break-ups, it’s a beautiful sadness.

Crayon Angels – Judee Sill

This is the first year where we’re starting to see a swell in the number of female singer-songwriters, although they are almost exclusively in the folk genre. I guess that would make sense as folk was part of the counter-culture and a female singer-songwriter is somewhat against the norm.

‘Crayon Angels’ is the first track on Judee Sill’s eponymous album, the first of two that she released before she died from a drug overdose. Short career and yet her legacy persists with Laura Viers, one of my favourite singer-songwriters, writing ‘Song for Judee’ for the excellent case/lang/veirs album.

Famous Blue Raincoat – Leonard Cohen

The final from the folk world in this batch of songs. It’s a song about a man distancing himself from a love-triangle, but for me the most interesting thing about this song was a reference to Scientology. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

I don’t have much to say on this song, it didn’t work for me.

Chalte Chalte – Lata Mangeshkar

And now for something completely different. I love it when songs like this appear on the list as it’s this whole horizon broadening that I’m hoping will happen as a result of finishing this list. I also quite liked the song, with her voice being a real treat.

Lata Mangeshkar is listed as one of the most recorded singers of all time, with her sister currently holding the record. Lata did hold the record before it was called into a dispute… as no one really knows how many songs she’s actually sung.

From such a large back catalogue the book chose ‘Chalte Chalte’ because it’s one of the singer’s favourites of the songs she sang. It’s also one of her more known ones because of the film it forms part of the soundtrack for is critically acclaimed in her native India and amongst some Western critics.

Maggie May – Rod Stewart

From the smooth the lovely voice of Lata Mangeshkar to the rasp of Rod Stewart. ‘Maggie May’ is one of those songs that I have always heard of, but had never actually heard. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ve really heard a Rod Stewart song before the 1001 songs list, but that’s another matter.

I went into this song expecting something completely different (maybe because of the many young models Rod Stewart has found himself married to). Instead I found a rather interesting song about first love between a boy and an older woman – which is a bit of a reversal of his later relationships.

Whilst this is a rockier song the use of the mandolin at the end does tie this song to the abundance of folk that has been seen in this batch of songs. And hey, a song that ends with a mandolin is good by me.

Progress: 328/1021

1001 Songs – 1970: Part Two

It’s been a while, nearly two months, since I was last in 1970. Hopefully it won’t take as long next time…

Black Night – Deep Purple

It’s weird to go back in musical time when the last two albums I listened to for the blog were influential for punk (Suicide and Horses). We’re still in 1970 where hard rock was beginning it’s transformation into metal, with the guitar solos being a key ingredient falling into place.

Listening to this I got a strange mix of an Easy Rider style road-trip and ‘Play That Funky Music’. I probably should be hearing more Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, but you can’t help where the brain goes.

War – Edwin Starr

I should have got what the song was from the title and the year. The chanting chorus is such a simple protest against war, but it is hard to deny the effectiveness of it. As a song ‘War’ has become such a part of the culture that it is easy to forget its roots as an anti-Vietnam funk piece.

Probably didn’t help that a lot of people my age may know this song best as being part of the Rush Hour soundtrack. Whilst that helped to keep the song alive it has cheapened it somewhat.

Interesting to think how this was a song originally meant for the Temptations (see two songs down the page) but it was seen as career suicide. At least Edwin Starr was able to get his hands on a classic.

To Be Young, Gifted, and Black – Bob and Marcia

From the off, the Nina Simone version of this song is so much better. ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’ is a great song from the Civil Rights movement and both Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin have given powerful renditions of this as strong black women. Then you have this… the song which typifies what happens to something fed through trends to be chart-friendly.

I mean, this version is like turning ‘Strange Fruit’ into an upbeat pop song by Rihanna as remixed by David Guetta. Just no.

Ball of Confusion – The Temptations

So the Temptations had to pass on ‘War’ and this is their equivalent, a great bit of psychedelic soul. We’ve been skirting around this sub-genre for a while and I think we have a first good example of this. I know that funk is meant to come from psychedelic soul… but it feels like the choice of songs from this book managed to leap frog over that transition.

The distortion effects, the disjointed song structure and the rapid switching between the different voices of the band members all helps to compound this idea of the titular ball of confusion. As a song this is as relevant now as it was back when it was first released, which is a bit hisheartening when you think about it too much.

Avec le temps – Léo Ferré

Within 30 seconds I can feel tears in my eyes. A minute goes by and the goosebumps start. I don’t speak French, but I understand exactly what he’s singing about because it’s there in his intonation, his timbre and in the circular piano playing the scales. I am having a visceral reaction.

‘Avec le temps’ (With time, in English) is a song about loss. About the death of love that can happen with the passing of time. The piano plays an excellent part in the illusion of time passing around you (the playing of scales, which feels like a spiral staircase) whilst you remain in place (because you only play the same set of notes in sequence).

That was an interesting reaction… then again I just have one of those brains I guess.

The Man Who Sold the World – David Bowie

Here we are in 1970 and we have our first of a fair number of David Bowie songs. I guess that it was this album that was where what we understand to be Bowie actually started, so it makes sense for this song to be included as some sort of timestamp.

It feels slightly off-kilter when compared to the other psychedelic song of the time, with Bowie’s echoey vocals being used to great effect towards the end. There are some interesting parts here, but I think we’ll here something more groundbreaking from him later on.

Awaiting on You All – George Harrison

I knew this was Phil Spector the moment it started playing. That ‘Wall of Sound’ is such an obvious fingerprint that, when listening to this, I can’t help but think back on ‘River Deep – Mountain High’ or the Phil Spector Christmas album.

So you take the ‘Wall of Sound’ mix it with a pinch of Love’s psychedelia (see: ‘Alone Again Or’) and this is the song you get.

I’m a sucker for a big production number, so ‘Awaiting on You All’ got an immediate thumbs up from me. Just wish it was a bit longer.

Northern Sky – Nick Drake

Oh Nick Drake. I wish I knew that you were going to be okay.

‘Northern Sky’ feels like a different direction from Five Leaves Left, mainly because this feels a bit more upbeat. The spacious world created on the previous album is still there, but gone are the strings and the bongos and instead there’s a celeste and a light piano.

Listening to ‘Northern Sky’ makes me want to expand my albums list out from 250 because then I will have the agency to listen to it’s parent album Bryter Layter. I just need to listen to those albums faster!

Maybe I’m Amazed – Paul McCartney

Growing up in the time that I did, the formative memories that I have of Paul McCartney was the business surrounding his marriage to Heather Mills. With that and the deification of John Lennon in pop culture, I began to form a negative view of McCartney based on nothing but hearsay.

I think with ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ I need to make a re-evaluation. This not a song that you could have had from the Beatles. As classic as many of their songs are, there is always a distance between the listener and the Beatles themselves. Their stories are about other people, not them.

With ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ it feels like the first time that I have been allowed to see something personal from McCartney – and it’s great. The love that he had for Linda is so obvious in this song that you cannot but help feel uplifted.

Progress: 310/1021

In Review: Music Of 2016 (20-11)

For me, I don’t think there is any year that will be able to top 2015 when it comes to music. It was a year where the stars aligned and favourites like Bjork, Sufjan Stevens, Grimes, Joanna Newsom and Annie all released new music.

Looking back on my ordering (and considering how much I listened to 2015 music this year) Miguel’s and Holly Herndon’s albums probably should have been higher. Still, that’s just how the cookie crumbles when you make an end of year list – albums continue to find a new life.

This isn’t all to say that 2016 has been a musical car-wreck. The number or good/very good albums is very high. In fact I would say it was higher than last year,  it’s just that I had to go on a voyage of musical discovery. Some albums that I really liked weren’t able to crack the top 20.

So, like last year let’s see some albums that didn’t make my Top 20.

2016albums

Nothing too glaring in this group apart from Frank Ocean’s Blond. Still, I cannot believe how many albums I actually listened to this year. So without further ado let’s get started with the countdown.

#20 – Retribution by Tanya Tagaqmi0004122693-3fc3d8e0-676a-4126-bc52-85085439b7ad

This is arguably the most left field album I have enjoyed for a long time. Native Canadian throat-singing isn’t what I would expect to have in my rotation, but Tanya Tagaq’s music seems to transcend a lot of barriers.

The throat-singing is just how she decides to deliver her vocals. It’s no different to how some artists choose to rap, skat or beatbox. Once you can get over that, the throat-singing is evocative, beautiful and undeniably powerful.

Where most sing of love of people this album is about love of nature and her own Native Canadian peoples. A love that is angry at how the rest of the world acts towards both her race and her world.

Top Tracks: Aorta, Centre, Rape Me

#19 – Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave & The Bad Seedspackshot1-768x768

The award for the most difficult listen of 2016 is not even a contest. How, as a parent, can you reconcile the death of your child. If you are Nick Cave, whose music regularly looks on the darker side of life, you pour your pain into an album.

This is one of albums that is just so filled with pain and loss that I found it emotionally difficult to listen to. Those lack of plays are probably what is keeping it towards the bottom of this list. I have just not had the exposure let it rise any higher or find that many words to talk about it. Still, it’s one of those albums that just stays with you.

Top Tracks: Rings of Saturn, Distant Sky, Girl In Amber

 #18 – A Seat at the Table by Solangesolange

I only found out this year that it is a known thing for white people to touch a black person’s hair without their permission. I know this has little to do with the album, but as if I needed more reasons to be disappointed in my race. Just want to put that out there. Seriously, what the hell white people!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I can’t imagine it’s easy being a singer who is also Beyoncé’s sister. Solange has always been there plugging away in the background and has released some really good music. Yet, she was always in the shadow of her more famous sister.

I think with ‘a Seat the table’ she has finally been able to emerge and be respected as an artist in her own right. Where Beyoncé tackled personal empowerment demons, Solange is looking outwards to her community.

The only thing that let this album down were the spoken interludes. Never been a fan of those (although I have yet to find one to outdo some of Christina Aguilera’s from Bionic) and I think they disrupt the flow. I just want to get to ‘Cranes In The Sky’ as quickly as possible’.

Top Tracks: Cranes In The Sky, Don’t Touch My Hair, Mad

#17 – Blackstar by David Bowiedavid-bowie-blackstar

I guess I am bucking the trend by not having this in the upper echelons of my list. Then again this is my list of my favourite albums of the year and not necessarily what are the best. Also you cannot underestimate the power of this being the final album of a musical legend released just before he died.

This is, by no means, an accessible mainstream album. It wouldn’t be fitting as his final release if it was. I can imagine the opening 10 minute track putting a lot of people off to be perfectly honest as it moves between the many parts.

Listening to this knowing what we know now, it’s gives you pause at times knowing how aware he was of his own mortality when making this. Yet, he was able to translate all of that into an album that likely appear on best of lists for years to come.

Top Tracks: Blackstar, Lazarus, Girl Loves Me

#16 – The Bride by Bat For Lashesthe-bride

The Bride is very much an album of two halves, where if the second side was as strong as the first this would be far higher up the list.

To be fair, this album would have made #20 on the power of ‘In God’s House’ alone. It is one of the best songs I have heard all year and epitomises why I will always listen to new Bat For Lashes albums. It just happens that the rest of the album’s first half are also of absurdly high quality.

The thing is, the second half of the album actually needs to wind down. This, after all, is a concept album about a woman whose fiancé dies on her wedding day before they are to be married. The second half of the album is about her grief and her eventual realisation that she is going to be okay. It wouldn’t fit to have the big production numbers on that side as it wouldn’t fit her character of the bride.

Top Tracks: In God’s House, Joe’s Dream, Sunday Love

#15 Hopelessness by ANOHNIanohni

Listening to this at the end of 2016 actually makes it feel oddly prescient for how the rest of the year turned out. Austria’s election results have actually given us a positive end of the year. Still, it’s hard not to feel a sense of hopelessness and that exactly what Anohni is taking on.

She is a unique voice in music right now, not only is she one of the few well known transgender singers, but her songs sing of fear of what we are becoming as a species.

Just listen to the disappointment in ‘Obama’, the anger in ‘4 Degrees’ and shade throwing in ‘Marrow’. Do I need to mention the perspective of ‘Drone Bomb Me’? A song about the sole survivor of a family destroyed in a drone strike who just wants to die. Anohni never provides an easy listen, but she always feels essential.

Top Tracks: 4 Degrees, Drone Bomb Me, I Don’t Love You Anymore

#14 – Puberty 2 by MitskiErika_12JKT EPS_r3

I found myself really missing new music from St Vincent this year. Her last two albums provided oddly beautiful bookends to my teaching career and rank amongst my favourite albums of all time.

This year I have been able to stave off the cravings thanks to Mitski, the methadone to the heroin that is Annie Clark. That is not to say that Mitski is not St Vincent clone. She treads similar lines and even has a remarkably similar voice, but is decidedly heavier with more punky outbursts. You also don’t have the same amazing acts of guitar.

Mitski also bears the distinction of being the first album I loved this year from a singer I had never listened to before. Something that is really becoming a running theme of 2016

Top Tracks: You Best American Girl, Crack Baby, Happy

#13 -The Weight of These Wings by Miranda Lambertlambert_wings

How many people remember that Miranda Lambert was a runner-up on a country music reality TV show? She has a claim to the throne of the queen of country music and managed to get there completely on merit.

With the exception of her first album, Miranda Lambert put has never delivered anything worth less than 4/5 and she continues her winning streak with The Weight of These Wings – a double album dealing with the dissolution of her marriage to Blake Shelton.

Unlike Shelton (whose album feels tacky in comparison), Lambert took her sweet time to create this album to put forward the side of the story she chose not to share with the press. A story of a cheated spouse who comes through it with power, dignity and grace.

She didn’t need to pull a Carrie Underwood and wreck Shelton’s car; she just had to release this album, drop the mic and walk away with her middle finger in the air.

Top Tracks: Pink Sunglasses, Smoking Jacket, For The Birds

#12 – Love You to Death by Tegan & Saralove-you-to-death

It’s rather unusual for Tegan & Sara to stay with one type of music too long. I guess they have been enjoying their time in the electro-pop world and feel they have more they can mine from it and producer Paul Epworth.

Not complaining here. I thought Heartthrob was an excellent (and better) album and the extra fans that it brought to their door can only be a good thing. They’re particular brand of pop, where they were able to have a hit pop song about being the secret love of a bisexual partner, means they have been helping with the increased positive visibility of LGBT musicians. Especially that first letter, which still feels woefully under represented in the pop world.

It would be nice for them to one day return to the worlds of The Con and So Jealous, but if this is the path they choose to walk… so be it.

Top Tracks: Boyfriend, White Knuckles, Stop Desire

#11 – Lemonade by Beyoncélemonade

I had never got the appeal of Beyoncé until Lemonade. Sure I liked the odd single, but I never found myself to get through a complete album without feeling a bit bored. Because of these past experiences, the weird fan reactions from Kanye West and because of some internet comments I saw that that said that white people shouldn’t be listening to this (which bristled me no end) I put off listening this album for months.

Eventually I capitulated and I fell in love. Dangerously In Love, I am… Sasha Fierce and Beyoncé were all unable to reach me, but Lemonade did. Maybe it’s because she is becoming this vanguard of black women and this message of empowerment (whilst still allowing vulnerability) plays a more central role in this album.

This album feels like she no longer has anything to prove and no longer needs to gain more fans. It’s the first time I have listened to her and felt she was being totally open and honest. You know what, I don’t care why. Lemonade is just a fantastic album.

Top Tracks: All Night, Freedom, Formation

The countdown will conclude tomorrow with #10-#1, which will also contain a Spotify Playlist of all the top tracks mentioned in these posts. If you have any predictions or thoughts on the countdown please comment below.

Acclaimed Albums – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 109/250Title: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Artist: David Bowie
Year: 1972
Position: #16

I think I need to make a rule – never listen to an album for this list on the same day as Azaelia Banks. This has happened a few times by chance, and her earworms are able to drive out appreciation for other albums. It’s annoying and counter-productive. I also need to make a second rule – listen to these albums whilst I am cleaning as it works better that way.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is the second David Bowie album that I have listened to for the bucket list (the first being Hunky Dory almost two years ago). It is also the first album I have listened to since he died.

I mention my two new rules because on the first listen to this album I thought it was just okay. On the second listen, whilst I was cleaning the kitchen in preparation for a new hob and oven, it grew on me by a sizeable percentage.

The progression between Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust is seismic. There is a move away from the more folk elements (whilst still keeping the Bob Dylan style delivery in certain places) and a fuller embrace of glam rock. Part of me wishes that I had gone through the 1001 Albums book in order and then reached Ziggy Stardust. It would have better helped me piece together the jigsaw of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Love, King Crimson and Jimi Hendrix that combined to produce this album.

I think it is safe to say that most people will know two of the key songs on here: ‘Starman’ and ‘Ziggy Stardust’. It was actually weird to hear ‘Starman’ during The Martian. I know that it wasn’t set up this way, but it felt like a nice tribute. Similar to how we now have a David Bowie constellation. The album is more than those two songs, with the opener ‘Five Years’ and the closer ‘Rock N Roll Suicide’ providing great bookends.

The Cliff Notes of it is: that where I just did not get Never Mind The Bollocks I do understand Ziggy Stardust. I still have two David Bowie albums to go for the top 250, maybe I won’t take two years to get to the next one.

Music Monday: Hunky Dory by David Bowie

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 31/250Title: Hunky Dory
Artist: David Bowie
Year: 1971
Position: #63

Another week, another chance to showcase to the world that, when it comes to some of the more acclaimed musicians in the world, I have a lot to learn… because, like last week with Led Zeppelin, this post marks the first time I am listening to a David Bowie album.

I think that it is impossible to indulge in any popular culture and not to have come across David Bowie. He is a recurring feature of the BBC shows Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, he did guest vocals on the title track of Reflektor by Arcade Fire, he contributed to the soundtrack of Moulin Rouge! and, of course, was a bit near the knuckle as the Goblin King in Labyrinth.

The thing is, on the first of four albums in the Top 250 (that may change next year since the lowest place is precariously perched on the barrier) I have already heard a number of the songs just from use in television and film; I had a similar feeling when I first gave London Calling a spin. I mean, there can not be many people over the age of ten that have not heard either ‘Life on Mars?’ or ‘Changes’.

What I was able to appreciate the most about this album is that Bowie never seems to rest on one type of music for too long. ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’  even changes halfway through from just Bowie and a piano to a something a bit larger. ‘Queen Bitch’, a tribute to Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, delves more into the sort of music I would expect from The Clash and is especially glam compared to the remainder of the album. Then there is ‘Andy Warhol’, my least liked track on the album. As a track on the album it’s not that it feels out of place with the repeating melody of the guitar but it just feels like a dip in quality. This is especially after ‘Kooks’ which, now knowing it was written for his newly-born son,  is especially sweet and poignant.

The fact of the matter is that aside from ‘Kooks’ (which I do really like), the stand-out tracks are the two most known ones; ‘Changes’ and ‘Life on Mars?’. ‘Life on Mars?’ is especially so because my love of the TV show of the same name. It builds to a big finish and I have no clue what the lyrics actually mean; it’s great.

Will I listen to Hunky Dory in my own time? I probably will do if I am feeling in the mood during a work day. It has enough to keep my listening to it alongside my more regular pop music.