1001 Albums 0045-0046

Published March 23, 2013


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


0045: Dusty Springfield: A Girl Called Dusty (1964)
An album I've already heard.

This album has a great title and a great sleeve image. And the music on it? Well, I'm a huge fan of Dusty Springfield, but I don't think her début album is her very best moment. Mainly consisting of a lot of cover versions, Dusty's recordings are fine but seldom equal or better the originals, although her versions of 'My Colouring Book' and 'Wishin' And Hopin'' are excellent. With age I've found myself moving away from Dusty's sometimes "yell-y" (if that's a word) singing style on her early recordings, and preferring her recorded output from the late Sixties and early Seventies. So, A Girl Called Dusty is not my favourite album - but the title and the sleeve are absolutely fantastic.

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0046: The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones (1964)

I'm not a super-huge fan of The Rolling Stones, although I love much of what they did during the Sixties and Seventies. I've heard most of their Sixties albums, except for this, their début, which I've never seen reason to seek out. Most of the British bands of the early Sixties relied far too heavily on blues and r&b covers, and that doesn't interest me so much.

Having said that, I enjoyed this album more than I expected. I believe I had only heard 'Tell Me' and their version of Chuck Berry's 'Carol' before, so the rest of the album was completely new to me. What I'm hearing is "wow, it's such a lot of fun to play this music and we've even written a couple of songs ourselves!" That enthusiasm is quite contagious, and the album proves that Mick Jagger was always a great singer, although it has to be said the playing is a little shaky and out-of-tune here and there (particularly on 'Honest I Do').

At the end of the day, as far as albums are concerned, I agree with most critics in saying that the Stones' output from 1968 to 1972 is their best. However, I also like the "pop" Stones of the mid-Sixties, when they released magnificent single after magnificent single. But this album: I'll probably give it a pass in the future.

Verdict: You can't fault it for enthusiasm, but it's hardly essential listening.

This album is not available on Spotify, but I've put together a Youtube playlist of the individual tracks.

 

1001 Albums 0043-0044

Published March 20, 2013


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


0043: Jacques Brel: Olympia 64 (1964)

Six years of French in school, yet I don't really understand the language and I'm unable to hold a meaningful conversation in it. It wouldn't annoy me so much if it didn't mean that I'm also unable to understand the lyrics of the many French-speaking artists I admire. This live album by Belgian Jacques Brel is a case in point.

Although I haven't listened very much to Brel over the years, I've always liked his songs. Listening to this album, I'm struck by what a great performer he was - not just a composer whose songs have been covered by David Bowie, Scott Walker and countless others, but a fantastic singer in his own right. In contrast to most of the live albums covered in this blog so far, I feel that this LP really works. I would guess this is simply because an artist like Brel is more about giving each song an identity than whipping up a frenzy in the audience, which translates well into home-listening as well.

I'm really glad I got to hear this album - even though I don't understand a lot of the lyrics.

Verdict: A great album of a great performer in his prime.

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0044: Solomon Burke: Rock ‘n Soul (1964)

Out of all the soul great from the Sixties, Solomon Burke is someone I've never listened very much to. I've known about him, of course, but for some reason his music never really came my way. I guess that's partly because he never had any really big cross-over hits, despite many charting singles on Billboard's Pop chart. I finally bought a compilation a few years ago, but I haven't listened it to it so much.

Listening to this marvelous album a couple of times I feel like I should dig out that compilation again. Sometimes you can feel that the legacy of the great soul singers has been reiterated so much that you almost don't "hear" them anymore when you listen to them - the sign flashing "good, approved music" gets in the way and you feel like playing an Engelbert Humperdinck album just to rebel.

But this album really caught my imagination and reminded me exactly why I love this kind of music so much. Just listen to Burke's singing on 'Goodbye Baby' for instance, the way he takes in the whole register of singing, hitting the high notes with confidence, sounding deeply sensual on the low notes, holding back when necessary, making quick interjections when appropriate - in other words, showing us what singing should really be about. And I haven't even mentioned the musicians and the backing vocalists.

Verdict: Sixties soul music at its best.

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1001 Albums 0041-0042

Published March 16, 2013

 

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

 

0041: Stan Getz And João Gilberto: Getz / Gilberto (1963)
An album I've already heard.

Following on from Stan Getz' Jazz Samba, here is yet another classic bossa nova album. The opening track is probably the most famous bossa nova song of them all, 'The Girl From Ipanema', featuring the vocals of João Gilberto's then-wife, Astrud Gilberto. This was also her recording début, and when the song became a hit she embarked on a recording career of her own. There are many a wailing diva out there who might do well by picking up some of Gilberto's toned-down and relaxed vocal style. The old cliché "less is more" comes to mind.

As for the album as a whole, it's just lovely. The tunes are top-notch and all the musicians are on top form, giving each other space when needed, yet shining as performers when that is required. I can't praise this album enough.

Listen on Spotify.

0042: The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
An album I've already heard.

The Beatles' third album was perhaps also their first truly great one. Side A (in the old vinyl days) functioned as a soundtrack to their first feature film, and all of the songs on the album were Lennon-McCartney compositions - the only such album in their catalogue. To me this album is like a ground-course in how to make hits. It's one of those albums where you feel like each and every track could have been a successful single.

One remarkable aspect is the fact that almost all the songs on the album are primarily Lennon rather than McCartney compositions - latter-day wisdom has it that McCartney was the one with the greatest knack for a catchy tune, but this album is a powerful argument against such easy conclusions.

 

1001 Albums 0039-0040

Published March 12, 2013


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


0039: Charles Mingus: The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (1963)

As I gave this album its first spin I had just listened to Agnetha Fältskog's new single 'When You Really Loved Someone', which couldn't have been more radio-friendly if it had put its arm around Mr. Megaherz and offered him a friendship ring. It was quite a aural shock, then, to move on to a Charles Mingus jazz album that could very well be described as the complete opposite of radio-friendly. What struck me is how progressive, modern and forward-looking this music sounds, 50 years after it was first released, perhaps suggesting that the limit for what we will accept as listenable music was defined several decades ago.

For me, personally, I don't get so much out of this music, at least not as a complete listening experience. It is an album of contrasts: some sections are very beautiful and seductive, while others are more unstructured and atonal, and, therefore, less than easy on the ear. So although I was glad I listened to it, enabling me to acquaint myself a bit with one of the jazz greats, I found myself longing for something more radio-friendly.

Verdict: Interesting to hear – and I really mean that – but not an album I truly enjoy.

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0040: James Brown: Live At The Apollo (1963)

Here's one of those artists who are regarded as one of the most ground-breaking and trend-setting performers in the history of popular music, yet who has never captured me completely. I love many of his hits, and I do recognise his importance in the development of soul and funk music, but listening to his music at length I often end up feeling "pestered", for want of a better word, by someone who keeps nagging at me and just won't go away.

Like the Sam Cooke album I listened to a few days ago, this album, which I've been aware for many years is regarded as a super-classic, is certainly extremely lively, expertly performed and so on, and enjoyable on its own terms, but I wasn't blown away by it.

Verdict: Lots of energy and great singing, but surely, the studio-recorded versions of most of these songs must be better?

Listen on Spotify.

 

1001 Albums 0037-0038

Published March 10, 2013


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

0037: Phil Spector: A Christmas Gift For You (1963)
An album I've alredy heard.

This album is a long-standing feature in lists of all-time best Christmas albums, and with good reason.  In 1963 Phil Spector was at the peak of his powers as producer and hit-maker, and these versions of popular Christmas songs - plus the brand new 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)', performed by Darlene Love - have lost none of their excitement over five decades.

The album was released the day before the Kennedy assassination, which prompted Phil Spector to immediately withdraw the album as a mark of respect, so it had no commercial impact at the time. I can only assume it must have made up for that many times over since then.

Listen on Spotify.


0038: Sam Cooke: Live At The Harlem Square Club (recorded 1963, released 1985)

This is apparently widely regarded by many as one of the truly great live albums. As so often in this blog, I have a different point of view. Sam Cooke is a wonderful singer and he is on top form on this album. But although you can sense the excitement in the audience, and you're drawn into the atmosphere of the club on a couple of occasions - when the audience sings along to 'Having A Party', for instance - I'm left feeling that it must have been great to be there that night, but it doesn't quite translate to me as a listening experience. Cooke's many ha-ha yelps and screams of "everybody, everybody!" paradoxically make me feel that I'm not a part of that everybody. And the guitar is out of tune on a number of tracks, which makes them sound just a little too sloppy to my ears.

So, in conclusion, nothing here drew me in like the studio-recorded version of Sam Cooke's hits - they are indeed beyond wonderful - and I already have those on a compilation album.

Verdict: I'm sure it was a great experience to be there on the night, but the album left me indifferent for the most part.

Listen on Spotify.

 

1001 Albums 0035-0036

Published March 06, 2013


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


0035: The Beatles: With The Beatles (1963)
An album I've already heard

There are different kinds of people in this world. Some don't like The Beatles at all, feeling that they are over-rated and over-hyped. Then there are those who like them, but only the output from circa 1965/1966/1967 onwards. And then there are people like me who are Beatle fanatics since childhood and love everything they ever released between 1962 and 1970.

Their second album, With The Beatles, is no exception. For energy, zest, great tunes, etc etc, you need look no further. And it didn't even feature 'I Want To Hold Your Hand', which was their single at the time of the original album release. It does feature, however, 'Not A Second Time', which prompted William Mann of The Times to point out the "Aeolian cadence" featured in the tune. Fancy that. Or as the song's main writer noted many years later, "To this day, I have no idea what [Aeolian cadences] are. They sound like exotic birds."


0036: Bob Dylan: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)

What are the chances that I will enjoy an entire album's worth of a singer accompanied only by acoustic guitar? Very slim. And, unfortunately, this collection of songs is not an exception to that rule.

I've never been a major Bob Dylan fan. His voice is often, although not always, a problem for me. And that whining harmonica heard on far too many recordings has the same effect on me as the high-pitched vocal sounds of his one-time paramour, Joan Baez.

That said, I think he is a fantastic song writer, and some of his classics are on this album: 'Blowin' In The Wind', 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' (I love Bryan Ferry's version of that particular tune) and 'Don't Think Twice It's All Right', for example. But the only track here that really grabbed me was 'Masters Of War', which has a relentlessness that really drew me in, and I also love Dylan's singing on it.

Finally, the iconic sleeve picture is beyond cool - a really romantic vision of New York in the Sixties - I just wish the music on the album matched the expectations raised by the cover image.

Verdict: Many great songs here, but I'd prefer them performed by someone else.

Listen on Spotify

 

1001 Albums 0033-0034

Published March 01, 2013


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


0033: Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd: Jazz Samba (1962)
An album I’ve already heard

I love the bossa nova - I just can't get enough of it. If I had my say the entire world would have the bossa nova as its soundtrack. I want to hear it in clubs, bars, airports, department stores, food stores - everywhere that music is played in public. So needless to say I really love this album.

Although the 1959 film Orfeu Negro is credited with making the bossa nova known outside Brazil, it seems that when a famous American jazz musician such as tenor saxophonist Stan Getz adopted the genre - he would have plenty of success with bossa nova albums over the next couple of years - it gained an even wider audience.

On this album, perhaps some passages get a bit to free-formy-jazzy for my tastes, but that's a very minor complaint. Music seldom gets more beautiful, light, rhythmical and engaging than this.

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0034: Ray Price: Night Life (1962)

However hard I try, I can't recall ever hearing any recordings by Ray Price before this album. Consulting my Top Country Singles chart book, I see that he's regarded as one of the greats, ranking as the 9th most successful artist on that American chart. After listening to Night Life, I can really see why, for he is a wonderful singer and this is a truly excellent collection of songs.

The album, described in the 1001 Albums book, as a c&w version of Frank Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours In The Morning, features songs of heartbreak and loneliness. But the thing is, Price is not overtly wallowing in his misery. The vocal performances and musical arrangements exude confidence and pride, while all the sadness is in the lyrics - that combination gives the album an air  of ”I’ve been hurt but you’re not gonna catch me crying”, which somehow makes it all the more emotionally engaging for me.

Any less successful moments? Well, Price sounds a little uncomfortable on the over-long spoken introduction: they could have skipped that without losing anything. Apart from that, this album was a really nice surprise and one that I definitely want to own.

Verdict: Five out of five

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