Monday 20 December 2010

News, Views and Music Issue 84 (Top Five) Releases Of The Year 2010

So, have our purchases this year been naughty or nice? Well, 2010 hasn’t has as much going for it as, say, last year (which didn’t have that much going for it either to be honest), mainly because the new releases have been so thin on the ground and those that have been new (Belle and Sebastian’s ‘Write About Love’, Ray Davies’ ‘See My Friends’ and Ringo’s ‘Y Not?’) have been rather disappointing. However, it’s not been as total waste of a year as there have been a few interesting items throughout the year, many of which were either new to CD or exquisitely packaged. There were also some very, umm, odd releases which we couldn’t possibly have guessed this time last year (such as a box set of George Harrison productions featuring Ravi Shankar, Brian Wilson doing an album of Gerhwin covers, a record fourth CD showing for The Who’s ‘Live At Leeds’ with a companion show from the same tour attached and Ray Davies duetting with Metallica on ‘You Really Got Me’ among other Kinks Klassiks)... But what were the very best purchases of the last 12 months? Here’s our AAA top five...

5) Ray Thomas “From Mighty Oaks/Hopes Wishes And Dreams” (first CD issue for albums originally released in 1973 and 1974): We all wondered what would happen once the Moody Blues re-issue bonanza of 2007 died down and I’m pleased to say Decca have gone for the next best available option – deluxe editions of the solo Moodies albums they still own the rights to, starting off with flautist Ray’s two overlooked sets making their way onto CD for the first time. While I am deeply disturbed by the £25 asking price (yes, OK, so this set comes on 4 discs but that’s because there’s a 5.1 surround sound and an ordinary CD mix of both albums – surely that shouldn’t count as a box set price?) and the lack of extras (a promo video for ‘High Above My Head’ and a brief interview), these two albums are a joy to have back out on the shelves again. Songs like the delightful ‘Adam and I’ and catchy ‘We Need Love’ are the equal of any songs from the original classic seven Moodies albums, although like all solo Moodies projects you suspect they’d sound even better with input from the other four. Still, I’ve been waiting for a re-release of both of these hard-to-find albums for some time (my vinyl copies are beginning to get quite worn!) so well done Decca – more of the same in 2011 please!  

4) Otis Redding “Five Album Originals” (re-packaging of the only five solo Otis albums recorded between 1965 and 1967): Like the Jefferson Starship sets we discussed in out 2009 top five and eventually reviewed last January, there’s nothing new added to these straightforward CD re-issues of the five original albums Otis made before he died (only a couple of singles and the collaboration album with Carla Thomas are missing), but the price tag of between £10 and £15 (depending where you shop) is excellent and the vinyl-like packaging a treat. I only had two of these albums anyway, as they’re so hard to track down these days, and second album ‘Soul Ballads’ is now a firm favourite to go alongside the superlative ‘Otis Blue’ (AAA review no 4). Best of all, the record’s original sleevenotes are complete (if terribly small and hard-to-read!), including all the adverts for other albums on sale of the day, a motley collection which shows just how special and original Otis was...

3) Rolling Stones “Exile On Main Street (CD re-issue of 1972 album with bonus tracks): The world went Stones mad because of this CD re-issue this summer and I’m still not quite sure why – ‘Exile’ was never my favourite Stones album despite all the hoo-hah in the past few years and the new ‘imrpoved’ sound quality has actually made this murky and slightly mysterious album sound even more ramshackle than it already was. But the surprise of the package were the eight new bonus tracks, two of them fascinatingly different alternate versions of songs we know and love (‘Soul Survivor’, for instance, features Keef on lead instead of Mick) and six new and completely unheard songs that for the most part are the equal of anything on the record. ‘Down The River’, in particular, is a beautiful ballad in ‘Wild Horses’ mould that would have been a winner had it been finished and the eerie ‘So Divine’ and rocky ‘Plundered My Soul’ aren’t far behind either. Now just one question remains: why the heck weren’t these songs added to what must be the shortest running double album in history back in 1972 (67 minutes!!) See ‘news and views’ no 61 for more on this album.

2) Oasis “Time Flies” (New 2CD compilation of material recorded between 1994 and 2007): I was bitterly disappointed with the Oasis ‘Stop The Clocks’ compilation of 2007, released when the band were still just about hanging onto their career. I even said at the time on these pages that the band should have gone for a ‘singles’ compilation instead of the always-questionable best-of, mopping up all their best known songs and some single-only tracks that had been missed out on album up to now. So full marks to the band for marking the end of their career with only their second compilation, adding a track listing which is near sensible (although why the band should feel ‘embarrassed’ about ‘Sunday Morning Call’ – one of the best songs here – and hide it away as an unlisted bonus track is beyond me). AAA fans probably already know the fantastic run of songs in the ‘classic’ 90s years, but nearly all the better 00’s songs are here too, sounding even better thanks to a running order planned with care (unlike ‘Clocks’, which sounded random). A mention too for the tie-in DVD of the same name, ‘Time Flies’, which rounds up every single promo video for all 30-odd singles (plus 12 album tracks and b-sides) – something we’d been asking for on these pages for some time - and which is by turns poignant and hilarious (especially Noel Gallagher’s deprecating commentaries!) It may well be the best single purchase I’ve made all year, it’s that good. Now could we have a follow-up to B-side set ‘The Masterplan’ next year, please, and I’ll be happy!

1) John Lennon “Signature Box” (box set featuring re-mastered editions of all eight ‘proper’ Lennon solo albums – ie not the three sound collages with Yoko – plus a new remix of the ‘Double Fantasy’ album and a CD of unreleased demos and outtakes): While it isn’t perfect (the price is too high and it wasn’t long ago the solo Lennon catalogue has its own re-issuing bonanza of its own), this box – masterminded by Yoko - is a very fitting and rather moving release in the year that should have seen Lennon’s 70th birthday and instead saw the 30th anniversary of his untimely death. All AAA readers probably know these albums, so just a quick run through: ‘Plastic Ono Band’ is the raw and honest one (AAA review no 43), ‘Imagine’ is the over-rated one with three great songs and not much else, ‘Sometime In New York City’ (news and views no 35) is an under-rated set of raw and sometimes naive political rallies, ‘Mind Games’ is an under-rated album about Lennon’s split from Yoko (news and views no 77), ‘Walls and Bridges’ is a harrowing but tuneful set from Lennon’s ‘lost weekend’ (review no 63), Rock and Roll is a messy and rather pointless covers album, ‘Double Fantasy’ is a weak and saccharine return to work released just week’s before John’s death (but see below...) and ‘Milk and Honey’ a terrific set of outtakes from the ‘Double Fantasy’ sessions that blows that album out of the water and has been long overdue for aq re-issue.

The big new selling point is the CD of outtakes which mainly features yet more outtakes and demos of songs from the first LP (similar to many already heard on the ‘Anthology’ and ‘Acoustic’ sets) but is highlighted by a lovely demo for ‘Beautiful Boy’ far more moving than the finished version and the two previously unreleased (except to bootleggers) ‘Just One Of The Boys’ (a rather lovely house-husband era that could have become something special if finished) and the naive but sweet Rishikesh-era song ‘India’. However, there’s still so many fascinating Lernnon snippets that still haven’t seen the light of day yet (despite two CDs of outtakes and a four disc box set) that you can’t help but think that Yoko has another outtakes disc planned for 2020...

The surprise of the set was undoubtedly the new mix of ‘Double Fantasy’. This has always been the weakest Lennon LP of the lot me (as it is for most people born after he died – although many fans who remember the anticipation of him returning from his retirement love it, interestingly). Much as those of us who’ve been following Lennon’s story through to the end delight in hearing him happy, his music here is robbed of the edge and bite we so sorely miss and sounds too often like a course in singer-songwriting rather than an album from the heart (it is, in fact, the antithesis of the ‘Plastic Ono Band’ album, which might be why it starts with a ringing bell as opposed to the more threatening slowed-down church bell of the earlier album). It’s also ironic that Lennon’s last album should be the one that’s dated the most badly, with a quite hideous voice choir and very 80s synths often getting in the way of Lennon’s voice.

But here, with most of the extraneous arrangements taken away, Lennon’s songs have more room to breathe and resonate and his voice sounds full of the emotion we’re used to hearing. Now ‘Starting Over’ sounds like a genuine promise rather than a comeback record sales opportunity, ‘Clean Up Time’ pounces rather than saunters, ‘Beautiful Boy’ sounds more beautiful and ‘I’m Losing You’ sounds downright scary. Not everything works still: ‘Woman’ still sounds pretty awful in any version and the Yoko song ‘Every Man...’ has degenerated from one of the best and catchiest songs on the album to a tuneless piece of off-key singing. Best of all, we get to hear all the bits and pieces so badly mixed on the album they might as well not be there at all (especially the delightful Lennon dialogue on the fadeout of ‘Dear Yoko’ where Lennon breathlessly tells his wife all the parts about his time in Bermuda that he didn’t fit into his postcard ‘which is hanging up in your office now, right?!’) The mix can only improve what’s there of course, not invent something new, but this ‘stripped down’ version does help ‘Double Fantasy’ to sound more in keeping with the rest of the Lennon catalogue and reveals its hidden strengths rather than emphasising its weaknesses. I wouldn’t want to hear every album in my catalogue revised and remixed like this but for ‘Double Fantasy’ by and large it works. Perhaps the greatest moment of the whole set is when you realise that your least favourite album might suddenly become one of your favourites...

Honorary mentions too for the following, which just missed out on a top five placing: ‘Band On The Run’ (re-issue of Paul McCartney and Wings album, docked a few places because there’s not much new attached from the last re-pressing in 1999 considering the asking price of the deluxe set – although even when edited the ‘One Hand Clapping’ DVD documentary is far too good to languish in the vaults for 37 years); The Apple Box Set (OK so it doesn’t strictly feature any AAA members but various Beatles do pop up on the credits from time to time and those curious after reading my ‘Badfinger’ review will enjoy excellent re-issues of their first four albums); ‘The Midas Touch’ (Hollies compilation and the closest yet to a decent 2CD retrospective in the UK with some excellent track choices, although having the tracks in chronological order would have been nice and the two modern songs on it are horrible!); Stephen Stills/Manassas ‘Pieces’ (for one or two revealing songs as great as anything in their canon, although there’s an awful lot of boring country-tonk rehearsals to sit through); Neil Young’s ‘Dreamin’ Man’ (A nice concert of every single track from 1992’s ‘Harvest Moon’, although none of it is all that different from the LP), The Beatles’ Red and Blue compilation sets (for the few people in the world who don’t own them yet and in appreciation of their new discounted price – although the CD running time is still poor) and Belle and Sebastian’s ‘Write About Love’ (because at least its better than the awful ‘Life Pursuit’ album of 2006, if not up to past glories on first listen). Not a vintage year then, but still a good one – I wonder what’s up the record companies’ sleeves for 2011?...

See you next week for our last issue of 2010!

A NOW COMPLETE List Of Top Five/Top Ten/TOP TWENTY  Entries 2008-2019
1) Chronic Fatigue songs

2) Songs For The Face Of Bo

3) Credit Crunch Songs

4) Songs For The Autumn

5) National Wombat Week

6) AAA Box Sets

7) Virus Songs

8) Worst AAA-Related DVDs

9) Self-Punctuating Superstar Classics

10) Ways To Know You Have Turned Into A Collector

11) Political Songs

12) Totally Bonkers Concept Albums

13) Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

14) Still Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

15) AAA Existential Questions

16) Releases Of The Year 2008

17) Top AAA Xmas Songs

18) Notable AAA Gigs

19) All things '20' related for our 20th issue

20) Romantic odes for Valentine's Day

21) Hollies B sides

22) 'Other' BBC Session Albums

23) Beach Boys Rarities Still Not Available On CD

24) Songs John, Paul and George wrote for Ringo's solo albums

25) 5 of the Best Rock 'n' Roll Tracks From The Pre-Beatles Era

26) AAA Autobiographies

27) Rolling Stones B-sides

28) Beatles B-Sides

29) The lllloooonnngggeesssttt AAA songs of all time

30) Kinks B-Sides

31) Abandoned CSNY projects 'wasted on the way'

32) Best AAA Rarities and Outtakes Sets

33) News We've Missed While We've Been Away

34) Birthday Songs for our 1st Anniversary

35) Brightest Album Covers

36) Biggest Recorded Arguments

37) Songs About Superheroes

38) AAA TV Networks That Should Exist

39) AAA Woodtsock Moments

40) Top Moments Of The Past Year As Voted For By Readers

41) Music Segues

42) AAA Foreign Language Songs

43) 'Other' Groups In Need Of Re-Mastering

44) The Kinks Preservation Rock Opera - Was It Really About The Forthcoming UK General Election?

45) Mono and Stereo Mixes - Biggest Differences

46) Weirdest Things To Do When A Band Member Leaves

47) Video Clips Exclusive To Youtube (#1)

48) Top AAA Releases Of 2009

49) Songs About Trains

50) Songs about Winter

51) Songs about astrology plus horoscopes for selected AAA members

52) The Worst Five Groups Ever!

53) The Most Over-Rated AAA Albums

54) Top AAA Rarities Exclusive To EPs

55) Random Recent Purchases (#1)

56) AAA Party Political Slogans

57) Songs To Celebrate 'Rock Sunday'

58) Strange But True (?) AAA Ghost Stories

59) AAA Artists In Song

60) Songs About Dogs

61) Sunshiney Songs

62) The AAA Staff Play Their Own Version Of Monoploy/Mornington Crescent!

63) What 'Other' British Invasion DVDs We'd Like To See

64) What We Want To Place In Our AAA Time Capsule

65) AAA Conspiracy Theroies

66) Weirdest Things To Do Before - And After - Becoming A Star

67) Songs To Tweet To

68) Greatest Ever AAA Solos

69) John Lennon Musical Tributes

70) Songs For Halloween

71) Earliest Examples Of Psychedelia

72) Purely Instrumental Albums

73) AAA Utopias

74) AAA Imaginary Bands

75) Unexpected AAA Cover Versions

76) Top Releases of 2010

77) Songs About Snow

78) Predictions For 2011

79) AAA Fugitives

80) AAA Home Towns

81) The Biggest Non-Musical Influences On The 1960s

82) AAA Groups Covering Other AAA Groups

83) Strange Censorship Decisions

84) AAA Albums Still Unreleased on CD

85) Random Recent Purchases (#2)

86) Top AAA Music Videos

87) 30 Day Facebook Music Challenge

88) AAA Documentaries

89) Unfinished and 'Lost' AAA Albums

90) Strangest AAA Album Covers

91) AAA Performers Live From Mars (!)

92) Songs Including The Number '100' for our 100th Issue

93) Most Songs Recorded In A Single Day

94) Most Revealing AAA Interviews

95) Top 10 Pre-Fame Recordings

96) The Shortest And Longest AAA Albums

97) The AAA Allstars Ultimate Band Line-Up

98) Top Songs About Sports

99) AAA Conversations With God

100) AAA Managers: The Good, The Bad and the Financially Ugly

101) Unexpected AAA Cameos

102) AAA Words You can Type Into A Caluclator

103) AAA Court Cases

104) Postmodern Songs About Songwriting

105) Biggest Stylistic Leaps Between Albums

106) 20 Reasons Why Cameron Should Go!

107) The AAA Pun-Filled Cookbook

108) Classic Debut Releases

109) Five Uses Of Bird Sound Effects

110) AAA Classic Youtube Clips Part #1

111) Part #2

112) Part #3

113) AAA Facts You Might Not Know

114) The 20 Rarest AAA Records

115) AAA Instrumental Songs

116) Musical Tarot

117) Christmas Carols

118) Top AAA Releases Of 2011

119) AAA Bands In The Beano/The Dandy

120) Top 20 Guitarists #1

121) #2

122) 'Shorty' Nomination Award Questionairre

123) Top Best-Selling AAA Albums

124) AAA Songs Featuring Bagpipes

125) A (Hopefully) Complete List Of AAA Musicians On Twitter

126) Beatles Albums That Might Have Been 1970-74 and 1980

127) DVD/Computer Games We've Just Invented

128) The AAA Albums With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

129) The AAA Singles With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

130) Lyric Competition (Questions)

131) Top Crooning Classics

132) Funeral Songs

133) AAA Songs For When Your Phone Is On Hold

134) Random Recent Purchases (#3)

135) Lyric Competition (Answers)

136) Bee Gees Songs/AAA Goes Disco!

137) The Best AAA Sleevenotes (And Worst)

138) A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-70

139) More Wacky AAA-Related Films And Their Soundtracks

140) AAA Appearances On Desert Island Discs

141) Songs Exclusive To Live Albums

142) More AAA Songs About Armageddon

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159) A (Not That) Short Guide To The 15 Best Non-AAA Bands

160) The Greatest AAA Drum Solos (Or Near Solos!)

161) AAA Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame Acceptance Speeches

162) AAA Re-Recordings Of Past Songs

163) A Coalition Christmas (A Fairy Tale)

164) AAA Songs About Islands

165) The AAA Review Of The Year 2012

166) The Best AAA Concerts I Attended

167) Tributes To The 10 AAA Stars Who Died The Youngest

168) The First 10 AAA Songs Listed Alphabetically

171) The 10 Best Songs From The Psychedelia Box-Sets ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Nuggets Two’

172) The 20 Most Common Girl’s Names In AAA Song Titles (With Definitions) 

180) First Recordings By Future AAA Stars

185) A Tribute To Storm Thorgerson Via The Five AAA Bands He Worked With

188) Surprise! Celebrating 300 Album Reviews With The Biggest 'Surprises' Of The Past Five Years Of Alan's Album Archives!

190) Comparatively Obscure First Compositions By AAA Stars

193) Evolution Of A Band: Comparing First Lyric With Last Lyric:

200) The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation)

202) Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain': Was It About One Of The AAA Crew?

217) AAA 'Christmas Presents' we'd most like to have next year

221) Dr Who and the AAA (Five Musical Links)

222) Five Random Recent Purchases

223) AAA Grammy Nominees

224) Ten AAA songs that are better heard unedited and in full

225) The shortest gaps between AAA albums

226) The longest gaps between AAA albums

227) Top ten AAA drummers

228) Top Ten AAA Singles (In Terms of 'A' and 'B' Sides)

229) The Stories Behind Six AAA Logos

230) AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! The Best Ten AAA Screams

231) An AAA Pack Of Horses

232) AAA Granamas - Sorry, Anagrams!

233) AAA Surnames and Their Meanings

234) 20 Erroneous AAA Album Titles

235) The Best AAA Orchestral Arrangements

236) Top 30 Hilariously Misheard Album Titles/Lyrics

237) Ten controversial AAA sackings - and whether they were right

238) A Critique On Critiquing - In Response To Brian Wilson

239) The Ten MusicianS Who've Played On The Most AAA Albums

240) Thoughts on #CameronMustGo

241) Random Recent Purchases (Kinks/Grateful Dead/Nils Lofgren/Rolling Stones/Hollies) 

242) AAA Christmas Number Ones 

243) AAA Review Of The Year 2014 (Top Releases/Re-issues/Documentaries/DVDs/Books/Songs/ Articles  plus worst releases of the year)

244) Me/CFS Awareness Week 2015

245) Why The Tory 2015 Victory Seems A Little...Suspicious

246) A Plea For Peace and Tolerance After The Attacks on Paris - and Syria

247) AAA Review Of The Year 2015

248) The Fifty Most Read AAA Articles (as of December 31st 2015)

249) The Revised AAA Crossword!

251) Half-A-Dozen Berries Plus One (An AAA Tribute To Chuck Berry)

252) Guest Post: ‘The Skids – Joy’ (1981) by Kenny Brown

254) Guest Post: ‘Supertramp – Some Things Never Change’ by Kenny Brown

255) AAA Review Of The Year 2018

256) AAA Review Of The Year 2019 plus Review Of The Decade 2010-2019

257) Tiermaker

258) #Coronastock

259) #Coronadocstock

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