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. George Harrison – Dear One (Thirty Three & 1/3, 1976) [singlepic id=85 w=80 h=50 float=left]
Starting with Richard Tee this week, whose organ playing opens this song. The acoustic guitar and soft voice that follow are these of George Harrison, on the second track of his sixth studio-album, definitely one of his best (with the title referring to the vinyl as well as his age at the time of recording). Harrison also plays the percussion and synthesizers on this song, while Premavatar Paramahansa Yogananda’s spirit sings to us.
2. The White Stripes – Conquest (Icky Thump, 2007) [singlepic id=284 w=80 h=50 float=left]
Sixth and final (+ Grammy winning) album from one of the greatest rock acts from the 21st century. It was also the final (and third) single to be released from Icky Thump and its only cover song. ‘Conquest’ was originally written by Corky Robbins, but Jack White got fascinated by the song through Patti Page’s cover from the fifties. He rearranged it into a highly orchestrated track (featuring Regulo Aldama on trumpet) with those characterizing Stripes guitars during the chorus.
3 Killing Joke – Wardance (Killing Joke, 1980) [singlepic id=126 w=80 h=50 float=left]
Another great guitar song, a post-punk gem from Killing Joke’s debut album. It was the first single from the album, featuring this great artwork. Album that requires the right timing to reveal itself, but that will spend weeks on your playlist afterwards.
4. Neil Young – See the Sky About to Rain (On the Beach, 1974) [singlepic id=283 w=80 h=50 float=left]
Second time that an organ (correction: a Wurlitzer electric piano) intro is followed by a divine and one of rock music’s most recognizable voices. Although recorded after Tonight’s the Night, On the Beach became the follow-up album to Harvest. It’s definitely a personal favorite (lyrically as well as musically), but apparently it didn’t meet its high expectations when it was released. This is the second song on the album, featuring Levon Helm on drums and covered (just like ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’) already before Young’s release by The Byrds on their reunion album Byrds (1973).
5. Vampire Weekend – A-Punk (Vampire Weekend, 2008) [singlepic id=160 w=80 h=50 float=left]
Up-tempo song and second single from the band’s debut album, which was a pleasant surprise in those years.
6. Pearl Jam – Alive (Ten, 1991) [singlepic id=127 w=80 h=50 float=left]
A certain pattern in this week’s shuffle becomes clear, as all songs derive from the first three tracks on each respective album. The music for this song was written by guitarist Stone Gossard, after which Eddie Vedder added some quasi autobiographical lyrics to it about his death biological father. As a result, Vedder was invited to join this new band called Pearl Jam and this song became the legendary lead single of their debut album.
7. Queen – Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Live at Wembley’86, 1992) [singlepic id=279 w=80 h=50 float=left]
The live track of the week is delivered by Queen, just like last week, from the legendary concert at Wembley. Including great instrumental jam.
8. Brian Eno – Sky Saw (Another Green World, 1975) [singlepic id=230 w=80 h=50 float=left]
From Wembley’s applause into the opening tones of Eno’s third album. Although containing some great ‘popsongs’ that remind of Brian Wilson, the album mainly consists of instrumental, ambient, tracks like this one. Notice Phil Collins on drums and John Cale on viola.
9. Golden Earring – Eight Miles High (Live, 1977) [singlepic id=281 w=80 h=50 float=left]
More seventies and more live music, with a ten minutes lasting cover of The Byrds’ ‘Eight Miles High’ (1966). An undisputed highlight on this terrific live album, with droning drums and some quality guitar licks, recorded in London’s Rainbow Theatre.
10. Interpol – Slow Hands (Antics, 2004) [singlepic id=282 w=80 h=50 float=left]
Album I acquired thanks to the band’s great debut album. A very decent follow-up, although not able to compete with Turn on the Bright Lights. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from here.
[singlepic id=274 w=320 h=240 float=left]
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.
[singlepic id=256 w=320 h=240 float=left]
Genre: Hard Rock, Glam Rock
Preceded by: Berlin (1973)
Followed by: Sally Can’t Dance (1974)
Related to: The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground
Not many albums out there that ravished me immediately from the start, but The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) from the same band and singer was one of them. The droning guitars and the strange, fascinating lyrics made this album incomparable to any other album I knew at that moment. It didn’t take long before I started to explore all other works of the band, and I loved it without an exception. However, it somehow took me way more time to appreciate the solo work from one of its main members: Lou Reed.
Reed comes from Brooklyn, New York, where he met his Velvet partner John Cale (bass guitar and other instruments) in 1964. Cale liked Reed’s guitar playing, as he heard him playing ‘Heroin’, one of the songs that would appear on the debut album (mentioned above) of the band those guys would soon form together with Sterling Morrison (guitar) and Maureen Tucker (drums). As a band they quickly drew the attention of pop art guru Andy Warhol, who added his protégé Nico (a German fashion model and singer) to the line-up. The resistance of Reed against this change resulted in the title of the debut album.
The Velvet Underground would continue to make albums with that revolutionary sound on it, as would Reed do as a solo artist. But in fact there’s no better way to run over these most successful years of this man than by listening to his magnificent live album from 1974: Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal. The original version of this album contains five songs stemming from different periods of his career, all performed in a blazin’ glam/hard rock set at Howard Stein’s Academy of Music (New York). Just like artists as David Bowie and Roxy Music, Reed was in the middle of his androgynous period back then, wearing leather clothes and nailed leashes and having his face greasepainted. But above all: Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal would become his best-selling album.
The album kicks off with a delicious, elaborate guitar intro. After only one minute you will already catch yourself playing the air guitar as if you were Reed himself. After a while you will recognize the tones of ‘Sweet Jane’, one of the Velvet’s greatest hits, from the album Loaded (1970). Reed was the only songwriter on this album (Cale had already left the band) and would leave the band before the album was even released. The goal of this album was already to get some airplay on the radio, but it turned out to be even completely edited without the consent of Reed. Maybe this is the reason that Reed chose two songs from the album and played them in adjusted style, with ‘Sweet Jane’ being a real hard rocker here.
After this 8 minute opener Reed continues with a pumping glam rock version of ‘Heroin’, adding 6 minutes to the original 7 minutes track on The Velvet’s debut. As the title more or less predicts, this song is about the use and misuse of heroin. As Reed did on more songs on this album that handle with themes like drugs and sadomasochism, he gives an objective description without taking a moral position on the subject. The song is also live still characterized by its phenomenal (gradual) increase in tempo till it reaches a tearing crescendo.
On side B we proceed to the second Velvet album White Light/White Heat with the eponymous track. Nico is meanwhile exiled from the band and they continue to make ‘songs’ about controversial themes like travesty and trans sexuality. The band also keeps searching for ways to renew their sound, well portrayed for example by the song ‘The Gift’, which contains the recital of a short story told by John Cale on the left speaker channel while an instrumental rock song is played at the same time on the right channel. The song played here by Reed is the fast, aggressive opener of the album, about the sensations provided by the use of methamphetamine.
What follows is the only track from one of Reed’s solo albums: ‘Lady Day’, which is the second track from his third solo record Berlin. Reed had his break-through as a solo artist with his second album Transformer. A great role on this album was foreseen for Mick Ronson, the guitarist of David Bowie, as co-producer (next to Bowie himself) and session musician. It brought Reed lots of international success, but he wasn’t fulfilled with this. That’s why he declined to make another album with Bowie, followed by the release of Berlin as follow-up to Transformer. This album is a kind of concept album about a drug addicted couple from Berlin, characterized by its heavily orchestrated parts and contributions by top musicians like Jack Bruce (Cream) on bass and Steve Winwood (Traffic, Blind Faith) on organ and harmonium). ‘Lady Day’ is told from the prospective of Jim, one of the characters on the album. He tells us about his concern about the fact that he’s losing control over the life of his girlfriend Caroline, who’s going on a razzle in the obscure Berlin bars.
The final track is another extended (10 minutes) version from a former Velvet hit: ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’. The song is also from the album Loaded and is a true ode to rock music. Reeds tells the story of a girl named Jenny whose life was saved by Rock and Roll, in a version full of improvisational guitar licks. During this track you really can’t keep sitting still and you absolutely have to grab your air guitar for the last time before throwing it in the delirious crowd.