Monthly Archives: October 2013

 

 

Year: 1969

Genre: (Folk) Rock

Preceded by: White Light/White Heat (1968)

Followed by: Loaded (1970)

Related to: Lou Reed – Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal

 

 

While speaking about Lou Reed’s great live album before, it was already mentioned how the Velvet Underground overwhelmed me when hearing their debut album for the first time, some 40 years after it was released. Noteworthy of course, but not something completely unique. What was unique, was the fact that this occurred again with the two following albums; I embraced White Light/White Heat as well as The Velvet Underground from the first time I heard them and cherished them as some of the best records ever made. Not something evident in view of the huge contrast between those two albums, but revealing a lot about this band’s versatility.   

On the second of March 1942, Lou Reed was born in New York. Exactly one week later, on the other side of the Atlantic, a Welsh woman named Margaret Davies gave birth to her son John Cale. The first one completed his artistic education at university in June 1964, the latter organized his first concert on the sixth of July that year in London, where he studied at that time. The two met for the first time later that year when Cale moves to New York, as he was supposed to study classical music there. However, Cale was quickly enticed from his study books by the enchanting drones that came out of some guy’s guitar, playing a song called ‘Heroin’.

The two formed some bands together, before deciding to start performing as The Velvet Underground in 1965, together with Sterling Morrison on guitar and Angus MacLise on drums. If not for that book about the sixties’ secret subculture the band was named after, it could have easily been The Primitives, The Warlocks or The Falling Spikes. The final line-up was reached right on their first gig, as MacLise (considering that performance a sellout) was replaced by Maureen Tucker.

However, it only really started to go somewhere after pop art guru Andy Warhol became their manager, giving his new band carte blanche concerning their sound. Although, carte blanche? That was without taking into account the presence of German model Nico, who (on Warhol’s persistence) sang along on their debut album, with the meaningful title: The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967). The ever important second album followed early ’68, and Reed & Cale (Nico was meanwhile exiled) succeeded to astonish another time on White Light/White Heat. The fragile beauty that was an essential part of the debut had disappeared, but noise was given its dignity.

That the third album would once again sound different, was already predicted by the departure of John Cale from the band later that year, being replaced on bass by Doug Yule. However, that the electric powertrips would be almost entirely replaced by a gentle, melodic rock sound still was, to say the least, astounding. Rarely did  a band ever make such an abrupt switch concerning its characterizing sound without losing a single fraction of its quality. Let’s go.

The bands new style as well as its new member is immediately introduced on the first track, ‘Candy Says’. Yule takes the lead vocals in this song, about the trans woman Candy Darling. She played in some of Warhol’s movies and would remain a source of inspiration for Reed on later occasions, as the second verse of ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ on Transformer shows. A soft, slumbering guitar guides Yule, while the percussion is reduced to a minimum. When the needle moves over to the second track, the variation between the two sorts of songs on this album becomes clear. ‘What Goes On’ is a terrific straight forward rock song, on which that classic, pushing, Velvet guitar sound kicks in again. It’s a true gem, as the song contains one of the best instrumental combo’s ever with the rhythm guitars and the organ (Yule) constantly building towards a great peak at the end of the song.

The opener of side 2 (‘Beginning to See the Light’) is a similar song, but sounds like a light version of  the former. This makes it the most poppy song on the album, although ‘What Goes On’ was picked as the album’s only single. As most earwigs that seduce you to listen to a full album, it’s the first song that loses its glow after having accomplished its duty. Another song that jumps out is the penultimate one: ‘The Murder Mystery’, the only track on the album that points back to the avant-garde sound of the previous albums. It’s a very eccentric but intriguing piece thanks to the interchanging between  the vocals (Reed/Morrison during the ‘verses’, Tucker/Yule during the ‘chorus’) and the bewitching instrumentation (notice the organ again). Hidden beauty.

The rest of the album consists of  six soft ballads, often enriched by a folk rock accent. Three of them complete side 1, beginning with ‘Some Kinda Love’. It opens with a duet between guitar and bass while you can already hear Reed impatiently catching a breath in the background. Overall it sounds like a light melodic rock song, if not for the continuously pumping bass and interesting lyrics. However, on such a rich album it’s one of the ‘least’ songs. It’s followed by ‘Pale Blue Eyes’, a song of absolute beauty. Reed really shines here with extremely fragile vocals, only accompanied by another slumbering melodic guitar and a tambourine in the background. The song is said to be dedicated to Reed’s first love, Shelley Albin, but more important the centerpiece of the album shows Reed as a genius songwriter. Side 1 is closed by ‘Jesus’, with the writer of ‘Heroin’ and ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’ now begging Jesus for help. The sophisticated soft sound is still there, but because of its place on the album it’s completely overshadowed by its predecessor.

Another personal favorite is ‘I’m Set Free’, which must be one of the key songs in Reed’s oeuvre. The reason is that it reminds of the Velvet’s debut and  is at the same time a forerunner of Reed’s solo career (most notably Transformer). It builds up slowly (Tucker demonstrates her skills here with  a simple but essential rhythm) towards this typical peak in the middle, featuring a nice guitar solo.  What’s left are two short songs, around two minutes long. First one is ‘That’s the Story of My Life’, with another typical folk tune and even a Beatles sounding guitar solo in the middle. The other one is ‘After Hours’, on which Tucker takes the lead vocals. It was obviously inspiring for Meg White, who would contribute similar songs to some White Stripes albums later on. Here, it fits perfectly as closing song.

The Velvet Underground is an album that profited from the growing role of Lou Reed and his expressive songwriting after the departure of the bands co-founder. It would become the third part of an impressive trilogy, on which the band showed it could handle a lot of different styles. One more album (Loaded) would follow and although it was not bad at all, Reed left the band before it was even released as it was completely edited (to get airplay) without his consent. However, in your search for pureness in rock music, one of those first three albums is your best bet.

Top Tracks:

1. What Goes On
2. Pale Blue Eyes
3. I’m Set Free

This is an ode to the shuffle. How better to get a good insight in your digitized album collection than by a classic shuffle? Finally discover the albums you never got into, finally throw the ones away you will never get into and worship those classics that never grow old again. The Shuffle of this week:

1. Muse – Blackout (Absolution, 2003) 

Highly orchestrated and classical influenced song from Muse’ third album. No clue what happened to this band after 2006, when I lost them after a disappointing fourth album.

2. David Bowie – Sweet Thing (reprise) (Diamond Dogs, 1974) 

Another album that mixes different styles of music, this eight one from David Bowie. Although it’s already the third album after Ziggy Stardust (1972), preceded by a cover album and Stardust’s transformation to Aladdin Sane (1973), the remains of Ziggy’s sound are still audible here. What definitely characterized the album is the somehow distorted guitar sound (with Bowie himself replacing Mick Ronson on guitar) and (in this song) the start of using cut-up lyrics, something  Thom Yorke would repeat later on Radiohead’s Kid A.

3. Pink Floyd – Jugband Blues (A Saucerful of Secets, 1968) 

One of my favorite Pink Floyd albums, beautifully demonstrating the evolution the band had made between its good debut album and the outstanding Atom Heart Mother (1970). This evolution was marked by the fact that this key album was the only one featuring all five band members, as Gilmour was replacing Barett during the recordings. This closing song was written and sung by Barett  and (therefore not surprisingly) comes very close to the debut album’s sound.

4. The Velvet Underground – After Hours  (The Velvet Underground, 1969) 

Not Meg White on one of White Stripes’ albums, but another personal favorite album from the late sixties. This closing track was, just like all other songs on the album, written by Lou Reed while Maureen Tucker takes the lead vocals. A very surprising album considering its two predecessors and worth a complete review over here.

5. Beck – Ramshackle (Odelay, 1996) 

Another closing song, from an album you’re almost obliged to appreciate, although it didn’t really convince me yet. This song however is a true highlight, just like the  few other songs that originated from the acoustic sessions that were originally meant to constitute the album. Lay down and enjoy.

6. The Smiths – A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours (Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987) 

Time for an opening song then, from Marr and Morrisey’s last collaboration. Traditionally the album cover is featuring a classic movie star,  this time being Richard Davalos. One of The Smiths’ best songs.

7. The Yardbirds – Hot House of Omagarashid (Roger The Engineer, 1966) 

Very strange track (initially I thought that it was Black Monk Time again) from an album that was camouflaged by a serious layer of dust for a long time. The album stems for the period after Jeff Beck replaced Clapton on guitar and incited the band to start experimenting with different styles, resulting in some Gregorian chants on this song.

8. Brian Eno – St. Elmo’s Fire (Another Green World, 1975) 

Is this XTC with one of their better eighties records? No, it turns out to be technical pioneer Brian Eno (announcing something called ‘hypertext’ as one of the future’s defining phenomena before anyone had ever heard about the internet) with a wonderful song from his 1975 classic.

9. Electric Light Orchestra – Wild West Hero (Out of the Blue, 1977) 

And another closing song, from the most colorful album of 1977. The vocals are outstanding on this one, and the orchestration is just a little less predictable than elsewhere on the album.

10. Janis Joplin – Half Moon (Pearl, 1971) 

The Acid Queens’ most polished and therefore most successful album, with the Full Tilt Boogie Band. Recently saw her performance at Monterey again; such an unbelievable voice. Till next time.

This is an ode to the shuffle. How better to get a good insight in your digitized album collection than by a classic shuffle? Finally discover the albums you never got into, finally throw the ones away you will never get into and worship those classics that never grow old again. The Shuffle of this week:

1. Devendra Banhart – Electric Hart (Niño Rojo, 2004) 

Born in Texas, Devendra Banhart was raised in Venezuela after moving back to the US (Los Angeles) at the age of 14. Nine years later this fourth album was released, full of short, strange but most of the times colorful folk songs. This one (being one of my favorites) is the last and by far the longest track on the album.

2. Cat Stevens – Time (Mona Bone Jakon, 1970) 

We ‘re flying back 34 years in time (Time rise, time fall…), but the acoustic guitar, the singer-songwriter and the beards are still there.  Only difference: this one is the shortest track on the album, which probably is one of the best ever made.

3. Gong – Flying Teapot (Flying Teapot, 1973) 

Let’s use the flying teapot to move three years forwards. After leaving the planet during a mystical intro, we start drinking tea up high on this centerpiece of the first part of the Radio Gnome trilogy. Listening these albums gives the band some esteem again, which they completely lost from me after an embarrassing live performance, that proved that some music (or better: band)  is stuck to a particular era.

4. American Music Club – Laughingstock (California, 1988) 

Waited a long time for this one to be picked up by the shuffle, as this album was laying there pretty much untouched for a long time. However, not everything that comes from California can be a winner. Didn’t exactly meet my expectations.

5. Radiohead – The Bends (The Bends, 1995) 

A band that doesn’t need an extra word. Second song from their second album, an album that in fact was already pretty good, but one that would be overshadowed by later works. A nice classic guitar rock song, this one.

6. Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb (The Wall, 1979) 

Absolute classic. Written by Waters (obviously) and Gilmour, but clearly dominated by the latter’s tremendous guitar solo. One of the most heard songs during the end of the year and also covered by Van Morrison a couple of times during more recent live performances.

7. Led Zeppelin – The Rover (Physical Graffiti, 1975) 

The guitars smoothly blend over into the intro of this song, although tuned heavier and chased by the driving drums of mister Bonham. One of Zep’s best songs on a terrific album, ultimate rock band. I missed this album.

8. Country Joe & The Fish – Colors for Susan (I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die, 1967) 

Closing track of Country Joe’s second album with his Fish. As a very sober song and standing on one of those many psychedelic rock albums that were released in the fall of ’67, it sounds like a farewell song to the Summer of Love.

9. The Clash – Brand New Cadillac (London Calling, 1979) 

While the lyrics still remind of the band’s punk background, the music can not even be called post-punk anymore, thanks to its enormous variety. In this way the album can only be classified as ‘historic’, in every sense of this word.

10. Genesis – Firth of fifth (Selling England by the Pound, 1973) 

Closing with the sixth song from the seventies this week, from the album that is one of the favorite records of all time for Robert Pollard as well as Pollards greatest fan. The path is clear.

This is an ode to the shuffle. How better to get a good insight in your digitized album collection than by a classic shuffle? Finally discover the albums you never got into, finally throw the ones away you will never get into and worship those classics that never grow old again. The Shuffle of this week:

1. Pacific Gas & Electric – Mother Why Do You Cry (Are You Ready, 1970) 

Surprising start, not being able to immediately identify this from the start. Band that was founded in LA in 1967 and existed only for a few years. Although they never reached a lot of fame, many people will recognize the opening song from the homonymous album where this track stands on. Because of that, there might be a tendency of calling this a one-hit-wonder, but both this album as there 1969 self-titled debut prove to be good blues rock albums, starring the stunning voice of singer Charlie Allen.

2. Guns ’n Roses – Get in the Ring (Use Your Illusion II, 1991) 

Power talking from Axl Rose on this track from the bands best album imo, which I really appreciated for a long time and was their only one to survive my collection. The times they are a-changin’ and I’m totally not into this anymore. Contains some good guitar riffs however, but why all the baloney towards the end? I presume I considered that cool once.

3. Wilco – Pot Kettle Black (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, 2002) 

As may be known, one of my favorite bands of today. Only thing that remains for me is completing their oeuvre in my collection and considering whether they served enough years to qualify for a classic review already.

4. Sonic Youth – Cotton Crown (Sister, 1987) 

I listened to this album a couple of times following an earlier shuffle, but it didn’t really amaze me. Is the status of this band only due to that one cult album or do I have to dig a little further? Let’s try out 1990’s Goo to find out.

5. Jethro Tull – Cheap Day Return (Aqualung, 1971) 

Charming intermezzo by the velvet voice of Ian Anderson from the previously underrated and later worshipped Aqualung. This album really is like an old quality wine, only getting better by the years.

6. TV on the Radio – Staring at the Sun (Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, 2004) 

Best known song from this Brooklyn band, at least for me, as my knowledge about them is still insufficient at this moment of writing.  However, I’m working on that as this album surprised me in very positive ways after some relistens.

7. Yim Yames – My Sweet Lord (Tribute To, 2009) 

Fantastic cover from the well-known Harrison song on this all cover EP, recommended already during an earlier opportunity. My Morning Jacket‘s singer Jim James interpretation of this song is somewhat slower, while adding some strength to the vocals with his characterizing voice. This definitely is one of the best singers in contemporary rock, having released his first full solo album earlier this year: Regions of Light and Sound of God.

8. Cocteau Twins – Aloysius (Treasure, 1984) 

First thing popping into my mind when hearing this: ‘Why did I ever get this?’. However, giving this album another try made me somehow adjust this original judgment. It’s the third album by this Scottish band and the first featuring their primary lineup, still including Liz Fraser on ethereal (most of the times non-lyrical) vocals. Even if you might not be a fan of such dreamy sounds in general, this album could possibly charm you.

9. Steely Dan – Reelin’ in the Years (Can’t Buy A Thrill, 1972) 

There’s the riff of all riffs again. Great album from the kings of the studio.

 

10. Booker T. & The MG’s – Back Home (Melting Pot, 1971) 

Completing this song cycle in an apposite way, as we already started with one of those other rare bands from the sixties-early seventies that were racially integrated. This is the last album to feature both frontman Booker T. as guitarist Steve Cropper, the latter one really shining on this song.

 

 

Year: 1966

Genre: Rock

Preceded by: Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

Followed by: John Wesley Harding (1967)

Related to: The Band – Music From Big Pink, Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

 

 

1963, Bob Dylan is being proclaimed as the artistic leader of the protest movement that stands up against the establishment. From that moment on, he and his music have showed a tendency of not wanting to be understood any longer. Tired of being launched as the pioneer of a social movement or musical trend every time people thought they had comprehended Dylan and his songs. The faith of an artist who is assigned with visionary powers by his followers.

No matter whether it was his role as protest singer  in the early sixties or his innovative contributions to the so called genre of folk rock a few years later, Dylan always seemed to have the feeling that others wanted to make a stooge of him and started to agitate against this in an almost paranoid way. This side of Dylan  was magnificently illustrated by Cate Blanchett in the film I’m Not There. It was this Dylan that released an enigmatic album in 1966 on which he did everything not to be understood for one time. But even if you don’t try to decipher everything The Singer tries to tell you in mysterious ways, there still remains a lot of beauty on Blonde on Blonde.

Only 54 years after being founded in the state of Minnesota, Hibbing already welcomed its most prominent resident to date: Robert Zimmerman. As the descendant of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine and Lithuania he entertained his local high school by playing rock ‘n roll covers before moving to the states’ capital (Minneapolis) to subscribe to  university. Folk music entered his life, and it must have generated more attention than his classes at that point, as he quit university toward the end of his first year (May 1960) to move to New York. There, in the neighborhood of Greenwich Village, he performs in some local clubs before being picked up by a record label. A self-eponymous debut album (1962) follows, containing mainly folk traditionals and not having a lot of success.

Dylan crosses the Atlantic for the first time to visit London before his second album follows in 1963: The Freewheelin’. Writing his own compositions now and many of his songs being  interpreted as protest songs, it brings him his first success in times of the Cuban missile crisis and the civil rights movement. Especially his performance (with Joan Baez) during the Great March on Washington (with Martin Luther King speaking his famous words) delivered him his status as the guy with the scruffy jeans who kicked against the establishment. This already changes after the murder of John F. Kennedy and his 1964 release The Times They Are a-Changin’ and definitely on his fourth album later that year, with the meaningful title Another Side of Bob Dylan. Dylan’s star rises fast subsequently, when he transforms from a protest songwriter to the absolute folk rock star.

This of course starts with the release of Bringing It All Back Home (1965), on which Dylan goes electric on side 1, and was immediately fortified with his performance that summer at the Newport Folk Festival, backed by the electric sound of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band members. Only one month later Dylan presents the world his next album, the legendary Highway 61 Revisited (1965) , featuring the same ‘electric crew’. Problem for Dylan was that some of those guys preferred to stay with the Blues Band instead of  touring to promote this new album. So Dylan searched for other musicians and ended up with guys from Ronnie Hawkins’ backing band The Hawks. Those guys would later form some kind of genius group called The Band, after some of them contributed to Dylans’ brilliant seventh: Blonde on Blonde, one of the first double albums in rock history.

Recordings for the album started in New York, where Hawks drummer Levon Helm already dropped out as he was tired of playing in a backing group. With Helm replaced by Bobby Gregg (responsible for the opening snare drum on ‘Like A Rolling Stone’) and with amongst others Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko in support, the recordings proceeded but none of the recorded material could count on Dylans’ satisfaction. It was only after moving to a studio in Nashville and adding some local session musicians that the album started to grow towards its ultimate versatility.

When you start playing the album, you may wonder how the faces of music critics must have looked like while listening to the first song, ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’. The former ‘protest songwriter’ states he wouldn’t feel so all alone if everybody would get stoned, supported by a brass band going berserk. The song was avoided by a number of radio stations and you can hear Dylan having a laugh about it on the song itself. The other enigmatic track on side 1 is ‘Visions of Johanna’, which is generally highly praised by those same critics. This song doesn’t really stand out in my opinion, but of course I didn’t spend hours of research to decipher its lyrics. The third song that perfectly fits into this category is the closing song of the album: ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’. This track entirely fills up side 4 and seems to be about his wife Sara, which was confirmed by Dylan on the Desire song ‘Sara’ 10 years later. What Dylan could not have presumed, is that the track ultimately convinced Roger Waters that it’s possible to fill entire LP sides with only one song.

Did folk (rock) disappear on Dylans’ seventh? Not completely, as at least 1,5 of such songs can be found. ‘4th Time Around’ definitely is one. Although the lyrics are again slightly drenched in absurdity, the classic finger-picking guitar sounds familiar. Decide for yourself whether this familiarity stems from Dylans’ earlier works or from The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’. The other track is ‘One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)’, which was the first song being recorded for the album. It’s a very good one, with recognizable lyrics and a prominent role for the keyboards-guitar combo, leading the great crescendos every time the chorus is about to set in.

The album however never lets itself categorize in some kind of subgenre. This is immediately clear on track two (‘Pledging My Time’), with the pure blues kicking in. The harmonica almost sounds as plaintive as Dylans’ voice here and Robertson does a great job here by adding his bluesy guitar sound. ‘Temporary Like Achilles’ is another great blues song, with typical lyrics about some guy being left behind by his lover. However, it’s the piano here (played by Hargus Robbins) that claims his role as guide of Dylan’s excellent wailing throughout the song. Also on side 3 is ‘Obviously 5 Believers’, an awesome song on which Robertson really shines. It sticks out compared to the two aforementioned songs because of its uptempo style but it finds its match in two other uptempo songs on the album: ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’ and ‘Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)’.

The first one serves another portion of prosaic lyrics with several sexual references, driven by a repeating keyboard riff. However, this song lasts a little too long in my opinion. The second one certainly does not suffer from this handicap. It was used a lot of times by Dylan as the opening song on live gigs, for example on Before The Flood together with The Band. Problem here: once you’ve heard one of those live versions with a screaming Dylan, the studio version doesn’t suffice anymore.

The remaining four songs are all to be found on the second side of the album, together forming the core of Blonde on Blonde. We might even go one step further and call this one of the best vinyl sides ever made, close to The Beatles’ Abbey Road Side 2. It opens with ‘I Want You’, by far the most poppy song out there. This is due to the fact that the music as well as the lyrics both outshine in simplicity, in deep contrast with the rest of the album. Although Dylan summons an elaborate list of characters during the song, similar to a light version of The Band’s ‘The Weight’, he addresses himself to the simple ‘you-person’ during the chorus, contributing to the songs accessibility. What follows is ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again’, the absolute highlight of the album. This track was rearranged numerous times (musically as well as lyrically) by Dylan during the recordings, till obtaining this optimal result. The chorus becomes a real earwig after hearing it a few times and the flawless guitar playing makes you forget about the tracks’ seven minutes length. Amazing.

The party continues on the next track (‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’), without any doubt the best guitar song on the album. Although Dylan plays the intro, it’s Robertson taking over after that. On top of that the lyrics are kind of hilarious and will pop into your head again whenever you notice another fashion victim on the streets. Side two concludes with one of Dylans’ best known songs: ‘Just Like a Woman’. This track is also closely investigated by a number of music professors and according to their research this song is about Edie Sedgwick. Or Joan Baez. Or maybe another woman. In this way it’s kind of representative for the entire album: unsolvable and inexhaustibly intriguing.

A concert tour to promote the album followed after its release, where Dylan was backed by The Hawks. Deeply exhausted by this tour, Dylan finally found some rest after his motorcycle accident by withdrawing to the basement of Big Pink with The Hawks. This accident was also surrounded by rumours and theories, as it would have been made up to escape from the music scene for a while. Like with so many other things, probably nobody except Dylan can ever confirm this. Let’s keep it that way.

Top Tracks:

1. Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
2. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
3. One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)

Jukebox

StandUp1969 thesmiths1984 abraxas1970 veedonfleece1974