Tuesday, 16 April 2013
Right, friends, a bit of an experiment for you this week in lieu of any other ideas for our ‘top’ column. We’ve already covered most of the best AAA albums by now, but what are the very best individual AAA songs, oblivious of how good or how bad the album they come from is? What, in fact, would I rescue from my collection if I could only choose 101 (our traditional website number) songs to keep forever more? That’s what I’ve been challenged to say by one of my followers anyway, but rather than sticking to his remit of ten songs (way way way too hard!) here’s a hundred AAA songs everyone should know but probably don’t. Frankly, if it really came to that choice for real I’d go mad, no question, but I’m always interested by revealing lists like this (perhaps you have one or your own you want to post in response – and no, you don’t have to list all 100 unless you want to!) The only rules are that I want to go for the more obscure songs here that people don’t often talk about – so there’s no space on my chart for any top ten songs (sob! Goodbye ‘Tin Soldier’ ‘Coming Up’ ‘Pipes Of Peace’ ‘The Boxer’ ‘Lady Eleanor’ ‘Live Forever’ ‘See Emily Play’ and ‘Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay’!) simply to make this lists more interesting (although I can almost guarantee that none of you will have any of those songs on your lists too). Flop singles (of which there are many in my list), B-sides and album tracks are all eligible though. For fun/interest/desperation, these songs are all listed in chronological order. Oh and there’s no great long description this time around – hopefully these songs will all be covered by the end of this website’s lifespan and a pretty high percentage of them have been already (as ever, scroll to the middle of the website and you’ll see a list of links to each album review we’ve written so far!) Please note, as ever with these lists my favourite songs could (and will) change at any time...
1) The Searchers “He’s Got No Love” (single, 1965, available on most good best-ofs)
Psychedelia a full two years early, with Liverpool’s second greatest band using echo and unusual guitar sounds to great effect on superb flop single that should have re-booted their career, not killed it. Given the Spring 1965 release date this record is so far ahead of its time it even beats what The Beatles were doing then (and I say that as a huge fan of ‘Help!’) A criminally under-rated record. He’d give the world to know someone would care for him, he hopes someone will share their love with him
2) The Byrds “Set You Free This Time” (Turn! Turn! Turn!, 1965)
The early Byrds albums are terribly patchy, but Gene Clark is light years ahead of the opposition with a turbulent, heart-wrenching song that packs decades’ worth of fear and guilt into two-and-a-half minutes. Most of Gene’s songs are break-up songs (the other Byrds used to deliberately try to break him and his girlfriends up when they needed new material!), but each one went somewhere new and this Dylanesque song from the only songwriter Dylan ever feared as his superior goes somewhere so new for the pop market of 1965 that sadly very few followed it. I have never been so far out in front that I could ask for what I want and have it anytime
3) The Hollies “So Lonely” (B-Side ‘Look Through Any Window’, 1965)
Simple it may be, but this haunting melancholy song is an absolute emotional rollercoaster that rises and falls in a mist of harmonies and feedback. The sound of Tony Hicks’ guitar is much copied but never bettered and the full-frontal display of sadness here is almost overwhelming. Like many a self-written Hollies B-side, this should have been the A-side. I get so lonely, I get so lonely without you – I get lonely for you
4) The Searchers “Til I Met You” (B-side ‘Goodbye My Love’, 1965)
Simply one of the sweetest ballads committed to tape, with the contrast between Mike Pender’s serious deep voice and Chris Curtis’ innocent falsetto is a real treat and this song, too, is way ahead of its time (few other bands were sounding this vulnerable in 1965). The A-side is a pretty fine piece of work too, but like so many Searchers B-sides its beaten head and shoulders by this lesser known song. Now that I’ve learnt all about I’m going to make you see, that from now on till forever you belong with me
5) The Beatles “Nowhere Man” (Rubber Soul, 1965)
Seeing as I can’t have ‘Help!’ (a #1, you see), here’s another early piece of Lennon’s development as a songwriter, a catchy-but-deep singalong that manages to be both sneering and sympathetic at the same time. The song came to Lennon in a dream, making it his equivalent of McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’, and features a suitable hazy dream-like quality until a fiery and superb George Harrison solo finally cuts through the murk. Doesn’t have a point of view, knows not where he’s going to, isn’t he a bit like you and me?
6) Simon and Garfunkel “He Was My Brother” (Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, 1965)
Paul Simon may have written deeper and more intelligent songs over the years, but few have the emotional weight of this early recording, written for a classmate who died in Vietnam. Every line is extended into a yell, causing both Simon and Garfunkel to fight for breath every step of the way and makes each sentence sound like a sob. Garfunkel commented on the album sleeve ‘I loved the way this song made me feel’ – an emotion I’ll second! He was my brother – and he died so his brothers could be free!
7) The Kinks “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” (B-Side ‘Sunny Afternoon’, 1966)
Few ‘pop’ bands were this sombre and serious in 1966 and this famous Kinks B-side sounds like it comes from a different planet when compared to everything else. In many ways it was – The Kinks always did their own thing and in many ways this is their ‘theme’ song. The brother Davies are at their peak as a team here too, with Ray’s most personal lyric to date delivered note-perfectly by his more brooding brother Dave while Ray chants broodingly in the background. Don’t want to float about like everybody else, and I don’t want to live my life like everybody else, and I won’t say that I feel fine like everybody else, ‘cause I’m not like everybody else
8) The Beatles “Rain” (B-side ‘Paperback Writer’, 1966)
My candidate for the Beatles’ best performance as a band (even Ringo gets things right for once!), with Lennon’s clever multi-layered lyrics about so much more than just the weather. The backwards tape effects (reportedly done by Lennon in error when he tried to lace his demo machine up one night in a pill-induced fog) somehow makes perfect sense in a song about viewing the world through different eyes, where lesser bands would have made it a ‘gimmick’. This one song is the entire template for the Oasis sound too because, frankly, the Beatles were never cooler than they were here Can you hear me that when it rains and shines, it’s just a state of mind, can you hear me?...nnnnaaiiiirrrrrrr!
9) The Beach Boys “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” (Pet Sounds, 1966)
Generally I consider ‘Pet Sounds’ to be one of the weakest Beach Boys albums as Brian Wilson tries too hard to write songs other people will identify with – but not so this melancholic slab of autobiography from a man born at least 50 years too early, writing songs for audiences that can’t comprehend what they hear. Well, apart from me and other fans of this near-perfect song! Most people who love this record dislike this song, but it oh so desperately needs to be there, wild forward-looking theremin and all. I keep looking for a place to fit in where I can speak my mind, and I’ve been trying hard to find the people that I won’t leave behind
10) The Beatles “For No One” (Revolver, 1966)
‘Eleanor Rigby’ might be better known (and as another #1 not eligible for this list), but ‘For No One’ covers the same ground just as well: Paul McCartney’s sensitive lyrics about the end of a relationship and the coldness and casualness that replaces warmth and excitement are among his most finest work. Surely he can’t have been just 23 when he wrote this piece, allegedly inspired by a downturn in his relationship with Jane Asher and his idea of what life might have been like for them in old age? Your day breaks, your mind aches, you find that all her words of kindness linger on when she no longer needs you
11) The Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows” (Revolver, 1966)
Anyone who wanders why The Beatles were so respected clearly hasn’t heard this song, which is The Egyptian Book Of The Dead set to scary music and psychedelic tape-loops, opening dozens of new enticing doors simultaneously without sacrificing its musicality. Lennon reportedly asked for ‘the sound of a hundred monks chanting at the end of the world’ and the band came close thanks to McCartney’s inventive collection of tape loops and the chopped up guitar solo from ‘Taxman’ spewing forth at random in the middle. All play the game, existence to the end of the beginning....
12) The Hollies “Rain On My Window” (Evolution, 1967)
The perfect template for writing a song: the story is all there and develops bit by bit, tied together with a clever chorus, one of the best riffs in the business and those classic Hollies harmonies at full flight. A classic song of miscommunication, the narrator falls in love, she seems cold and distant but suddenly lets her emotions show on a rainy night in front of a warm fire and yet the next day she’s more distant than ever. Another song way ahead of its January 1967 release date. As the rain beat on my window did she understand that in the glow of dying embers everything was planned?
13) The Monkees “Shades Of Gray” (Headquarters, 1967)
In which The Monkees prove why they more than deserved the chance to play their own instruments, suddenly turning adult for a simply glorious song about growing old and a note-perfect arrangement the band made themselves. Davy Jones was never better, finally singing in the deeper baritone that suited him more than his teeny-bopper tenor, but its Peter Tork who excels, both with his counter-vocal and circular piano riff. When the world and I were young, just yesterday, life was such a simple game a child could play...
14) Buffalo Springfield “Expecting To Fly” (Buffalo Springfield Again, 1967)
Neil Young’s first intended solo song is a haunting, ethereal work of power and beauty that after an album full of folky Dylan-like numbers seemed to come from nowhere. Fragile and delicate and on the edge of breaking, the words and music are the perfect match for each other and like many fans I curse the fact that Neil and orchestrator Jack Nietsche spent such little time working together – this song is evidence of what a good fit their talents were for each other. It was hearing this song that inspired Graham Nash to write ‘Wings’ and encouraged him to add Neil to CSN. I tried so hard to stand as I stumbled and fell to the ground, so hard to laugh as I fumbled and reached for the love I found, knowing it was gone
15) Rolling Stones “We Love You” (A-side, 1967)
The Stones’ most impressive moment recorded directly in the wake of Mick and Keef’s drugs arrest, which cleverly serves as a double ‘thankyou’ to their fans and a ‘fuck you’ to their enemies. (Is the ‘we love you’ chorus heartfelt or sarcastic? Probably a bit of both). Brian Jones’ improvised mellotron howl at the end is one of the scariest sounds in music, while Lennon and McCartney crop up on the chorus, repaying the favour of the Stones appearing on ‘All You Need Is Love’, a song the Stones beat hands down. The darker side of Psychedelia. We don’t care if you hound we and lock the doors around me, with locks upon your mind – ‘cause we love you! (Of course we do!)
16) Lulu “Morning Dew” (B-side ‘To Sir With Love’ 1967)
Lulu had an impressive run of singles during her years with producer Mickie Most. This is the best of the songs you might not know, an anti-war folk song written after the author saw the film ‘On The Beach’ and delivered perfectly by an 18-year-old Lulu who was at the peak of her powers here (the Grateful Dead recorded it too). I thought I heard a young man crying baby, thought I heard a young man crying today, you didn’t hear no young man crying baby, you didn’t hear no young man crying at all
17) Simon and Garfunkel “Patterns” (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, 1967)
A forgotten early slice of Paul Simon’s thoughtfulness in song, less immediate than ‘Sounds Of Silence’ perhaps but still a powerful song about the routines and restrictions that make us who we are. As we said in our review, every song on ‘Parsley Sage’ seems to be engaged in a debate with another song and this is the flipside of the better known ‘Feelin Groovy’s careless, directionless patter. Patterns still remain on the wall where darkness fell, and its fitting that it should for in darkness I must dwell, like the colour of my skin or the day I grow old, my life is made of patterns that can scarcely be controlled
18) The Hollies “Elevated Observations” (Butterfly, 1967)
The Hollies repeat ‘Look Through Any Window’ by standing on top of a mountain-top and ruminating about the everyday routines of the people below them and not liking what they see. The chorus (‘ego is dead!’) is the summer of love in a nutshell, as a sped up backing track plays havoc with your senses and Graham Nash sings about the ‘levels’ there are to life. The band at their most psychedelic and memorable and one of the very best songs releases in the year 1967. Climb up here, jump up here, skip up or run up, but get up here somehow ‘cause you’ll find your head, finally finding the level you’re after, ego is dead! Ego is dead! Aaaaah!!!!!!
19) The Beatles “The Fool On The Hill” (Magical Mystery Tour, 1967)
Surely Paul McCartney’s career best song, taking an outsider’s eye view of the world with a tune that manages to be both uplifting and haunting and some sensitive lyrics. The backing of flutes and mellotrons is unusual but memorable, with the song sounding both traditional and progressive together. Day after day, alone on a hill, the man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still
20) Jefferson Airplane “Won’t You Try?> Saturday Afternoon” (After Bathing At Baxters” (1967)
If any song will make you want to run away and join a hippie circus this is it: by turns angry, sweet, strident and belligerent, it’s an epic medley that packs the whole of the 1960s into four short minutes. Like any Airplane concert, the song wobbles so much you’re never quite sure if they’ll make it to the end intact, but the sudden moment when they all telepathically charge as one in a storm of noise and freedom is quite quite brilliant. Saturday Afternoon, yellow clouds rising in the noon, acid incense and balloons, Saturday Afternoon, people dancing everywhere, loudly shouting ‘I don’t care!, it’s a time for growing and a time for knowing love!
21) The Monkees “The Door Into Summer” (Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd, 1968)
Songwriter Bill Martin, who worked on the Monkees TV series as an extra, got through to the last eight in the Monkees auditions and hung around long enough to provide them with this winning folk-rock song about misers and scrooges recorded by Mike Nesmith in the Colgems bathroom (the only place with the right echo!) He would have made a fine Monkee given the few songs of his that were ever released, especially this one with its Pleasant Valley Sunday-style tale of ‘fool’s gold’ and material illusions. With his fool’s gold stacked up all around him, from a killing in a market on a war, the children of King Midas there as they found him, in his counting house where nothing counts but more.
22) The Small Faces “Afterglow (Of Your Love)” (Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, 1968)
One of the great things about Small Faces songs is that they always sound like they mean it and are always living on the edge. ‘Afterglow’ starts off a simple sweet pop song that’s quirkier than any of the band’s novelty records before suddenly lurching into heavy metal rock five years early. This song quickly becomes so much more than any novelty, raised to screaming point by Steve Marriott at his most intense and despite not quite lasting three minutes this track leaves you emotionally exhausted. I;m happy just to be with you, and loving you the way I do, there’s everything I need to know, just resting in your afterglow!
23) The Byrds “Change Is Now” (The Notorious Byrd Brothers, 1968)
A song celebrating the gift of change and a ‘dance to the day when fear is unknown’, this has always been a special song for me. The melody cleverly copies the words throughout, never sitting still for a second and switching between Psychedelia and pure country without a second glance. The song climaxes in one of the best instrumentals ever committed to tape which somehow manages to sound totally different to anything else ever recorded and yet perfectly natural in the context of the song, full of phased synthesisers, clanging speaker-hopping guitars and burbling bass lines. Change is now, all around, dance to the day when fear is unknown!
24) Big Brother and the Holding Company “Ball and Chain” (Cheap Thrills, 1968)
Instead of rushing into things like Big Brother so often did, here they held back and string this simple song out to eight agonising minutes of cat-and-mouse in which Janis Joplin puts in one of the great vocal performances of all time. Love isn’t a light, happy, enjoyable experience here – its torture. Sitting down by my window, looking out at the rain....
25) Grateful Dead “That’s It For The Other Ones” (Anthem Of The Sun, 1968)
A psychedelic epic that starts with questions of birth and pre-destiny, takes a detour via a psychedelic bus-journey and ends up collapsing into a five minute surge of pure noise, confusion and chaos. Like the rest of ‘Anthem Of The Sun’ this psychedelic journey takes place four times over all at the same time, the band suddenly jumping sideways from one live performance to another as the faders move up and down. What a wonderful trip it’s been. Tall the children they were learning from books that they were burning, could be they were turning to watch him die
26) Rolling Stones “Child Of The Moon” (B-Side ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash, 1968)
The Stones at their most beautiful, this song is even better than the better known A-side, waving goodbye to the summer of love with one last beautiful rush of emotion and hope. Mick Jagger’s never sounded quite so sincere as here, Bill Wyman’s chugging synthisiser bass is wonderfully exotic and the band’s sweet-and-sour harmonies are never better. She shivers, by the light she is hidden, she flickers like a lamp laden vision, child of the moon rub your rainy eyes, child of the moon, give me your wide awake pleasant shade smile
27) The Monkees “As We Go Along” (HEAD, 1968)
Micky Dolenz proves why he might just be the greatest pop singer of them all on a simply gorgeous song full of ringing Rickenbacker guitars and a mega-complicated 7/4 rhythm that Micky handles effortlessly. That’s Neil Young as one of the guitarists by the way on a Carole King song that somehow manages to tell a love story, the plot of the Monkees’ wonderful film ‘Head’ (still the greatest movie ever made) and life experiences on earth for all of us at the same time. You shouldn’t be shy because I’m not going to try to hurt you or heal you or steal your star
28) Pink Floyd “Remember A Day” (Saucerful Of Secrets, 1968)
A forgotten gem of a song about memories of childhood and times past, which was the perfect way for founder Syd Barrett to say goodbye, even though its his partner Rick Wright who wrote the song. This isn’t an innocent carefree, happy childhood either – well, not given by the backing full of nightmarish slide guitar, thumping drums and toy pianos anyway – or then again maybe its the narrator’s past that’s creepy instead. Either way a classic forgotten gem. Why can’t we stay this way? Why can’t we roll the years away? Blow away...
29) The Beatles “Long Long Long” (The White Album, 1968)
In which George Harrison outlines his whole spiritual ethos in three perfectly judged minutes, ending with a ‘happy accident’ of a vibrating wine bottle that makes for the perfect conclusion (surely, surely, this is the narrator passing over into death at the end? And surely it was always destined to end this way, whatever the Beatle biographies say?!) So understated it almost isn’t there, this humble song has been overlooked for far too long nestled between noisier, more immediate songs and is my candidate for the best fab four song of them all. So many years I was searching, so many tears I was wasting, oh-ahhh!
30) The Beach Boys “Cabinessence” (Smile via 20/20, 1967/1969)
‘Smile’ was light years ahead of any music ever made and still no one has caught up with yet – chances are they never will. Here’s the first of two examples why, ostensibly a song about American pioneers in a log cabin turned into a pocket symphony via the hardest-hitting waltz ever recorded. Some (the band included) complain that the lyrics make no sense, but heck, they make perfect sense, working on several layers at once, especially since Brian finished his song cycle and made this song the conclusion of his ‘American History’ suite where the two sides of the American Dream are perfectly summed up. Who ran the iron horse?!
31) Crosby, Stills and Nash “Long Time Gone” (Crosby, Stills and Nash, 1969)
David Crosby often talked about this song being where he ‘found his voice’ despite five years of singing with The Byrds. Certainly he never sounded as good as he did when singing this inspired but tortured song of political anguish and frustrated inequality, inspired by the assassination of Robert Kennedy. The pulsing organ note throbbing throughout the song is particularly magical but its Crosby’s weary and strained vocal – as well as Stills’ bluesier downbeat interruptions – that make this song the classic that it is. You know there’s something going on around here, it won’t, surely won’t, last the light of day!
32) Pentangle “Once I Had A Sweetheart” (Basket Of Light, 1969)
Pentangle’s greatest achievement, linking the old and the new with their sitar-driven arrangement of an old folk song several centuries old that’s so gorgeous it isn’t true. The solo in the middle lifts the song to whole new level, the sitar circling higher and higher, far past the point of what sounds possible, before two Jacqui McShee’s singing in harmony pounce back onto the melody and get a grip back on the song again. I sang songs of silver and steered t’ward the sun, and my false love will weep for me after I’m gone
33) The Small Faces “Autumn Stone” (The Autumn Stone, 1969)
My favourite Small Faces song by far is ‘Tin Soldier’ – a hard hitting and catchy outpouring from the heart with an R and B pulse that’s never been bettered as far as singles go. It just made the top 10, however, which leaves me with this haunting ballad from the band’s final days as my next choice, on which Steve Marriott proves he can do subtle and sensitive as well as play the demented rocker. Goodness knows what an Autumn Stone is, but this is a cracking track and almost a goodbye to the band with the lines Yesterday is dead! But not my memories...
34) The Kinks “Shangri-La” (Arthur, 1969)
Or everything that’s wrong with the Western World in five minutes. Arthur – the character who narrates the whole album more or less - is retired and should be enjoying the rewards of life after a difficult adulthood interrupted by wars, warring relations and the lack of a post-war dream. But no – the pressure of keeping up with neighbours, bureaucracy gone mad and lack of ambition is really a cunning trap set by the people in power to keep us in our place and is a cage waiting for us all one day however clever we are at escaping it at first. A clever, clever song that starts off sounding so lovely it can’t be true (it isn’t) before suddenly exploding into fury in a marvellous middle eight that simply keeps hitting and hitting and hitting again. Powerful stuff. The man who runs to get the train got a mortgage hanging over his head, but he’s too scared to complain ‘cause he’s conditioned that way
35) Janis Joplin “Work Me, Lord” (I Got Dem Ol Kozmik Blues Again Mama!, 1969)
In which Janis bargains with her maker in a desperate attempt to get her life back on the rails after a fall from grace that left her with nothing. The lurch in the middle when things seem to right themselves and even the horn section sounds happy, only to fall over again on a sudden switch to a minor key, still makes me cry whenever I hear it. With her background steeped in blues Janis was born to sing this song – and indeed it might have been written for her as composer Nick Gravenites (once in the band ‘Electric Flag’) may have written it for her as the pair were good friends. Don’t you know how hard it is trying to live all alone? Every day I keep trying to move forward, but something is driving me ---- back!
36) Cat Stevens “I Think I See The Light!” (Mona Bone Jakon, 1970)
Growing from a growl to a falsetto shriek, there’s a lot of Cat Stevens invested into this revealing song which manages to achieve a lot despite featuring little more than a piano and a lead vocal. Despite appearances it actually pre-dates his Muslim conversion; it’s actually about adjusting to the ‘real’ things in life that matter after the 18-year-old singer almost died from TB and saw his career disappear overnight. The fact that he came back with a new sound so different and yet so perfectly formed is one of the great success stories in popular music. My heart was made of stone, I saw only misty gray, until you came into my life girl I saw every one that way!
37) The Who “Amazing Journey > Sparks” (Live At Leeds, 1970)
Rock and roll’s greatest ever riff delivered by the world’s greatest rock and roll band at the peak of their powers. The peaks and valleys in this song make for a mesmerising ride, an ‘amazing spiritual journey’ that just keeps coming in wave after wave – and the predecessing song isn’t bad either. This song is from ‘Tommy’ of course, and the way the deaf, dumb and blind title character experiences life without his senses. Frankly if his whole childhood was spent hearing music this powerful he’d have gone mad, that’s all I’m saying. The studio version isn’t bad either, but as every Who fan knows ‘Tommy’ is an album better heard live and the complete Live at Leeds show may be the single best concert ever put onto tape. Sickness will surely take the mind where minds won’t usually go, come on the amazing journey and learn all you should know!
38) Lindisfarne “The Clear White Light Part 2” (Nicely Out Of Tune, 1970)
Lindisfarne’s gorgeous, distinctive harmonies are simply perfect on this Alan Hull song about the question of life after death (the question isn’t ‘I believe’ so much as ‘do I believe?’) The long slow fadeout is stunning, with a sudden glow of life from a wheezy organ dragging the rest of the band with it and – hopefully – into the spiritual light. Do you believe the clear white light is going to guide us all?
39) Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young “Ohio” (single, 1970)
The single most important political statement made in music, as CSNY respond to Nixon’s orders to shoot peaceful protestors on an American campus with a song that fights back as best it can in a howl of despair, outrage and horror that can’t believe what’s just taken place at a time when no one else dared questioned those in power. Amazingly this was in the charts (but not quite top 10) within a fortnight of the incident and two years before ‘Watergate’ meant everyone else started joining in the Nixon-bashing too. Impeaching was too good for him, what happened to the prison sentence he should have had?! Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, we’re finally on our own, this Summer I hear the drumming, four dead in Ohio.
40) Paul McCartney “Maybe I’m Amazed” (McCartney, 1970)
In which Macca has a nervous breakdown after the difficulties in the final Beatles years, retreats to his farm in Scotland and comes to terms with the fact that the only thing that makes sense in his life anymore is his love for wife Linda. A simply fabulous song and just about the best of the finest run of love songs in the business, my friends still don’t believe me when I tell them this song was never a single except in a live version from six years later).Maybe I’m a man, maybe I’m a lonely man in the middle of something he doesn’t really understand
41) The Hollies “Too Young To Be Married” (Confessions Of The Mind, 1970)
The Hollies follow in CSN’s footsteps with a song of social outrage at the traps of poverty for the working classes, sensitively handling an awkward subject in a marvellous collage of harmonies, flamenco guitar solos and empathy. After all, what could the characters do? They were going to have a baby, the most natural thing in the world turned into the most ostracising event imaginable by humans who don’t know any better. She starts to dream, but no she’s fooling
42) The Byrds “All The Things” (Untitled, 1970)
Roger McGuinn’s best song, intended for a musical about Peer Gynt rather than a Byrds album but very welcome to the record all the same. A song about suddenly realising how wonderful life can be and an admission that the narrator has spent all his years till now ‘talking to prove I weren’t afraid’, this is a classy ballad with a moving chorus that’s really powerful. The skies singing songs I could have played, but I was too busy talking to prove I’m not afraid
43) Cat Stevens “Miles From Nowhere” (Tea For The Tillerman, 1970)
In which Cat Stevens wonders what might be waiting for him on the other side when he dies and whether he’s lived his life the right way so he can be proud of it. This song is an epic, however you look at it, but its actually mighty short and features only a piano and some rolling drums. Just listen to that vocal though which is frighteningly real and heartfelt. In my mind it’s always been a medley with next and similar track ‘But I Might Die Tonight!’ but sadly there wasn’t enough room to include both. I have my freedom, I make my own rules, oh yeah, the ones that I choose
44) John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band “Working Class Hero” (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, 1970)
John Lennon always told it like it was, but never more than on this rulebook for coping with life, where your teachers will hate you whatever you do and everyone will put you down your whole life through, whether you’re clever or stupid. Lennon’s got some flack for writing this song over the years – in 1970 because it used the ‘f’ word twice (although Jefferson Airplane were the very first to use it on record) and later for his middle-class upbringing. Frankly both arguments are nonsense: swear words are only words and they shock far less here than the dawning truth of what Lennon is saying and too Lennon always acted working class his whole life through, much to his Aunt Mimi’s horror and disdain, and The Beatles were the key symbol for the working classes in the 1960s whatever his childhood was like. As soon as you’re born they make you feel small, by giving you no time instead of it all
45) George Harrison “Beware Of Darkness” (All Things Must Pass, 1970)
A gentle but stern warning from the world’s greatest big brother, George Harrison. Here are three verses full of all the things to avoid in life, from material illusions to wayward record companies to our own egos on a song that’s half fairy tale and half folk protest, with a haunting melody and a chorus that speaks the truth so well life will never seem the same again (‘It can hit you, it can hurt you, make you sore, and what is more, that is not what you are here for’).
46) The Beach Boys “Surf’s Up” (Smile via Surf’s Up, 1967/1971)
The second ‘Smile’ song on the list, which takes in the rise and fall of civilisations, Brian’s own impending collapse and the history of America in four blissful minutes accompanied by one of the greatest melodies of all time. And I defy anyone not to cry during the ‘children’s song’ coda from this re-recording, which doesn’t appear in early versions but fits so well that it was surely always meant to be. The conclusion of the second ‘childhood’ suite on ‘Smile’, this song – like the very next one on the list – is about how we were closer to the ‘truth’ of life in childhood than we’ll ever be as adults. A children’s song, have you listened to what they say? Their song is love and the children know the way!
47) David Crosby “Laughing” (If Only I Could Remember My Name, 1971)
David Crosby has spent his whole life looking for answers, but every time he thinks he’s found the truth and someone he can believe in it turns out that he’s wrong again. The closest answer to the truth of life he can find is the sound of a child happily laughing in the sun – not what the religious leaders, politicians or celebrities tell him at all. Dozens of AAA musicians are on this gorgeous slow-burning song which is slow and stately but beautifully laidback, climaxing in Jerry Garcia’s greatest playing and Joni Mitchell’s playful harmonies. The sound of Crosby’s twin guitars is fabulous, too, warm and full and perfect for one of my all-time favourite songs. I was mistaken, only reflections of a shadow that I saw
48) David Crosby “What Are Their Names?” (If Only I Could Remember My Name 1971)
The same cast again on a very different song from the same album, in which anger at the casual way those in power treat those under their rule turns to boiling point. Unusually for Crosby, this song started as a poem before the singer found he had already got the perfect backing thanks to perhaps the greatest ever improvised jam ever committed to tape. Neil Young, Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukanen and Crosby himself all play the guitars and are at their absolute best here on an inspired gift of a song that sadly sounds truer every day our corrupt Coalition Government grinds us down! I wonder who they are? The men who really run this land? And I wander why they run it with such a thoughtless hand?
49) The Moody Blues “One More Time To Live” (Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, 1971)
A fight between the duality in life, pitting the beauty and wonder of the world against the desolation and chaos that so often occurs in it. The band never quite come down on the side of one or the other either on this cleverly constructed and perfectly played song, in which the serenity of the opening passage comes back in in cycles despite a noisy chorus listing every word ending in ‘tion’ under the sun. The spirit of every revolt and overthrow of Government across time is in this song somewhere as time and time again the leaders get greedy and turn from ‘solution’ to ‘desolation’ and the cycle starts all over again. Desolation! Creation! Evolution! Pollution! Saturation! Population! Annihilation! Revolution! Confusion! Illusion! Conclusion! Salvation! Degradation! Humiliation! Contemplation! Inspiration! Salvation! Communication! Compassion! Solution...
50) The Moody Blues “You Can Never Go Home” (Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, 1971)
There were no bigger stars around in 1971 than The Moody Blues. Their albums stayed in the charts, literally, for years and for a time they even had their own chartered Moody Blues lear jet (complete with its own fire place). But instead of getting big headed like most stars do (take a bow, Justin Bieber!), the band went inward, doubting everything about their existence and writing some of the best head-scratching, soul-searching songs around. Here’s one of them, a gorgeous Justin Hayward lament where every path you take in life – however profitable – takes you away from where you started from. I don’t know what I’m searching for, I should never have opened the door...
51) Paul Kantner and Grace Slick “When I Was A Boy I Watched The Wolves” (Sunfighter, 1971)
The ex-Jefferson Airplane members excel themselves here on a story about trying to fit in, using the metaphor of the wolfpack to explore human relationships and how severely and suddenly people can change personalities. Grace Slick’s unusual rolling piano is joined by some wonderful charging feedback drenched guitar and a melody that is a pretty good mirror for a bunch of wolves. Run with the wolfpack! Get down! Be quiet! Go Back! Run with the wolkfpack!
52) The Who “Bargain” (Who’s Next, 1971)
Another ‘dual’ song where the price is high and the narrator has to go through hell to get his reward, but a sensitive middle eight from Pete Townshend at his best makes it all worthwhile. The juxtaposition of Roger Daltrey’s fire and Pete Townshend’s weedy insecurities is never better contrasted and this song manages to out-rock any heavy metal band without sacrificing its beauty or its romance. I sit looking round, I look at my face in the mirror, I know I’m worth nothing without you
53) Crazy Horse “Look At All The Things” (Crazy Horse, 1971)
Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten didn’t live long, but the songs he was writing at the end of his short life were nearly all masterpieces. Here’s one of the least known but in my opinion one of the very best, a hymn to the greatest wonders in life from a man who knew he wasn’t going to live very long to see them, held together by a scary, circular chorus that seems to mock him for wasting so much precious time on drugs. Just give me time, oh precious time, and I’ll come home, but for now I’ve got to go and I’ve got to go alone
54) Stephen Stills “Word Game” (Stephen Stills II, 1971)
The best song about racism bar none, a fast talking blues that was written by Stills after watching a documentary on the subject that made his blood boil so much it spilled into a song. The extended last verse that goes on and on, pitching the guitarist into bigger and bigger froths of indignation, is simply brilliant and despite its simplicity (it features just Stills with his guitar) its still one of the most ‘rounded’ and complete songs ever put on tape. I have seen these things with my very own eyes, and defended my bally soul till it must be too tough to die, American propaganda, South African lies, will not force me to take arms that’s my enemies pride, and I won’t fight by his rules that’s foolishness besides, his ignorance is going to do him in and nobody’s going to cry, because his children they are growing up and plainly tired of putting up with bigots and their silver cups, they’re fed up, they might throw up on you!
55) Grateful Dead “Wharf Rat” (Grateful Dead aka Skulls and Roses, 1971)
The Dead’s most poetic moment, an eight minute epic built around one single chord about a hobo living by the docks and making promises to get himself out of the gutter that he himself only half believes in. The middle eight – when ‘August West’ declares that he’ll ‘fly away’ to escape his problems - is one of the most exciting moments on this list, while the doom-laden crashing piano chords sends a chill through the spine. Half of my life I spent doing time for some other fucker’s crime, but I’ll get back on my feet someday, the good lord willing, if he says I may, I’ll find a new start and live the life I should
56) Pink Floyd “Echoes” (Meddle, 1971)
This is the big one, a 23 minute prog rock epic that grows in stature from a quiet sonic ‘ping’ to a knock-out instrumental section that simply refuses to follow its natural conclusion for several minutes so that when it finally does it sounds like nothing less than the sun coming out. The lyrics, vocals, melody and playing on this song are all spot-on almost all the way through, with just three minute of random crow sound effects in the middle to spoil things. No one helps me close my eyes, and no one knows the where or whys, but something stirs and something tries to fly towards the light...
57) 10cc “Waterfall” (B-Side, ‘Donna’ 1972)
The song that 10cc intended to be their first A-side (until their record label promoted the fun but frivolous B-side) would have set them down a very different path as a more serious pop band. For me the original quartet’s harmonies were never better than they are here and 10cc’s always-strong production techniques are way ahead of their time, throwing everything into a mix that somehow never sounds cluttered. The perfect pop single, even if ultimately it never became one. Going to be there in the hand, going to take you by the hand, going to get out of the city, going to get back to the land!
58) Nils Lofgren and Grin “Moon Tears” (1+1, 1972)
A two minute burst of pure passion, this song goes through so much so quickly it sounds like its playing on fast speed. Fed up of being dumped, again, and being told he’s been so understanding about it all Lofgren’s narrator loses it here, climaxing on what must be one of the best guitar solos of all time. Ask me ‘is it right to love another guy?’ At first I say yes and then I cry why?!
59) Stephen Stills/Manassas “So Begins The Task” (Stephen Stills/Manasass, 1972)
Poetry set to beautiful music as Stills philosophically tries to move on from a loved one he can’t quite forget. The short-lived Manassas band (including ex-Byrd Chris Hillman) are superb here and on most of their other songs, offering a backing that blends country, rock, blues and folk into a song that sounds like all four simultaneously. Camping on the edge of your city I wait, hoping one day you might see beyond yourself, shadows on the ceiling, hard but not real, like the bars that cage you within yourself
60) The Moody Blues “For My Lady” (Seventh Sojourn, 1972)
One of the greatest love songs ever written and a beautiful, simple, uplifting song from the Moodies’ last original and bitterest record. Ray Thomas’ contributions to the band often get overlooked, but at his best his work was as good as anything Justin Hayward brought to the band. A boat sails stormy seas, battles oceans filled with tears, at last my port’s in view now that I’ve discovered you
61) Lindisfarne “Poor Old Ireland” (Dingly Dell, 1972)
Poor old Ireland indeed, especially during the ‘Bloody Sunday’ period when many AAA writers put pen to paper to express regret over the British empire’s handling of the affair (all of them took Ireland’s side, by the way, despite them all being English themselves). This song is the best, though, halfway between a gospel record and a protest song, with Alan Hull’s empathy for the underdog never better or more believable than here. He’s disguised himself well with his book and bell, but evil is still his name
62) The Hollies “I Had A Dream” (B-side of ‘Magic Woman Touch’ 1972)
A truly beautiful song from the Terry Sylvester years (who wrote this song), it breaks my heart that so people know this B-side to a flop single from an era that even big Hollies fans don’t tend to listen to much. For me Mickael Rickfor’s vocals are superb on this song of memory and lost loves while the Hollies harmonies were never better. Lying alone I feel your golden hair, skyline with silver blue, trying to find words to pacify my feelings of loneliness for you
63) The Kinks “Celluloid Heroes” (Everybody’s In Showbiz, Everybody’s A Star, 1972)
Ray Davies does it again, on a song about mortality and fame that tries to tell the story of the stars of screen but ends up as a salute to all the lesser known names who gave their all only to be forgotten. The climax, where celluloid heroes never really die – unlike the rest of us – never fails to make me cry. Like ‘Shangri-La’ another flop single that should have made #1. I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood film show, a fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes, because celluloid heroes never feel any pain, and celluloid heroes never really die
64) Pentangle “People On The Highway” (Solomon’s Seal, 1972)
Pentangle’s ‘goodbye’ song, as Bert Jansch basically declares ‘it’s been fun and I’ve loved it, but it’s better to keep moving than stay still’. The interplay between the much missed Bert and Jacqui McShee is exquisite and a fitting farewell to a most under-rated of bands. Going to move on, buddy, leave my worries and troubles behind, find a new road to rest my uneasy mind
65) Graham Nash “Another Sleep Song” (Wild Tales, 1973)
In which Graham Nash calls out for someone to wake him up from his sleepwalking state and help him to enjoy life again, written in the wake of an awful tragedy where his girlfriend of the time was murdered by her own brother. The song’s slow, lumbering tune is hauntingly beautiful and Nash’s ex Joni Mitchell adds a note-perfect counter-harmony on a song clearly close to Graham’s heart. All I need is someone to awaken me, much of me has gone to sleep – and I’m afraid to wake-up
66) Pink Floyd “Us and Them” (Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973)
‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ isn’t always as good as its reputation suggests, but this song certainly is. An achingly beautiful, slow ballad that looks at prejudice and differences the world over, the contrasts between the laidback verses and the killer choruses are sublime, as the Floyd ruminate on tragedy and suffering everywhere and the oft-surprising frailty of humanity. With, without, and who denies it’s what the fighting’s all about?
67) Cat Stevens “100 I Dream” (Foreigner, 1973)
Cat Stevens tries to tell us a happy moral story here, he really does. He wants us to become truer to ourselves and less in slave to the expectations of those around us, but somehow something else cracks through the surface. In probably the single best middle eight ever written Cat implores us ‘not to let your weaknesses destroy you’ as he feels he’s been destroyed and that, however much we try to escape ‘the world will follow, so let your reasons be true!’ The mask slips back on again all too quickly but, for a few seconds there, we know we’ve heard the truth. Pick up the pieces you see before you, don’t let your weaknesses destroy you, you know wherever you go the world will follow, so let your reasons be true, to you
68) Yoko Ono “Death Of Samantha” (Approximately Infinite Universe, 1973)
Yoko is a terribly under-estimated artist, although sadly for Mrs Lennon her best work is always inspired by personal loss and tragedy. ‘Universe’ is her best record by light years, a double set where nearly every song is first-class and it all deals with her slow breakup of marriage of Lennon and the abduction of her daughter by her ex-husband (who she won’t see again for another 20 years). This song is the best by a nose, with Yoko repeating her public mantra as a ‘cool chick’ ruffled by nothing, but letting slip just what a mess she is underneath her mask some four minutes in. It was an accident, part of growing up...
69) Jack The Lad “Lying On The Water” (It’s Jack The Lad, 1974)
Remember, remember, what good times you had, when you were just a boy of nine? Well, I can’t (what a horrible age to be), but the pull of childhood nostalgia is so strong on this uptempo country-rocker by Lindisfarne spin-off group Jack The Lad and is painted in terms so irresistible this song had to make the list. The ending – where all the band members pick up percussion instruments one by one for a blissful 20 second epic ending only to hurl them all at the ground together in a cacophony of broken dreams and frustration – is one of the greatest AAA moments of them all. When you’re lying on the water you know the water’s way, it can take you where you want and bring you back some day!
70) Jack The Lad “Turning Into Winter” (It’s Jack The Lad, 1974)
And this is Jack The Lad’s second masterpiece. A gorgeous, classy bit of ballad-writing about how the memories of summer will have to ‘be strong’ to survive the cruelties that winter can bring. One of the prettiest AAA songs of all, this is Billy Mitchell at his best on an ‘answer’ song to Lindisfarne’s nearly-as-pretty ‘Winter Song’. Will you ever see the sun shining again?
71) John Lennon “Scared” (Walls and Bridges, 1974)
This is John’s view of his ‘lost weekend’ and its every bit as unhappy as verse by verse he’s ‘scared’ ‘scarred’ and ‘tired’ of living alone estranged from his one true love with the guilty knowledge that he brought this on himself. The song opens with the howl of a lonely wolf and gets more morose from there. Hatred and jealousy, gonna be the death of me, guess I knew it right from the start!
72) Cat Stevens “Sun/C79” (Buddha And The Chocolate Box, 1974)
Cat Stevens Junior asks his dad the perennial question ‘why are we here?’ After stalling with a lovely opening section about fate, destiny, stars and dreams Cat realises he’s fooling himself and tells the tale about when he met the boy’s mother at a hotel, chanting the room number like it holds the answers to all the secrets in life. If the opening solitary keyboard hook has ever been bettered I’ve never heard it. A thousand hours I’ve looked at her eyes, but I still don’t know what colour they are!
73) Neil Young “Borrowed Tune” (Tonight’s The Night, 1975)
Neil is tired. Tired of seeing his friends die from drug overdoses, tired of being forced to come up with hits and tired of protecting those he loves from the darker side of life. He’s too tired, in fact, to write his own tune, stealing The Stones’ ‘Lady Jane’ (which only just missed this list in its own right) in his weariness. ‘Tonight’s The Night’, a requiem for Crazy Horse’s Danny Whitten is an extraordinary album, a drunken shambling deep black record about the worst of humanity and this song isn’t often seen as one of the better moments but it offers a heart and humanity the other often-bitter songs don’t always share. I’m singing this borrowed tune, my head in the clouds, I’m hoping it matters, I’m having my doubts
74) The Who “Blue, Red and Gray” (The Who By Numbers, 1975)
This album, too, may well be the most depressing album ever made. Pete Townshend tried to pretend in his autobiography that he was in a ‘good’ place, making this record, but no – it’s a suicide note, plain and simple. Except for this simple, humble song which somehow makes the surrounding half hour of pain and tears seem worth living, with the narrator slowly realizing that he loves ‘every minute of the day’. The people on the hill, they say I’m lazy, but when they sleep I sing and dance
75) Paul McCartney “Waterfalls” (McCartney II, 1980)
A surprise flop single, peaking at #11, which is a sad reflection on the tastes of the music-buyers out there in 1980 but a good thing in the sense that I can add this song to my list of 100 songs legitimately. This song makes much more sense as an album track anyway, especially on the original double-LP version of ‘McCartney II’ where it comes after the most extreme 15 minutes in Macca’s catalogue and then tells us not to risk our lives ‘jumping waterfalls’ or ‘feeding polar bears’ because ‘sometimes we make mistakes. Some fans hate the simple synth backing but I think it works far better on this humble song than any amount of overdubs and production would have done. Don’t go jumping waterfalls, please keep to the lake
76) Grace Slick “The Hard Way” (Dreams, 1980)
Poor Grace has just been kicked out of the band that made her famous, has split up with her husband/guitar player and fallen into alcoholism in a big way. Her next move – a wonderful, autobiographically rich LP – dies a death but true fans like me recognise its worth. This self-kicking song about stubbornness is the best track on it, a truly magnificent piece of work. She’ll break right through the sign saying ‘this is the end of the ride’, until there’s no one by her side
77) John Lennon “Borrowed Time” (Milk and Honey, 1982)
Lennon’s first message from beyond the grave may be unfortunately titled but it was the perfect tonic for a world starved of his talent. Lennon sounds relaxed, resilient and even has time for a tongue-in-cheek lecture on the fadeout on the only reggae-tinged song in his discography, as well as some marvellous lyrics about growing old and caring about other people less. It’s sad given the timing but after the ‘Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ and ‘Walls and Bridges’ its just great to hear Lennon so happy again. Good to be older ah-ah, less complications and deep despair
78) Crosby, Stills and Nash “Daylight Again” (Daylight Again, 1982)
There’s an even more stunning version of this song doing the rounds on bootleg, in which Stills recounts the American Civil War and claims it still continues, ending in a thrilling climax of ‘Find The Cost Of Freedom’, a song made famous as the B-side of ‘Ohio’ 12 years earlier (and therefore the only single where both sides made this list). This later, lesser version still chills with its lucid storytelling, however and its lyrics about needless inequality are superb (‘When everyone’s talking while no one is listening, how can we decide?’) That’s fellow AAA star Art Garfunkel singing with CSN, by the way. Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground, mother Earth will swallow you, lay your burden down
79) Crosby, Stills and Nash “Delta” (Daylight Again, 1982)
Another hauntingly beautiful CSN song from the4 same album and quite probably the last song Crosby wrote for some six years, as drug abuse befuddled and preoccupied his brain. Crosby’s sub-conscious knows something is wrong, ‘thinking in my sleep’ of a wonderful life full of ‘choice and chance’ but Crosby is too ill to hear, finding time stopping for him instead as he looks on enviously. A truly heartbreaking, beautiful song. The river seems dreamlike in the daytime, someone keeps thinking in my sleep
80) Paul Simon “Hearts and Bones” (Hearts and Bones, 1983)
In which Paul Simon bids goodbye to wife Carrie Fisher (yes, that’s right, Princess Leia!) on a wonderful stream-of-consciousness folk song full of understanding, apprehension, confusion and realisation. Paul’s always been one of the world’s best lyricists and this is one of his very finest sets of lyrics. The arc of a love affair
81) Dire Straits “Telegraph Road” (Love Over Gold, 1983)
I love Mark Knopfler’s short lived ‘social crusader’ period best and, with an epic running time of 14 minutes, this song offers him the most space to offload his thoughts on the downside of modern living. This is the story of a city that grows so fast and so hap-hazardly that everyone becomes trapped in it, envying the birds on the telegraph poles ‘who can always fly away from this rain and this cold’ and aren’t left paying ridiculous taxes for things they don’t need. Believe in me baby and I’ll take you away, from out of this darkness and into the day!
82) 10cc “24 Hours” (Windows In The Jungle, 1983)
In 1982 Eric Stewart had a serious car crash that nearly killed him and suddenly life didn’t seem so funny anymore. Desperate to get his thoughts about his sudden insight into the importance on life down on paper he came up with a suite of songs for the final 10cc album that are simply superb, highlighted by this opening song that almost shouts at its routine-loving narrator to escape his chains now before it’s too late. Letterbox noise snapping the day into life, newspaper boy cutting the mist like a knife, we’re beginning to rise, curtain up and drama begins, it’s the start of the race all of us wanting to win
83) The Kinks “Living On A Thin Line” (Word Of Mouth, 1985)
Some things never change is the message of this song, in which Dave Davies trumps anything his brother wrote for the Kinks that decade. A winning song of social outrage and disquiet, it’s plainly inspired by the damage Thatcher and her cronies were causing to Britain back then and has a sombre, haunting melody that sounds like a national anthem being slowly unwound and put back into it’s box. What am I, what are we, supposed to do?
84) Paul McCartney “Footprints” (Press To Play, 1986)
Writers don’t often write sequels, generally for good reason as most are horrid, but this second ‘Eleanor Rigby’ – co-written with 10cc’s Eric Stewart – is ever so nearly as good as the original. This time the widow is a man and he collects not rice from churches but uneaten breadcrumbs from his garden, haunted by the changes in his life he can’t adjust to (for which the snow is a perfect metaphor). Snow white blanket, covers the traces of tears she didn’t see, snow white blanket, covers the memories of all that used to be
85) Human League “The Stars Are Going Out” (Romantic?, 1989)
The Human League are rather badly served on this site – every time we try to review them something breaks down! Most of their best songs were all top 10 singles anyway, but their best album for me is definitely the overlooked ‘Romantic?’, which is darker and less poppy than its predecessors. This track is a good example, a scary paranoid depiction of a life falling apart. We used to be so tough, but just not tough enough, that’s all.
86) Paul Simon “The Rhythm Of The Saints” (1991)
‘To overcome an obstacle or an enemy, to dominate the impossible in your life, you’ve got to reach in the darkness’. So begins this delightful finale to one of Paul Simon’s most unfairly overlooked albums on which a bunch of Brazilian drummers and a poetic, fragmented, surreal lyric unite to make music that sounds quite unlike any other album in my collection (and it’s all so so so much better than ‘Graceland’!) The middle instrumental, when the singers drop out and the song pulses to the throb of dozens of drummers from around the world, really does sound like the discovery of the ‘lost chord’ of life.
87) Nils Lofgren “Sticks and Stones” (Silver Lining, 1991)
We haven’t covered this on the website yet – mainly because I don’t have this rare album on CD and it’s a pain to play cassettes these days – but I can’t wait till the day I do. The narrator has just had a row and asks his loved one that the next time she gets cross with him to have him beaten up by thugs rather than have to listen to what she really thinks of him. The painful finale, which ends in a howl of feedback and noise, is quite something. Sticks and stones can break my bones, but your words they break my heart.
88) Oasis “Slide Away” (Definitely Maybe, 1994)
Oasis’ debut became as successful as it did because it was so upbeat and so perfect for the times when a new generation really did feel they were ‘gonna live forever’ and become ‘rock and roll stars’. But at his best Noel Gallagher’s never been bettered as a songwriter dealing with the harder, nastier times and this one song where the narrator doesn’t get his own way is a masterpiece in howled anguish and emotion. For the only time to date Lima’s vocal is all over the place, cracking under the strain and emotion, but it’s one of his very best as he finds his dreams crashing all around him. The Oasis wall of noise has never sounded more claustrophobic. Don’t know, don’t care, all I know is you can take me there!
89) Oasis “Talk Tonite” (B-Side ‘Live Forever’ 1994)
Oasis have split or nearly split so many times down the years their final one in 2009 passed by almost un-noticed. Here’s a song about the first, a beautiful acoustic ballad on which only Noel appears, all about a conversation he had with a fan who persuaded him to patch up his differences with his brother because the work was more important than either of them. Most Oasis B-sides are something special, especially when Noel sings solo - this one is especially moving. I want to talk tonite, till the morning light, ‘cause you and me see how things are.
90) Belle and Sebastian “The State I Am In” (Tigermilk, 1995)
Stuart Murdoch writes songs like no other writer, his music closer to essays or short stories than what most pop writers come up with. This opening track on the opening Belle and Sebastian album seemed to come out of nowhere fully formed, as the narrator uses the song as a confessional, writing down his dreams, ideas, hopes and doubts into a guide-manual for others (in typical B+S style the narrator of the last track says it has been published and she has read it ‘but it didn’t seem to help at all!’) The sigh when the guitar accompaniment finally kicks in some 30 seconds into the song is tremendously effective and clever. A truly extraordinary and unique song. Gave myself to sin and I’m there and back again, oh yeah.
91) Belle and Sebastian “We Rule The School” (Tigermilk, 1995)
‘You know the world was made for men’ runs most of this song, as two misfits throw their lot in together and encourage each other to stay true to themselves and ignore their peer group. Murdoch’s tunes are nearly always superb and this is one of his best, tinged through with sadness and bleary-eyed nostalgia that only ends with a finale, superb cascade of that chorus ‘you know the world was made for men’, adding a final sad lonely tagline that says it all (‘and not us’). Do something pretty while you can, don’t fall asleep!
92) Neil Young “Dangerbird” (Live Version) (Year Of The Horse, 1997)
The studio version of ‘Dangerbird’ (from ‘Zuma’) is a great song anyway, a harrowing tale of betrayal, nervous breakdowns and hallucinations inspired by the end of Neil’s second marriage. However this live version turns up the emotional levels a hundredfold, every note sounding like it might be Neil’s last and Crazy Horse’s ragged counterpart harmonies sounding like the grim reaper. Neil’s outrageous guitar playing has never been more guttural or more closely wired into his heart. Where he used to be strong, now he thinks about you all day long, long ago, in the museum, with his friends.
93) Brian Wilson “Cry” (Imagination, 1998)
Brian Wilson’s inspiration may have gradually fizzled out from his productive 60s days, but on his day he can still write music more powerful and more unique than anyone else around. This song starts off as just another pop song about an emotional breakup, but suddenly whole choirs of Brians take over for an extended mesmerising vocal interpretation of hell, guilt and rage. The production on this quite simple song is superb too, with a full minute’s worth fade on percussion instruments rattling in turn. How could I have left you alone like that to cry? Leave her alone!!!
94) Buffalo Springfield “Four Days Gone” (Demo Version) (recorded 1968, unreleased until ‘Buffalo Springfield’ box set in 2001)
‘Could somebody shut the door to the studio please?’ slurs Stephen Stills before launching himself into the best version of one of his most forgotten songs. A Vietnam draft dodger, forced into hiding and relying on the kindness and secrecy of others, the heartbreak in this song is moving but kept under control as much as possible, with Stills’ simple piano accompaniment a blur after 36 hours’ straight work that day and night. From the Government madness I ran away
95) Belle and Sebastian “Family Tree” (Fold Your Hands, Child, You Walk Like A Peasant, 2001)
Sarah Martin is the dark horse of Belle and Sebastian, contributing only a handful of songs during the band’s career. I wish she’d write more because this tale of outsider solidarity – a character who dates back ‘to the Romans’ and probably further - is moving indeed, an ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ for a modern world of people ‘like manikins, being stupid, being used and being thin’. The way they act I’d rather be fat than be confused
96) Art Garfunkel “The Kid” (Everything Waits To Be Noticed, 2003)
The most recent addition to this list, fittingly given the album title I never noticed for years how beautiful this song was. Art’s narrator starts as ‘the kid’ dreaming out of the world outside the classroom window, getting into trouble for not paying attention and ending up doing routine tasks in a circus he ran away to in an attempt to avoid exactly that. But, as Art sighs, ‘I could no more stop dreaming than I could make them all come true’.
97) Neil Young “Let’s Impeach The President” (Living With War, 2005)
With all the talk on our site about what a wicked, rotten, evil, despicable, bloodsucking, spineless, hopeless, pathetic leader David Cameron is I forget sometimes that until comparatively recently George Bush was pretty awful too and had a lot more power. The lies told over 9/11, the Iraq War and Afghanistan went on and on in one of the worst cases of media brainwashing on record. I waited in vain for years for a ‘new’ act to take up the reigns and carry on where CSNY left off when Nixon got thrown out of office. Sadly no one else stepped forward so Neil Young simply carried on, lampooning a president who gave conflicting responses to every statement he made, rigged election wins, went to war over faked documents he knew weren’t true and who killed innocent families for the sake of oil. How the hell was Clinton impeached for what was a private affair when Bush was left to roam free after committing so many heinous crimes? Surely an anti-coalition song can’t be far off (although another quick plug here for my good friend Martin Kitcher’s anti-ATOS song ‘Not Fit To Live’, which is superb). Let’s impeach the president for lying and misleading our country into war, abusing all the powers that we gave him, shipping all our money out the door
98) Dennis Wilson “Only With You” (Unreleased till 2006 and CD issue of ‘Pacific Ocean Blues’)
More Dennis Wilson heartbreak, but this time its a heart breaking from joy. Goodness knows how Dennis and cousin Mike Love stopped fighting long enough to write a song together but they did, the two toughest Beach Boys revealing their soft and gentle side when left alone to write. Carl Wilson re-recorded this song for ‘Holland’ and its perfectly respectable, but this first version with Dennis’ gruff vocal rings truest on what must be one of the loveliest melodies ever written. All I want to do is spend my life with you
99) Neil Young “A Man Needs A Maid” (Live At Massey Hall, recorded in 1972, released in 2007)
Possibly the most revealing autobiographical song from a songwriter who doesn’t often reveal much about himself, this is a dazed and confusion expression of love to someone the singer doesn’t even know yet (although he will, in fact, marry the actress he falls in love with onscreen). Much criticised by the women’s lib movement and misunderstood by many fans over the years, this song is actually more about the narrator’s faults and his fear of longterm commitment than any social comment. Gorgeous as the finished version is, this bare-bones piano version (played as a medley with the first verse of ‘Heart Of Gold’) is greater still without Harvest’s sappy orchestration and with extra verses cut from the record that make the song even more revealing and open. I fell in love with the actress, she was playing a part that I can understand, afraid, a man needs a maid
100) Beady Eye “Wigwam” (Different Gear, Still Speeding, 2010)
To modern times, now, and the Liam Gallagher half of Oasis who, in my eyes, started off with a bang with their debut album which beat the last couple of Oasis albums by a mile. Sadly it didn’t sell and most people seemed to go for his brother’s rather lesser effort. Listen out to this song though if you missed it the first time round: a weary, worried, despairing narrator can’t do anything right, even when he tries to concede in arguments he knows he should have won. And yet suddenly, through some psychedelic colour it all turns right as Liam nicks one of Paul McCartney’s best songs with the words ‘I’m coming up!’ and an extended Hey Jude-like finale that suddenly flowers into happiness and joy. Beady Eye are meant to have a second album out soon – if there’s any song half as good as this I can’t wait! I’m coming up! I’m coming u-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-p!
101) Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds “Stop The Clocks” (Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, 2011)
By contrast, I thought most of this album was awful, but at least Noel had the sense to revive some of the best oasis outtakes rather than carry on pushing through his writer’s block. This song from 1999, with a minimal amount of overdubs, was always the jewel in the bootleggers’ Oasis crown, a haunting song about what might happen when we die. Will we know when it happens? And will death be silent or filled with music? Just in case its silent Noel tears into his greatest ever guitar solo, a howling, feedback laden shriek of despair, one last act of rebellion before silence overtakes him and us. A simply stupendous song. And when the night is over there’ll be no sound...
Looking at the list, then, a few things come to mind. There’s one heck of a gap between 1975 and 1980 – which, to be honest, really wasn’t that great a period for music – and I’m surprised that there are more songs here from the 1970s (40) than the 1960s (35). Ballads outscore rockers by about 2:1 approximately, while a very neat 51 out of these 101 tracks (so more or less half) come from the 101 album reviews we reviewed first on this site as our ‘core’ collection. At the time of writing there are still 18 of these songs that we haven’t got round to covering thus far on our reviews, but the rest you can read as part of the full album coverage below (or, if you happen to reading this in the far future, surely surrounded by hover-cars android doubles and 3D sculptures dedicated to the Spice Girls, they’re probably all been covered by now!)
So, what do you think? Appalled at only three Pink Floyd songs? Knocked out by the inclusion of your favourite Mark Knopfler?! Tickled by our 10cc’s?!? Drop us a line what you think using the comment box and – if you have the time and the same mad urge to discuss music that we have – why not drop us your own list (note: you don’t have to list 100 songs, although you can if, like us, you can’t make your lists any shorter!) Do join us next week for more news, views and music – unless we talk to you first in the comments section of course!
Monday, 15 April 2013
The Devil was worried. He’d spent years running hell the way he wanted it and suddenly there was an interloper calling the shots. It had been just another Monday when he’d heard the news (yes, hell has it’s own news network) that the land he’d ruled with an iron fist and forked tail all these millennia was about to get a very special guest. After all, he’d been used to so-called fiends: Napoleon had tried to talk big but those burning coals had soon shut him up, Stalin actually turned out to be quite sweet and shy once he’d been set to work sweeping Hell’s kitchens and Hitler, well, he’d gone a bit pale when he saw the sign saying ‘work sets you free’ and a few chimneys and hadn’t caused any more trouble after that.
The devil used to think he was going to have fun with Margaret Thatcher too, when the wicked witch of Westminster finally fell into his abode after a lifetime of bleeding the poor to feed the rich, closing down industries and unions that had existed for centuries and taking away civil liberties left right and centre. The devil had even being eyeing her up as one of his particulars, in fact, a position saved for the really nasty, with her becoming a fallen angel with a forked tongue who would surely sign many an unwitting innocent bystander’s soul into the abyss. But like so many politicians before him (and, yes, hell is certainly full of politicians) the devil had underestimated the iron lady with the shifty eyes and the sneering smile. Things weren’t exactly going to plan.
The day had started out well though. Thatcher had arrived dead on time – as it were - and after having to queue up for hours had been added to the ‘21st century’ themed version of hell: full of signing on at the jobcentre every ten minutes, filling in long and complicated-looking forms for jobs that didn’t actually exist, being prodded poked and laughed at by millionaires who burned ten pound notes in her face and having to work for free in some awful shop where everyone else got paid and made her do all the dirty jobs no one else wanted to do. After all, she couldn’t complain, not in hell, or she’d get sanctioned for poor conduct – and believe me you wouldn’t want to be sanctioned in hell. The devil saved special punishment for Thatcher, too, giving her a disbility that people would laugh at in the street, making every day a hazy fight for survival through aches and pains and tortured limbs until she couldn’t stand it any more and then she was forced to watch Hell news bulletins (in association with Fox News – yes hell has a TV network although there’s not much choice on at any one time and its mainly re-runs of soap operas) telling her she was a ‘shirker’. Then the devil sent her to fight a pointless, unncessary war in the Falklands, where Thatcher saw herself and those she loved die over and over again all for a few square feet of land and some sheep. The money for the weapons that were hideously out of scale with the war were taken out of her wages too and soon she couldn’t afford to pay for anything else. The devil chuckled to himself that he’d surely put this awful woman, who’d caused such misery and suffering and hardship to many others in exactly the right kind of hell – of the 20 different scenarios at his disposal only the Victorian workhouse version of hell was worse.
But then something happened. His assistant demons suddenly started chuckling whenever they were working with his victim over her amazing ideas for torture equipment and new forms of misery and suffering. She seemed to be quite the expert in it. And that was unusual because nobody ever laughed in hell – a land where everyone was told ‘have a nice day’ sarcastically every morning but nobody actually meant it. The demons actually began to enjoy their day’s conversation with their victim where, in a copy of TV quiz ‘The Weakest Link’, this abominable woman gave as good as she got. They even sniggered when the being who’d been known as Thatcher got moved onto a turnspit and declared ‘this woman’s not for turning!’ Surely, the demons cried, she stood up to so much pain and misery then she must be one of them and not a measly human as they’d been told? She might even have – gulp – special powers and take out a retirbution on them all. The devil got more and more uneasy as his underlings rebelled for the first time ever and started talking about setting Thatcher free and giving her more responsibilities.
The devil was right to be scared too – suddenly he found himself out of power altogether, defeated in a suprise election (yes, even hell has democracy you know – of a sort, but then ours in the Western world is only democracy of a sort) by a million votes to one (and that was loyal Napoleon – yes even hell isn’t undemocratic enough to ban pirosners from having the vote unlike the Coalition). After several thousand millennia of torture, temptation and terrifying people everywhere the devil was now suddenly being forced to take part in ‘workfare’ projects in heaven, working for free for hours on end painting rainbows and trees at risk of losing his benefits. The devil found out later that the Thatcher-devil got paid extra money for the work he managed to do – and he risked being ‘sanctioned’ his allowance for stones in his hooves and forked-tail warmers every time he slowed down or tried to rest. He tried to call on his minions to overthrow her – but they were more scared of Thatcher than they’d ever been of the devil and he knew his time as an all powerful ruler was running short.
The devil had a plan though. There were a group of human beings right now on 21st century Earth who were every bit as evil as Thatcher had been in life and each one of them was a devil protege, shaping up nicely with scandal after u-turn after oppresive regime change after media scare. The devil rang up his followers on Earth (yes, hell has its own phone exchange too, extension 666) and asked to speak to David Cameron, George Osbourne, Ian Duncan Smith and William Hagueand remind them about ‘past favours’. As an afterthought he asked to speak to Nick Clegg, too, who hadn’t started off as one of his worshippers but had been shaping up nicely for the job he had in mind. And then he made them a deal: he’d send them back in time as a competition to see who could be the nastiest to the innocent people under their care and see who could cause the most outrage and hatred within people back on Earth. And then, chuckling to himself, the devil picked up his broom and his jobcentre signing-on card, walked through the burning fires that marked out the entrance to the jobcentre and pretended to get on with his work, happy in the knowledge that whoever was first through the doors after Thatcher would surely depose her too. It could only be a matter of time before somebody even worse came along...
Meanwhile, back in the real world, the AAA computer has gone on the blink again (luckily I’ve managed to re-boot it but for some reason DellBoy has been ignoring my internet hub for a week now) so you might notice a few changes this issue (hopefully we’ll be able to correct things and add in our usual illustration when we get her backl online again). It does mean, though, that I might be a tad delayed replying to any of your comments or keeping you up to date with my twitter feed, so apologies to any of you I’ve been delayed in speaking to. In the meantime we’re ever closer to our goal of 100,000 hits (we’re now on 96,500) and our 300th album review should be along very shortly as well as our 700th article so expect to join us soon for some more big celebrations here at the AAA! In the meantime we point you towards the following link for our AAA-related news stories of the week:
‘Red Rose Speedway’ is, perhaps, the ultimate Paul McCartney album. There are parts to love, parts to loathe and a whole troupe of passionate McCartney supporters who can’t decide between themselves which is which. As eclectic an album as any in my collection, McCartney’s sheer range from nonsense pop to heartfelt ballads to pioneering mood piece instrumentals to epic protest means ‘Red Rose Speedway’ contains many highlights that deserve better acknowledgement, but also several terrible songs that I’m sure the members of Wings hope have been long dead and buried. To some extent they’ve had their wish: few people today remember this album despite the fact that it sold in vast quantities, perhaps because the phenomenal success of ‘Band On The Run’ is only an album away. And that’s ‘Red Rose Speedway’s biggest problem. The album tries desperately hard to get everything right and for some of the time does, certainly being heralded at the time as evidence that, at last, McCartney had got it together and had released an album that competed with his Beatle-peer’s releases ‘Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ ‘Imagine’ and ‘All Things Must Pass’ following such unloved-at-the-time-but-now-we-know-they-were-ione-offs-we’re-quite-fond-of-them albums as ‘McCartney’ ‘Ram’ and ‘Wildlife’. For a year or so there many Wings and Beatles fans thought ‘Red Rose Speedway’ was of a high standard and something to be treasured. Only then the goalposts moved, ‘Speedway’ was revealed as an album that tried too hard to please against the sheer confidence and consistency of ‘Band On The Run’ and suddenly everyone was saying that they’d never liked this album anyway. The people of 1972 were partly right though: there is much to love about ‘Speedway’, an album that for the most part has McCartney breaking fresh ground with songs like ‘Single Pigeon’ ‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’ and even ‘Loup’ that are amongst his best of the decade. But, of course, so were the people of 1974: even without ‘Band On The Run’ to measure it by, this is a horribly uneven album and is clearly the work of an artist still trying to find a place for his work in the post-Beatles world of the 1970s (although al that said there’s nothing on ‘Speedway’ as bone-crunchingly awful as ‘Picasso’s Last Words’).
Like many a Wings album the project started off big, with plans to make it the first Beatles-related double set since ‘The White Album’. Fans have received that news with mixed feelings down the years. To be honest most go ‘oh blimey – if filler of the likes of ‘When The Night’ and the four-part medley were honestly the best things recorded in the sessions then how bad must everything else be?’ But actually I vastly prefer the original double album version of ‘Red Rose Speedway’ because the album makes more sense somehow spread across 87 odd eclectic minutes than condensed to a 40 minute highlights album, with each of these songs another piece of the jigsaw puzzle rather than the pretty picture on the box. There’s a parallel to be made, too, with the original double-album version of ‘McCartney II’ (see News and Views no 106) which should have been the most pioneering, pivotal work of Macca’s career that blew all the ignorant critics away with its sheer daring and risk-taking but ended up as a diluted collection of edited songs that didn’t fit together – a fact that still pains me so much I’ve just had to edit out a whole paragraph on the subject despite having already spent 10,000 odd words doing just that 83 issues ago. After all, it’s the eclecticism and all-encompassing range that makes so many actually pretty sprawling and mixed quality double albums the great works of art they are (not only the White Album but the Stones’ ‘Exile On Main Street’ and what The Who intended for ‘Lifehouse’ to name but two). Sadly, yet again McCartney’s biggest fault of all is that he can’t tell his moments of genius from his throwaways and the frustration with ‘Red Rose Speedway’ is that most of the truly great and pioneering material that would have made the double album so interesting gets relegated to B-sides or outtakes on beloved bootlegs.
No wonder, then, that ‘Speedway’ is an album that has been so misunderstood down the years. On the face of it things looked good: McCartney’s writing was on a roll (as ever, the really bad reviews for the previous record spurred Macca’s muse on rather than bringing it to a halt as it would with so many other artists) and this time he wanted Wings to be a truly unified ‘band’, as far away from his old partner Lennon and his largely solo ‘Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ album as possible (many critics missed the point on ‘Wildlife’ and figured Macca was now a solo artist and like the other three Beatles would never want to be in a band again; actually Paul was the last one to agree that the fab four were over – though the first to announce it, much to John Lennon’s chagrin – and was terrified at the thought of never having a band of ‘comrades’ round him ever again). Initially wife Linda, Denny Laine and new guitarist Henry McCullough were all given ‘slots’ for the album and in addition the whole band went beserk on the first of many (largely unreleased) band jams that Wings would come up during their many incarnations on ‘Jazz Street’ (a pattern that only becomes the norm for Wings on ‘Venus and Mars’ in 1975). If ‘Wildlife’ was a second Paul-and-Linda record in all but name, at least in terms of material, then ‘Speedway’ was intended to be the true debut of Wings, a band who were never going to be truly democratic (not with an ex-Beatle in their midst) but would at least be more than just another ‘Plastic Ono Band’ style backup. Somehow the finished ‘Red Rose Speedway’, shorn of the extras and condensed mainly to McCartney’s lighter, fluffier songs to subvert the mood of heavier material like ‘Henry’s Blues’ and ‘Jazz Street’, sounds lightweight as a single album but probably didn’t at all when Wings thought they were working on a more adventurous, open-ended record.
Sadly before ‘Speedway’ was finished Paul gave into his other big character defect: listening to the advice of people who should have no sway over his music. Apparently it was a businessman at EMI who told Paul that he would better off making a single album; in the light of poor sales for ‘Wildlife’ and the knowledge that there would never be a Beatles album of new material in the foreseeable future he may have had a point but, honestly, why would a man who’d released some of the best-selling and acclaimed records of his or any generation listen to one of his accountants who’d never made a record in his life? Macca’s late decision to cut the record in half effectively killed Wings off from being the band they should have been too: drummer Denny Seiwell and especially guitarist Henry McCullough (who’d only been with the band a few months) were so incensed that they never really forgave their employer and left Wings in a huff the following year when Macca started talking about making the next record in Africa. It was a businessman, too, that persuaded Paul to give up on his ‘dream’ of a second band made up of a true partnership and to put his own name above Wings’ on the record sleeve for the first time, in a reaction to the poor sales of ‘Wildlife’ (another terrible idea that really stunted the band’s growth and belief in McCartney’s vision; the poor sales of ‘Wildlife’ had more to do with sniffy reviews and the fact it was released in the wake of Lennon’s crowd-pleasing ‘Imagine’ set than the fact Paul’s name wasn’t on the cover; ‘Speedway’ barely outperformed ‘Wildlife’ in the charts even with his name loud and proud in the credits). Forget the poor decisions though: if you can put ‘Red Rose Speedway’ back together the way it should be heard – now, doesn’t the amended track selection below look more interesting to you?
(bearing in mind that this running order was never finalised, but seems pretty certain to have been intended this way): Big Barn Bed/My Love/When The Night/Single Pigeon/Tragedy (a nice cover of the Fleetwoods’ 1961 hit that nearly came out on abandoned outtakes set ‘Cold Cuts’ in 1981 but has still yet to be officially released)/Mama’s Little Girl (a lovely acoustic ballad about daughter Mary, finally released as the B-side of ‘Put It There’ in 1990)/Loup (First Indian On The Moon)/I Would Only Smile (a surprisingly tuneless Denny Laine song released officially in 1980 on Denny’s solo album ‘Japanese Tears’)/Country Dreamer (a sweet ballad with a gruff Paul vocal released as the B-side to ‘Helen Wheels’ in 1974)/Night Out (a rather noisy and simplistic but effective ‘party’ song intended for ‘Cold Cuts’ and still not officially released)/One More Kiss/Jazz Street (an eight minute band jam similar to ‘Lunchbox/Odd Sox’ that ebbs and flows but only really takes off near the end)/I Lie Around (a fine Denny-sung, Macca-composed song that sounds like a three-minute version of ‘Ram’ released as the B-side to ‘Live and Let Die’ in 1973)/Little Lamb-Dragonfly/Get On The Right Thing!/Seaside Woman (a fine and funny reggae-tinged Linda McCartney song released under the name ‘Suzy and the Red Stripes in 1977 and now collected on Linda’s ‘Wide Prairie’ CD)/Henry’s Blues (a bluesy guitar jam by Henry McCullough still officially unreleased)/The live segment taped at ‘The Hague’ in 1972: the thrilling and deeply unusual Victorian social protest blues ‘1882’ in which an orphaned Victorian boy is hanged for stealing food from his millionaire master (again intended for ‘Cold Cuts’)/The Mess (a fine double-part rocker released as the B-side to ‘My Love’)/ ‘Best Friend’ (a rather average rock-pop song about a row with Linda again intended for ‘Cold Cuts’)/ and ‘Thankyou, Darling’ (a rather slight call-and-answer duet between Paul and Linda that has a lovely middle eight but not much else; still officially unreleased). That’s a total of 87 minutes, long even for a double album in 1973 and surely a testament to how creative McCartney was in this period, however much scholars of his music dismiss this as a ‘lost’ year for his art and consider the finished ‘Speedway’ album as lightweight and evidence of lack of inspiration.
Had this original version of ‘Speedway’ come out, it would have silenced the critics who had to sniff that Paul’s work ‘always sounded the same’ (just as the release of the original ‘McCartney II’ would have silenced critics who said Paul’s work ‘never did anything out of the ordinary’). Doubtless it would have taken the next leap towards ‘Band On The Run’ for Paul to win back all the fans who’d deserted him for because of the false media trail that he was the one who’d ‘broken up The Beatles’, but this version of ‘Speedway’ would surely have got a handful of grudgingly impressed reviews, given Wings confidence to truly fly next time around, piqued the interest of new fans who were too young to be into the Beatles the first time around anyway and would almost certainly have papered over the cracks that saw this first full line-up of Wings fizzle out. As a double album, released at a time when he was still unpopular, ‘Speedway’ was never going to be McCartney’s best received album whatever he’d released and is still arguably two tracks short of being a truly great double album but still – the B sides alone demonstrate what a cracking band Wings could be. And which idiot chose which tracks to throw out when this became a single record? ‘The Mess’ ‘I Lie Around’ ‘Country Dreamer’ ‘Mama’s Little Girl’ ‘1882’ and even ‘Seaside Woman’ are surely all far more deserving of a place on the record than the repetitive ‘When The Night’, the Ram outtake ‘Get On The Right Thing’ and a medley that’s one of the longest ten minutes in the solo Beatles catalogue?
Ah yes, that medley. The only song recorded after the album was shorn of half of its weight, it’s always been seen as a poor man’s version of the long ‘Abbey Road’ medley and evidence of how far Paul had fallen in just four years. Told that his intended double album sounded ‘lightweight’, Paul must have been reminded of how much the Abbey Road medley had managed to make a string of so-so songs sound great when heard together (in the eyes of most Beatles fans anyway – I can’t say I’ve ever taken to it that much myself). The difference chiefly is that there’s no beginning middle and ‘the end’ to this medley; no mini-statement about the album and how it was made (bandmates who ‘never give me your money’, dream of escape with ‘nowhere to go’, a realisation that ‘you’re gonna carry that weight’ of being a Beatle the rest of your life and a final quiet acceptance in the message the Beatles had been trying to make their whole career through, that ‘in the end the love you make is equal to the love you take’). Instead we get four songs which aren’t good enough to stand as songs in their own right and whose only link is that most of them seem to be love songs for wife Linda (although quite what ‘Lazy Dynamite’ is all about is anyone’s guess). There’s a chance to sum everything up by having a ‘mini-repeat’ of the first three songs during the fourth but its too little too late: none of these fragments are interesting enough to be remembered as soon as the next one comes on anyway. All that said, though, like the rest of the album the medley is an important learning curve, allowing McCartney to learn how to piece together both ‘Band On The Run’ (which ends magnificently when the dying notes of the future and happiness on ‘1985’ turn out to be a dream and the prisoner is still trapped on the title track, even though the two halves don’t appear to fit) and ‘Venus and Mars’ (both sides of which in the good ole’ vinyl days began with subtly different versions of the title song, first innocent and then knowing).
The other songs chosen for the record fall rather neatly into three piles, with an extra ‘joker’ to wake everybody up on side two. Both ‘Big Barn Bed’ and to some extent ‘Powercut’ are both songs about how the balm of the countryside is the perfect tonic for the busy city life that are sadly clumsier and less eloquent than their close cousins on ‘Ram’. The first song, in fact, started out life as the tag of the second version of ‘Ram On’ from that album, heard on a ukulele as a tease at the tag. Interestingly two other songs (‘Get On The Right Thing’ and ‘When The Night’) are bona fide outtakes from that album, slightly reworked and built on by Wings and they do share a similar style and structure, although thematically they don’t share that album’s re-born spirit and home-made beauty. The second theme is that of animal welfare, pioneered by McCartney on ‘Wildlife’ (see News, Views and Music issue 160) back at a time when no one else was writing about this sort of thing. Personally I find ‘Wildlife’ a very under-rated and daring if patchy record and it’s a shame that Paul didn’t wait a couple more months to write both ‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’ and ‘Single Pigeon’, which to my ears are the two most beautiful songs on ‘Speedway’. Both are less damning than the title track of ‘Wildlife’ and use the animal as a metaphor for human relationships instead of a plea for nature conservation, but both of them show an empathy and togetherness between the human and animal worlds that was unique to Paul’s writing at the time and brings out the best in the part-time farmer’s writing (it speaks volumes that Wings recorded their version of ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ for a single at the same time – and it speaks volumes again that so many people professed to hate that song that Paul won’t tackle the subject again until ‘Looking For Changes’ in 1993).
The third topic is one that’s common to almost all of Paul’s solo work: wife Linda. ‘My Love’ is the one song that everyone knows from this album and while not the most memorable love song McCartney ever wrote it has a certain hypnotic charm and grace that a few of his later love songs lack. At least the first two sections of the medley also seem to be a rather bland nod of the head to the loveliness of being in love. More interesting, though, are the stormier love songs on the album. The overlooked ‘One More Kiss’ is the best of Macca’s handful of country-rock songs and while on paper it looks like another clichéd breakup song the sincerity with which Macca sings it and the care that obviously went into the song suggests that the McCartney marriage wasn’t always perfect (it sticks out like a sore thumb here amongst such ‘happy’ songs – and I reckon Lennon was listening closely given the way ‘I’m Losing You’ fulfils exactly the same function on his own ‘Double Fantasy’). ‘Single Pigeon’, too, is a song about the narrator being kicked out of the house after a huge row – common enough to most writer’s work but not McCartney’s (I can’t think of another example from his whole catalogue that covers this same ground, although ‘We Can Work It Out’ may well be about the aftermath of such a row). ‘Get On The Right Thing’, too, might be nonsense – but it’s angry, determined nonsense that might well be the narrator trying to tell himself to ‘get on the right thing’ and shape up, or the love of his life will walk away. We now know, of course, that meeting Linda was probably the single greatest piece of luck in Paul’s life after or even equal to meeting John Lennon and the only times the pair spent apart were during Paul’s six-day spell in a Tokyo prison – but back in 1973, with a whole host of gossip magazines and curious music media journalists speculating on whether the marriage would last and why on earth Paul would want his untrained wife on stage with him in a band must have caused a few sleepless nights. Back when the pair had met in 1967 Linda was subjected to about as much hatred in the national press as second wife Heather Mills, if only for coming after Paul’s longterm relationship with their darling Jane Asher and although the couple tried their best to act like it was all water off a duck’s back to them some of this worry and doubt must have tugged at them a little. The question, really is why now; notably the next overt love song Paul writes after ‘My Love’ is ‘Love In Song’ on ‘Venus and Mars’ (and then it’s a vaguer, less personal love song) – were all those difficult long nights together on tour with Wings taking their toll perhaps?
Before we end our introduction, a couple of interesting points to add. First up, McCartney did his street cred no harm at all by being charged for marijuana possession almost to the week that ‘Speedway’ came out (however they did harm their street cred a little by claiming ‘a fan’ had given them some seeds and the couple had grown them in their family greenhouse to see what they were; yeah right they probably took each other’s speeding fines as well). While it’s probably fair to say that most Wings/McCartney albums have the effects of soft drugs in them somewhere (Paul nearly gets deported by the coastguard in 1977 while making London Town for smoking on board the floating recording studio ‘Wanderrlust’, is imprisoned for importing drugs into Japan in the darkest Beatles year of 1980 and if Heather Mills’ rants are anything to go by still smokes today) ‘Speedway’ does seem to have a certain hazy, random, not-quite-there quality more akin to Moody Blues or Pink Floyd than Wings records. Things aren’t helped by the album cover, where McCartney leans against a Harley Davidson motorbike sucking a rose (eating flowers is a very drug-laden image, apparently because those on a ‘trip’ like to ‘taste’ the world around them and expand their senses – Lennon was himself responsible for perhaps the most famous example of this in 1966 in a Robert Whittaker portrait of him sucking on a daisy) with a wild staring faraway look in his eyes. The title of the album, too, seems almost hallucinogenic, the colour red linking both beauty (in the rose) and earthliness (the motorbike, although to be fair it’s the steel bit that’s mainly showing on the picture) and sounds more like the title of a Victorian painting than a 1970 rock album (e.g. Turner’s ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’, one of the cleverest works of art ever made).
Briefly, too, fans who think Stevie Wonder was a casual acquaintance too enamoured of meeting a Beatle to refuse the invitation to make the truly awful duet ‘Ebony and Ivory’ should note the back sleeve of the record, where a message reading ‘We love ya, baby!’ was made personally for Stevie using Braille, despite the fact that such difficult printing processes slowed the rate of sleeves which could be printed before release. Paul is thought to have come up with the idea after reading that his old friend struggled to read the titles of his favourite records and wished more could be done to help label albums for blind people (even though Stevie’s own albums never appeared with Braille writing). The fact that, of all the rockstars around in the 1960s and 1970s, McCartney was the only one kind and receptive enough to pick up on this request and add a ‘personal message’ to boot speaks volumes about McCartney’s kind heart, whatever his biggest critics say.
So overall, then, is ‘Red Rose Speedway’ a beautiful work of art like the ‘rose’ or an alluring, dynamic, slightly dangerous album like the bike? Either, neither, perhaps a little of both. There’s no getting away from it. ‘Red Rose Speedway’ is an insubstantial work. We can forgive it now, to some extent, because we know it’s a stepping stone to what comes next and it was certainly greeted as a return to form on release after three poorly received albums that we know now were only really McCartney looking for his own niche to work in. But for better or worse all the McCartney and especially Wings albums to follow continue the sound of this album, not ‘McCartney’ ‘Ram’ or ‘Wildlife’. To some extent that’s a great thing: a song like ‘Little Lamb-Dragonfly’ is McCartney at his moving best, able to mix and match melody, chord play and lyrics in a way that’s genuinely moving and even though few people know it or reckon it I say its a song to rank with his very best work (Beatles included). There’s a couple of very nearlies too: ‘Single Pigeon’ tells more story in 90 seconds than some McCartney albums manage in 90 minutes, ‘One More Kiss’ sounds like a standard that’s been around centuries with a hummable chorus and heartfelt sentiments whilst even ‘Loup’ is a daring and fascinating example of McCartney’s ability to work in fields of the avant garde and still give the finished piece a discernible melody and harmony. It’s in the ‘other’ songs where this album falls down, with the scattershot approach of the double album coming to sound like desperate, awkward filler when reduced to a single and no real sense of the direction and purpose that, though largely fictional and tentative, worked so well on ‘Band On The Run’. That’s a shame because, sonically, this was always one of the better sounding Wings albums, with the first example of the production sheen that’s about to make Wings both revered and reviled in equal measure, adding a kind of ‘false unity’ that this eclectic album doesn’t deserve as a single record. Equal parts fascinating and frustrating, charming and charmless, let’s just call ‘Red Rose Speedway’ a stepping stone towards greater things before Wings, in this album’s own words, ‘Get On The Right Thing!’
‘Big Barn Bed’ is as nonsense an opening song as ‘Mumbo’ was on ‘Wildlife’, but the difference is that this song knows it’s nonsense and had fun with it, instead of trying to pretend it’s ‘heavy’. Wings have fun here with what must surely be one of the daftest choruses ever (‘Weeping on a willow, sleeping on a pillow, leaping armadillo, yeah!’) while the lyrics borrow heavily from ‘Ram’ with their tale of escapism from the pressures of city life in a ‘big barn’ in the country, even going so far as to recycle the tagline from ‘Ram On’ (‘Whose that coming round that corner? Whose that coming round that bend?’) The overall effect, then, is fluffy and daft – but had Macca approached this song in another way then ‘Big Barn Beds’ could have been one of his deeper songs, with a clever harmonic structure that sounds like a pompous strutting peacock and a harmonic tension between the plodding steady bass and the sighing, sudden stings of an electric guitar part that’s highly satisfying. Again the problem with this song, like so many of Paul’s immediate post-Beatles songs, is that he’s afraid to work on his first ideas and replace his first draft ‘block’ lyrics with anything even more substantial, something which suggests he actually paid closer attention to his old partner Lennon and the ‘first thought, best thought’ approach of the ‘Plastic Ono Band’ LP (great advice as that is to many songwriters who go for the lyrics first, it’s an approach that should never have been adopted by someone with McCartney’s melodic gift and occasional struggle with words). The mix used on the album is disappointing too: whilst the crystal clear harmonies are alluring, the song sounds more human and more exciting in an earlier, rougher, bouncier mix doing the rounds on bootleg (it doesn’t have the awful tagline ‘keep on woman!’ at the end either) and is even less pleasing on the ear than the slightly hurried version from the ‘James Paul McCartney’ TV special of 1973 (see our top ten on Youtube clips News Views and Music issue 121). Overall, then, ‘Big Barn Bed’ is too light and silly to be Wings at their best, but there’s much about the song to enjoy and it deserves it place on the finished LP.
‘My Love’ is the ‘Speedway’ song everyone likes and has clearly been treated with a care and glossy production the rest of the album only receives in patches. You can see clearly why it was such a hit single: the song builds in true McCartney style, it’s a classy ballad tame enough for the mums and dads without alienating young rockers with a sensitive streak too much and there’s a simply fabulous guitar solo from Henry McCullough that says more in a few bars than the rest of the song does in three minutes (a famous Wings story this: the orchestra and band were all waiting for the first take when Henry says he’s got a new idea for the solo and the band wait with baited breath to see what he plays – in the end it’s perfect). But there’s something slightly hollow about ‘My Love’ that prevents it from becoming another ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ or even a ‘Long Haired Lady’ (two of the better love songs Paul wrote for Linda), especially when you read rather than hear the lyrics (‘Wo wo wo wooooh, wo wo wo woooah, my love does it good’). Paul sounds uncharacteristically nervous recording his vocal too and goes badly flat in the last chorus, perhaps anxious about recording with a full live orchestra for the first time since ‘A Day In The Life’ on a song that, from the first, seems to have been intended as Wings’ big shot at a single. Whilst not bad by any means and sporting a couple of good ideas (Paul often said jokingly that one of the biggest changes Linda brought to his life was buying a whacking great fridge and keeping it fully stocked like most Americans, after years of living as a musician bachelor and eating out every night, so the lines about the cupboards ‘never being bare’ when his loves around is a sweet nod of the hat that makes this song personal to Paul) for me ‘My Love’ plays it all too safe and actually disturbs the run of a great but pretty misunderstood run of early singles by Wings (including the marvellous protest of ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’ , the unusually suggestive sex drugs and rock and roll bootlegs embracing ‘HI Hi Hi’ and the sweet if slight ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ – were there ever three more different singles released by one band in a row?)
‘Get On The Right Thing’ is a much-underrated song that starts promisingly with an unusual tension-building run up and down some minor chord changes, Macca’s piano being chased by Henry’s guitar. The song when it arrives is a bit of a mixed bag, with a pulsating memorable hook and a chorus that simply explodes into life (‘Get On The Right Thing!’) held back by another slightly-too-daft set of lyrics that come close to making sense but never actually do (‘All at once you get sound in your ears and your cloud disappears into yellow!’) More or less the last leftover from Paul’s uncharacteristic post-Beatles period of harsh, angry, ‘moaning’ songs (‘Smile Away’ ‘Dear Boy’ ‘Man We Was Lonely’ ‘Dear Friend’ ‘Mumbo’) ‘Right Thing’ makes more sense when you learn the song is really an outtake from ‘Ram’ with some Wings harmonies added on top. Strangely paranoid for a McCartney lyric (this is the period when he got fined for growing marijuana plants remember), the verses are unusually sombre and uneasy, with the song almost literally musically re-writing itself for the chorus and a sudden slip into a major key as McCartney suddenly goes back to what he’s known for and tells us that finding love will sort our lives out for us. A kind of 1970s update of The Beatles’ ‘The Word’ from 1965 this is an older, bitterer, less innocent take on the idea that ‘the word is love’ but with the same idea at its heart and makes for an interesting comparison. Whilst this song would have been better still with ‘proper’ lyrics throughout (‘Your world is as kind as a penny!’, a line that doesn’t even rhyme with another one), it’s for the most part rescued by a dynamic arrangement that pits an echo-laden and lost sounding McCartney vocal against some superb Wings Harmonies (especially Denny Laine doing the hard-edged ‘Lennon’ voice) and some excellent guitar work (which sounds to me like David Spinozza’s work rather than McCullough’s, especially the feedback induced ‘scream’ that sounds straight out of ‘Too Many People’). In all, perhaps Macca should have left all his songs of the period to germinate for a couple of years before returning to and building on them?
Just as under-rated, though not quite a masterpiece, is ‘One More Kiss’, a song that sounds on first hearing to be a typically bright and breezy McCartney pop song but is actually among the most heart-tugging, emotional songs Macca ever wrote (or sung). With one foot in ‘cliched’ territory and one in ‘honest’ territory, the rest of Wings sound unsure whether they should be playing this song straight or tongue-in-cheek, but there’s nothing hollow about one of McCartney’s best vocals of his career, only one step away from tears throughout. Macca returns to quite a few of his past songs here, mimicking both ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’ and ‘I’ll Be On My Way’ (a McCartney song released by Peter and Gordon but done by the Beatles at a BBC session) with its tale of the narrator ‘knowing when to leave’. The verse that compares the lover’s long life to the sturdyness of the house they shared is genuinely affecting and the narrator’s repeated attempts to get ‘one more kiss’ for the road, in the hope that it will remind his lover of all the things they share, somehow overcome the rather clichéd and sing-songy melody. Full marks too to the twin guitars of McCullough and Laine who double for each other well throughout the song and somehow manage to make a regular electric guitar sound a little like a Nashville pedal-steel (Wings do end up recording in Nashville some 18 months after this album was released – which is particularly weird given that the sessions come straight after the prog rock and multi-million selling ‘Band On The Run’ - but good as ‘Sally G’ et al sound, Wings never better this song during their genuine ‘country-rock’ phase). Much under-rated and nicely low key, especially with the missed intro left on the take that causes McCartney to pause while counting the song in.
The highlight of the album, though, is surely ‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’, a song that isn’t really about lambs or dragonflies at all but about helpless, abandoned, frightened creatures the world over. Intriguingly the earliest version of the song stems not from this or any other mainstream McCartney album but the first version of the ‘Rupert The Bear’ film (back when it was a film, not just a 15 minute cartoon). A sort of ‘Hey Jude’ re-write for the 70s (the chords are similar, the lyrics just as vague-but-uplifting and the endings similarly prolonged with the ‘na na na’ replaced by ‘la la la’s), speak it quietly but I say this song is more successful. The melody for this song is typically McCartney rosy and warm but far from being just another ‘silly love song’ the lyrics are full of lines about pain and suffering. The opening verse, sung by Denny Laine with Paul’s voice as harmony, is one of the most moving moments in the Wings canon and may well have been inspired by farmer Paul – recently converted to vegetarianism – looking from his central heated living room sadly at his flock of cold sheep on his farm and wondering about their fates; adding sadly ‘I can help you out – but I cannot help you in’. Like the best songs on ‘Ram’ the theme is that the real life of the countryside can ‘earth’ you when your life gets too full of human-made pressures but this isn’t a cosy or Disney-fied view of animal life but one like ‘Wildlife’ where mankind should step in but doesn’t.
The opening verse soon gives way to the second part of the song about ‘Dragonflies’ which is very similar to both theme and structure of ‘Single Pigeon’ (which came first I wonder?) and is more about Paul himself than the animals you see. ‘Dragonfly, don’t know why you hang around my door – I don’t live here anymore’ he sings sadly in another career high vocal, urging the dragonfly to continue his hard and seemingly possible journey. The sudden switch to the old shouty Paul of ‘Ram’ (‘Since you’ve gone I never know, I go on miss you so!’) is a great idea, lifting the mood up several notches and Paul repeats the trick again next time round with a verse that goes on and on, pushing him to the range of his voice (‘Come on home! Make it ri-i-i-i-i-i-i-ght!’) Interestingly, unlike most similar McCartney songs, there’s no ending – the narrator ends up as lonely as he started and as lost and isolated in a large and scary world without his loved ones as the dragonfly that flutters past him. Wings at their very best, only a slightly stilted air on the harmonies prevents this being the best Wings song of the period – and even so it comes very very close to perfection. Note, too, the similarities to two McCartney songs to come (‘They go on – the lonely nights’ in the last verse is only a few notes away from the chorus of ‘No More Lonely Nights’ from 1983 and the whole end-at-the-beginning structure is an obvious signpost towards ‘Band On The Run’).
‘Single Pigeon’ picks up the theme on side two, this time with a pigeon being Paul’s metaphor for being lost and alone, thrown out of his nest by a spiteful female in the same way that the narrator has been (again, it’s deeply unusual for there to be so many songs about break-ups on a McCartney album – that must have been one hell of a row the McCartneys had around here!) Unlike most fans, I love this song too, even if at 90 seconds its at least another verse and a middle eight away from greatness. It’s unusual to hear Paul at the piano in this period (most of his ‘piano’ songs are on ‘Sgt Peppers’ and ‘Magical Mystery Tour’) and his lick for the song is a good one, the chords rolling around on a tune that’s curiously half-comical and half-sinister. Brief as the words are there’s a certain majesty about them too, the metaphor of a ‘single’ member of a group of birds known for appearing flocks and the poetic alliteration of lines like ‘Single seagull gliding over Regent’s park one night’ showing an attention to detail other parts of this album could have done with more of. The chorus ‘Sunday morning, fight about Saturday night’ is a good one too, making the situation sound like a repeated pattern and something that will never change. If I have a problem with this song, apart from its length, it’s the sheer amount of overdubs added on top of this low-key and sensitive song, which all but groans under the weight of harmonies, pattered drums and oompah-ing brass; I much prefer the subtle, pre-overdubs mix on bootleg with just Paul, his piano and the bass (actually played by drummer Denny Seiwell).
‘When The Night’ is less successful all round, a repetitive song that’s clearly trying to re-create the mood and mystery of early 60s call-and-answer songs (The Beatles’ own ‘Mr Moonlight’ has more than a few similarities to this song), but sounds awfully sluggish and uninvolved. A second ‘Ram’ outtake dressed up a bit with extra harmonies, you wonder why McCartney chose this song to revive instead of, say, ‘A Love For You’ from the same sessions (a cracking, much bootlegged song officially only released last year on the ‘Ram’ deluxe edition). The song only really takes off on the middle eight, when a surprisingly deep-voiced McCartney suddenly takes off into a music-hall type patter full of clichéd lyrics about how much he’s in love. To be fair, though, the way the middle eight ends up hitting the verse melody again at just the right time is classic McCartney and a trick few other writers can pull off. I’m less taken by Paul’s impression of a trumpet over the ‘blank’ instrumental verse near the end though (what was he thinking?) and elsewhere Wings sound less than their usual solid selves, Denny and Linda audibly falling asleep by the end of the song. A song about a romantic evening full of proposals and moonlight, it’s all recounted like the notes from a business meeting and seems decidedly uninvolving. Interestingly the song works much better in concert (where Wings played this song briefly during their 1973 tours), largely because McCartney sings loudly from the first instead of waiting for the last verse to truly let rip!
‘Loup (First Indian On The Moon)’ is a moody instrumental that seemingly makes no sense on a single album intended to be commercial. Accept it as an overhang from the days when ‘Speedway’ was a double album, though, and all becomes clear. This is Wings’ chance to show off how well they can play away from the commercial mainstream and, while most fans are less than keen, as a Pink Floyd fanatic I’m thrilled to hear Wings tackling a slightly bonkers instrumental that’s all about atmosphere rather than histrionics. The title alone is alluring (mixing Westerns and sci-fi all in one go), the words are half-sung, half hummed over a creepy backing track full of scary guitars, brilliant drumming, scary Moody Blues-ish mellotrons that’s quite unlike anything else Wings ever made and this recording also features some of Paul’s best ever bass playing, completely disregarding what the rest of the band are playing. The instrumental goes through many shifts that sound like a horror movie moving from danger to danger between scary shadows and empty passageways and the final, ringing, bass-leaping, guitar-stinging line of madness is a dead ringer for the Floyd circa 1968 (either ‘Careful With That Axe Eugene’ or ‘One Of These Days’). There’s an early mix of the song, (without so much production fussyness) that’s better still, limiting the song to what the band played raw and revealing just what a strong band Wings were becoming in this period. Whilst I’m glad every song on ‘Red Rose Speedway’ wasn’t like this, ‘Loup’ is a fascinating signpost to what the band could have gone on to do and it’s sad that there aren’t more McCartney tracks out there as daring and as left-of-field as this one. I’m still amazed ‘Loup’ survived the cull when ‘Speedway’ got pushed down to a single album, though.
Ah yes, time for ‘The Medley’ and surely evidence that lightning doesn’t strike twice after the supposed success of the same idea on ‘Abbey Road’. Of the four succinct pieces only one (‘Lazy Dynamite’) sounds in anyway like a song that deserved to be built up into a proper piece in its own right and the other songs we have here are closer to ‘Mean Mr Mustard’ and ‘Her Majesty’ for downright silliness and emptiness rather than ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ sadness or ‘Sun King’s beauty. ‘Hold Me Tight’ is first up and the only interesting thing to tell you about this deeply uninteresting song is that it’s the only time Paul ever wrote two songs with the same title (you can find the first ‘Hold Me Tight’ on ‘With The Beatles’ from ten years earlier and, frankly, they’re both about as inspired as each other). The opening piano lick sounds like ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ but, honestly that’s about as inspired as we get on a song that includes clichéd strummed ukuleles, lazy underwater vocal effects and no less than 23 repeats of the title phrase in just 140 seconds (or one ‘Hold Me Tight’ for approximately every seven seconds of songtime, which must surely be come kind of record!) The highlights aren’t many but do include a fiery and for this album suspiciously clean and lean-sounding guitar solo which sounds to me as if it was done by Paul himself this time and some pretty lovely harmonies, especially Denny Laine’s part that manages to make him sound like a cheeky choir boy.
The most inventive part of the whole medley is the link into ‘Lazy Dynamite’, which doesn’t medley so much as crash headfirst into a completely different key, tempo and feel. A smoky, subdued song that builds to a brilliant shouting part in the middle, ‘Lazy Dynamite’ isn’t about the final bang so much as it’s about the tense build up waiting for the thing to explode. The lyrics – what there are of them – is about a slow-burning romance that suddenly catches fire after the pair have known each other for some time, although one of them is lagging behind the other (‘So why do you fight that feeling in your heart?’ is a pretty good line for a climax too). The ever versatile Denny Seiwell provides the mouthorgan part, ducked surprisingly low in the mix, while Henry McCullough gets such little space for his guitar solo he actually crashes into the next chorus. Compared to the songs either side of it, this makes for exciting stuff/. However even ‘Lazy Dynamite’ isn’t up to most of the songs on the ‘Abbey Road Medley’, lacking any real depth or progression and like the other three songs is woefully repetitive (this time the title is repeated twelve times inside in 160 seconds, or one ‘Lazy Dynamite’ for every 13 seconds of music).
The segue into ‘Hands Of Love’ is appalling, the song simply falling away on a rather rough guitar part that sounds like a mistake to me, Frankly so is this song, which is easily the worst song McCartney had written up to this point (although having heard ‘Uncle Albert-Admiral Halsey’ again the other day I’m tempted to add that one too). This is Paul at his most falsely charming, with a twee catchy melody that sounds like a commercial than a song and some truly toe-curling harmonies between Paul and Linda (who don’t get anywhere near the amount of chances to show off their blend on ‘Speedway’ as they did on ‘Ram’ or ‘Wildlife’). As for multi-dubbed Paul’s doing his impressions of trumpets on the ‘instrumental’ well, let’s just say that this makes ‘We All Stand Together’ look like the work of a genius and not a very disappointed King’s Singers trying to sound like a bunch of frogs. Lyrics? Have a go at writing what you’d expect this song to sound like from the title. Chances are not only would yours be highly accurate, it would almost certainly be better too. This time, by the way, the phrase ‘Hands Of Love’ is repeated eight times for 160 seconds of music (so one per 20 seconds, which is the best we get for the whole medley!) Not till ‘Ringo’s Rogatravure’ did a Beatle sink so low... When I think about the classic songs from these sessions left on the cutting room floor or relegated to B-sides (‘The Mess’ ‘Country Dreamer’ ‘I Lie Around’ ‘1882’ ‘Mama’s Little Girl’, heck any of them!) I really could cry.
Last up is ‘Power Cut’, which is an improvement in the same way that The Spice Girls’ ‘Forever’ is an improvement on ‘Wannabe’: at least the song makes sense this time but its all so obvious and pointlessly slow that its only an improvement comparatively speaking. Years later Paul revealed that he wrote the song during a real cut, the one caused by the miner’s strike of 1973 when he couldn’t watch TV, and years later still revealed that he wrote ‘Great Day’ – the opening track from 1997’s ‘Flaming Pie’ – on the same night (reminded of the song by yet another power cut on his Scottish farm during a storm). The title phrase isn’t repeated this time but the chorus is heard no less than 13 times (making it one per 15 seconds of song – and that’s with a minute long instrumental finale!) Frankly, while ‘Great Day’ is no classic either, Macca released the wrong song (again!): slowed to a crawl, with some insensible ‘Baby I love you so me I love you so’ lyrics over the top and an orchestra buried in the mix, this song tries to go for the big power ending, but Paul’s forgotten how to write one. Even the attempts to relate the medley back to the first three songs are embarrassing: the songs are so light and so similar that I still struggle to work out which guitar solos quote from which track now after listening to this album for 30 years; ask an increasingly frustrated fanbase to do the same instantly and you’re asking for trouble. At least when ‘Band On The Run’ did the same it seemed to make some kind of thematic sense, but at the heart of it none of these songs belong together so the ‘magic trick’ of mixing them altogether simply doesn’t work. Listen to this song back to back with ‘Back Seat Of My Car’ from two albums ago (one of the best examples of how to finish an album, with exhilarating false endings and everything) and you have to ask yourself: what on earth went wrong with this medley? Even accepting that it was rushed (and added to the album at the last minute when the rest of Wings were already heading off to their first gig of a new tour), surely it’s obvious to everyone that far from bringing a weight and depth to the album a medley of off-cuts that having been given the proper work they need to be turned into stand-alone songs is just going to make matters worse. In 1973, after a debut album that wasn’t so much disliked as sacrificed on a burning fire of anti-Beatles anger by the critics, Wings needed a second album that would knock everyone’s socks off. Medleys that repeat their titles a total of 56 times per 11 minutes (almost once per five seconds) are no substitute for proper songwriting and quite honestly this medley is a quarter of the album running time wasted needlessly for no good reason at all that I can see.
A sorry ending to an up-and-down album, that’s ‘Red Rose Speedway’. Flashes of genius sit next to moments of tedium and it’s like someone has put Paul McCartney’s brain into a cocktail shaker and pulled bits out at random. All that said, when this album works it really works and I struggle to see why so many critics have been quite as down on what to me are glorious inventive songs like ‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’ and ‘Loup’ (even if I have to agree with everything they say about the medley). I have a soft spot in my heart for Wings’ back catalogue that even The Beatles’ collection can’t quite match: while clearly not up to the standards of Macca’s former band, Wings have a lot to offer that critics and fans often miss and their mixture of polished production and human mistakes makes them a band that you’re almost routing for across a whole LP. Had ‘Red Rose Speedway’ been released as a double album as intended - or even had the medley been swapped for one or two of the harder-edges rockers like ‘The Mess’ – then I’d have walked away from this album feeling like ‘my’ band had just won an important match. Instead they lose on penalties, whilst having most of their players sent off and scuppering their own game just on the verge of success. Still, though, that awful medley aside, is this album really that much worse than ‘Band On The Run’? (after all, I can’t say I like ‘Picasso’s Last Words’ anymore than I like ‘Hands Of Love’). Not quite beautiful enough to be a rose and certainly not exhilarating enough to be termed ‘speedy’ ‘Red Rose Spedway’ is a curate’s egg of an album, one whose truly terrible mistakes only makes the flashes of true, workable inspiration worse somehow. Let’s hope that the McCartney Deluxe editions get onto ‘Speedway’ soon and add a CD or three of the songs ‘missing’ from this album and we can promote it to the top half of the McCartney canon.