Monday, 17 June 2013

Celebrating 300 Album Reviews!: The 10 Biggest Surprises Since Starting This Website!

Surprise! Yes it’s another online pretend party! Dear friends, here we are on News, Views and Music number 198 which, together with 101 album reviews and two ‘specials’ that for some reason I started off not counting in the original run makes it a whole 300 albums we’ve covered now on our musical journey from ‘Surfin Safari’ in 1962 to (quick check to see what the most recent AAA album is) Stephen Stills’ ‘Carry On’ box set from March. In that time we’ve experienced highs (more hits than a ‘now that’s what I call music’ compilation, hundreds of twitter followers and quite a few loyal readers) and lows (the destruction of three computers, an ongoing internet problem, the loss of two websites and so many obstacles set by the jobcentre I’m amazed I managed to write anything understandable at all (perhaps I didn’t?!) What a long strange trip it’s been, dear readers, a long and winding road that leads – well – to your laptop as you read this actually. Now, I know we’ve celebrated a few other milestones on this set and as seems to have happened with all of them (finishing 101 ‘core’ reviews, our 50th issue, our 100th issue, our 250th issue, our 10,000th hit, our 100,000th hit) I can’t celebrate this one with you the way I’d like to because of a) internet headaches b) jobcentre headaches and c) chronic fatigue headaches. Hopefully things will fix itself soon and thanks to our planned new mobile app we can enter an exciting future where things really really really begin to happen for us here at the AAA. We wanted to do something for the article anniversary though, even if it is low-key, so here it is: the top 10 biggest surprises between starting the site (in 2008) and now:

10) That Alan’s Album Archives would reach the milestone of 100,000 hits (actually we’re on 112,000 at the time of writing). Admittedly this is split between our ‘Moonfruit’ and ‘Blogspot’ sites, comes after one heck of a lot of plugging away around the internet in which I’ve probably submitted us to every directory on the internet whether suitable or not and has probably been slightly boosted by a sudden swathe of spam messages we kept getting a few months back. But even so – anything in six numbers sounds pretty good to me, especially as more than half of these hits have come in 2012/1013 alone and we have zero budget to work with (well, £36 a year, roughly equal to 72 sausage rolls or half a ticket to see the Spice Girls Musical, money well spent I say). I certainly wasn’t expecting this much interest this early on, given how restrictive my time spent plugging this site has been due to my growing illness. At this rate Alan’s Album Archives will have bought up Google by 2020, will be the world’s number one website by 2030 and AAA mascot Max The Singing Dog will be Mayor of New York, New York by 2050.

9) That there would be a ‘Spice Girls’ musical in the style of Mama Mia. And that, despite being in the news every five minutes, it would flop very very badly. We feel very smug about this, given that the Spice Girls stand for everything we hate in music (artificialness, smugness, godawful songs, no original thoughts, supposed ‘girl power’ from a female band firmly in the control of middle aged male managers, kung-fu kicking tramps in music videos) and so does ‘Mama Mia’ (a good band made to look stupid, with songs shoe-horned into a weak and empty plot that would make a soap opera blush, leaving out several superior and more fitting songs to let wannabe singers who could only get into acting school get paid for getting it out of their systems). Frankly, writer Jennifer Saunders (who got her degree down the road from us in Edge Hill University, Ormskirk) shouldn’t have wasted her talent. Not that she has as much talent as she thinks she does, but then, neither do the Spice Girls. By quite a long way. We told the world combining the two things together was madness and a sign of the December 2012 apocalypse. Amazingly, for once they listened and the ‘Viva Forever’ musical closed last month after a pitiful amount of performances and some truly savage reviews that make even us look quite sympathetic. No, really, they do – have a read of some of them, they’re far ruder than we’d ever be about the Spice Girls, which shows just how much theatre and music critics hated this show!

8) Who thought The Beatles would become big all over again, not because of some new archive release or documentary but because of a game?! ‘Beatles Rock Band’ might not have been the biggest blockbuster in the gaming world in the past five years, but it did cause one heck of a lot more interest than anyone was expecting – and it even made The Beatles trendy again for a time (until Ringo started being weird in interviews and the whole thing went quiet). The chance to be a Beatle was irresistible for many and the song choice was a lot better (and a lot wider) than we expected it to be too, with some unusual choices alongside the hits (OK, all 313 Beatles songs were all available to download – barring the spoken word ‘Revolution 9’ for obvious reasons – but seeing as it would have cost approximately nine times the price of the already expensive game we’re willing to bet very few people downloaded them all). The success of the game inspired quite a few copycat versions too, although sadly most of them seem to be by pointless heavy metal groups and there hasn’t been any other AAA bands given a standalone game yet (although certain Stones, Who and Grateful Dead songs can be heard in the ‘Guitar Hero’ competitor – and again not necessarily the songs you’d expect). Last song in the game ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, which accompanies the Beatles on the Apple rooftop with a swirling fog that envelops them and takes us back to the beginning again at the Cavern, has never seemed so moving (and yes, I know The Beatles didn’t actually play this at the Rooftop gig – or had even written it yet – but it’s a game, OK, not a biography!)

7) That The Hollies would make #1 on Amazon! Admittedly this was the ‘box sets and re-issues’ chart during a week when nothing else seemed to be released but, hey, it outsold the special edition of that Adele monstrosity that seems to have been in the charts for as long as this website’s been around and made the top 40 in the general chart too so that’s good enough for us. After all, this is The Hollies we’re talking about – a band that only ever reached the top of the charts twice in their lifetime, once on the back of a beer commercial and once in about the only week of the 60s when The Beatles and Stones had nothing out that month. Frankly, this most popular and successful of bands have been cruelly forgotten from every 60s music show ever since and we’ve had great fun lobbying for their re-instation into the hall of greats on this very site. The Hollies outsold every single 1960s band except the Beatles (and, technically, scoring more top 20 hits than even they did thanks to an even more ridiculously busy work schedule) and despite making some of the greatest albums ever made no one seems to know them apart from a handful of singles. Their first #1 in any albums chart since ‘Hollies Greatest’ in 1968 (the superb 1963-67 complete collection ‘The Clarke-Hicks-Nash Years’) was a real day for cheering, especially being released in between a best-selling Hollies DVD (‘Look Through Any Window’, a superb anthology of interviews and TV performances) and a compilation of Hollies BBC radio sessions (which could have been better but was still well worth having). Hollies fans hadn’t had this much to celebrate in 25 years and of all the AAA groups we cover their renaissance in the media spotlight was one of the most unexpected and welcome during the five years this site has been running. The second biggest unexpected number one? Yoko Ono hitting the American dance chart #1 spot weeks before her 80th birthday! I still haven’t bought it yet, mind, so that’s another entry for another list in another 50 issues’ time!

6) That Neil Young would finally release his ‘Archives’ box set. I thought it was a joke at first when it appeared on Amazon and in adverts. I mean, Neil first announced the project way back in 1977 on the back of greatest-hits-with-extras set ‘Decade’ when he mentioned he was working on a ‘bigger box’ full of outtakes and alternate mixes. He was still talking about it when Geffen compilation (and effectively ‘Decade II’ ‘Lucky 13’) came out 15 years later. Indispensible music magazine Record Collector even filled the gap by devoting a whole feature to it in the late 1980s and about what juicy performances might be on it (sadly almost all of them were missing when the set did come out!) So used had we fans become to Neil announcing and then quietly abandoning his pet project that, after more than 30 years, I assumed its quiet appearance on ‘Amazon’ was a poor bootleg copy. I mean, just look at the picture that came with it: a heavy, bulky, slab of a box covered in cheap tacky printed newspaper clippings – was this really what we fans had come to believe was the holy grail of Neil Young releases?! Amazingly it was and ‘Archives’ finally saw the light of day in 2007, only 40 years late. Quite honestly, I’m still in shock. Neil’s been working on a follow-up in the six years since the box’s release apparently – based on the same maths Neil’s going to be 93 by the time ‘Archives II’ appears, and probably still going strong music-wise if his ‘one album a year’ work ethic maintains it’s current impressive pace, although if I have to keep buying them all I shall probably be bankrupt long before then.

5) That Oasis would split. To be fair Oasis have split almost every year since they began in 1993 and lost more members (five, discounting the last band line-up who technically couldn’t leave because the group split up) in their 14 years together than even Wings did (four in eight years on the same reasoning, a record I thought would never be broken). But few saw how lasting the feud between the Gallagher brothers would be or that the greatest rock and roll band of the past 20 years (give or take Belle and Sebastian) would end it all over something as daft as an advert in a tour brochure and a tangerine (thrown in anger). The story goes that Liam was more interested in his clothing range during the band’s last tour and album and that he dragged out the recording process for several months before adding his vocals, causing Noel to hurl a tangerine at him! To be honest, rumours had been rife for a while and one our first News, Views and Musics was a review of what turned out to be the last Oasis album (‘Dig Out Your Soul’) with an ominous final line about ‘how if this does turn out to be the last thing the band do – and rumours are they’ve already split – then it will be a sad and shameful end to such a wonderful and inventive band (a couple of you were struck how similar my review was to the famous Times review of The Beatles ‘Let It Be’, released in similar circumstances). But even though I feared it was coming the split was still a shock. In other linked surprises, I never thought that it would be Noel going solo and Liam continuing to work with the other latter-day band members of Oasis in ‘Beady Eye’ or that it would be Noel who’d find commercial fame and fortune while everyone who counted themselves ‘real’ music lovers (and who’d owned most of Noel’s so-called new songs on bootleg for 20 odd years) loved Beady Eye’s first album instead.

4) That we’d see reunions or returns by no less than eight previously defunct AAA groups or artists. Admittedly, even I could have guessed that Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young’s band Crazy Horse and The Who would get back together at some point (given that splitting and getting back together has been their pattern of making music for several decades now). At a push I would have guessed too that The Rolling Stones (not officially split but undeniably quiet since 2004’s ‘A Bigger Bang’) would be cooking up something for their 50th birthday in 2012 (although not as much as I was hoping to be honest, with a handful of gigs and only two new downloadable songs). Belle and Sebastian, too, only spent four years separated between 2006 and 2010, which is pretty good going by AAA band standards, so their reunion wasn’t entirely unexpected (especially given how badly the spin-off solo albums sold). The other three reunions though were complete surprises and shocks. The Beach Boys reunited with Brian Wilson for the first time since the mid-80s in 2012 and even brought in David Marks back into the band for his first studio record since 1963 (even if they did break up again not long after – which was sadly much more predictable!) The Monkees got back together with Mike Nesmith in 2012 too for the first time in 15 years, the one Monkee who doesn’t need the money and seems to resent the fame, in 2012 and at the time of writing is still touring with them. Finally, who’d have guessed that Cat Stevens would have returned to make his first rock albums in 30 years, albeit under a new name (‘Yusuf’), coming back into the spotlight both because his son learning the guitar ‘inspired’ him to pick his own up (for which we fans will be forever thankful) and to help get a Muslim singing about peace back on the telly after so many years of brainwashing media reports about how they all want to destroy Christians in their beds. Anyone who saw those three reunions coming must have a better fortune telling device than me. Whose to say which AAA band members will get together by the time we write article 600 (somewhere around our finishing date we reckon) – Oasis maybe? Pink Floyd?! (They have come pretty close, although the ‘Live 8’ reunion was just before we started writing sadly!) or even The Beatles?!? (I hear they can do wonderful things with holograms nowadays!)

3) Time to get serious for a minute: we didn’t know that we would lose four very special AAA leading lights: Rick Wright (Pink Floyd), Pete Quaife (The Kinks), Bert Jansch (Pentangle) and Davy Jones (The Monkees). Admittedly, on the law of averages four in five years is somewhere slightly better than we might have expected given that these groups are reaching their 70s and 80s in some cases, but it was still a shock to lose them all and of the four only Pete had been ill for any length of time before their death. It goes without saying that we wept buckets when all of them died and we mourn them every passing day.

2) While we’re still serious, one other thing we weren’t expecting was that the UK would be run by the first coalition since World War Two. Unfortunately, what should have been quite an interesting political experiment, where legally all parties should be forced to work with each other for a year until another election is called, was wiped out straight away by in-fighting between the parties and some illegal (till the law got changed retrospectively) law changes to keep the same two parties in power. We warned you all that the Conservatives would only make the credit crunch worse and it gives me no delight whatsoever in saying ‘I told you so’ three years on, even with the lib dems to supposedly hold them back. Even cynical old me has been amazed, though, at just how much scandal, corruption and heartlessness this Coalition have shown. I could spent the rest of this article talking again about how evil and cruel these politicians have been, trying to blame everyone but themselves to the point where those on benefits have taken their own lives, from jobcentre pressure, peer and media hatred and ‘sanctions’ of money that leave unable to pay their bills while the ones who caused the hatred get a few more quid to spend on their expensive eating habits (claimed back from the taxpayer). All I will say is that there are three names that will live on in the nightmares of millions of people for the rest of their lives: ‘Cameron’ ‘Hague’ ‘IDS’ and the biggest surprise of all traitor ‘Clegg’ and one word that will forever shame our generation over its ignorance, shame and hatred when this decade gets discussed in the history books: ATOS (a bunch of poorly trained lawyers given more rights to decide who lives and who dies than real doctors). Closely followed by ‘Workfare’ (slave labour by another name and the most blatant use of it in the Western World since the American Civil War). What an uncivilised time we live in – and I’m not just talking about the lack of money, banking mistakes, MP expenses scandals, ‘Big Society’, plebgate and the rich attacking the poor. It’s the public’ reaction to all the lies and nonsense spouted by these uninformed gorillas in suits that has hurt and disappointed me most, admittedly spurred on bigtime by a media who should know better: trust me, there are no such things as ‘scorungers’ - you really wouldn’t want to live in the shoes of someone poorer than you if you could help it. It’s not the poor’s fault they have no money. It’s not the disabled’s fault they’re ill. And it’s not the unemployed’s fault there are no jobs to be had. We’ve been swindled, good and proper, with the country in a much sorrier state than it was five years ago – and despite apparently being the cause of it all the credit crunch isn’t even in the top five reasons why this should be so (in fact the UK’s debt went up under the Coalition, mainly on MP claims and tax breaks for millionaires while the rets of us turned to foodbanks to live). In the end, the only bigger surprise of the past five years have been why there haven’t been more riots against the system than just the one blown-out-of-proportion skuffle (where ‘looters’ who nicked 50p bottles of water received sentences much harsher than MPs who lied in court about their speeding tickets and millionaires ho paid no tax on their billions of profits) and why there isn’t more public hatred against the villains who’ve forced us to fight against ourselves.
Moving on,

1) That we would write somewhere in the region of three million, six hundred thousand five hundred words during our five years bringing you news, views and music reviews. Just to put that into context, it’s the equivalent of six editions of ‘War and Peace’ (written over a four year period) or four and a half complete editions of the Bible (old and new testament). We’ve worked out that at our average word count of 12,000 words for 300 issues by the way, which is more or less what you get every week (sometimes its an awful lot more when we cover double albums or write about every book/DVD/solo/live/compilation album – occasionally, when we started the newsletters in 2009 it was a lot less, so we reckon these two extremes cancel each other out). Well, to be honest, this was probably the one entry in our top ten you would have been expecting in 2008 isn’t it?! With all that in mind, we reckon we aren’t too far off our assertion in our first Youtube Video that ‘we will have written so much that we’ll have crashed the internet by 2014’ – sadly for us it looks as if the internet was relegated to just our house and came a year early!
Thankyou for standing by us through 300 albums, 200 top five/ten/whatevers and five years of hard but deeply enjoyable and heartwarming (not to mention ear-warming) work. Fate can cut off my internet access. It can scramble my computer. It can hijack my money illegally via some stupid jobcentre mistake they can’t be bothered to put right. It can give me a body that refuses to work most hours of the day. But I’ll still come back fighting, with an 8000 word music review and a song in my heart. The pile of albums left may be about half what it was when I started in 2008, but I still have oh so much to say to you all. We hope to see you soon for issue 301 – and for all the issues after that. Keep reading! Keep rocking! Keep fighting! This is Alansarchives going for a much needed lie down...

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