1001 Albums 0024-0025

Published October 19, 2012

My continued journey through the albums featured in the book
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

0024 Joan Baez: Joan Baez (1960)

A couple of years ago I watched a documentary about American folk singer Joan Baez on TV. She struck me as a person with her heart in the right place, and her important position in popular music history can’t be denied. However, I find her singing voice a bit hard to take when she goes up into the high register, so I’ve always stayed clear from her music. It was with some trepidation, then, that I approached this album.

I was pleasantly surprised by the first track, ‘Silver Dagger’, where there was none of that glass-shattering wailing, but simply a relaxed (by Baez’s standards) performance of a good song. Perhaps this wasn’t going to be so painful after all? However, my hopes were shattered along with the glass on the next track, ‘Fare Thee Well’, where I found myself physically recoil and my ears going into shut-down mode as she hit those high notes. In other words: ouch!

In addition to that, a whole album of one single voice singing, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, is simply not my cup of tea. For me, this kind of album is mainly a time-piece – “we can and we will change the world!” –  and not much else. I noticed in the documentary that Baez can no longer reach those high notes – or at least she’s unable to make them as piercing as she used to – which can only be a good thing.

Verdict: Interesting to hear once, but my ears will never forgive me.


0025 Elvis Presley: Elvis Is Back! (1960)
An album I’ve already heard.

As everyone knows, Elvis made no worthwhile music after he went into the army in 1958. No, scratch that: everything he did after he signed with RCA a few years earlier is designed to sell, sell, sell and nothing else. No, actually, the day he entered a professional recording studio and started recording for Sun Records in the mid-Fifites is when he sold out. Or, to be honest, he sold out the day he was born. Come to think of it, the case was lost on the day his parents met each other: that’s when the selling-out started.

Thankfully, this kind of absurd and ungenerous thinking regarding the recording career of Elvis Presley is no longer especially prevalent. Today it is generally agreed that – along with a lot of crap, admittedly – Elvis made many fantastic recordings between 1960 and his death in 1977.

This album, his first after his period in the army, is a good case in point. The big hit singles were often kept off albums in those days, but from the opening track ‘Make Me Know It’ on this album is pure joy, with only the occasional dip. More polished and poppy than Elvis’ pre-army recordings, perhaps, but still highly engaging, if in a slightly different way than the Fifties recordings. Don’t ignore it simply because it was recorded in the wrong decade.