Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dear Future Successor To The Human Race

Dear future successor to the human race,

I’ve heard that the world might be going to end tomorrow. We don’t know how that’s going to happen yet but, to be honest, it could happen in lots of ways. We really haven’t been very good caretakers of our planet and I have a nasty feeling something might be about to rebound on us (after all, the 16th century Nostradamus did say something about Syria and World War Three).

Don’t feel too sorry for us. We had our moment in the spotlight, got about as far as we could before destruction hit us and now it’s your turn. After all, we’ve been here several times before I think and lost it due to war, accident, mistakes, you name it – but the exception in our epoch of civilisation this time – and the reason we might not fall quite so badly - is that we had the time to invent the internet. Somewhere out there I’m hoping that you’ll stumble across its creation too and find all these words and images of the human race before it left the Earth en masse and it will fill in a few gaps for you about our culture and how we behaved. Some of it, I fear, will not make for happy reading.

Please don’t be too hard on us. They say that action speaks louder than words and I could well believe that it was one of the stupid actions of a few of us that caused the death and devastation across the planet. But I hope that instead of dismissing all of us as the neanderthalisthic monsters we might appear to be, some of our words will live on past the point where we are gone. I’ve dedicated my life’s work to cataloguing some of the finest points of human civilisation and culture on this very site and I’m far from the only one to have done so. Sadly most of the records and compact discs (don’t worry if you don’t understand the terminology) might be blown into smithereens by the end of tomorrow, but if the internet survives – and I’m hoping it will – then surely most of our music will too. This site will help you navigate your way around the best bits which will tell you more than I can about the concerns, the fears, the dramas and the insecurities of our age. Some of you, I’m sure, will discover other pieces of music that you will love over and above the ones I have discussed here. Assuming you, as the inheritors of the Earth, still have ears anyway and haven’t evolved another form of hearing! Other websites out there will offer you glimpses into more of the best of ourselves, our films, our television, our books, our paintings – every medium we used to express ourselves and what made us think. The times when mankind reached as far as his grasp would let him stretch, instead of simply getting on with surviving as we all so often did. The times when we thought we had come up with a solution to an age old problem – and others when we realised we had fallen into the same old traps of our predecessors. A catalogue of 20th and 21st century life – that’s what I have been collecting all these years, via the medium of music.

I like to think that there was a little good in all of us and maybe - who knows – there may have been a lot of good in some of us. Whether you think that too, when you’ve seen how we snuffed out the light of civilisation for our own foolish ends or simply looked on aghast as a preventable catastrophe went ahead, well, that’s up to you and I’m too far away time-wise to influence your thoughts about that. But I know too well from history books how a single generation, even a whole civilisation can be labelled as a particular adjective in only a few simple lines. Please don’t believe that of us. Our lives were complicated, more complicated than they should have been perhaps. Often the wrong people were left in charge (sometimes the right people were too sensible to want to be in charge, sometimes they just weren’t asked, sometimes other people just shouted louder). Sometimes the people in positions of power were bullies who wanted power for its own ends, but only revealed that after they had the power already in their hands. Sometimes there was an argument that escalated too far and turned into warfare before the other side quite knew where they were headed. Sometimes the heroes and heroines of our epoch were simply wiped out by others, jealous of their talents, causing the wars to go on that little bit longer. Sometimes we simply got it wrong and by the time we got what we wanted we realised it wasn’t actually what we wanted at all. But, more often than not, it was only a fraction of our population that wanted this hatred, injustice, unfairness and greed that may well have been the cause of our undoing (I’m assuming, for the moment, that when the end comes it will be so quick I won’t have time to write to you so I don’t know what it is yet) – please bear in mind that it was only some of us wishing hardship on others some of the time, not all of us all of the time.

It may surprise you to learn that the human race individually had a very short time span in my lifetime, 70 years if lucky. That’s barely enough time to get noticed and work out what you want to do with your life, never mind actually do something about it. Too many of us got sucked into side-streets we didn’t mean to travel down or ended up casting our horizons lower and lower each day. Goodness knows what your lifespan is now. You might all live for centuries, or millennia, or forever barring accidents– or then again thanks to us millennia of mutations might have dragged your average living years down to the teens or twenties. If the former, then it will be a mystery to you why some of us would have tried so hard to have such an impact on life, why we spent so long trying to control others, while the real leaders among us – the thinkers, the philosophers and the artists – were on the sidelines of our civilisation. Why, in the last handful of generations, sticking a camera in front of someone’s face and giving them immortality was taken lightly in the name of frivolous entertainment, rather given to someone important with something to say that we knew would have a big impact on our lives. To be honest most of us round at the time never understood it either. If your lifespan if even shorter than ours then I’m sorry for what we had a hand in creating, making a bad situation even worse, but then I’m sure a small part of you understands what it was like, to hear the ticking of that biological clock that gives you such a short time to say all the things that need to be said and such a small window of opportunity to have an impact on the world. I offer this not as an excuse, but as an apology. We could have done more. We should have done more. We really should have seen this coming, even without the warnings of the Mayans. We didn’t and I’m sorry.

If you’ve discovered my site already then presumably you must have searched through quite a few other websites before coming across mine – its not all that well known, in terms of importance I’m only a legend in my own postal district as it were. You must, I am sure, have already made up your mind about what our lives were like, whether to you we lived in barbaric rash stupidity or comparative comfort and serenity. My view, sitting here, is that we lived in a mixture of the two and mankind could never quite decide which side of the fence he really wanted to be on – either a barbaric backward with intellectual tendencies or an erudite, educated, civilised creature with fleeting moments of density. All I can ask you is, please don’t judge us as harshly as we will no doubt judge ourselves in those final minutes, in those last few gasps of guilt and worry, as the human race disappears back down the technological pecking order for goodness knows how many centuries. And, for what it’s worth, we send our love, our courage and our strength to you as you rebuild the human or maybe a whole other new realm of life up painfully and slowly from the ground level. Please learn from where we went wrong but, if necessary, please take on board our strengths and how truly great our civilisation and culture could be in the times we were helping each other, teaching each other and supporting each other.

I’d like to think that there are parts of our culture that are worth saving. I am only sorry that there wasn’t more and that so much time was lost doing petty work for petty money in petty offices in petty towns in petty planets around the globe. Our grasp was much bigger than our reach truly was – we only ever travelled as far as the moon and you’re probably at the end of the solar system by now – and we ran out of time to truly start stretching ourselves to find out how far we could go. I hope you have better luck wherever and whenever you read this and can see, with the benefit of hindsight, where we went wrong – and if possible learn from our mistakes and put it right.

This is Alan’s Album’s Archives on December 20th 2012 wishing you a happy epoch of progress and a peaceful new millennia.

Appendix – Just in case my site is one of those you find early in your scan for life then here are a few references that might be useful to you in working out these words, a sort of Rosetta Stone for the future (don’t worry if the name escapes you!) Here is our Alphabet; A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Here is our numbering system up to 20: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 1 4 15 16 17 18 19 20 (you should get the idea of where our numerical system is going from this!) The language this is written in is English. This is the language used where I live and it is spread quite widely across the globe, but some countries use other languages and other bits of writing may feature different words to this one. This website has a built in translator gadget that at the click of the button can translate into about 30 different languages.

Monday, 17 December 2012

News, Views and Music Issue 175 (Intro)

December 26th:

Ho! Ho! Ho! Welcome to the fourth Annual Alan’s Album Archive Almanac, celebrating the great, the good and the ghastly of the past year. Still looking for Christmas present ideas? Then why not buy our ‘top releases’ below from our partners at Amazon (just click on one of the adverts on our!) But of course Christmas is about more than simply shameful plugging, so we’ve added yet another festive album review to our site in the form of The Moody Blues’ ‘December’ album. Let’s be honest here – it’s not an album to get you in the mood like the Beach Boys pair or the Beatles’ fan club records, but then it’s a bit different all round this yuletide isn’t it? To be truly in the Xmassy spirit it would be nice if the Coalition could be fair for once and spread goodwill towards all men, except solely their millionaire pals. Workfare slave labour is everywhere this festive season making people work long hours for piddly welfare pay packets, new welfare changes in the coming year will make 2013 a difficult year for most of us (yes even you in work – we’re talking child benefit and maternity leave here!) and the corrupt regimes of ATOS and A4E run along unchecked. So much misery to save such little an amount seems ridiculous to me, doubly so at Christmas – our debt is only the worst its been for 15 years, not 150 as some will tell you and is dwarfed by the zillions we owed in the 40s, 50s, 70s and 80s. And so it is Christmas – and what has the coalition done? (Nothing! – except turn us against each other, the old and the young!) So we’ll leave you with this year’s seasonal message, which is actually the same we’ve been giving you all year through: War is over – if you want it. And we all do, its only the politicians who want us at each other’s throats. I wish I could tell you all not to let the Coalition ruin your Christmas, though chances are they already have. But do let’s fight them in the coming year if it’s the last thing we do (who knows, the way their policies have gone in 2012 it might be). We close this introduction by reminding you to click on our usual link for Alan’s Album Archives’ news stories in a newspaper format and by wishing you all a very wonderful festive period and an amazing, articulate, ailment free new year, whoever you are, whatever you are, whichever part of the globe you might be from. May the Christmas Clandusprods bless you, one and all!

The Moody Blues "December" (2003)

“Out of the darkness and into the light, this is Christmas when we make it alright” “Time take this sadness from me, time bring my heart back safely, hold on to warm September because life can be like December snow” “In the quiet of Christmas morning, in the peace of this Christmas dawn, the child that is the future will see the Earth reborn” “So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, a new one just begun” “A very merry Christmas and a happy new year, let’s hope it’s a good one without any fear” “And so this is Christmas, for weak and for strong, for rich and for poor ones, the world is so wrong” “War is over, if you want it, war is over now...” “It was only a winter’s tale, why should the world take notice of another love that’s failed?” “Where are the wise men when they are wanted? They are nowhere to be seen, like thieves in the night the desert is drifting ever closer, the world won’t sleep well tonight” “Where did the spirit of Christmas go? Lost in the desert or covered in snow?” “I once met a holy man who showed me the way, the road to tranquillity at last, the more he was listening the more he would say, with tales of days of future passed” “In the bleak midwinter frosty wind may moan, Earth stood hard as iron water like a stone”

The Moody Blues “December” (2003)

Don’t Need A Reindeer/December Snow/In The Quiet Of Christmas Morning/On This Christmas Day/Happy Xmas (War Is Over)//A Winter’s Tale/The Spirit Of Christmas/Yes I Believe/When A Child Is Born/White Christmas/In The Bleak Midwinter

First up – merry Christmas! A very happy and music filled 2013! And a ho! ho! ho! to all of you. (Unless you’re David Cameron of course when it’s Ha! Ha! Ha! who have you got left to care about you this Christmas?) May you all get the festive period you want this year, shared with those you love – even if those you love are only on the CD player, I don’t care – this is my party and you’re all invited. (Just take that Spice Girls mask off George Osbourne – you’re scaring everyone!) A big glass of something to all of you (I don’t care what – water if that’s all the Coalition have left you!) and warm festive hugs for continuing to read Alan’s Album Archives the year through (unless you’re new, of course, in which case I still hold a toast to seeing you again in the new year!)

Sadly that’s about it for the customary cheer of our yearly AAA album review. In past years we’ve discussed two varying Beach Boys Christmas sets (far from perfect but at least they tried, bless ‘em), Johnny Cash (depressing but fascinating) and The Beatles’ Fan Club Discs (zany but fun). That’s all the AAA Christmas albums I can think of (even the Johnny Cash was a bit of an extra) and all I have left is this rather shoddy Moody Blues CD, which isn’t even all that Christmassy. The truth is, I wasn’t expecting to have lasted this long when I started this site. I thought that four years in I’d be a) dead or destroyed or both from chronic fatigue b) my site would have been bought up by now or c) I’d have been amalgamated with google (everything else has). To date only the first of these seems to be vaguely true and yet I still hope to struggle on for a while yet. After four years I’m still here writing – which is wonderful in all sorts of ways of course – but now have to tackle this review. Please excuse me if the Christmas cheer leaves the room for a few paragraphs but then, well, rows and disappointments are an annual part of Christmas too, however much we try to hide the fact and we’re going to have some fun with this one...Well, I had to review this travestry of a record sometime didn’t I?!

I assure you I tried hard to be positive with this review, I really did. After all I love The Moody Blues. Their back catalogue is almost uniquely faultless, all the way up to the 1980s when so many bands fell apart at the seams. They should be the perfect band to spread genuine messages of peace on earth and goodwill to all men, because after all that’s what they’ve been doing their whole career through. Heck, I’m even the sort of fan who enjoyed ‘Strange Times’, the – err – strange last non-festive studio album the Moodies have made to date in 1999, hopeless modernisation and self-references and all. Well, it’s just lovely to see the Moodies still around at all spreading their cosmic joy to us all isn’t it? So many bands trying the same have disappeared in a sea of rows and acrimony that its to their credit the Moodies are still going and singing the same old song. But, sadly, on this album it’s the same old song times 11 on this album. I can’t find many good words to write about this ‘festive’ CD at all which remains an unhappy blot on their discography. Even in a ‘heck, it’s Christmas, I don’t have to hear this album for another 11 months so I don’t mind the sweetness rotting my teeth’ kind of a way I can’t find much to excuse this monstrosity, because it isn’t even particularly Christmassy (its more a festive record, with more songs about Winter than Jesus’ birthday, brussell sprouts and present giving). What’s worse is that no one seems to be trying terribly hard across this record because, well, it’s only a Christmas album isn’t it? And sadly that’s all a reviewer can say. Well it’s only a Christmas record innit? Nothing to see here, move along to the boxing day turkey leftovers...

However, I’m not done yet. Recording information for this album is sketchy, but I’m willing to bet that it didn’t take very long. What we do know for a fact is that the Moody Blues recorded this Christmas, wintry record about snow and winter nights in....sun-specked Italy. I wouldn’t wish the British wintry weather on anyone (well, maybe David Cameron) but, honestly, this album’s snow-on-the-windowpanes-and-fire-in-the-hearth atmosphere is about as convincing as believing that Bony M knew Mary’s Boy Child firsthand. To boot, this album came out in October – October! – which is dead early for a Christmas record and suggests that the bulk of it was made in spring or summer (most festive records are at least made in the Autumn so they’re halfway to the cold nights and warm fires spirit). Well, that’s my inner scrooge for you (and did I mention I was once cast in that part aged eight in a school play – what can I say? For me Christmas seems to be an excuse for people to act the way they should all year round for a single day, quickly forgotten when the new year comes around).

To date this is the last Moody Blues album the band have released. It’s now been nine years this December and, while still a majestic touring force on their best days, it seems that the Moodies’ creative spark has finally died out after twenty years or so of dwindling. Someone should have stoked that fire in all that time because, honestly, the Moody Blues are one of the best British bands around. Most of the original members are still there (or were till this album anyways) and unlike some bands I can mention they all still have their voices intact and there are no acid casualties among them. A few patchy records I understand but, seriously, there’s only been one Moodies song worth owning since 1988 (that was ‘Swallow’, a Hayward lab of pop nostalgia from ‘Strange Times’). Where did all that talent go? The sad fact is, I really don’t expect there to be any more studio albums after this – the band don’t need to, after all, as their re-issues, live albums and tours and occasional DVDs are more than enough to see them do all right economically. Word has it that this album took four years to make – and it sounds like it was like wading through tinsel-flavoured treacle all the way through (it speaks volumes that the band didn’t even mention to their fanzine that it was a Christmas album they were working on, perhaps because they knew what fans would think of the idea). The Moody Blues used to work so well because they were five fiery creators all sparking off each other – but, perhaps suitably for an album about winter, that spark has died by 2003. Keyboardist Mike Pinder left in 1978 with even his replacement Patrick Moraz gone by the mid 90s, flautist Ray Thomas left just before this album in 2002 and drummer Graeme Edge has long since given up writing songs and quirky poetry and now restricts himself to being the band’s second drummer. Only Justin Hayward and John Lodge are still creating by 2003 – with the addition of non-writing flute player Norma Mullen - and so perhaps its inevitable that their work sounds like retreads of earlier songs, both theirs and others.

But why do a Christmas album at all? I can understand why the Beach Boys made one in 1964 (the peak time for festive themed albums, they needed an album in a hurry according to their contract, ‘Little Saint Nick’ had been a big hit the year before etc). But by 2003 Christmas records are no longer a respectable part of the industry, they’re what singers and bands do when they’ve run out of ideas and want to make some quick money (heck, even Rod Stewart’s turned to that market now – and if there’s one good thing to be said for ‘December’ it’s that it still doesn’t sink quite as low as that record; I sat through the Rod Stewart Christmas special this year and I still feel sick a week on). But the Moody Blues have no real connection with Christmas and are unlikely to win over a new audience in this day and age, not with this set of recordings anyway. It sounds to me as if one of them went ‘I can’t think of a single idea for a song – let’s just do a Christmas album and get it over with’.

Perhaps it’s simply that this album was the easiest type to make. The gaps
between Moodies albums were getting longer and longer anyway before this (eight years seperate 'Keys To The Kingdom’ and ‘Strange Times’, neither of them exactly first class), perhaps showing that the writing was harder to come by than it used to be. It speaks volumes that ‘December’ is the first album since the pre-Hayward and Lodge, Denny Laine era line-up in 1965 to include covers of ‘outside’ songs alongside the originals and these make up a whopping five out of the 11 songs. Fair enough I suppose – you expect traditional songs on a Christmas album – but a lot of these songs aren’t particularly old or traditional either (Mike Batt’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’ and John and Yoko’s ‘Happy Xmas’). Even the ‘expected’ choices are that little bit too expected: ‘White Christmas’ ‘When A Child Is Born’ ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’; frankly I’m surprised ‘Jingle Bells’ isn’t here! (And where’s (Moody)‘Blue Christmas’? At least that would have been fun in a postmodern sense?!) Yet despite having three of the most ‘Christmassy’ songs ever written, the overall impression of this record is that it doesn’t really touch on Christmas that much. Sure there are references to reindeers, lots of actual uses of the word ‘Christmas’ and snow (heaps of it), but that doesn’t make it Xmassy. There’s not a single sleighbell to be had across the album, no references to Jesus or religion bar the cover songs above and there’s no real insight into ‘proper’ Christmasses then or now (barring a slightly awkward reading of ‘When A Child Is Born’, surely the only version of the several hundred of this song around done in brummy accents). If you were an alien looking to understand the strange human past-times of putting up trees indoors, cooking birds that are available all year round for lunch and covering your walls with paper only to take them down again a few weeks later you’d still have no idea (well, only that it snows). Perhaps the band were clever in calling this album ‘December’ rather than ‘The Moodies Christmas Festive Bonanza’ or something equally predictable, but the end result is still half-cooked (just like this year’s turkey, get it back in the oven and read a bit more!) John Lodge even has the audacity to ask on one song ‘what happened to the Christmas spirit?’ You tell me!

Most fans, it appears, don’t like this record. Yet lots of non-fans do. Take a glimpse at the review of this album on Amazon or Prog Rock corner and most of them start ‘I usually love the Moody Blues but...’ or ‘I’ve always hated this band so didn’t expect to like this but...’ The trouble is, to the ‘outside’ world this is what all Moody Blues albums must solund like: twinkly synthesisers instead of proper keyboards (although their old mellotron was so much more than that), slow passionate ballads sung with great seriousness (‘Nights In White Satin’ has a lot to answer for...) and epic stories about peace and love. The main difference between then and now is that this album sounds hopelessly infantile and empty and manufactured – its the difference between a Walmart sweater with the price on the back compared to a home-knitted one (you might hate both of them, but at least you can appreciate the work and love and care in the latter). So it amazes me that the band decided to re-issue it again in 2005, this time in a double pack with the ‘Ballads’ compilation, as if ignoring the fact that most people who love the one will hate the other – and thus neatly reminding people of how good the band used to be – and how wonderful this album could have been. The trouble is, ‘December’ features even more ballads than that compilation does! At least the Beach Boys added in ‘Little Saint Nick’ for variety and pace – the fastest tempo we have here is the opening ‘Don’t Need A Reindeer’ which, in terms of the Moodies’ back catalogue, is still closer in spirit to ‘Isn’t Life Strange?’ than ‘The Story In Your Eyes’. By the time we reach the final track, an ugly half-speed synthesised version of the gorgeous ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’, you’re wishing this was the good old days of vinyl, when you could at least have fun speeding the record up to 78rpm. It’s almost as if the record company told the band the album had to be a certain length and rather than record an extra track the band ssssslllloooowwweeeddd everything down accordingly (actually at 42 minutes this album is still on the short side compared to most new CD-length albums).

Perhaps I’m being mean, though, because there are flashes of the old inspiration and genius here. ‘Don’t Need A Reindeer’ has a classy singalong chorus, even if the words only reach auto-pilot at best; the Lennon cover ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over) isn’t as toe-curlingly right-on as most sloppy cover versions of this modern hymn for our times, even if it falls badly short of the superb original; ‘Yes I Believe’ might be pretty average on its own but does at least feature a strong performance by the band and some nice production moments (although, like draping a bare tree in tinsel, it would only be allowable on a Christmas record) and ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ is at least a good choice to cover, one of our ‘five AAA classic carols’ as related in these very pages this time last year in fact (in the top five of ‘News and Views 126 if you want to read up on it and your author’s addiction to the music of Gustav Holst). Justin and John are still in good voice and, to be honest, they could be singing the phone book and still make some kind of emotional connection with their listeners after all the decades we’ve spent together – but sadly they don’t often sing together (there are no real harmonies on this record) and the lack of Ray Thomas or Graeme Edge vocals is a shame. Heard separately Hayward and Lodge sound lost, stuck in a synthesised snowdrift right up to their necks. This album could so very nearly have been very different then, but unfortunately hearing these specks of talent drizzled across this album is like receiving a toy for Christmas without the batteries: it just won’t go however much you want it to. Of course if this was a Spice Girls Christmas record (shudder), well, there’s not a snowman in the Bahamas’ chance I’d ever play it but at least then I could think ‘well, it has some interesting moments – more than I was expecting anyway’. By Moody Blues standards, though, I’m used to having to play their records several dozen times to make sure I hear everything, there is so much packed into their music designed to dazzle, entrance, enhance or energise each song (only 10cc’s productions come close to the sheer effort that went into mixing the Moodies’ albums). By contrast this album is empty, a big fat hollow nothing which even those familiar voices can’t fill and I’ve sucked everything usable out of it in a single playing. OK I accept that, by 2003, the mellotron is long gone from the band’s sound but why does it have to be replaced by such ‘lift music’ synthesisers? This album, a mere nine years old (a mere infant compareds to most on this site) already sounds more dated than most of the 1960s albums we cover. Why have the keyboards on there at all? The orchestra on its own or even a piano part would have done! Bah! Humbug!

In terms of theme, there’s one massive one running through this album that will be of no surprise to anyone whose heard a Moody Blues reunion album: the theme of nostalgia. The band have had their biggest hits whilst looking back over their shoulder (just check out the retro videos to ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere’ and ‘Your Wildest Dreams’, both made about ten years before everyone else started going ‘aaah!’ about their 1960s youth). This works in two ways. On the one hand there’s (ironically, given the musical setting) a pang of regret that modern Christmasses are so commercialised. At various points across this record the band are shouting their belief in the ‘traditional’ Christmas, talking about the ‘peace and quiet’ of a (presumably Victorian era) Christmas of long ago and the idea that it doesn’t matter how many reindeers are on the roof or decorations are on the wall, as long as there’s love in the house at Christmas then its a special day. John Lodge’s song ‘On This Christmas Day’ is even his own re-write of Hayward’s ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere’ , seeing the ‘lonely face’ of someone he used to know and wanting her to know he still thinks of her. Which leads me onto my second point: the sheer amount of references to Moody Blues things past that fans are sure to know. Personally I like the idea of ‘In-jokes’ for fans more than most – it gives a connection between band and fans that mere ‘outsiders’ can’t hope to understand and doesn’t do any harm to those who are scratching their heads about why a certain line is in there.

However, there are far too many on this record, which makes me wonder if the band weren’t just sticking these in-jokes in to fill up another couple of lines per song. To go through them all would make this introduction another 3000 words longer, but here’s a few: ‘This is the season of beauty and love’ (‘Reindeer’ – ‘Love and Beauty’ was the band’s first single with Hayward and Lodge on board); ‘Looking for an answer that escapes me’ (‘The Spirit Of Christmas’ – see ‘Question’), ‘Tales of days and future passed’ (‘Yes I Believe’ – check out the title of the band’s Hayward-era first album); and ‘Paradise unseen’ (same song – see ‘Visions Of Paradise’). Alternatively, is this is the band, sure that they will never make another album together (or possibly looking over their shoulder at Ray Thomas’ ill health forcing him to leave the band) and trying to sum up their career in a few lines? (If so then make a proper record – not a Christmas one!)

In all, then, despite some good ideas, ‘December’ is the Christmas Day equivalent of the mother-in-law visit, the turkey-filled sandwich which lasts till new year’s eve, the TV schedule filled with Soap operas and no Dr Who special and unwrapping Spice Girls CDs under a Christmas Tree whose mysteriously developed the ash-tree fungus while the Queen goes on and on (and on) about what a rotten year they’ve had even though they’re secretly laughing at taking all of your money. We all have Christmasses like this one sometimes in our lives I fear – I guess they exist simply to show us how much better our other Christmasses are.

Trust me, there isn’t much to say about any of the songs here – so we’ll keep it short shall we? I need ‘Don’t Need A Reindeer’ like I need a whole in the sled, an awful hip-hop cooked r and b number with cutesy pie sleigh bells that, for a second straight album, sees the band trying to appeal to the ‘youngsters’ with an opening song that ‘sounds’ like one of theirs without actually understanding anything of the genre. At least ‘English Sunset’ from ‘Strange Times’ had the humour to laugh at itself, though, full of lyrics about passing great English traditions and the chorus ‘more tea, vicar?’ like some bad 1970s sitcom. This song simply takes itself soooo seriously and it has one of those awful infuriatingly catchy choruses that bands can only get away with trying at Christmas. The sad fact is there are more glimpses of the ‘old’ Moody Blues at work here than probably any other song on the record. Hayward’s triple-tracked harmonies are the closest we get to the full Moodies sound on this record and while the a cappela-with-handclaps section is disappointing, the chorus intoning ‘we can make it alright’ is the single most Moody Blues moment we’ve had for some time. You even believe its true, until the song hits the irritating verse again, which sounds like ‘Good King Wenceslas’ sung by the Spice Girls. The lyrics, too, are awful – ‘Do you remember long ago when we were children? Let’s be like children this Christmas time’. It doesn’t even rhyme! And the chorus, which does rhyme, is even worse! ‘I don’t need a reindeer, I don’t need the snow, tell me you love me and I’m ready to go’. Argh! And I know vagueness is an art form – ‘Nights In White Satin’ being perhaps the best song ever written where you don’t know what the hell it all really means for certain – but this song plays it far too safe. In the end it tries so hard to be a ‘generic Christmas’ everyone can relate to that no one can relate to it; there’s just nothing here. So, then, at least this song is 50% of the way there. On the Christmas metaphor list this song is somewhere around party hats and Christmas cracker jokes (the brussel sprouts are to come!) All this song really needs to sparkle like a bauble is a good remix to take that awful backing out and bring in more of Hayward’s excellent guitar which has been mixed so low you can’t hear it. On a normal album this song would be about average compared to the rest of the album; on ‘December’ it’s about the best thing here but should – and – could have been so much better. Had the band released this as a Christmas single, backed by ‘Yes I Believe’, then all would be forgiven – sadly the album’s going to get a lot worse than this...And yes, so much for keeping it short!

‘December Snow’ is another almost song on this record, a slow passionate ballad that at least sounds like it should be a full blown Moody song. The chord changes are so Justin Hayward like (they’re a close fit for ‘Moving Mountains’ from Justin’s 1987 solo record) and the bubbling synthesiser riff is a pretty neat match for the ‘Long Distance Voyager’ era of the band. Unfortunately, though, that’s all going for this song: had this piece had the benefit of pristine Moodies harmonies, more of Hayward’s guitar work (again ducked too low in the mix) and a little life about it this could have been a classic. The melody is quite lovely too, with a chorus that sweeps in from nowhere to full crescendo in true ‘Running Water’ Moodies style and again this song would easily have been the best thing on the album had they sped it up a tad and written some better lyrics. Yes, again the lyrics let this song down badly: ‘Like December snow that lies in the wood, you’re gone too soon – I knew you would’. Ouch! The band seem to have forgotten how to write a proper rhyme too, with one verse making out that ‘Me’ ‘Spell’ ‘Fall’ and ‘Calling’ all rhyme with each other. Is this really the same band who gave us ‘Question’?! Hmm too much mistletoe wine I fancy... At least this sounds vaguely like the Moody Blues though, which is more than I can say for...
‘In The Quiet Of Christmas Morning’, which is the second AAA song to be based on J S Bach’s ‘Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring’ along with The Beach Boy’s ‘Lady Lynda’ (from their ‘LA Light Album’ of 1979). Quite why two AAA bands should want to re-write an awful piece of baroque schlock is beyond me – I had piano lessons for 15 years and, along with Clementi, Bach was the composer I dreaded most. There’s simply no feel there, no emotion, it’s just a clever exercise in notes designed to make you show off, like a musical crossword puzzle; true music should have a link to an audience’s heart, not their heads! The Moodies, shockingly, don’t even improve on the original(at least ‘Lady Lynda’ went somewhere interesting!), with some yucky lyrics about Jesus’ birth that don’t even mention Jesus by name (is this meant to be set in the future?) Figuring out that little puzzle is the only thing worth listening to this song for – Hayward and Lodge’s voices clash badly, the tinny orchestra-and-sleigh bells backing is awful (though the subtle vocal choir is a nice touch) and that incessant Bach tune just wraps everything up in fake snow and tinsel. As if that wasn’t enough the band can’t even be bothered to write a third verse for this song, repeating the first again at the end and taking the easy way out in the compositional stakes (really, this is writing by numbers – even the tune’s been done for you). One of the lesser moments of a lesser album, it sounds like a bad Mike Batt song (funny that, given what’s coming up later...) and the only upside is that if you stick this on at the end of your Christmas party you’ll soon clear everyone in the room!

At least ‘On This Christmas Day’ tries to go somewhere new, even if it eventually ends up in a snow covered cul de sac. John Lodge’s re-write of Hayward’s ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere’, it finds the narrator noticing his old flame in the papers and imagines her alone at Christmas. However, that’s it: there’s no resolution to this song that gives us a happy ending and no evidence that the narrator even tries to get back into contact; far from vowing to track his love down whatever it takes as per ‘Somewhere’, this song limply closes ‘I will think of you’ as if that’s enough to put things right. Again some poor lyrics let down what could have been quite a sweet song (a snow-covered version of ‘She’s Leaving Home’?) with rhymes for ‘name’ and ‘rain’ (hmm), ‘crowd’ and ‘ground’ (erm?) and ‘street’ and ‘feet’. Again there’s quite a nice melody here but the whole thing is too slow by half – especially as the third straight ballad in a row! Again there’s an awfully yucky backing of strings (especially in the fade-out) and percussion and not enough Moodies playing at all (Hayward gets in another quick solo but it’s not long enough by half). Moodies fans have had a mischievous time wondering who the figure ‘in the papers’ might be – we couldn’t possibly comment! We put this song somewhere about turkey stuffing in our pantheon of Christmas metaphors.

‘Happy Christmas (War Is Over)’ is, at last, a fantastic song that gets the balance between genuine emotion and Christmas tat spot on. Unfortunately, its the famous Christmas single written by John Lennon for yuletide 1971 (the song was released so close to Christmas, however, it wasn’t a big hit until a re-issue a year later). We haven’t covered this non-album single on our site yet, so its worth talking about it in more detail. This song was written right in the middle of JohnandYoko’s revolutionary period in New York City, spreading messages of peace and its probably the single most successful song that got this message of love to the world across. The tune is easy on the ear until finally exploding into a choir of warmth on the choruses and throughout the record there are several clever little tricks that make the song ‘evolve’ (ie change key) and sound more and more positive as the song reaches the climax. Sure the lyrics (and especially the rhymes) aren’t particularly better than anything on this ‘December’ album, but there’s a belief and a genuineness about the whole exercise that covers up for any defects and the idea that Christmas is a time for peace across the world is a strong one. The idea of including the listener in the song (‘what have you done?’) is a special spine-tingling touch on a song filled with good ideas. Lennon wanted to make a song that would be the ‘White Christmas’ for his generation – it may have taken his sad death in 1980 to truly get the message across and turn this record from a well loved novelty to a global anthem, but this song got there in the end. As for the Moodies’ cover version, I don’t see this as the sacrilege that many other bands do – the lyrics about peace on earth are arguably as relevant to the Moodies and Lennon if not more so and they clearly mean well. Unfortunately, they’ve missed what made the original of this song so special: the choir of clearly non-professional singers, the subtle changes of key and mood are hammered over the listener’s heads and the cutesy orchestra makes the whole thing sound like Mantovani. Hayward and Lodge, trading lines throughout the song, can’t compare with the earnestness of Lennon’s original either (the song inspired one of his very best vocals). Worst of all the key line of the original (‘War is over, if you want it’) has been cut out for no apparent reason (indeed, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars of 2003 that had just started meant this song’s message was even more vital than it had been in the context of Vietnam in the 1970s) – a shocking betrayal of the song’s original message which means the track fades some 2 minutes in instead of becoming a singalong anthem. All that said, this is still one of the better tracks on the album – you’d have to work pretty hard to fail entirely on a song as good as this one, few bands would have been able to be as sincere in their message of ‘peace’ as the Moody Blues and at least Hayward gets a proper chance to unleash his guitar here. Just don’t expect it to be as good as the original. In our musical metaphor game, its seeing ‘that’ Morecambe and Wise Christmas special yet another year – 40 years on its undeniably losing its impact and yet it still manages to be funny. Sort of.

‘A Winter’s Tale’ is a more unwanted cover from Womble creator Mike Batt and musical lyricist Tim Rice on a bad day. Batt had worked with Hayward on ‘Moving Mountains’ and to some extent this song seems a logical choice for the album – its tale of a lonely narrator searching for love isn’t too far removed from those of several Moodies songs down the years. Had this song been up to Batt’s best work (The Hollies’ glorious ‘Soldier’s Song’) and given Justin something to get his teeth into it could have been terrific. Unfortunately this is a weak song that covers up the hole at its centre by repeating its infantile chorus ad infinitum and a plotline that really doesn’t go anywhere – by the end of the song the narrator has pulled away from his bleak world view to acknowledge all the other people alone at Christmas, but that’s a cop out. What we really want at Christmas is a happy but plausible ending, not a reminder of how cruel the world can be. Hayward sounds downright embarrassed by the last repeat of the chorus, as if he’s only singing the song for a bet, and if anything the tacky strings heard across this record have got even tackier. One of the album’s less lovely moments – if the band wanted to do solitude at Christmas why not tackle Paul McCartney’s ‘Footprints’, a song with a million times the emotion and power of this one. In Christmas terms this is the lump of coal in a Christmas stocking. Bah! Humbug

By now in this record you’re probably pleading with Santa to make it stop and that you promise to be a good boy all of next year. The good news is that there’s not long to go now. The bad news is that up next is ‘The Spirit Of Christmas’, the weakest of all the not-that-great-to-be-honest original songs on this album. John Lodge doesn’t sing this song so much as whisper it and he hasn’t really bothered writing a melody line either, singing on two notes throughout. This re-telling of the Christmas story should have been the highlight of the album. There aren’t many major practising Christians in the AAA canon but John Lodge has always been open Christmas means, doesn’t explain the significance of Jesus’ birth or the star in Bethlehem’s sky and the three wise men are depicted as slipping away ‘like thieves in the night’. The only lyrics that resonates is from that middle eight, Lodge imagining the world ‘drifting slow through time and space, not knowing where we are’ (we’re in between Venus and Mars, surely?!) Not that memorable, really, like the bland eggnog your distant relative has forgotten how to make properly but still insists on creating every year.

Compared to everything else here ‘Yes I Believe’ shines out like a lighthouse in a snowdrift. Hayward’s third original song on the album, this song is far from great but does at least sounds like more traditional Moodies fare by equating ‘Christmas’ with ‘love’ and then treating this song like every other Moodies song about love. The catchy chorus is the only one from this album likely to stick in your head after the CD has finished and the lyrics, while not exactly poetry, do at least make sense and rhyme. The narrator believes in a better world but doesn’t know how to achieve it. He visits a ‘holy man’ who talks about ‘days of future passed’ and reveals that he doesn’t need to ‘do’ anything – just listen for the love that’s out there and encourage it to flower. Less twee than both the title and chorus make this song sound, this is as close to an uptempo song as we have on this record and even adds some belated Moodies feminism into the band’s sound on their last (to date) band original (‘Yes I believe in a better world, a world where my sisters can be free’). Hayward means every word he sings, he finally gets the chance to let his guitar do the talking in a still too short solo end section and the band chorus means that for once on this album this really does sound like The Moody Blues. Interestingly, despite being something of an atheist, it’s Hayward not Lodge who uses the word ‘God’ on this album and its at the very end of this song, with the narrator looking up to the skies and praying for a better life. In truth this song is only as good as about the midway best song on ‘Strange Times’ but as far as this album goes it’s a work of genius, like a stuffed stocking full of presents – or another relative offering to do the washing up for you.

‘When A Child Is Born’ is the hoary old Johnny Mathis hit about the birth of Jesus – although curiously and like ‘The Spirit Of Christmas’ the babe is never named, so for all we know this song could be set in the future. This is the first song on the album where you really miss Ray Thomas’ bass voice, the glue that so often kept Hayward and Lodge’s vocals together. Heard in harmony together, you at least realise why the pair haven’t sung together more often across this album and the sound is painful for us fans to endure. Again, this is another modern Christmas standard that made some fans scratch their heads, but like ‘Happy Xmas’ the song is at least suitable for the band with its message of peace and optimism and this version of the song would be quite nice if it weren’t for yet more soppy unnecessary strings and sleighbells. This is also the only song on the album that features Lodge using his traditional falsetto, so at least this song sounds more like The Moodies than others here! This version of the song is far from a travesty – and yet its hardly comparable to the original either. If this was a Christmas metaphor it would be the broken Christmas lights on the tree going on and going off again.

‘White Christmas’ isn’t one of my favourite yuletide songs. It sounds hollow somehow ansd the rhyme of ‘glisten’ and ‘listen’ makes me feel sick every time I hear it (to be fair, though, that’s about par for the rhyming scheme on this album). Irving Berlin wrote so amny fabulous songs that its always puzzled me how this one became as big as it was (till Band Aid it was the biggest selling single of all time), not least because of how short it is (at two verses it’s barely worth putting down on paper). At least Bing Crosby’s original had charisma going for it though – this soppy wet blanket of a cover is every ghastly mistake on this album multiplied. The original was slow but this Moodified version has slowed to a full stop, John Lodge’s vocal is awful and far from the great work he was giving us just 10 years before this (perhaps suitably, it sounds like he’s got a winter cold) and the soppy strings and hollow synthesisers are back in force. Thankfully the middle of the song transcends the opening, thanks to an unexpected input of power from the rest of the band and a slightly jigged up tempo, but it’s too little too late – this cover truly is a Christmas turkey.

‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ rounds off the album and is a truly gorgeous hymn. Justin Hayward’s always quoted Gustav Holst as an (unexpected) influence on his work and he’d dead right – Holst’s unique way with oblique time signatures and keys that give emotional resonance too strong for less writers is a strong match for his own work. I’ve said it before on this site and I’ll say it again – Holst is the only classical composer worth your time and I champion him as the unlikely godfather of the 1960s (despite having died in 1934) as so many of the AAA groups use the poise, emotional resonance and playfulness with harmonic laws of the ‘Planets’ composer. ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ is his setting of a Rosetti poem, something that was barely known during Holst’s lifetime but has become one of his most recognisable songs now, with its ‘bleak’ harmonic challenges and struggle upstream the perfect setting for Rosetti’s bare but intriguing lyrics. There’s no prizes for guessing that this song is second in my ‘all time top favourite Christmas songs’ list of last year (beaten only by ‘I Wonder As I Wander’ which would have been an even better fit for this album) and with the Moody Blues one of my favourite bands as well this recording should be fantastic! Alas, its probably the worst version of the dozens of recordings of this carol I own – its slow to the point of stupidity, Hayward’s vocal is strained to the point of getting a wheezing fit (did they really not go for another take despite spending years making this record?) and the changes the band have made to the original merely undo all the clever brilliance in the original. Worse, only Hayward seems to be playing on this song – Lodge is absent and Edge seems to be asleep – but instead of playing to his own bare guitar (something the song is crying out for) the band smother the song under a snowdrift of synthesisers. What a disappointment! The best song on the album by some margin (even compared to ‘Happy Xmas’), ‘Midwinter’ deserved so much better than this, the musical equivalent of the burnt turkey at Christmas lunch.

In all, then, ‘December’ is hardly an essential purchase. If you’re a Moody Blues fan you’ll hate it with a passion, as it shows the Moody Blues getting so much wrong, arguably for the first time in such a relentless fashion (all Moody albums have one bad track somewhere – but this album is all bad). The fact that the band seem to have ended their career with it is truly heartbreaking, far worse than finding out that Father Christmas doesn’t exist for me (erm... unless you’re under seven reading this in which case he does, honest and truly, that was just a typing error on my part...and why are you spending your Christmas hols reading about an album made before you were born anyway?) Even drunk on the sofa, surrounded by tacky decorations and presents under a tree, it still sounds more artificial than your surroundings. Now, I’m hardly the most Christmas-centred person that’s ever lived (as far as I’m concerned every day’s Christmas when music is around) and artificial Christmas music does send me particularly potty. That said, I’m hardly alone – of all the reviews of this album I’ve read over the years (some 40 by now) not one longterm Moody Blues fan seems to even like this album (although a couple of non-fans seemed to like it; well compared to Rod Stewart’s or Ringo’s Christmas albums it must sound pretty good). Our advice is: save your money for when the bills come in January and don’t buy it – if you’re getting it for a non-Moodies fan they won’t get to know the band any better from this album and if they love the Moody Blues then this record will break their heart. Normally a record this bad would make me fall out of love with any band I collect but, well, this is the Moody Blues who are very dear to my heart and – heck – it is Christmas. Well, a Coalition Christmas anyway. Bah! Humbug! Overall rating: ♫ (1/10).
Other Moody Blues album review from this site you might be interested in:

'In Search Of The Lost Chord'

'On The Threshold Of A Dream'

'To Our Children's Children's Children'

‘A Question Of Balance’

'Every Good Boy Deserves Favour'

'Seventh Sojourn'

'Blue Jays' (Hayward-Lodge)

'Songwriter' (Hayward solo)

'The Present'

The AAA Review Of The Year 2012 (News, Views and Music Issue 175)

In 2010 we said that it was like the year 1963 all over again: a triple lot of Beatles re-issues (their group albums in mono and stereo box sets, plus the start of Macca’s solo re-issue series), Keith Richard’s book causing controversy and some long overdue interest in The Searchers. That meant by proxy that 2011 was 1964 and so it proved: The Hollies were everywhere with their first official documentary, a box set and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame appearance, with cameos by The Kinks (a documentary each on Ray and Dave Davies) and yet more from The Beatles (via a George Harrison book and documentary). 2012 has therefore logically carried on this theme – and helped me fill out this introduction for yet another year - by being like 1965. The Beatles and Stones celebrated big anniversaries (50 years each, questionable in both cases as the former chose the date Ringo joined the band and their first single not when they formed, while the latter hadn’t yet added Bill Wyman or Charlie Watts to the band in 1962) and proper releases for some of their rarer material (Magical Mystery Tour and unreleased 1965 concert film ‘Charlie Is My Darling’ respectively). The Beach Boys were big news too – especially in Europe – thanks to an unexpected reunion tour (one that, sadly, ended the way we all expected after 20 years of continual in-fighting). The Who followed up their ‘director’s cut’ re-issue of Quadrophenia last year with a new documentary on the album, the release of Pete Townshend’s autobiography (first mooted as far back as 1981) and easily the best musical performance at the Olympics (which makes Roger Daltrey Usain Bolt – and the Spice Girls moaning cheat Oscar Pistorius). The Kinks were still there too with a new BBC compilation and a best-of. Meanwhile The Small Faces’ back catalogue was plundered again – this time with decidedly better (if pricey) results. The Monkees, too, might not have been around in 1965 but very much dominated the musical news after the sad death of the much missed Davy Jones (amazingly the only AAA member we lost this year) and the unexpected reunion of the other three. In fact only The Byrds were missing from the AAA crowd of 1965, which means logically that if 2013 is a mirror of 1966 then we’re in for one hell of a year...

However, even though we had quantity galore this year in the shape of new albums, re-issues, rarities, box sets, BBC recordings and especially a bumper crop of documentaries (my poor DVD recorder’s been worked to death these past 12 months!) we haven’t always had quality. The six AAA releases we list in our ‘releases of the year’ section below are all re-issues of previously released albums/singles/bbc sessions with something extra added – releases that admittedly sound better than ever thanks to new tracks/new documentaries/new packaging, but the very small handful of all-new AAA releases this year were sadly uniformly atrocious. The Beach Boys sounded like they’d been together 5000 years not 50, Neil Young released two of his most questionable record-em-quick records and Paul McCartney turned into a crooner for possibly his most misguided album ever. At least 2011 had the excellent first Beady Eye album and half-decent records by Noel Gallagher and Paul Simon going for it – by comparison 2012 was an argument for how badly the music scene is nowadays even for our heroes and heroines, pressurised into releasing dross. Let’s hope for better in 2013: we still have the long-awaited batch of CSNY releases promised (a ‘Stills’ box set to go alongside the ‘Crosby’ and ‘Nash’ ones, plus the first legal issue of the quartet’s record attended show at Wembley in 1974), possibly more from Belle and Sebastian and the ever-busy Neil Young, ‘Wings At The Speed Of Sound’ is set to be 2013’s McCartney deluxe edition and we might finally get a proper legal version of The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ film on DVD to follow ‘MMTour’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’ into the shops (don’t hold your breath though...)


1) Pink Floyd “The Wall” (Experience Edition)

Re-issues were definitely the best releases of the year and Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ carried on their excellent but bank-breaking re-issue series. I actually preferred this set to both the ‘Dark Side’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’ sets at the end of last year, simply because the ‘unreleased material’ was all so different this time around without any ‘fillers’ like alternate mixes or live versions. The main reason for buying this hideously overpriced set was the chance to hear Roger Waters’ legendary unreleased ‘demo’ version of the entire album (played to the band in 1978 alongside Roger’s demos for ‘The Pros and Cons Of Hitch-Hiking’, of which only one track sadly made this box). What strikes you is how even the roughest and readiest of these songs already have a magic and mystery about them, with Roger’s overdubbed voice already at full emotional stretch across these songs. The one new ‘song’ ‘Teacher’ was a bit of a disappointment, but the alternate six versions of ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ gave fans a great chance to hear the song (which starts off here as a composite of all three versions) develop over the months Roger worked on it (sounding very different without the children’s choir overdubbed near the end of the sessions) and ‘Comfortably Numb’ aka ‘The Doctor’ sounds so different without Gilmour’s contribution and with its original lyrics that it made you completely re-evaluateperhaps the most important Floyd song of them all. Best of all we also heard a cracking demo of ‘What Shall We Do Now?’ a song heard on the film soundtrack and live appearances but senselessly booted off the album in favour of the similar but inferior ‘Empty Spaces’. You probably won’t play any of these ‘new’ tracks that often for fun and few of these versions compete with the finished product, but the sheer difference between the Wall’s first bricks in 1978 and its last polished coat in 1980 came as a welcome shock to many fans, me included and just about moves this box set into our pole position. The coasters and knick-knacks are nice, too, but – frankly – this set would have been better still with the packaging pared down to the bones and re-released at a sensible price (still that’s not really the Floyd way...)

(Highlights to download - 'What Shall We Do Now? 'The Doctor' 'Another Brick In The Wall' (Six Versions)

2) Paul and Linda McCartney “Ram” (Deluxe Edition)

Talking about excessive packaging, the fourth album in the McCartney re-issue series was the best yet. I’ve always been particularly fond of ‘Ram’ which is a real fan’s album – if you love the quirky side of Macca’s writing in the Beatles and don’t expect the hits you know and love then this album will - along with ‘London Town’ and ‘Press To Play’ - become your new best friend. Again for the price there’s painfully little here in terms of new material, with CD 1 the album in stereo, CD3 the album in mono (there’s not that much difference really), CD4 the ‘crooner’ version of the album released by Macca under his ‘Percy Thrills Thrillington’ persona (nice to have properly re-issued but hardly essential listening for 99% of fans) and CD2’s rarities disc contains just four entirely ‘new’ tracks: the much bootlegged but terrific ‘A Love For You’, the surprisingly noisy jam session ‘Rode All Night’ and two instrumentals from the planned feature length cartoon of ‘Rupert The Bear’. The DVD has some nice moments though: Paul and Linda sing ‘Hey Diddle’ while their children play, the rare promo to ‘3 Legs’ as well as the more common ‘Heart Of The Country’, a sweet 10 minute making of (that could – and should – have been a lot longer) and a fascinating film of Wings on tour shot by drummer Denny Seiwell (which is actually out of place here and should be with ‘Wildlife’), though not up to the surprises of the ‘Macca II’ and ‘Band On The Run’ sets. So why do we rate it so highly? The packaging is so much fun and entirely suitable to the album – there’s a flick book of photos of Paul’s sheep, there’s Paul’s original hand-drawn lyrics scribbled in crayon and re-printed in colour complete with crossings out and six glossy photos taken by Linda. ‘Ram’ is an album all about returning to the heart of the country and the hand-made feel of this set captures that nicely, especially as everything here is tied up with home-made string, with a human being having actually touched the thing (a rarity in this day and age). The book is also the best of the four, Macca having actual genuine memories about this record that, to boot, he hasn’t spoken about ad infitum in the past (as per ‘Band On The Run’). I’d like to see this set cut in half in price terms (Macca really doesn’t need all this money anymore surely?) – yes there are smaller, cheaper versions of this album around but they look ordinary without the packaging – but ‘Ram’ was always one of Macca’s better ideas and it now looks and sounds better than ever.

(Highlights to download - 'Too Many People' 'Heart Of The Country' 'Long Haired Lady' 'Back Seat Of My Car' 'A Love For You')

3) 10cc “Tenology”

I’ve waited a long time for 10cc to get the box set they deserve – and sadly I’m still waiting, although this does at least do half a job of capturing the band’s amazing journey. Recently released at the time of going to print, this set’s packaging capture’s the band’s zany humour (lots of Hipgnosis drawings fans can spend hours unscrambling and some free postcards featuring the band’s heads’ cut into sections like some musical biology project) and finally looks past the band’s hits for their deeper album tracks (although there’s still an unnecessary disc of ‘hits’ included – as if a casual fan who doesn’t already own these songs on various £5 compilations is going to fork out £50 on this set). Frankly there’s not as many rarities as I’d like – fans of this site will know I rate 10cc’s last two ‘forgotten’ albums very highly and this would be a welcome chance to make all (or most) of these rare tracks available on CD for the first time, not just a mere four. However, this set does take a pretty good look at the band’s album career and includes pretty much all the essential songs between 1972 and 1978 as well as an excellent CD full of B sides and flop singles, some of which I’ve been trying to get hold of for years. The DVD is less interesting, sadly, mainly being taken up by the band’s music videos (and only the most common ones at that – look out for the excellent ‘Changing Faces’ DVD which isn’t complete either but does at least contain several more than this set) and their oft-repeated ‘In Concert’ set from 1974 that lasts barely 25 minutes and is often a filleron BBC4 ‘1970s night’ repeats. However, even though this box set is far from perfect, it’s nice that it’s here at all and has been made with due care and attention, with input from all band members from all eras and, thankfully, none of the later solo/reunion tracks that ruined many a fine compilation CD down the years. Not quite ten out of ten, perhaps, but easily good enough to make this year’s list.

(Highlights to download: 'Rubber Bullets' 'Don't Turn Me Away' 'Run Away' 'Blackmail' 'Waterfall')

4) “Davy Jones” (Re-Issue)

Davy Jones’ album for Bell after he left The Monkees was a high point in his career, even though it sold a pitifully small amount on release. We Monkee fans have waited patiently for a proper re-issue of one of the last AAA-related albums never to have appeared on CD to come out; it’s just a shame that it took Davy Jones’ death to inspire it. The release – weeks after Davy’s sad and unexpected demise – could have seemed tacky, a cash in on a lost idol that grieving fans would be guaranteed to buy, but Friday Music did the right thing, keeping the price low, adding a handful of bonus tracks and sensitively handling the whole affair in the media. For those who hadn’t heard lo-fi bootlegs/youtube videos of the songs the album was a revelation, Davy singing with his lower, warmer tones heard on the last batch of Monkees LPs and not straining quite so hard to sound young and appealing. Davy took his time with this album, choosing material most suitable for his voice and his character, especially the hit single ‘Rainy Jane’ which is everything Davy represents; upbeat, supportive and optimistic; the fact that it still made #52 on the pop charts at a time when the Monkees were at their lowest critical ebb says much for the single’s worth. The rest of the album isn’t far behind either, a few low points not withstanding. For those sneering critics who didn’t understand what our love affair with Davy was all about we could play them this album and sigh, the silver lining in what has undoubtedly been a sad year for Monkeemaniacs all over the world.

(Highlights to download - 'Rainy Jane' 'Look At Me' 'Girl')

5) The Searchers “Hearts In Their Eyes”

Another box set, this time more reasonably priced and with a nice mixture of A sides, B sides, album tracks, BBC sessions and unreleased songs. For me The Searchers were always at their charismatic best live and the BBC sessions are the nearest we have to that (along with their excellent Swedish live concerts released on CD ten years or so back) and the chance to hear some of the band’s rare solo singles (by Tony Jackson and Chris Curtis) plugs many a missing link in the band’s evolution. Admittedly 18 tracks from the band’s two albums from the late 70s when they were re-inventing themselves as a ‘new wave’ group are about 17 too many, but even these are quite rare these days and likely to have gone unheard by many Searchers fans. The real trouble with this set is that it’s taken so long to get right – we’ve had 25th, 30th, 35th and 40th anniversary sets before this one, each with only slightly running orders– and why is 2012 the Searchers’ 50th anniversary anyway? (Should this set have come out last year – or did they mean to release it in 2013, the 50th anniversary of Jackson joining the band?) Still, if you’re a newcomer, you can’t do better with a single purchase than this box set (I wonder if I can still trade in my others?...)

(Highlights to download - 'Since You Broke My Heart' 'No One Else Could Love Me' 'Goodbye My Love' 'Til I Met You' 'He's Got No Love' 'Umbrella Man' 'Vehevala')

5) The Kinks “At The BBC” (Deluxe Edition)

To be honest the 2CD set of Kinks BBC sessions (released in 2000) is heavy going for the most part and a good half hour to long – but well done to the Kinks/BBC lawyers for working out the copyright problems behind who owns what on this set and the band’s agreement to letting the fans hear them, warts and all, across 5 CDs and one DVD, is a brave move. The trouble with a set like this is that, being near complete, you get blooming sick of hearing almost identical versions of ‘You Really Got Me’ ‘Lola’ et al and for every good night where the Kinks are clearly on cracking form there’s another where they sound lost or bored. The DVD is also a bit of a let down, featuring mainly old TOTP sessions and music videos already available on several dozen Kinks official and unofficial sets along with a spiffing Old Grey Whistle Test from the 1970s that’s sadly incomplete (typically Kinks, the best songs from their ‘Sleepwalker’ era set aren’t here). There are enough nuggets spread across this set to keep fans going, however, including a band version of ‘This Strange Effect’ (a Ray Davies song given away), ‘Good Luck Charm’ (a Dave Davies cover unavailable on album), a gorgeous piano version of ‘Waterloo Sunset’ where that song never shimmered brighter, highlights from a rare ‘Preservation concert’ in 1974 that’s particularly charismatic, the Komplete and Inkredably Kracking ‘Kinks Kristmas Koncert’ from 1977 (its first official release despite being repeated endlessly on BBC6) and my favourite of all the band’s recordings ever, a punky no-holds barred on-the-edge version of Dave Davies’ ‘Love Me Till The Sun Shines’, played at twice the speed and ten times the intensity of the album version. All essential for Kinks fans, though the question remains – why wasn’t more of this stuff released 12 years ago to brighten up the rather dull 2 CD set and why was so much of that earlier set so bad compared to some of the gems on offer here?

Also nominated: Neil Young “Psychedelic Pill” (a Crazy Horse double that’s at least an hour too long but does have some of the old fire back), Mark Knopfler’s “Privateering” (the only AAA album to make the top 10 in the UK this year, not quite up to last album ‘Get Lucky’ but still a strong work) and Art Garfunkel’s “Songwriter” (a long awaited 2 disc compilation with two new tracks that digs deeper than usual and almost gets the track listing spot on; download ‘The Kid’ and ‘Mary Was An Only Child’ and you really do have the best Art Garfunkel performances to date).


Paul Simon “Under African Skies: The Graceland Tour”

‘Graceland’ is seemingly everyone’s favourite Paul Simon record expect mine. Where most fans hear a groundbreaking piece of world music, uniting African and American musicians as one, I hear as a poor attempt to re-create the ‘world music’ atmosphere of the Muscle Shoals recordings on ‘Rhymin’ Simon’ and a songwriter quickly running out of ideas and looking for gimmicks to cover up the lack of quality in his songs. The album certainly wasn’t worth the outrage it created when it was revealed that Paul broke an agreement on apartheid in South Africa to make the record, although that said it was the political discussions that ‘Graceland’ raised that mean we had the backdrop for this documentary made 25 years on. Reuniting all the cast of characters it can (sadly Miriam Makeba is no longer with us) this documentary (made for DVD in Easter but also shown by the BBC this Autumn) was a heck of a lot better than I expected it to be. Lots of footage of the band rehearsing the songs in 1987 still exists, unbeknown to me and most fans I think, and it’s sprinkled liberally through the film, making for a neat comparison with the band rehearsing the songs for a 2012 tour (the new/old version of ‘The Boy In The Bubble’ with the accordion part back at the heart of the song is particularly strong). The documentary also tries hard to be fair throughout, following Paul as he meets up with the former world minister for Africa and it doesn’t spare his blushes as he squirms on his seat during the interview, admitting his naivete and talking about how much the experience taught him. However, Paul Simon definitely gets the last laugh – everyone who is still alive signs up for the tour straight away and the scenes of Paul meeting old friends he hasn’t seen for 20 years brings a tear to the eye. Like the best documentaries, I learned lots I didn’t know before and it even made me like the album more, having seen Paul and his friends and his enemies come to terms with each other and find closure on the subject. ‘Graceland’ is still over-rated, though – I’d much prefer an ‘Imagine’ special about the making of ‘One Trick Pony’ for instance...

The Who “Can You See The Real Me? The Story Of Quadrophenia”

‘Quadrophenia’, on the other hand, is an album I adore and any documentary dealing with the subject would have to be amazing to be worthy of it. While not quite as worthy as it could have been, this documentary (shown on the BBC) was still a good one, pitting Roger Daltrey’s earthy frustration against Pete Townshend’s more liberal ideas and following the duo as they tried the hopeless task of properly mixing the album for surround sound (the 1973 quadrophonic’ mix was a key part of the story). The most interesting part, though, wasn’t on the songs but on the packaging, the photographer remembering setting up a lot of the shots used in the album booklet and how Ther Who’s cover star ended up in prison and was nearly dropped from the project after over-sleeping on his first day. Unlike ‘African Skies’ there wasn’t all that much I learnt, but it’s nice to see ‘Quadrophenia’ get its time in the spotlight after so many years of watching The Who talk about ‘Tommy’ and ‘Who’s Next’ ad infinitum. I can’t say it made me love the album any more than I did either, but then it would be impossible to rate this album any higher.

The Beatles “Love Me Do”

On the 50th anniversary of ‘Love Me Do’ in October, BBC2 screened a much-trumpeted, all singing, all dancing look at the making of the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour TV special. It was almost as much of a disaster as the TV special itself; Ringo cracked bad jokes and looked bored, Macca told all his old stories for the umpteempth time, a discussion of the fascinating songs was passed over for rambling stories about how the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band were hired and we had to sit through yet another re-tread of the Beatles’ entire history while the much vaunted unseen footage was limited to about 30 seconds (however see the DVD below...) That same night, on the lesser seen BBC4, a low budget unofficial documentary about the Beatles in 1962 was shown – and it beat the MMTour one in every way. Telling the story of the fab four that year it took in the failed Decca audition, the sacking of Pete Best, fame and fortune in the Cavern and Hamburg and the audition with EMI. Several new or rare interviewees were found: Paul’s old girlfriend Iris (also the sister of Rory Storm, Ringo’s first boss) and session drummer Andy White (who played on the ‘single’ version of ‘Love Me Do’ instead of Ringo) added several fresh insights, while Pete Best stole the show with his memories of the band’s early days. Let’s hope the same production company are planning a special about the Beatles’ year of 1963 in 2013 as that would be better still!
Also nominated: “We Love The Monkees” (a moving tribute to Davy Jones by Channel 4), Dave Davies in conversation with Alan Yentob (rambling but informative, BBC), Paul McCartney at the BBC (interesting radio clip show featuring some rarities not heard in decades, BBC) and Pink Floyd: The Making Of Wish You Were Here (BBC, an excellent new take on an album that’s been talked about to death already).


The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour”

Thankfully the awful official TV documentary on MMTour didn’t make it to the world’s first fully official DVD of the boxing day 1967 special, which is actually superb and among the finest purchases out this year (the special itself is still pretty weird, and a hard slog for non-fans, though, so be warned if you’re only a casual fan of the fab four). Unlike some re-mastering jobs so slight you wonder why they bother the re-mastering of MMTour takes out all the scratches and puts both colour and sound back into the special so that you really can see and hear the difference. The extras too are essential for any Beatles nut, showing unseen clips from the songs ‘Fool On The Hill’ ‘Your Mother Should Know’ and ‘Blue Jay Way’ (though sadly the ones for ‘Walrus’ don’t appear to exist anymore). Ringo’s film for ‘Blue Jay’ is especially interesting, featuring lots of extra footage of the Beatles mucking around in George’s Weybridge house that’s a delight to see after all these years. There’s also the unseen Ivor Cutler song ‘I’m In A Field’ which is better than most of the film, although the same probably can’t be said for the Nat Jackley sequence (a bit of behind the scenes footage shows John Lennon directing one of his boyhood idols, however, which is worth a giggle). Macca’s eccentric audio commentary isn’t terribly revealing but his references to his home-made films (thought to have been thrown out during a spot of tidying by Jane Asher) and the influences on the special near the beginning are fascinating. All in all, an excellent package and one that bodes well for the ‘Let It Be’ set to come (hopefully). Beatle fans should note that the recent re-issue of ‘Yellow Submarine’ was pretty good too, with some fascinating extras about the making of the animation and the depiction of the chief animator as a ‘blue meanie’, but that DVD fails to make this list because it’s been out on DVD three times already and, frankly, Apple are pushing their luck there sticking it out Again without any new Beatle input.

Crosby, Stills and Nash “2012”

CSN fans have already been spoilt by a strong series of CSN shows from 1974, 1983, 1990, 2006 and Crosby-Nash’s set last year on DVD, so arguably you don’t really need this set unless you’re an obsessive fan. Which means, once you’ve been touched by the CSN bug, that’s more or less all of us. This concert isn’t up to the 70s, 80s or even the acoustic shows of the 90s but it does at least still prove why Stills is still the world’s greatest guitarist (in my eyes, at least) and why Crosby and Nash are among the best singers around even today. New Nash song ‘Almost Gone’ is as good as anything in his canon since the 70s, several intriguing songs litter the setlist, unheard for decades or sometimes at all (‘So Begins The Task’ ‘As I Come Of Age’ and the welcome return of ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ after 20 or so years) and even the old favourites have some life left in them. Sure, Stills’ voice is a shadow of what it once was and all three men do less leaping around the stage in a whole set than they did during a song in the olden days, but CSN weren’t about that kind of showbiz shtick anyway. Two extra soundtrack CDs of the concert make less sense (it’s the 1970s and 80s shows I want to hear independently, not this one) but might be of interest to some. No classic, but worth your time if you’re a fan.

The Rolling Stones “Crossfire Hurricane”

The two-part documentary has just been screened by BBC 2 as I type this and, well, what a curious mixture it turned out to be. On the plus side the band let the footage do the talking and there are minimal attempts to ‘sum up’ an event from the benefit of 50 years’ hindsight as there was with the Beatles Anthology. On the negative side, much of this footage has been seen before – often in the same weekend in the case of film from the ‘Charlie Is My darling’ set, which is actually more deserving of a release than anything on this DVD – and two hours to tell the story means that just about everything since 1978 got told in one sentence. The second part of the documentary is pretty ghastly to be honest, with no mention of Bill Wyman leaving the band, precious little about Keef and Ronnie’s drug problems and not even a hint of the ‘World War III’ rift between the band’s songwriters Jagger and Richards – the three really crucial developments in this era of the ‘stone’ age. That said, the first part is probably the best single hour’s retrospective on the Stones around, made with care and with some great choice of film that makes the decline and death of Brian Jones across the first hour truly gut-wrenching, not just some hoary old story from 40 years ago we all know in great detail. You might not understand the Stones any better by the end of it all, but you will at least understand why for many this band represented a tidal wave of change and reform – and why so many fans believed in the idea and ideal so whole-heartedly.


The Small Faces on Decca

Immediate went into receivership when the Small Faces split in 1968 and their output for that label has been re-issued a ridiculous amount of times to the highest re-issue bidders ever since, in a series that could be good or bad or downright ugly – or all three. The album and compilation released by Decca haven’t fared much better down the years either, being reassembled on one disc in a dozen or so different ways. Before this year fans had a to buy a whole shelf full of Small Faces CDs if they wanted to own absolutely everything out there, including box sets, compilations and rarities discs in addition to the ‘proper’ albums. At last (almost) everything is here, including some new and exciting finds, spread out across ‘Small Faces’ (both the Decca and Immediate albums of that name), ‘In The Beginning’ and ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’. The first album comes with seven (yes seven!) alternate takes and goodness knows how many remixes. ‘Beginning’ features the rare and classic B-side ‘Understanding’ that’s better than most A sides, four alternate versions and backing tracks and a whole heap of remixes. The Immediate ‘Small Faces’ – my favourite of all their albums – has just two alternate versions, the backing track to ‘Tin Soldier’ and lots of songs remixed into stereo for the first time, but is still presented with care and attention. ‘Ogden’s is now a three CD set in mono and stereo, plus an extended version of ‘Happydaystoytown’, a backing track for ‘Happiness Stan’, three alternate versions and the unreleased instrumentals ‘Bun In The Oven’ and ‘Kamikhazi’. Alas there are no plans to re-issue ‘The Autumn Stone’, which is nothing short of a criminal offence, but then that album was an unfinished work in progress anyway bolstered by A and B sides which have ended up on these different CDs anyway so I do grudgingly understand why it’s missing this time around. These sets could have been better (some mixes are still absent without leave) – and they could certainly have been a lot cheaper – but at long last both Decca and Immediate have done one of their most pioneering and groundbreaking bands proud. About time, we fans say, but better late than never.


The Beach Boys on Capitol

Somebody somewhere in Capitol headquarters is playing a good cop/bad cop routine with fans. In 1988 every 60s Beach Boys album was released individually on CD with no bonus tracks, minimal packaging and a paltry running time (22 minutes in the case of ‘Surfin’ Safari’ – you can fit 80 on a single CD remember!) In 1990 these were removed and replaced by one of the best re-issue series in AAA history: detailed sleeve notes, track annotation, input from Brian Wilson, bonus tracks galore and – wait for this – every single album up to 1981 issued on a two-fer-one set that often ran to a generous 75 minute running time at the same price(with two exceptions, ‘Pet Sounds’ appeared on its own and ‘So Tough/Holland’, appeared on two discs at the same price as the others). Fans loved them, record stores loved them (they sold well and had a unified packaging that looked good when displayed together) and the Beach Boys’ critical standing was as strong as its ever been that decade, partly thanks to this sensible re-issue series. Alas the CDs have since been deleted and this year have been replaced...with the same shoddy CDs of the 1980s! Admittedly the sound is better than it was back then and many of the albums are in mono and stereo sets which makes up somewhat for the running time, but unlike some bands the mono-stereo mixing differences are fairly minimal and frankly not worth your time if you already own these albums in some form. Plus, where are the bonus tracks? Where’s the packaging? Why have only the albums up to ‘Surf’s Up’ been released?! And why do the Beach Boys risk hitting the fans who’ve fallen in love with the band because of this year’s anniversary tour over the head quite so hard?!


The Beach Boys “That’s Why God Made The Radio”

The first full Brian Wilson-Beach Boys collaboration since 1986 should have really been something. Brian’s fight back to full health these past two decades has been a magnificent show of courage and determination and unbelievably he’s written and recorded some of his best music during the past 25 years on his solo albums despite coming back from a point in his life as low as you can get. The Beach Boys, meanwhile, have struggled on with rows and deaths making them a pale shadow of their former selves (up to this year only Mike Love and Bruce Johnston remained, with Carl and Dennis dead and Al Jardine estranged from the group). The coming together suggested either desperation or brilliance, the chance to make a load of fast bucks or a worthy attempt to lay old demons to rest. Early reports of the album suggested the latter, with talk of the ‘best Beach Boys album since Holland/Surf’s Up/Pet Sounds’ in most reviews. In truth its barely better than 1992’s non-Brian ‘Summer In Parardise’, recorded by a load of aging men who had little input into the album except croak through it in a poor facsimile of their old harmonies and writing styles (across the album Mike gets one song and that’s it for the rest of the band, with Brian writing 10). The only good singing here comes from the Wondermints backing – and they overshadow every note the ‘real’ Beach Boys sing and that isn’t often, apart from Brian. Fair enough to some extent – the band are back with Brian as the publicity made clear – but its been 20 years since the ‘others’ released a song and they’ve all been responsible for some great songs too (Brian was barely on my favourite Beach Boys album ‘Sunflower’!) A tribute to Carl or Dennis would have been nice too (there are still lots of unreleased Dennis Wilson songs unfinished and unreleased!) Even Brian’s songs date from years gone by for the most part with only two entirely new songs written specially for the project (even the Mike Love song is an outtake from one of his solo records). Only two songs from this new set – the last two interestingly, both written by Brian decades earlier for a Beach Boys reunion that never happened, the musicals-ish ‘Pacific Coast Highway’ and the elegiac ‘Summer’s Gone’ – deserve the Beach Boys name. IThe rhymes are particularly atrocious on this album – ‘clock’ and ‘block’, ‘worry’ and ‘hurry’, ‘anticipation’ and ‘celebration’ and compared to – say- Smile, this is hideously shallow writing, with nothing more to say than ‘we’re back – ansd doin’ it again’, culminating in the teeth-grindingly awful ‘Private Life Of Bill and Sue’, a nothing song about nothing people that’s only here because it pads out another four minutes of this ridiculously short running album and is probably the worst song ever released under the Beach Boys name. Events since the album’s release (Mike Love effectively ‘sacking’ the rest to go back out on tour with the 2011 line-up; apparently no one told him the reunion was long-term) suggest that it really will be the Beach Boy’s last album because there’s no way they’re going to try another reunion after the fallout from this one for another 20 or so years at least; it’s a great shame for both them and us that this is how they say goodbye – and that they say goodbye with so many now clearly ridiculous songs about the joy of being back together again. Give me Brian on his own any day.

Paul McCartney “Kisses On The Bottom”

We reviewed this album in full earlier in the year – suffice to say it hasn’t aged better with time (I heard it the other day and arguably it’s worse!) Macca isn’t a born crooner so why he thought he should kick his rock fans in the teeth so badly with this insipid piece of light jazz junk is a mystery (to be fair Macca’s covered just about every genre in his day, but at least the electronic and dance and even classical albums tried something raw and dangerous – this album plays it safe all the way through). Macca’s new songs written for the project are superior to every single so-called ‘standard’ on the album, with a couple of gems added to his catalogue (‘My Valentine’ especially) but the overall effect is of a rock and roller reaching for his pipe and slippers – and I swear there’s no sound worse around than that. Even for the mercurial Gemini McCartney, making this move so soon after the genuine thrill of the ‘Fireman’ albums -among the most adventurous and courageous releases by all of the 60s legends still working - makes you question what on earth was going on in his head. I never thought there would be an AAA equivalent of the Rod Stewart American Songbooks and, God help us all, I never thought it would be Macca who would sell us out. Give it a big fat miss.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse “Americana”

A few questions for you: why is ‘God Save The Queen’ on an album of American standards? Why are the Horse reaching out so vainly for cover versions when they had a whole host of new original songs in hand to release three months later any way? Why is Neil Young – a Canadian - singing American folk tunes at all? And why oh god why do all these songs sound the same so that they all coagulate into one messy distorted lump of nothing? We know how good the Horse can be and, despite what cloth-eared music critics have written, how eclectic and adventurous they’ve been in the past when Neil’s inspired them to greatness. So who on earth thought this project would be a good idea? When you learn that this album is really a ‘warm-up’ album for 2012’s Crazy Horse reunion proper (‘Psychedelic Pill’) this album makes more sense – nobody intended this to be a proper long lasting masterpiece and its hurried and undercooked, even for Neil Young’s modern standards. But that doesn’t excuse it or why so many tracks ramble on incoherently. Yes, hearing Neil drawl his way through the likes of ‘Clementine’ can be amusing – once, anyway – but why on Earth is Neil covering old standards at all?; leave that to Pentangle and the King’s Singers or at least the less prolific AAA members who don’t release an album every year despite being in their 70s! And why release this album first, killing off all the interest and mystique you’ve built up for the Crazy Horse reunion for good? Too many questions, not nearly enough answers, although at least there’s one good thing you can say for this abominable record; it’s still better than the previous Horse collaboration ‘Greendale’, a soap opera script crossed with a bad prog rock concept album that was the worst AAA album of the 00s for me.

The Hollies “Radio Fun”

Nothing like as bad as the other CDs here, this was still nevertheless deeply disappointing. I know there’s a whole host of classic Hollies BBC sessions out there somewhere because I have a copy of most of them, in better sound than the BBC too apparently! The best Hollies re-recordings, the most different and interesting performances that make you see into the songs in a new and interesting light (the whole reason we fans buy these BBC session discs), by and large aren’t here, while the ever illuminating chat (only Pete Townshend and Ray Davies could compete with Graham Nash for deep thought and philosophising) has been cut away completely, even if it means cutting out the first or last note of some songs. Which is a travesty – these songs are history, some of them 49 years old – and they deserve better (even a fade-in would have sufficed!) What we’re left with is lesser versions of many Hollies album tracks, alongside two nice-to-have curios (covers of ‘Ride Your Pony’ and ‘Shake’ that were never released on album) and the set’s saving grace, a gorgeous graceful early version of ‘Wings’ with alternate lyrics that’s only a smidgeon away from being as beautiful as the finished product released on a wildlife charity album. Even the packaging is nonsensical, making out that one of the most intelligent and thoughtful bands of the 60s were in it merely for ‘fun’ (why oh why isn’t this set simply called ‘The Hollies At The BBC’ in line with every other BBC compilation ever released?!) Plus, would it have killed them to put these songs in chronological order like the superior Kinks and Who sets? Frustratingly ordinary and yet it could have been the release of the year quite easily had those in control spent just that little bit more time and care on this set, as they did on the superlative Clarke-Hicks-Nash compilation last year.

However, had it counted, easily the most disappointing release of the year was the re-boot of Jeff Wayne’s ‘War Of The Worlds’ musical, where the Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward is replaced by...Gary Barlow! (What the?!?!? I’m surprised the martians didn’t just turn round and go home again or simply say ‘take that earthlings!’ and wipe us all out in retaliation...)


Paul and Linda McCartney “A Love For You” (Ram Deluxe Edition)
It’s a curious fact that most of McCartney’s best work ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s even more curious that the best of that is the last to be released. ‘A Love For You’ should have been on ‘Ram’, could have been on the proposed double disc version of ‘Red Rose Speedway’ and absolutely should have been on the 1979 outtakes set ‘Cold Cuts’, had Macca not seen it leaked on bootleg and gone off the whole idea. A rollicking simple blues-rock song, ‘A Love For You’ is Macca at his catchiest, with a killer chorus and a song that’s so cleverly structured it manages to make its three distinct sections merge perfectly with one another. Macca sounds like he’s having fun with the vocal too, which contains elements of both the then-contemporary glam rock and the Buddy Holly records of his childhood. The five minutes playing time is long for the period but the song doesn’t run a second too long, with one of the greatest of all McCartney jams on the fade-out as Macca’s vocal gets more and more histrionic. Great fun and better than a good 90% of the ‘Ram’ record (and I say that as a fan who ranks ‘Ram’ somewhere in McCartney’s top three records of all time!)

The Hollies “Wings” (Alternate Version) (Radio Fun)

This recording is a puzzle. The official word is that it’s an early sketch of a song that the band were still working on and a first draft for the version famous for appearing on the ‘No One’s Gonna Change My World’ compilation in 1968 and Hollies compilation ‘Rarities’ 20 years later. But the date given in the booklet of the CD and the sessionography for the final version suggests this version comes a full two months afterwards and is, indeed, very nearly the last thing Nash ever did with his first band (only the single ‘Listen To Me’ was recorded later). In this version of ‘Wings’ the narrator is looking through the eyes of birds in the sky and having them wonder why humans fail to walk ‘when they can fly’ (in the final version its humans looking on birds enviously from the ground). Even after this opening there’s a few subtle differences: ‘what a face to show, can’t you make it go?’ instead of the more upbeat (and more Holliesy) ‘we can make it go’. Even some of the familiar lines are sung in different ways, with Clarke and Nash noticeably deeper than on the ‘proper’ record. It’s always nice to hear such a different version of a song you know and love and ‘Wings’ scores on both points, being both very different and very wonderful in both versions. On balance I’d still take the more poetic ‘Rarities’ version, but this was still a most welcome surprise that helped Hollies fans re-evaluate one of their most important songs.

The Beach Boys “Summer’s Gone” (That’s Why God Made The Radio)

The best song on the Beach Boys reunion set was this slow and languid slice of melancholy, a track that Brian wrote about 15 years or so ago and yet has kept in his pocket all this time because he thought it would be a ‘perfect’ way to end the Beach Boys’ career. Fans will know that I’m paying this song a compliment when I compare it to Brian’s ‘Cry’, the best individual song of his solo career and the melancholy mood is perfectly in keeping with Brian’s writing style across the ages (instead of the falsely poppy or curiously rigid and dull strict tempos of the rest of the record). Curiously, the other Beach Boys and even the Wondermints don’t appear to vocally be on it at all, though, which makes a bit of a con out of the project and suggests, perhaps, that too many cooks across the rest of the record spoiled it compared to the bare stark beauty on offer here. If this is to be the Beach Boys’ last ever release then this is a fine place to bow out, with a sad reflective piece about youth disappearing and getting ready for one’s twilight years. If you haven’t bought the album yet then I recommend you download this song – and then steer clear of this album for good...

Also nominated: ‘What Shall We Do Now?’ (the two minute burst of rhetorical questions from Pink Floyd’s re-issue of ‘The Wall’, well known from the live concerts and film soundtrack but never released on record in studio form), ‘Tin Soldier’ (backing track) (the best single moment from the Small Faces re-issue series) and ‘Run Away’ (a great ‘lost’ flop single from 10cc’s best period in 1980, finally out on CD as part of the ‘Tenology’ box set).


Last month we invited all our followers on Twitter and on our emailing list to nominate what they considered to be our best work of the year, from issue 128 on January 3rd right up to last weeks’ edition, no 174. An amazing four of you voted. Two of you said you didn’t mind what won because you liked it all. Which was lovely to hear, but not entirely helpful. One of you said you really liked my Led Zeppelin review, until tweeting me a couple of hours later to tell me he’d remembered that he’d read it on a different site (no Zepp here!) Which left regular reader Lizzie giving her vote on the best articles of the year yet again, just like she did last year. And the year before. Which was probably just as well in the end actually as she kindly nominated six whole articles and told me she couldn’t cut it down to five. So here they are, the pieces where the writing Gods came out to play and shined a light on Alan’s Album Archives before veering off again into the night, leaving our site in December 2012 at officially six and a half times the length of War and Peace and counting...

1) Issue -9774 Sweden Elizabethan Issue (April Fool’s Day Issue)
Our silliest article of the year was the fourth in our series of April Fool’s Day’s editions that were sent back to us via a black hole in space and time from the past (or something like that). It turns out that time travel experiments in the future, sponsored by the AAA (the 367th most influential website in the universe, no less) have gone a bit wrong and disrupted the nexus point in time (or something like that), re-writing history and letting all time periods happen at once. In between trying to sort the mess out we get to know all the time periods and hear what AAAA music all time periods from the Stone Age to the 22nd century enjoy. Along the way we review a few new AAA releases including ‘The Byrds Sing Byrds’ ‘The Madrigal Moody Blues’ and the Rolling Stones collaboration with some cavemen, have some question and answers with our resident canine Max The Singing Dog, laugh at ‘Spice Girls – The Opera’, talk about the latest AAA-sponsored Dr Who series, have a special ‘top 10’ run down from some very special guests and go back in time to the formation of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Despite a few, err, teething issues Alan’s Album Archives seems to be thriving in the past/future/present despite coming from Sweden in the Elizabethan era! For the music fan with a sense of humour.

2) Issue 136 (Davy Jones Tribute Special)
From our silliest moment to our most serious. We’ve only lost one AAA member all year but Davy Jones’ loss was all the worse because it came so suddenly, without warning, on the verge of the Monkees making a come back. The press said at the time that they were overwhelmed with the grief people showed for a singer who’d last been a regular in the news 40 odd years ago but we weren’t surprised - Davy Jones was a major part of many people’s childhoods and was part of some of the best records ever made. This is our tribute to him, with a potted history of his beginnings in the music and acting business, his ‘second career’ as a jockey and what happened to him after the Monkees split, along with a top ten run down on his very under-rated work as both a singer and composer. We miss him still.

3) Issue 158 (Pink Floyd “Animals”)

How could I resist turning the Floyd’s parable of a world filled with crooked pigs, ignorant sheeps and ignored, put-upon, chained-up dogs into a metaphor for our modern age? Inspired by Coalition cuts, a horrifying attack on the vulnerable and disabled and disgraceful attempts to ruin our website by pointless penny pinching, our own canine mascot Max The Singing Dog speaks out against pig Cameron and his co-swines, speaking out for justice on behalf of us all, whatever part of the farmyard we may come from. ‘AAAAAAAAH’ said our site. ‘Hahahahahaha’ said the pigs. ‘Baaaaaaaaaaaaa’ said the sheep.

4) Issue 151 (‘AAA Books’ special edition)

Ever wanted to know which of the mountain of books on the Beatles will tell you the most about their earliest years? Which biographies are biased towards a particular Beatle? Or whether there’s a book out on a more obscure AAA band that you really want to read about in more detail? Then you’ve come to the right place! I can’t pretend that I’ve read everything there is to know – I could spend the rest of my life reading books on the Beatles and, yes, knowing me I probably shall –but this section does cover more than 200 disperate books on all the AAA members we can find. They vary from the straightforward biographies to the day by day blow accounts and picture books, with tales of Yellow Submarines, Wirral the Squirrel and Ray Davies meeting his younger self in a corrupt future taken over by the faceless corporation... A piece written specially for the literary AAA scholar and a fourth ‘special edition’ to go alongside past attempts at covering AAA compilations, live albums and solo recordings. Expect an ‘AAADVD’ special sometime in the new year.

5) Issue 149 (‘A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-1970’)

Our attempt at working out why the 1960s were as special as they were and why, taking into account then-current tastes and trends, new bands arriving that decade with their own new styles and working out what the ‘sound’ of a particular year is. After all, from ‘Love Me Do’ in 1962 to ‘Let It Bleed’ in 1970 is one heck of a change in, well, just about everything and there must be a reason for it. Here’s our take on the subject. There’s no getting away from it either – as far as your’s truly is concerned music peaked in 1966 and everything since then has been a let-down...

6) Issue 163 (‘Introduction’)

For everyone who wonders why, when and what for Alan’s Album Archives came into being – this introduction is for you. The truth is this site was in gestation for as long as I’ve been alive and despite taking 270 odd articles to say this piece should answer all your questions.
And that really really is it for now. Thank you for being a part of Alan’s Album Archives in 2012, by far our most successful year since our beginnings in 2008, and we look forward to seeing you – and hearing from you – again in 2013. Goodbye from your AAA staff, Alan’s Archives, Max The Singing Dog, Bingo Ye Boozy Dog, Android TZ964-2 and Philosophy Phil! Have a great Christmas and see you next year!