Thursday, 29 April 2010

News, Views and Music Issue 58 (Top Five): Random Recent Purchases

We couldn’t think up much else to write about this week so here, in no particular order, are five AAA-linked purchases I’ve made in the past month or so – and whether they were a good idea or not!:

1)    Johnny Cash “Come Along With Me And Ride This Train” (1991 Compilation of material recorded 1960-77) The man in black told me to ride and I thought I’d better not disobey – and I’m very glad I did. This ‘Bear’ set from 1991 combines no less than seven Cash concept albums (the first, ‘Ride This Train’ from 1960, is a strong candidate for the first ever concept album in ‘rock’ circles – and no, the Sinatra albums don’t count), one of them a double album, and taken en masse they reveal a lot about Johnny’s character and contradictions, even more than they do about the history of America. I’ve owned the ‘Bitter Tears’ album for a while now and I still consider its damning anti-colonial tales lampooning everything the ‘white man’ did to take America from under the nose of the native American Indians is one of the bravest records ever released by a mainstream artist (‘General Custer ain’t riding too well’ gloats Cash at one point, as the famous general’s last stand is turned from heroic failure into a gloating triumph for the Indians trying to protect their home land, something I never thought I’d hear a ‘white’ man sing). The other records aren’t quite up to that standard, although I’m already getting quite fond of ‘Hammer And Nails’ (the second album in the set, telling tales of mostly poverty-struck American workers throughout history; check out Johnny Cash reliving his own childhood picking cotton and the classic tale of poverty ‘Busted’, best known from the ‘Folsom Prison’ album) and the much maligned last album ‘The Rambler’ (the dialogue is excruciating – and, fittingly, rambling; just check out this line about dropping off a passing hitch-hicker who, in true country fashion, just killed her nasty husband: ‘I knew a girl like that once called Calilou, but she wouldn’t have killed a man with a gun – she’d have done it with love in her heart instead. I wonder where she is now...’) but the music’s pretty fabulous all the way through. What’s puzzling about this set is how much Johnny Cash changed his stance from the early 60s to the late 60s/70s – he’s turned a full 180 degrees from protest singer, championing the underdogs that nobody else listens to never mind understands to becoming a champion of the American Dream and Americans in general. And I’m even more puzzled that neither side of him seemed to cause that much controversy in the day – just look at the criticism David Crosby got for recording ‘My Country Tis Of Thee’ (which sadly is about the only famous American anthem Johnny doesn’t do on this set; its a great tune however patronising the words are – and don’t get me started on how bad ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’ and ‘Rule Britannia’ are, especially the second mainly unheard verse about having the right to seize everyone else’s ships because we’re British). But this set is worth it for the Indian album alone – magic stuff, even if you do get sick of all the talking and that same darn engine whistle sound effect when you play it lots.  

2)    Ringo Starr “Y Not?” (2010) I bought this as a present, honest. I don’t go around buying modern Ringo CDs usually (though I did for a while in the 90s when they were actually quite good) but I thought I’d give this vaguely controversial album (yep, Ringo’s being all moody about his home town of Liverpool. Again) a listen. Like many  a Ringo album there’s only two tracks worth hearing – ‘Walk With You’, a duet with Paul Mccartney which marks the first time the Beatles have worked together since 1997’s ‘Flaming Pie’ and, surprisingly, ‘The Other Side Of Liverpool’, the track that’s causing all the fuss. Much as I hate hearing celebrities banging on about how horrible their early life was (Liverpool’s been a lot kinder to Ringo than he has to Liverpool after all), this one at least has some clever lines (‘Liverpool is cold and damp – only way out, drums, guitar and amp’ is the best Ringo lyric since ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, even if it’s terribly unfair. Liverpool was a port, Ringo. It’s the best place for any American record-loving teenager of the 1940s to be born. And trust me, even the roughest end of Liverpool wasn’t that much worse than other Northern towns). But hearing some caterwaulingly awful modern singer taking over the last track (I never did find out who it was and I’m afraid of finding out) and the desperate attempts to be modern make you despair. Ringo’s really been missing George’s guest appearances on his last three solo albums – what the hell happened to the man who gave us the fairly promising ‘Time Takes Time’ (1992) and ‘Vertical Man’ (1995)? And where the hell is the re-issue of Ringo’s second best (after 1974’s ‘Ringo’) album ‘Stop and Smell The Roses’ with AAA favourites Stephen Stills and Van Dyke Parks (lyricist on ‘Smile’) taking part?  ‘Y?’ might be a better question.

3)    Pink Floyd “Animals” (1977). I had to laugh at the Conservatives’ recent choice of Battersea Power Station to launch their election manifesto. Battersea can only mean two things to me: the use of it in a Dr Who episode as a base for the Cybermen to brainwash mankind and take over the world out of greed and envy. And a certain Pink Floyd cover with an inflatable porky which says ‘pigs might fly’. What a mess. Oh and I did genuinely buy this album by the way, its not just an excuse to get that rant in – and yes I did own it already (on vinyl), it’s just that – finally – due to EMI’s money problems the Pink Floyd catalogue are finally appearing on the shelves at a cheaper rate than the £16.99 we always used to have to pay. Suffice to say, ‘Animals’ isn’t the best Floyd album ever made – its a weird mix of prog rock and punk – but it was either the first or second Floyd record I ever bought and I’ve always been quite fond of it. ‘Pigs On The Wing’ is gorgeous (even if it sounds far better on 8-track cartridge, where a linking guitar piece by Snowy White melds both parts together – check out for it on youtube), ‘Pigs’ itself is either a hilarious rant at Margaret Thatcher and Mary Whitehouse or the most self-indulgent thing the band ever did depending on your mood, Dogs is an admirable attempt at an epic that might have sounded better without the long and pointless middle section and ‘Sheep’ is a minor classic, with Roger Waters’ voice segueing into a distorted synth riff and a killer guitar part from David Gilmour. 

4)    Paul McCartney “Back In The US” (2003 DVD). Aren’t charity shops wonderful? Just when I’d given up hope of owning this Macca concert DVD (the American leg of the tour I saw him on and he was on good form that year – I swear he sounded 20 years younger than when I saw him in 1990), there it is in British Heart Foundation for £3. I could – and have and probably will – quibble with the track listing (too many obvious Beatles, not enough Wings and a really mixed bunch from the then-current and not-bad-at-all album ‘Driving Rain’) but the performances by Macca’s band are more or less spot-on all the way through. Best of all, the adrenalin levels are so high – this is Macca actually working to get our love and respect, instead of coasting and expecting it like he often does. The extras aren’t many and the behind-the-scenes tour-bus stuff adds absolutely nothing to the experience (apart from gaping at the size of the touring personnel), but the three soundcheck performances – old pre-Macca music standards, all of them – may well be the best thing here. They’re certainly way more entertaining than Macca’s covers albums ‘Choba B CCCP’ and ‘Run Devil Run’ and the soundcheck dross that filled up part of ‘Tripping The Live Fantastic’. 

5)    Frank Allen “Travelling Man – On The Road With The Searchers” (1993). I’m not quite sure what to make of this book. You see, there isn’t much music in this autobiog – it really is just a travelogue with the odd performing-in-front-of-soldiers or getting-guitars-on-the-plane anecdotes added in for good measure. I normally hate travelogues outright – boring people having experiences that you could be having yourself for the money you’ve just forked out for an original hardback copy and having to rely on other people’s eyes and ears for re-actions and prejudices that you don’t share. But Frank Allen is such a good witty writer with such strong character observations that I enjoyed this book far more because of it (regular readers will know firsthand how much I love puns and wordplay – and I apologise now for every time you’ve groaned out loud reading this site, especially Lizzie!) I just wish there had been more music involved – and more about the 60s at that because I’d be fascinated to know the story behind The Searchers’ recordings circa 1965-67 and no one else from The Searchers camp has really talked about their time with the band (well, Chris Curtis did a bit before he sadly died so young but most of his interviews are on the loony side of eccentric it has to be said). Still, I got my copy in a charity shop for £2.99 and I can’t complain at that (although the £20 price tag I’ve seen on some shopping sites seems a bit steep) – it’s worth the price alone just for the generous amount of photographs!

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