Monday, 28 December 2015

The AAA Review Of The Year 2015








Dear readers, I don't know about you but 2015 has been quite a year for us and our site. We've gone from having five AAA books completed to having somewhere nearer twenty-five (yes that's right if you haven't heard - this site will become a book series - somewhere around the middle of 2017 if possible, so just five books and another draft of the lot of them to go!) It's been a real year of highs and lows - of ill health, Conservative party victories with possible election fixing and jobcentre interference on the one hand and great new friendships, 'pig-gate' and much gratefully received support on the other (a quick shout out to my beloved Twitter family who keep me going through thick and thin: @Slack_TV, @barnaclebumm @greatwestern1 @FoxyJeepster @ceciliahz and @MCFThousandCuts, heroes and loved ones, one and all).

Right that's enough gushing for another year, how has 2015 been for the AAA bands? Not bad is the answer, with a lot more activity than the past few years in terms of both the new releases and the re-issues (although the trend for very pricey box sets sadly seems to be continuing - so much for the credit crunch!) We've decided to slightly lengthen our usual lists in order to fit everybody in because it's a bumper crop this year and it would be a shame to leave anybody out. Not all of it has been good by any means, but it's been a more stellar year than last year I'd say and almost all our bands are represented somewhere on here, good or bad (get a move on Pentangle/Byrds/Otis Redding/Janis Joplin you're letting the side down!) There's been a definite shift from music to books too, with several AAA members putting pen to paper to write their autobiographies, following on from the trend of the last couple of years, though a definite fall in decent DVDs and documentaries this past year. last year was a particular strong year for CSN/Y  and The Beach Boys - this one seemed to be a good one for Belle and Sebastian. Will the next year continue the trend? Stick with the AAA (the only music website with an AAA credit rating, dontchaknow!) into 2016 and we'll see!


THE FIVE BEST ALBUMS OF THE YEAR:


1) Belle and Sebastian "Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance"

We reviewed this album back in January (you can read the full article at (http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/belle-and-sebastian-girls-in-peacetime.html) and one of our comments was that either 2015 was going to be the best year for new releases or we'd already found the winner of our year best-of already. Well here it is at the top of the list as promised, with nothing else in the rest of the year even coming close. Belle and Sebastian had been coasting for a good ten years, going all commercial on a series of LPs that were getting further and further away from their charmingly idiosyncratic sound. Thankfully last year's Stuart Murdoch solo project 'God Help The Girl' and this record have between them six months later created the best twelve month period since the glory days of 'Tigermilk' and 'If You're Feeling Sinister'. The band have finally learnt how to sound fashionably modern while still unfashionably out of kilter with the world around them and nearly all the songs are impressive on what's one of their most consistent LPs since their first. Many of the songs are informed by Stuart Murdoch's m.e. illness, relapsing after a healthier decade and reminding him of the darker times spent in bed separated from the wider world. Thankfully his recovery has been quicker this time around and Murdoch has spent much of his promotion for the record talking at length about his illness - something fellow sufferers like myself admire and love him for all the more (flipping no one talks about this illness - no wonder the main song about it is called 'Nobody's Empire' - see below). Murdoch also turns his sights on Tory indolence on the scathing 'Cat With The Cream', goes dancing on 'Party Line' and blesses the world on the greatest disco song about Sylvia Plath ever written (what do you mean it's the only one?!) Stevie Jackson and Sarah martin also get more to do than of late, charming with 'Perfect Couples' and 'The Power Of Three' respectively, making this more of a 'band' album than the last couple. Superb and the best record of new AAA material in years. If anything comes close to this next year I'll be a very happy reviewer, though I'll have to invest in a new dictionary because I keep running out of superlatives!

2) Lulu "Making Life Rhyme"

I feel bad about dropping 'Lulu' from the original list of artists we covered to the thirty who made the grade into getting their own AAA books. She's just so hard to write about and quite a few of her albums sound the same, which meant that she was falling behind the others in terms of reviews and every one of them seemed to end with the sentence 'if only she'd go back to her roots and make a rock album that used her songwriting talents more...' Well, I'm pleased to say that Lulu has finally done just that, reinventing herself as a hard-edged singer with the greatest gravelly voice of all the sixty/seventy year olds still intact today and building on the promise of 2004's 'Back On Track' (which was indeed back on track!) Sounding a little bit modern but with the grit and power of old, with Lulu sounding far more like her old self than she has at any time since her work with David Bowie in 1978. Better yet, she's writing a lot and writing well, penning nine of the album songs alongside her brother Billy alongside two of her better and stranger covers, the folk song 'Wayfaring Stranger' (Lulu's first folk song - she should do a whole album of this next time round!) and Jimi Hendrix's 'Angel' which Lulu makes her own and is already my favourite Hendrix cover beating even those by The Byrds and Neil Young (so she's forgiven him for getting her show kicked off the air by an improvisation over the end credits then!) The highlights though are the more reflective songs that are more in the vein of past soul-wrenching classics 'I Don't Want To Fight No More' and 'Take Me Where The Poor Boys Dance'. The song 'Cry' is astonishing, with Lulu yelling at full pelt over the starkest backing track in years, finally ridding all that pop backing gubbins for a sense of the real and the raw. 'Poison Kiss' proves Lulu can do pop-blues too (heck, maybe she should do an album like this instead?) as she out-does Lady Gaga and Paloma Faith without even trying. 'Messed Up World' is another favourite: Lulu has pretended she's been doing well for so long, telling herself she's going to be 'alright' so many times that even she's begun to believe it, only to crash in the greatest way, a sobbing wreck on the floor. All of the songs have something about them though, with all eleven taking the old Lulu somewhere new without losing touch with what makes Lulu special - the sound of that vulnerable little kid with the big voice who'll take on anyone. This is currently rivalling 1970's 'New Routes' and the various versions of 'Love Loves To Love Lulu' (the Mickie Most collection from 1967/1968 endlessly re-issued under different names) as the Lulu album to own. Hmm, perhaps I can just stretch this series out to a thirty-first book after all?...

3) Neil Young and The Promise Of The Real "The Monsanto Years"

Neil's latest was also given a good going over back in August (you can read the full thing at http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/paul-mccartney-memory-almost-full-2006.html) To give you a quick re-cap, though, it's the first record since 'Living With War' back in 2006 to feature the angry political side of Neil Young's nature and he turns his rage on pesticide/farming company Monsanto for their attempts to price the American farmer out of business with some very dubious tactics that would have been illegal had they not given so much money to politicians to make them legal. Neil also has a few good rants at other companies with dubious practices and it's always heart-warming to see Starbucks get a kicking (unless they agree to stock the AAA books in the future, in which case what a marvellous company they are!) Neil is on top form, continuing the upward trend of his last two albums 'Psychedelic Pill' and 'Storytone' with an album that seems to have more life about it than many of his other recent albums and arrangements that seems to have taken longer than the drive from home to the studio to work out. The backing track The Promise Of The Real, featuring Willie Nelson's son in the old 'Danny Whitten/Frank Sampedro' rhythm guitar role, are Neil's best new find in years - although I still say CSNY would have done this better (even if none of my new friends at the terrific Neil fansite 'Thrasher's Wheat' seem to agree with me!) The tour of this album seems to have gone down even better with fans, so let's hope Neil sticks out a DVD of it at some point - although going on past form he'll skip the tour that went down well with fans and stick out another 'Greendale' live set or something just to drive me crazy. Cheers Neil!

4) Mark Knopfler "Tracker"

Another of our AAA stars undergoing something of a renaissance on his past two or three LPs is Dire Strait's former leader, who seems to have really found his mojo in the second decade of the 21st century, with the albums coming in thick and fast (and long!) recently. 'Tracker' is the best in a long while too, perhaps since his third solo set 'Shangri-La' and he's grown even further into his low-key lived-in pastoral voice and style since he left his band behind a full twenty years ago now. Like his other recent albums, it's a mixture of the new sounds he hears now he's moved to America with his third wife and reminders of the Celtic and Geordie roots he left behind, a heady mixture that meshes together even better here than usual. Many of the songs are 'character' tracks, story songs about his memories of his working class roots that offer a delightful mixture of poverty pressure and just the right amount of hope, but the big change since the last record is that most of these stories are more clearly mark's memories of a fast receding past he can't quite believe was his once. 'Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes' remembers the years of plotting to be a star in Mark's teenage days while trying to make the money stretch ('Not that we ever cared'), the spacey 'Basil' is an old song in a new setting that goes back to Mark's days as a cub journalist wary but respectful of his old boss, 'Long Cool Girl' is one of Mark's greatest love songs since 'Romeo and Juliet', just floating around on a gorgeous melody full of that distinctive guitar picking, while 'Lights Of Taomarna' is a classy bit of folk rock with mark getting to grips with a slide guitar. If you can, I'd go for the deluxe edition of this set too as many of the 'bonus' tracks are better than the real thing - the duet with Ruth Moody on 'Wherever I Go' is exactly the sort of achingly beautiful ballad from these solo records that fans have increasingly latched on to as evidence that Mark's ability as a writer hasn't dimmed at all since his Dire Straits days, merely changed styles. In another year this might have come top of our list - it's a measure of what a great year we've had that it's only fourth!

5) The Beach Boys "Keep An Eye On Summer - The Sessions 1964"

Sadly we don't seem to have had the run of 'out of copyright' releases I was hoping for. Last year, you see, was full of these as recordings from 1963 hit fifty years and could technically have been released by bootleggers to an unsuspecting public without any fear of recriminations at all. The law has been tightened, if not exactly strangled or even made clearer over the past year, leading to a mixed response as old tracks from 1964 hit the fifty years ruling. The Beatles didn't bother with any session tapes this year, while Janis Joplin's estate didn't have anything much to release this year and are probably waiting for next year. The Beach Boys, however, had lots. This second set is even more interesting than last years, containing as it does a full year's active work in the studio for the first time and many of them are so good you have to scratch your head over why these songs didn't make it onto any of the zillions of 'proper' outtakes sets out there. This is the era when Murray 'Dad' Wilson was in charge of the studio and the band's sulky teenage interactions with him leads to many of the set's best moments, although they still fit in a whole heap of goofing off (the set even starts with a painfully slow blues version of 'Fun Fun Fun' that's hilarious - why didn't this make the albums instead of 'Cassius Love V Sonny Wilson' or 'Our Favourite Recording Sessions'?!?) Other highlights includes Denny bursting into a drum burst and Brian rushing to tape it properly as 'Denny's Drums' and trying to direct his brother whose only really letting off a bit of steam, a gloriously messy alternate arrangement of 'All Summer Long' complete with a jam based around a xylophone and lots of swearing as Brian keeps messing the part up and a brilliant backing track for one of the band's most overlooked rockers 'Dance Dance Dance' that rocks as hard as anything their rivals were up to in 1964. There's even a whole load of new songs never even bootlegged before and while the cream of the crop had definitely already been taken for the CD re-issues and outtakes sets down the years there's some great stuff here too: a Brian Wilson production of 'Endless Sleep' for Delores Nance and Jody Reynolds that's a fascinatingly densely textured stepping stone to the more complex work of 1965; there's a whole new jam 'Let's Live Until We Die' based around a funky surfing piano riff that's a single take away from being great before the band reluctantly give up and two outtakes from the 'Christmas' album - a jazz lounge version of 'Jingle Bells' the band sadly never got round to adding vocals to and a Brian Wilson original named 'Christmas Eve' that's as close to pure easy listening as he ever got, with Four Freshman arranger Dick Reynolds going even more big budget than the second side of the album. There's also some intriguing Beach Boys TV performances tacked on the end that prove what a tight live band they were - tighter than the goofball studio band a lot of the time! All in all, a fascinating and impressively lengthy set that even beats last years. If I was working for Capitol I'd have told them to plug these records for all they're worth and talk them up a bit more - instead the record company's effectively tried to bury them and hope they'll go away. Will there be another one next year taking us through from 'Summer Days' to 'Party' perhaps?! On this basis, let's hope so!

6) Grateful Dead "30 Trips Around The Sun"

Like a lot of fans, I've kind of had mixed feelings over how the Grateful Dead have celebrated their 50th anniversary. The reunion concerts were a great gesture, ruined to some extent by the announcement that instead of being a three-off show (with different songs played every night) it will now be a full tour, with only bassist Phil Lesh dropping out. As expected, there's a very pricey looking souvenir DVD in the works for next year. The archive side of the Dead canon got into the act too with the mother of all Dead sets: nothing less than thirty previously unreleased shows from all the years the band were active between 1966 and 1995 (with the studio take of 'Caution' from 1965 thrown in for good measure. It's a monster of a collection which I must confess I've barely scratched the surface on, giving that it runs to some 80 CDs!!! (Where on earth am I meant to keep it? My wardrobe is getting so full I can't keep my clothes on it what with all these 'skeletons', sorry Dead shows in there!) There is, luckily, a sampler double disc set taking one song from each year which does a better job than expected of summing up each era, even though there seem to be no hard or fast rules about what appears (so songs can appear twenty years after they were first performed, for instance). Usually I rate the exploratory, lawless sixties Dead as their best era, but I'm actually enjoying the more refined 70s Dead more so far. There are two utterly glorious moments on the set from that era which both stand out for being so different to any of the others on the (gulp!) 200 odd archive sets out there. One is 'Here Comes Sunshine' from 1973, a real favourite anyway but at its best here as the song slopes in slower and more clumsily than usual but sheds its nerves as the song goes on. Jerry Garcia has got so into the song by its natural end that he simply refuses to let go, kicking back into the final verse one more time, while the band pick up on what he's up to and unite on an extended cry of 'here comes sunshine' that sounds like the most hopeful and uplifting thing you've ever heard. The band jam on, inspired now, getting tighter and tighter until they unexpectedly hit the chorus again and a few minutes later (this is a thirteen minute version after all!) hit it again for a 'full' ending which, to the best of my knowledge, they never managed again (most songs simply have the jam come to a natural end). The other highlight is a reckless 'Franklin's Tower, hot off the press on the band's 'reunion' tour of 1975, which playfully feels out all the usual chords until Jerry hits the line 'if you get confused listen to the music play!' Suddenly he takes his own advice, stops pawing at his guitar and wrestles with it, putting down a stamping screaming full on rock solo that pulls the rest of the band into shape and turns the song around from snoozeville into the most inspired live version of the song I've yet heard. The rest of the set is nowhere near as good - the 1980s and 1990s sets especially, while the 1967-1969 years are, compared to the great Dead concerts already out there, disappointingly timid. Never mind: beautifully packaged, like most archive Dead sets and in stunning sound (how do they manage to get thirty years worth of recordings in different theatres using different technologies to match up so well?) this a set we'll still be enjoying come the 60th anniversary, when there'll probably be an even bigger box to buy!


STOP PRESS!
Neil Young "The Bluenote Cafe"
Trust Neil to give me a second album to write about in the dying moments of the year...but trust it, too, to be an archives set that yet again beats the flimsy original to smithereens. I can't say I'm a big fan of the Bluenotes album 'This Note's For You'. Smart alecky title track aside, there isn't really too much on that album worth saving - just generic blues songs played by a band who've all too clearly only just met. We've known that these tapes existed for years - this version of Neil's first ever song  'Ain't It The Truth?' and the mournful cry 'Don't Take Your Love Away From Me' both appeared on Geffen compilation 'Lucky Thirteen' (even though strictly they were written in the second Reprise era - not that I'm complaining given that they're the highlights of the record, except of course that I just have). Could the rest of the gig live up to this pair of tracks? Yes - actually the average of the set is if anything even higher. Not for the first or last time, though, the resulting tour was a much more interesting beast with a whole slew of new songs written too late to make the record, old favourites dressed up in the newer style and album tracks played by a band who have a much clearer sense of what they're doing. Suddenly this era is a revelation: new songs like the heavy hitting 'I'm Goin', the swinging 'Welcome To The Big Room', the mournful ballad 'Crime Of The Heart', the fun 'Hello Lonely Woman' and the hilarious 'Doghouse' (complete with sound effects) are all as good as anything on the record and suggest that Neil was contemplating a follow-up volume before the multi-faceted genre-hopping of 'Freedom' caught his muse instead. As for the old ones, the Springfield's 'On The Way Home' is a surprise candidate for being drenched in horns but comes off rather well, while the title track of 'Tonight's The Night' almost works as an elongated nineteen minute jamming session that just won't shut up, complete with a pained cry to inspiration and roadie Bruce Berry that's positively chilling.

Album tracks like 'Ten Men Workin' (now an eight minute jam) and 'Twilight' (now a moody eight minutes too with an extended guitar solo) sound far more 'real' than they ever did on record and work far better, with only 'Sunny Inside' and 'Married Man' sounding a little dashed off. Better yet is two early previews of songs that will become key to Neil's concerts and eventually albums in the coming years:  an intense 'Crime In The City's is halfway between the epic nineteen minute original and the shortened version on Freedom/Weld, with lots of 'missing' verses restored at the beginning. It's not quite the best version out there, but it's still a great version of possibly Neil's best song of the decade. 'Ordinary People' - finally released as late as 2006 - also sounds far more natural back in the time it was written, a thirteen minute jog drenched in horns and irony that finally sounds as good as fans lucky enough to hear this song in concert always said it was. In fact the only minus number the whole night is the between song raps - Neil's have always been weird but are usually at least interesting and unique to him. Here, though, he's just trying old blues shtick (sample quote: 'Life is easier with a beautiful woman by your side!') or simply being rude ('You weren't clapping loud enough for an encore but we came out anyway because we like New York!') and even when posing as a 'character' this falls flat. Still, that's peanuts compared to the vast greatness compared on this set which matches the real greats already released in the archive sets: 'Massey Hall' 'Cellar Door' and 'A Treasure'. Neil's done it again, keeping the great moments from ghastly eras back in the vaults - on this basis the Shocking Pinks and 'Landing on Water' sets are going to be amazing!

THE THREE WORST ALBUMS OF THE YEAR:



1) Keith Richards "Crosseyed Heart"

Alas not every blossoming flower in the AAA garden turned up rosy - there were a few weeds too. For me the most disappointing album of the year has been the long awaited third Keith Richards solo set, some twenty years after his second. I'm a bigger fan of the first two records than most Stones collectors (though I'm almost alone in the Stones world for liking Mick's records more - well two of them anyway), but this collection of breathy ballads in an off key rasp really doesn't cut it. Along with his autobiography 'Life' everyone seems to have decided that Keef is their favourite old codger, allowed to make mistakes no one else would be able to simply because he's 'keef'. Like 'Life' it also finds Richards on peculiarly grumpy form, still moaning about being 'robbed blind' by managers and complaining about other people's criticisms despite setting the Stones fragile truce back about a hundred years with his book. There are some strong moments, usually when Keith remembers to plug his guitar in such as on the Stonesy 'They Ain't Got Nothin' On Me', the toe-tapping 'Heartstopper' or the gentle finale 'Lover's Plea'. There isn't even one strong up to the Keith Kameos on the last twenty years of Stones products, though, and the blues songs are diabolically poor (Brian Jones, already given more than enough reasons to spin in his grave by Keith by now, must be doing somersaults). This album also wins the worst song of the year award with the painfully off key version of inter-war song 'Goodnight Irene'. Stop recording and go home Keith, you're drunk. There is, despite my diatribe, a great Keith Richards album still to come I reckon, full of all that passion and soul finding new wings away from having to fit to the Rolling Stones templates and Keith and co-writer Steve Jordan have proved in the past that they can do this sort of thing - if never enough for a whole album (yet). This isn't it though, not so much full of heart and soul as cross-eyed ideas that never quite come together.

2) Brian Wilson "Pier Pressure"

If you're a regular reader you might remember me getting hot under the collar last year when Brian Wilson promptly announced an album of duets with a load of modern-day actresses (not even singers!) and then got huffy because so many fans said it was a bad idea. In 'A critique on critiquing' I outlined the fact that sometimes you can just tell when something is a bad idea without the need for hearing it and that sometimes you can be persuaded to do a lot of rubbish if the wrong people keep on at you all the time. Well, the album came out and it has more enjoyable moments than I feared, but I also stand by my instinct that this sort of an over-modern CD was too desperate sounding by half and would inevitably put off all of Brian's old fans without encouraging many new ones. There are, I'm pleased to say, more good moments than I feared, usually the ones that feature guesting Beach Boy Al Jardine and which do a better approximation of the Beach Boy sound than most things on the horrific Beach Boys reunion album 'That's Why God Made The Radio' in 2012 (David Marks and Blondie Chaplin are reportedly here too, though inaudible). 'This Beautiful Day' continues where 'Summer's Gone' - the only listenable song from that album - left off, a sad and slow melancholic ballad that really pulls at the heart strings and with Brian on good voice. 'Whatever Happened' is borderline cringeworthy, borderline great, an 'In My Life' about all the fading places that no longer exist, which suddenly slides off its cliched point to worry 'what ever happened to me?' The orchestral instrumental 'Half Moon Bay' is classic Brian, better than either instrumental on Pet Sounds, if not quite up to 'Smile' still. But oh dear those duets! Zooey De Schanel? Casey Musgraves? Sebu Simonian? (Who?) Brian going hip hop? That awful icky modern day production that tries to make Brian out to be seventeen even though he sounds at times more like 117? No thankyou! Backing band The Wondermints and especially old co-writer Darian Sahanaja are very badly missed: this is Brian with a bunch of people who want to shape his art for their own ends, not let him breathe and go wherever he wants as with the previous run of Brian Wilson albums. Ah well it could have been worse: the original line up for this album was set to include Frank Ocean trading rap lines with Brian on a song that, mercifully, wasn't completed in time. Looks like 'Hey Little Tomboy' will have to stay as the single most misguided moment in Beach Boys history after all!

3) David Gilmour "Rattle That Lock"

I feel a bit bad putting the Pink Floyd guitarist's fourth album in the minus column rather than the plus one as it's no disaster - but then again it's certainly no classic. Like Keef's album and the instrumental Floyd set from last year 'Endless River', everyone seems to be going mad for this album at the time of writing even though it's a quarter-good at best and a disappointment after waiting nine years for a sequel to 'On An Island' (which itself was only half good). There are too many elongated instrumentals here that are atmospheric, but only in the way a film score is - they don't tell the whole story by themselves and are listenable only because of that special guitar sound. Gilmour has been writing with wife Polly Samson again and she's clearly grown more comfortable writing songs through her husband's eyes than on the last two Floyd albums, but her words and his music are still uncomfortably matches a lot of the time. Only   actual songs appear here: 'Rattle That Lock' is a Michael Jackson-style pop song that reveals how badly David's voice is fading; 'Dancing Right In Front Of You' is a clumsy clod-hopping waltz that's almost painful; 'In Any Tongue' is more operatic than Roger Waters' actual opera 'Ca Ira' and is a shame given the background - that it's dad David's defensive response to the media backlash over his son Charlie's involvement in the London riots(they were only doing what the Bullingdon Club boys were encouraged to do after all and caused far less damage); the cod jazz 'The Girl In The Yellow Dress' is the answer to the unasked question, 'what would a pointless remake of Pink Floyd oddity 'San Tropez' sound like if it wasn't tongue in cheek?' (Awful is the response). That leaves two songs that between them still manage to half rescue this album's reputation though: 'Faces Of Stone' is a nice folky ballad in the 'Division Bell' mode full of synth-strings, cutting guitar and 'Wall' style keyboards that's a nice stab at trying to out 'Roger' Roger. And the Crosby-Nash collaboration 'A Boat Lies Waiting' beats even last year's 'Louder Than Words' in the moving stakes, a slow burning ballad about death that's lifted by Crosby and Nash's velvety harmonies into a truly sublime bit of music. The song was written for much missed Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright and does this forgotten hero proud, with 'his' style piano keys and lots of 'watery' imagery that the keen sailor would have adored (it would have slotted nicely onto his first nautical but nice album 'Wet Dream'). Are two great songs enough to make up for three so-so instrumentals and five ghastly ones? Well, that's why this album's at this end of the list - rattle that lock can't break open doors like Gilmour used to, but at least he's trying and sometimes succeeds. 


THE FIVE BEST RE-ISSUES OF THE YEAR:


1) The Rolling Stones "Sticky Fingers" (Deluxe Edition)

'A spotlight on Keith's arse please!' Though 'Sticky Fingers' has never been my very favourite Stones LP (it's hard to look past the end of the Brian Jones period of 1967-1968), it's an album I've always been fonder of than the two earlier entries in the Stones archive series 'Some Girls' and 'Exile On Main Street'. Thankfully the Stones pull out all the stops and raid the cupboards to great effect, coming up with even more rarities than on either predecessor and turning a pretty darn good album into a great one. The Stones may have been only the second best rock and roll band in the world in truth (The Who had the measure of them most years), but they're at their concert peak here on the live CDs taken from Leeds University in 1971 (the year after The Who's famous set there) and London's Roundhouse later the same year. 'Get Out Your Ya Yas' from 1970 has long been claimed to be one of rock's greatest live miracles, but the alchemy here is even stronger. I've never heard Charlie play this well or this loud, demanding that the rest of the band pull their socks up and start matching him, while the Mick Taylor-Keith Richards partnership is a real meeting of equals with both men pushing each other to new heights and Jagger is at his outrageous, lascivious best with many of his favourite songs from the years 1968-1970 still in the set lists. 'Live With Me' turns from slightly jokey comedy song into an aggressive snarl, 'Stray Cat Blues' turns from a purred good time with n underage girl and a wink into a horrified creepy song where both sides are no longer sure why they're doing what they're doing, drenched in bluesy horns, 'Jumping Jack Flash has so much life to it compared to the performances from the next thirty years you begin to question whether it's the same song, 'Street Fighting Man' actually sounds like a revolution taking place unlike the slightly wry studio cut  and 'Midnight Rambler' suddenly switches gears midway through from gentle comedy villain into a song of evil, Mick getting uncomfortably close to his rapist character and the rush of adrenalin that spurs him on. Meanwhile over on the studio disc the Stones have let their trousers down to reveal how the album was made and as with the last two deluxe sets the dirty underwear may be better than what came out. An early take of 'Can't You hear Me Knocking' ends at three minutes rather than becoming an extended Santana jam session but the first half is much tighter and aggressive than the finished cut; a fascinating 'Brown Sugar' with Eric Clapton guesting (where was Mick Taylor?) is tamer but prettier; an acoustic mix of 'Wild Horses' reveals more Gram Parsons and more beauty and 'Bitch' goes from cute three minute filler into howling six minute epic ending in a stinging jam session that outs even 'Knocking' to shame (why on earth was this cut?!). These Stones re-issues just keep getting better -at this rate by the time they get to 'Between The Buttons' and 'Beggar's Banquet' my head is liable to come off!

2) The Hollies "Changin' Times: 1969-1973"

This isn't quite the EMI-sanctioned official set we asked for to follow on from the superb 'Clarke-Hicks-Nash Years' set of a few years back. For a start the songs haven't been re-mastered, there are no unreleased recordings and the set doesn't cover as many discs or as many years as its predecessor. But heck it's still plenty close enough, giving new comer fans a chance to find out just how brilliant The Hollies remained once Terry Sylvester came in as Graham Nash's replacement and contains some of the most brilliant things the band ever did (of course it also includes 'Hollies Sing Dylan', but hey no one said it had to be perfect). The run of records features here contains 'Dylan' the patchy 'Hollies Sing Hollies', the superb 'Confessions Of A Mind', the experimental 'A Distant Light', the gorgeous 'Romany' when Allan Clarke split for a solo career and new Swedish singer Mickael Rickfors turned the band into even more of a blissful harmony band and the under-rated 'Out On The Road', as well as period A and B sides and the occasional outtake already released on various Hollies sets down the years. The last of these albums is particularly valuable, having originally only been released in Germany due to falling sales and having only ever been out on CD once before, on the French label 'Magic' It's a lot better than many people realise and in 'Marigold-Swansong' 'My Life Is Over With You' 'Gasoline Alley Bred' 'Too Young To be Married' 'To Do With Love' 'Touch' Romany' 'The Last Wind' and 'I Had A Dream' contains some of the greatest things The Hollies ever did (which, of course, means some of the best things any band ever did!) Yes there's a few peculiar mistakes and one-off experiments in here too that don't quite come off, but there's a lot more great here than ghastly and I defy anyone to get to the end of this set and not want to hear the next one (a third set containing 1974's 'The Hollies' through to 1979's '5317704' would be another most welcome Christmas present for next year, as a little hint to anyone reading this!) All these albums have been reviewed separately on this site by the way for anyone who wants more info: suffice to say if you've never Hollied, or even if you've never Hollied after Nash left the band, you haven't really lived.

3) Mike Nesmith "Infinitia Trilogy" (The Prison/The Garden/The Ocean)

A week dear readers - a single teeny tiny week - was all the length of time between me reviewing Mike Nesmith's second book and album 'The Garden' (while having fun with our mascot Max The Singing Dog and metaphysics) and making the comment that after twenty-one years there'll probably never be a third volume - and the wool-hatted one's announcement that 'The Ocean' was making its way to shops soon! For those who don't know any of these records, the idea is this. Leading on from being part of the world's first multi-media (TV/records) bands, Mike turns his talents to writing a book that's designed to be read a chapter at a time, while the CD plays one song at a time. The two combined together add a real extra flavour to the work ('The Garden' works better at this, being an album of instrumentals - 'The Prison' is a little too distracting although it's also a great album in its own right). Both books deal with perception and realising that there are greater layers of realities around us. We follow Jason (named after Mike's own son, who plays guitar on the second album) as he realises that life is not all it seems, discovering that most of humanity are trapped inside a prison that doesn't really exist, finding himself in a garden and later an ocean - a whole new level of reality and symbolism to play around with. My take on these fascinating albums has always been that it's the inner creative in Mike trying to teach the world they don't have to lead the capitalist-crunching lifestyles they've always been taught to follow, although there are many more interpretations out there on the net. 'The Prison' may have been hated on first release by critics who called it pretentious and 'The Garden' may have been ignored to much it took me years to track down a copy while writing my Monkees dissertation, but the time seems finally 'right' for this fascinating trilogy that may change the way you'll ever approach music again.

4) The Small Faces "The Decca Years"

The Small Faces only ever completed one actual album for the Decca label before jumping ship for Immediate, so this five disc set seems a little excessive. If you're only a casual Small Faces fan then those CD albums-with-bonus tracks (both 'Small Faces' and compilation 'n' outtakes set 'From The Beginning')from about ten years ago will do you nicely. However this set does the best job yet of trying to make sense of all the many dozens of alternate mixes, takes and recording talk snippets released on dozens of Decca Small Faces compilations down the years and includes the whole bang lot, including some new ones unheard before. The best of these are a whole disc of BBC sessions previously only heard in part which are an intriguing listen, especially those taken from the short lived line up with Jimmy Winstun on keyboards (Steve Marriott is also a born interviewee and on cracking form throughout). Sadly back in the Decca studio an alternate take of 'My Mind's Eye' is all we get that's new, but the set does do a good job at rounding up all the various rarities from over the years including some great alterante takes first released on a French EP. Mark Paytress, one of the better music scholars around, has put together a fascinating and lengthy booklet which fills in several gaps about this early period. Not essential and terribly over-priced, but if you can afford it and you like the band's Immediate stuff without knowing much about their Decca years then this is still a heavily recommended purchase.

5) Paul McCartney "Tug Of War"/"Pipes Of Peace" (Deluxe Editions)

Macca's deluxe sets usually appear high on our yearly retrospectives. The reason they haven't this year is less to do with the quality and more to do with the competition. Admittedly neither album is quite classic McCartney: both albums have too many guest star spots and have very different problems on the songwriting front ('Tug Of War' is one of the most consistent albums Paul ever made, but only 'Here Today' and 'Somebody Who Cares' really stand out from the crowd, while 'Pipes Of Peace' contains all-time highs in the title track and 'Through Our Lover' but rather falls apart on the rest). As per usual, these sets are far too pricey, the DVDs frustratingly short (although there's a nice behind-the-scenes doc about the making of the 'Pipes Of Peace' video) and there's at least another full CD's worth of great things in the archives that really ought to be here. However I've always been a fan of McCartney's home demo recordings, the songs stripped bare to just a voice and either a piano or a guitar and both albums (written back to back circa 1981) feature some of the best: a six minute 'Take It Away' that just keeps on going is a cracker, 'Wanderlust' is slow and stately, 'The Pound Is Sinking' back when it was two separate songs sounds great on both and even lesser songs like 'Average Person' have a certain joie de vivre missing from the all-singing-and-dancing finished products. There's even a remix of 'Say Say Say' I assumed was going to be the same old thing, before I found to my delight it features an entire new vocal track, with Macca and Michael Jackson swapping lines rather than verses. Sadly, though, the one piece here not bootlegged, 'It's Not On', is awful - a 'Temporary Secretary' remake without the cheeky grin, which hopefully earned Paul a slap from Linda for its misogynistic lyrics. Even the B-sides, usually the quite highlight of many a past deluxe edition, are fairly poor here: the retro rocker 'I'll Give You A Ring' (first written back in 1973 and clearly re-made in a hurry) and the ploddy 'Ode To A Koala' are nothing special, though 'Rainclouds' (recoded by Paul, Linda, George Martin and Denny Laine together in December 1980 the night they heard Lennon had been shot) is worth a listen, caught halfway between typical McCartney sunshine and dark brooding depression. 'Christian Bop', by the way, is in the wrong place - it dates from the aborted 'Return To Pepperland' sessions from 1987 and is about the weakest song of the recording dates anyway. At least on the plus side both sets are lovingly packaged with beautiful booklets full of unseen photographs and stories-behind-songs and may in fact be the best in the series for this outside 'Ram', as both contain 'extra' booklets dedicated to a 'scrapbook of Linda's photos' ('Tug Of War') and the making of the second best ever McCartney video, the WWI re-creation Pipes of Peace (found, surprisingly enough, on 'Pipes Of Peace'). Given that it looks a while before Macca gets on to my beloved 'London Town' and 'Press To Play', this will at least fill the gap in nicely, even if they're not quite as un-missable as the sets for 'McCartney II' and 'Ram'.



THE TWO WORST RE-ISSUES OF THE YEAR:


1) The Kinks "Sunny Afternoon - The Best Of The Kinks"
I'll admit it, I still haven't seen the 'story of the Kinks' musical Waterloo Sunset on stage yet, but there's a good reason for that: it looks awful. I've caught a good half hour's worth of the material thanks to appearances on TV (Including Children In Need last year, weirdly enough) and it seemed even worse than I imagined: lots of shoe-horned references to period events (even though The Kinks were the group of the 1960s who paid least attention to what was going on in the outside world), tacky exposition ('How are you feeling after hurting your leg in that car crash, Pete?') and acting so bad I can't even work out which Davies brother is meant to be which. With the thud of inevitability the band did well to suppress for so long here is, not quite a soundtrack CD, but yet another best-of released with fans of the musical in mind. Most of the songs featured in it are in the project somewhere (though alas they chickened out of doing 'Celluloid Heroes') and at two discs there's a bit more room for colour than just the bare outlines. But good grief this isn't the real best of The Kinks - there's none of their most daring work or difficult work here, just an attempt to reduce the band to a lot of soundbites and singalongs. The Kinks were a hugely important band as most of you surely know, but good luck trying to work that out if all you know about the band comes from the musical and this bright yellow plastic horror.

2) The Who "Hits 50!"

Almost as disappointing, The Who celebrate their 50th birthday with a set similar to The Rolling Stones' 'Forty Licks' back in 2003, with two discs dedicated to fifty of their best loved works. Or rather 25 of their best loved works and some really dodgy choices. Real fans know that there's more to the band than the hit singles and 'Tommy' and of all the AAA bands their catalogue is one of the ripest for re-discovery: any band that had such an output that glorious peaks like 'Quadrophenia' and 'Who By Numbers' got treated as 'not as good as before' have a lot to offer the casual collector and had this set featured the real unsung gems of their catalogue ('It's Not True' 'A Legal Matter' 'Glow Girl' 'Melancholia' 'Glow Girl'  'The Real Me' 'Is It In My Head?' 'I'm One' 'The Punk And The Godfather' 'Slip Kid' However Much I Booze' 'They're All In Love' 'Success Story' 'Blue Red and Grey' '905' 'Sister Disco' 'The Quiet Ones' 'I've Known No War' 'Cry If You Want')it would have been up near the top of the best re-issues list faster than a Keith Moon drum solo on rollerskates. Instead it's just the usual stuff, but not as many, padded out by too many reunion songs and a wretched new song 'Be Lucky', which if rumours of the band's demise are true will be a wretched place to leave The Who's legacy (they should have stopped at 'Real Good Looking Boy' back in 2003).This set is not even 50 tracks but 42 (!) - why not add another disc full of the great stuff above and make this into a proper party rather than a damp squib! Happy birthday dear Who, but this album was one of my many less than happy returns of the year.


THE THREE BEST SONGS OF THE YEAR:


1) Belle and Sebastian "Nobody's Empire" (Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance)

I can't tell how strange it is, dear readers, to hear someone put into words - and music - an experience that only a small group of you have ever known. Or how moving it is to know that you haven't been the only one to go through a particular life event. Stuart Murdoch originally wanted his main character and alter ego in his 'God Help The Girl' film to suffer from his/our m.e. illness, but reluctantly changed it to an eating disorder when he realised that shots of someone spending all their time asleep didn't exactly make for great visual imagery. Guiltily he turned to music instead, turning his memories and his emotions over a relapse into song. Trapped in bed, the light too bright for his senses, while the rest of the world carries on without him outside, Murdoch fears that he will 'die there' - that this is all his life will ever amount to. But the difference the second time round is that he knows the song has a happy ending and the song changes, as so many of his songs do, as he's befriended by Iso'Belle' and gradually feels a part of life again, who 'touched me when I was in hell'. Twenty years after this all happened, it's a rare valediction from a writer whose always been too hard on himself that he really did have the life he feared he'd never have - and a better life too. 'Did I do ok?' he asks worriedly at the end, barely believing what great things have happened to him in the years since. Of course, he did more than ok - he did great and rarely more so than here when he bravely gives a voice to those of us who have for so long been passed by and denied it, nowhere men in nobody's empire. The best Belle and Sebastian songs have always brought us hope and so it is here - few songs in my collection have ever brought me as much hope as this.

2) David Gilmour, David Crosby and Graham Nash "A Boat Lies Waiting" (Rattle That Lock)

The clear highlight of David Gilmour's third album, this second collaboration between two-thirds of CSN and the Pink Floyd guitarist is even more heavenly and gorgeous than their previous work 'On An Island' from 2006. Though Pink Floyd's songs have rarely sounded like CSN's (except perhaps for the politics) David has always been open about his love for the early 70s Laurel Canyon music scene and he clearly knows these voice well, putting the C-N harmonies to even better use than their own albums of late and Gilmour makes for about as good a substitute for Stills as anyone can. The song is pretty gorgeous too, a moving tribute to Floyd keyboard Rick Wright which is just the sort of goodbye he'd have loved: those big wide open piano chords, the spoken words (Rick's own voice mirroring the 'interviews' from 'Dark Side Of The Moon') and the idea of death as just a boat-ride away are all things that he'd have adored. Gilmour and Wright took a while to become friends but their bond was one of the closest of all the Floyd tribute and David is at his emotional best here, sailing on velvety clouds of Crosby and Nash (both bands, of course, share a love of nautical imagery, making this tribute even more moving). Exquisite. The rest of the album is a shambles pretty much, but it's worth buying just for this lovely song.

3) Neil Young "Big Box" (The Monsanto Years)
Again, in any other year Neil might have won this category but there's been such a high standard that even the best rant Neil's been on in a decade isn't enough to take the trophy. 'Monsanto', an album damning borderline illegal practices in big business, is a pretty consistent album but two songs really stand out - opening track 'A New Day For Love' which offers the hope and 'Big Box', which offers the dark humour. Greedy corporations are 'too big to fail, too rich for jail' but still demand to be thought of as 'people just like you and me' with the same votes as everyone else ('just harder to control'). Gloriously raw, this eight minute epic features the best angry sizzle from Neil in years and his vocal is glorious, dripping with irony as he gives Monsanto a good kicking in return for having 'democracy crushed at their feet'. The Promise Of The Real show more than promise here too, sounding like a rejuvenated Crazy Horse. I'd still love to hear a CSNY version one day though.


THE BEST THREE DVDs OF THE YEAR:


1) The Rolling Stones "Live From The Vault: Live In Leeds 1982"

Though it's been a bumper year for new albums and new songs, for the first time in a while the garden of AAA DVDs has been full of weeds. There's not been anything truly un-missable this year, but the Stones have been the pick of the rest with a fairly interesting entry in their ever-growing 'archive' series. Though most of the 1980s tours are nothing to write home about, this one features the band on fine form and the Keith Richards-Ronnie Wood guitar spark works as well here as it ever did on stage. The new songs work particularly well with many of the best songs from 'Tattoo You' in there ('She's So Cold' 'Neighbours' and the earliest live performance of 'Start Me Up' released to date) although it's a classic 'When The Whip Comes Down' from 'Some Girls' that really takes flight. This is also the last filmed appearance of founding member Ian 'Stu' Stewart on piano before his all too premature death in 1984. Mick 'n' Keef might not look at each other most of the night, but they've still found a way to communicate in the music in this period, which makes this set better than all the other 80s Stones DVDs out there and one or two of the earlier ones too.

2) The Beatles "1"

First announced in 2010, then cancelled, this is a set that fans have been crying out for for years - it's a collection of Beatles music videos, effectively 'Anthology' with the documentary bits removed. There were several ways the fab four could have done this set - and typically for modern-day Apple records they've gone with the most expensive one: the CD, again, even though it's the best-selling record released by anyone ever, a DVD containing as many music clips of the band performing the '1' songs as possible (although be warned that a handful are wretched live renditions or worse a set of photographs stuck to the usual soundtrack) and a third disc rounding up the best of everything else. Clearly if you don't own the Beatles promos (the run from 'Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out' in late 1965 up to 'Something' in 1969) then you really do need to own them on some set or other and this method is cheaper and probably less soul-destroying than wading through Anthology. Some of the videos are as good as music videos get after all: 'Paperback Writer'/'Rain' in Chiswick Botanical Gardens' is surely the most influential video in terms of being the first not to be a simple lip-synch job and oozing icy cool; 'Strawberry Fields' and 'Penny Lane' ooze psychedelic weirdness and it's great to see that the sort of semi-official vids are here too (the filmed but unused promo for 'A Day In The Life' and the clever and tasteful mockups made to promote 'Beatles at the BBC' and 'Love'). As an excellent added bonus, there's even the 'restored' promo of 'Hey Bulldog' - ie the film used for 'Lady Madonna' which featured the band genuine recording 'Hey Bulldog' in Abbey Road' re-edited and put back in the right order so it looks like the band are recording it there and then (it works really well, although a version put together by bootleggers the other year works even better). However, I still say this set should be cheaper and shorter and not based so squarely around the '1' idea: discs two and three could easily have been squeezed down to a three hour single DVD set with the photo-montage and concert/TV footage taken out while the first disc is superfluous. More expensive shelf fillers from a band who were once the epitome of value for money.

3) The Who "Live In Hyde Park"

Am I the only fan who was hoping for more during the last two years' worth of half-century celebration shenanigans? One tired greatest hits set and a rather cross-patchy short tour (now seemingly cancelled indefinitely after Roger Daltrey contracted a nasty virus) do not a happy birthday make and though Roger 'n' Pete can still sound great when everything's working and in place (see below) they're clearly struggling more than on reunions in the years past. 'The Who At Hyde Park', then, is not exactly a classic of its day but there are some welcome songs back in the setlists again after years away ('The Seeker' 'Join Together') and I love the new arrangement of 'We Won't Get Fooled Again' that keeps sneaking into other Who classics. As per normal, though, there's a decent two hour's worth of material here spread across four pricey discs - I remember when I could get a complete set of Who studio albums for less than £100, all doubled in length by thrilling bonus tracks - the punk of today would have a right load of rude things to say to the Modfathers about their price brackets of recent years.


THE TWO BEST DOCUMENTARIES/ TV/RADIO APPEARANCES OF THE YEAR:



1) Noel Gallagher "Desert Island Discs"

This hasn't been a great year for documentaries/TV appearances either to be honest, at least in Britain. BBC4 has been a major disappointment to be honest: gone are the lovingly detailed tributes to lesser known greats like Ronnie Lane and Otis Redding, out are the carefully prepared footage of bands in their heyday and in are generic catch-all retrospectives so short in length and wide in scope that they tell us precisely nothing. Thank goodness, then, for Noel Gallagher whose on terrific form discussing his career and music choices on radio 4. His music is, of course, classy (less Beatles than I expected but he does choose 'Ticket To Ride' and Pink Floyd's 'Nobody Home'!) and the interview, of course, hilarious. Among other subjects Noel reveals how he was conned into dancing on his wedding day, the fact that once upon a time he used to get on with his brother before they were in a band and his horror at Oasis tours in Manchester sending gawping tourists to the house where his mam still lives. Noel also talks about quitting drugs almost overnight in 1998 and that its 'too early' to sum up Oasis' legacy so soon. Many sycophantic appearances on this show are, in Noel's famous catchphrase, 'absolute nonsense', but Noel is exactly the mix of boastful and self-critical this show needs to stay interesting. The best DID in years (since Roger Waters and David Gilmour appeared in quick succession?)

2) The Who "Glastonbury"

As discussed the 'Oo have at times been sounding 'Orrible on their last tour and were reportedly in a furious mood when headlining the Saturday night at this year's Gladtonbury (The Moody Blues' Justin Hayward also appeared, although typically only one song made especially for the cameras was screened and mainly featured the presenters joking around while he was trying to sing). Something had gone wrong with the sound between soundcheck and performance so the band couldn't hear themselves on stage and Pete Townshend's hearing (which he still blames on a Keith Moon drum explosion from 1967!) was struggling so much the drums had to be isolated with a sound barrier. Pete put all that aggression to good use though, playing with a snarl we haven't seen for years and pushing the second half of the gig especially to new heights. 'We Won't Get Fooled Again', especially, is a thrilling hold-on-to-your-seats ride dedicated to the Conservative Government who had just got into power again three months earlier and segueing seamlessly into a rarely heard Cooks County than in context is gloriously moving ('People are suffering - say it again!') If this is a final goodbye, as fans currently fear, then it's a great last ten minutes to go out, wild and raw and furious and passionate, just like The Who at their best have always been.


3) David Gilmour "Wider Horizons" (BBC Two)

The only real AAA-related documentary we've had all year is a recent item broadcast in November this year. Part of Alan Yentob's 'Imagine' series it's a typically rambling affair that must have confused the heck out of anyone who didn't really know who David Gilmour was, with very few mentions of Pink Floyd and an awful lot of assumptions made that those following the story would know almost all of it already. Even as a hardened Floyd veteran it was easy to get lost as we jumped from a shy Gilmour singing along with his demo tapes for his latest album 'Rattle That Lock' and snatches of film (all too brief) of his guests helping him make his album, to ancient film of the Floyd, to more interesting ancient film of a teenage Gilmour larking around at home in Cambridge, to modern film of the extended Gilmour family having a picnic and sing-song. The plus points of this documentary are that we got to see Gilmour's studio houseboat and it's impressive collection of technology in detail and we learnt a lot more than ever before about Gilmour's family dynamic, both in his youth and in the present. Gilmour seemed confused about the role of his parents on his music - his father, an eminent scientist, felt 'emasculated' by earning less for important medical work than his son did 'strumming his guitar', while his mum became his 'biggest fan' - albeit one whose closeness on adulthood frightened Gilmour off, having been packed off to school and forgotten about at an early age and kept distant. You can tell Gilmour's tried to make up for any mistakes in the past now that he is a father though, his eyes lighting up when talking not about 'Dark Side Of The Moon' or 'The Wall' (casually telling a guest guitarist 'careful with guitar - I wrote 'Comfortably Numb' on that!) but about his sons and daughters. Polly Samson also gives her first extended interview on film and is more interesting than her husband, talking about how she 'interprets' Gilmour's music and la-lad accompaniment as if her husband is speaking 'in tongues' and trying to work out what he means. Twenty years on from their first creative partnership on 'The Division Bell', they seem even greater matched. There are also some fascinating shots of sea upon sea of boxes of Gilmour odds and ends recorded in his various home studios dating back decades, far more than we ever knew about (well, than I knew about!) What you don't get, sadly, is a sense of context or history or any reason why Gilmour deserves a full 70 minute running time as he shyly deflects most questions and laughs at the others. Yentob is not a natural interviewer and you don't really learn a lot from this programme, gorgeous as many of the details and extracts are. 


STOP PRESS!
"I'm Not In Love: The Story Of 10cc" (BBC4)


They do this to me every year folks - a week after writing this article complaining at the lack of AAA documentaries (a week!) and struggling to find ways to pad out this section (a mere lousy week I tell you!) came a most unexpected pre-Christmas treat. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of 'I'm Not In Love', the BBC at last gives 10cc their first ever TV documentary treatment. It caps off a decent decade or so for the band who also got their first radio documentary and box set and at last saw the re-issue of their later, greater albums on CD for the first time last year. This documentary was pretty straightforward and no nonsense, taking the band's career at a surprisingly breathless rush considering that it was only really concerned with the four albums the founding members made together, Godley and Creme's career dismissed in a couple of songs and the rest of 10cc's in a sentence (don't believe either Stewart or Gouldman by the way - their last two records together are their best). There was, however, a great early section about Eric's time as a Mindbender and the songwriting hit factory that was Graham Gouldman, plus some fantastic rare film: promos for 'Neanderthal Man' and a vocal overdubs session for 'The Dean and I' that must have taken some digging as well as the usual promos. Stewart, Gouldman, Godley and Creme all speak about the band and mainly speak with affection, suggesting that rifts between the two halves of the band and between the two members in each seems to have healed down the decades (even if none of the band speak together). Lol in particular gives his first lengthy interview in years and is on top witty form, though the others don't fare quite so well. Even so there are some good stories here and the band give their most detailed look back yet at the way the AAA's most democratic band used to work together (with 'auditions' to decide who got to sing each lead vocal) and more detail on why they split (spin-off LP 'Consequences' having consequences, effectively, with Godley and Creme so turned on by their experiments that they resented coming back to the gold to make mere pop songs). One thing that bothers me though: even the band now are giving the stereotype that Eric and Graham were the 'pop pair' and Godley and Creme the 'art students': in fact the band wrote in every combination going with some regularity; it's only because of the split that we've come to think of them in pairs and the clichés really aren't true: 'Rubber Bullets' is as pop as any Stewart/Gouldmann song and tracks like 'Iceberg' and 'Honeymoon With B Troop' every bit as weird as Godley/Creme. Not definitive then, but then this documentary didn't have time to be and it's pretty good for what they managed to cram into an hour, even if it needed ten minutes less on 'I'm Not In Love' and ten minutes more on the later years and reunion albums. 

THE FIVE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR:


1) Stuart David "In The All-Night Cafe" (Belle and Sebastian)

This book is ever so nearly what we B and S fans have dreamed of for so long - a biography of the band's first year together, back when 'Tigermilk' was the determined effort of a songwriter and friends released as part of a 'music business studies' course nobody expected anything from. Throughout the book we get so many details we've never had before: that the two Stuarts Murdoch and David met on a Government-run music course 'Beatbox' in Glasgow which sounds awfully like the 'Skills Exchange' course where this site was started: great people with nice intentions making do with cut budgets, abandoned courses, computers from the stone age and all sorts of reneged promises. Nobody expects anything from the students there who are simply there as a 'condition' of the organisers getting their own music studio to work with - a recipe for disaster as the students get no chance to do what they signed up for and are shouted at for not being more 'pro-active' even when there's nothing to do. Suddenly the gentle frustration and the big ideas coming up against small obstructions that so marks out that first album makes even more sense: this was an album made the way the course was 'sold' to the two aspiring musicians, despite it's failures. There are some great tales within these pages we haven't heard before - the ho-hum re-action to Stuart Murdoch's first public performance, his blushing face when the group of students are asked to sing one by one, the fact that Murdoch rather proudly wrote 'Electric Renaissance' on one of Beatbox's decade-old music computers (which is why it sounds so retro and out of place!; an early version of 'Sleep The Clock Around' was apparently taped this way too!) and Stuart David's chance discovery that Richard Colburn, his flatmate for a full year, happens to be a drummer just at the time the 'band' need one. There's also a great finale when 'Tigermilk' is finally recorded across three busy days (the first of which is lost to endless setting up the instruments and then discarded when the ad hoc 'band' try to record the songs as 'backing tracks' first and get things hopelessly wrong that only go right when Stuart decides to sing along) and then given a launch party as part of a course that was actually nothing to do with either Stuart at all, as they agree to have the album 'launched' as part of a music business studies course (complete with interference from prospective A & R men and women who come in to 'meddle' with their opinions on the mixing and are shooed out by the band!) That's 'launch' in the literal sense as well, with the vast majority of these now priceless vinyl rarities given away free to family, friends, passers by and fellow college students who decide to use them all as frisbees (no wonder they're now so flipping rare!)
 However there are a couple of things that let this book down slightly. One is Stuart David's own part in proceedings - though the book is told completely through his eyes I'm no closer to understanding him as a person and there are layers and layers of obfuscation here that suggest the story the way he tells it isn't quite the gospel 'truth' (as annoying as this is, at least it's in keeping with the B and S ethos!) One less acceptable problem is how unlikeable everyone in the book is. Isobel, such a key part of the story, gets dismissed in a paragraph, while Stevie Jackson - a bigger star than anyone at this point after his spell in the Scottish band The Moondogs - is depicted as being utterly in awe of Murdoch's music. That's interesting actually because even Murdoch doesn't come out that well out of the book - far from realising and nurturing his new friend's talents David snidely writes to his girlfriend Karn that she 'might' like his music if she met him and that 'while some people might prefer his way of writing I was rather pleased when my new flatmate said she liked mine better'. David, desperate for a future at the start of the book and insistent on a career as a 'writer' even though it's left him unemployable for night on eight years, doesn't re-act the way you'd expect to the opportunity of a lifetime: he seems to have been as dismissive of Murdoch's abilities as everyone else on his godforsaken course and takes his position as a bassist as his God-given right even though he's only flipping learnt how to play from a few video tutorials from the course! However David is a good writer, even if he's better on observed detail and jokes than he is on people (the main difference between him and Murdoch in a songwriting sense too) and this is a nicely easy read, full of a characteristic mix of humility and ego. I'm not sure how much of this book to believe as an 'official' source - and the 'celestial cafe' long seen as the hubbub of the band barely features, dismissed as a 'myth'  - but it's a very B and S tale of overcoming adversity, of refusing to accept the limited horizons others have planned for you and of refusing to do things the 'easy' way even when no one knew who the heck the band were at the time. Until Murdoch or Campbell writes their own definitive book on the this year from their own very different perceptions (with 'God Help The Girl' more or less Murdoch's own 'fictionalised' account), this is as good a source on the band's formative years as we're likely to get.

2) Johnny Rogan "Ray Davies: A Complicated Life"

Rogan's third Kinks-related book is actually more about the band than the leader than ever. Though meant to be a detailed lengthy portrayal of a complex man in all his glory, to go alongside the more normal-sized band biographies and song analyses, 'Complicated Life' is hindered by Ray himself. Nobody Rogan speaks to seems to know him including the man himself, interviewed at length but not to any great revealing effect. Interviews with those who've worked with him (including just about every member of The Kinks down the years though sadly Pete Quaife is only from historical sources) aren't any more helpful or revealing - a few warm anecdotes we haven't heard before are bookended by snipes at Ray's meaner sides and the endless rivalry with brother Dave who sounds more bitter than ever in this text. While Rogan has always been a 'fair' biographer (his subjects aren't usually saints or sinners like the worst writers try to make them out) the people he interviews have no reason to be neutral and while there's clearly a mix of love and hate from everyone Ray's worked with down the years the best anecdotes tend to be the nastiest ones. Ray doesn't help matters much either, taking the easy way out from most of the questions Rogan sets him and setting the tone early on when he gets his agent to ring Johnny's and remind him that 'you'll be paying for lunch by the way, just so there are no ugly questions asked' (Ray's miserly ways are a key complaint for much of the book!)Oddly Rogan doesn't spend as much time on the actual songs as you'd hope, which is a particular shame given that his analytical brain is one of the sharpest in the music world and his background tends to be more from that background than as a traditional biographer. As a result the book feels awfully lopsided, with people talking about Ray's genius without there being any examples of why at his best Ray was worth all the hardships of making these records and being hell to live with/work with (he's even the first biographer to have tracked down first wife Rasa, whose even more bitter than Dave for the most part). To be honest he comes across as rather a chameleon figure, living his life through the eyes of his characters because he feels unable to inhabit the real world himself - which might be why Ray is so vague on facts and motivation throughout the book. Ray remains a figure shrouded in mystery throughout - which perhaps is how things should be - but it's a shame given that Rogan's book in the past have done so much to add flesh to the bones of John Lennon and various members of the CSNY family; after all what is the point of a biography except to learn more about the subject matter?

That said, Rogan is always a good read with an enjoyable  writing style that contains just the right amount of detail and he still gets closer to most to what makes Ray tick without ever quite finding any nuts and bolts about what that something is. Understandably there's a lot about the Ray-Dave brotherly feuding and the occasional ups and mainly downs of their relationship are well handled (even if the hate in their relationship comes through a lot stronger than the love) and this book has nearly as much about Dave as his brother. Rogan is also especially good at the beginning and end, painting a much stronger picture of the Davies family life in the 1940s and 1950s than we've heard before, with portraits of all six Davies sisters and their different relationships with the brothers as well as how different Ray and Dave were even back then. Even more than most writers childhood was key to Ray and most of his best songs 'belong' in this era of mono-chromed poverty, fading dance halls and people getting by, with the deaths of sister Rene (who more than anyone encouraged Ray to take up music) and the emigration of sister Rose (who was effectively a parent substitute) and their effects on the already outwardly fragile inwardly-strong introvert/extrovert Ray is well handled. Ditto the post-Kinks years that so many other biographers ignore, with tales of the solo years for Ray delivered with welcome detail. It's the middle bit of the book sags - the Kinks stories that have already been told several times over and don't really offer anything new the major Kinks fan won't have read before, complete with random analysis of the other world (including two pages on britpop) - useful in many biographies, but not this one (Ray's world was always in a different time-zone to what everyone else was doing). Ultimately the book isn't what it could have been, but considering the kicking the book has been getting in some quarters it's far from hopeless wither - it's pretty much as good as it could have been in the circumstances given that even Ray isn't quite sure what to make of his life and his character. Perhaps the greatest thing of the whole book, the part that gives the greatest insight into Ray and his character, is the way it's made - a drab dull grey front cover of Ray posing in the 80s at his most rock-star-ish giving way to a terrific burst of colour on the actual book hidden away behind the dust-jacket, the way the 'Face To Face' sleeve should have been. It's very Kinks as is the book, but unfortunately the Kinks elements of obfuscation, bitter rows and stubborn-ness don't make for the easiest band to translate into print.
3) Mark Lewisohn "The Beatles: All These Years Volume One - Turn On"

Huh - and they say I write a lot! The first draft of the AAA Beatles book (currently missing only 'Yellow Submarine')  runs to 674 pages. This one runs to 1764 - and only runs up to 1963! Given the reputation of Lewisohn (the greatest Beatles researcher, although I still say that the late lamented Ian McDonald was the greatest actual Beatles writer) and the fact that this book has been worked on for ten years now (the AAA currently runs somewhere around 12,000 pages for eight years' work to put that in context!) I was ever so slightly underwhelmed by it. Now, it's not that the book is bad by any means - Lewisohn is a fair and clever writer and though the main plot points are still clearly much the same as they've always been the level of detail is great - especially once John and Paul start hanging out and writing songs together and the lengthy process of first Paul then George and right at the end Ringo joining the band. The Beatles parents and guardians come into greater focus than ever before with Aunt Mimi's half-awe, half toughness over Lennon's new hobby taking up so much of his time is highly revealing. However, not to be the pot calling the kettle black or anything, but there's a case for too much detail being included here: the opening passages when JPG&R are all growing up separately are actually quite boring before they begin to gain an interest in music and at times hard to follow in terms of relatives and schoolfriends. That goes double when dealing with one of the Beatle outsiders' life stories being sketched in: had Brian Epstein's own autobiography have included as much about his background as this book then it would have broken the backs of every Beatles bookshelf. Even when the fab two/three/four/five (don't forget Stuart Sutcliffe) meet it's a case of not being able to see the woods for the trees: these characters may not know how their story turns out yet, but we do and you can get a bit impatient waiting for the more important events to turn up in between the long months of nothing. The Hamburg and Cavern years too have been painted sharper by other books, with the only new things to say generally coming from the fans' point of view of the band rather than from themselves. In other words its great - but not as great as people said when the book first came out, as almost a knee-jerk re-action to the combination of that writer and that band together. Volumes two and three (please say they're to be titled 'Tune In' and 'Drop Out'!) may yet be the masterpieces this first volume promised to be, though.

4) Mike Pender "Origins Of The Searchers And My Search For Myself"

Very few AAA members have written an autobiography really: one Beach Boy, one Beatle (if the half-hearted 'I me Mine' counts), three CSNY, two Kinks (don't get me started on unauthorised autobiography 'X-Ray' all over again...), three Monkees (well ish: Mike Nesmith's is more of a fiction really), one Pink Floyd, two Rolling Stones and one Who member is yer lot. It seems statistically unlikely, then, that as relatively obscure an act as The Searchers, who had two of their five key 1960s members die fairly young, to have a second band member writing an autobiography. Mike Pender's earnest and detailed book is very different to Frank Allen's hilarious travelogue though - it's the difference between a lecture and a natter down the pub. Allen comes across as only too pleased to have had a year in the spotlight with the band he loved and to be still playing with The Searchers however small the crowds, but Pender (who quit to form his own Searchers in the mid-1980s) seems to be frustrated still that he wasn't bigger. There are many axes in his book to grind about ex band members and management, though to be fair if I'd lived his life I'd be moaning about them all too - The Searchers really were hard done by for almost all their career. Pender's good on the music though and either has a good memory still or kept a lot of diaries and notes and there are quite a few nuggets of information tucked away in the book - a valuable resource given how little info there is on The Searchers out there. Given that John McNally doesn't seem keen to write one, Chris Curtis - who would surely have written a great book - was sadly taken from us sometime ago and Allen was only there for half the interesting story anyway, this looks like being the definite word on The Searchers (after our own, of course!)

5) Brian Southall "The Road Is Long - The Story Of The Hollies"

Darn! The problem with writing for a website rather than publishing books as I go along is that people keep beating me to milestones. Unbelievably, The Hollies - who scored more top twenty hits in the 1960s than any other band - had never had an official or as far as I know even unofficial book dedicated to them in their first 52 years together. My Hollies book is currently planned for the end of the 54th and I really thought I was going to be the first. Mine might end up being the third, actually, if rumours of drummer Bobby Elliott looking for a publisher are true. Clearly, Bob's is the book to get (yes, even over mine - I really am that loyal!): this book is more of a time-marker, made with very little band co-operation and with no real new stories to tell (only some of Graham Nash's comments seem to be new: fair enough if band members like the retired Allan Clarke don't want to talk and the likes of Bobby and Tony Hicks are too busy, but surely old hands Eric Haydock, Bernie Calvert, Terry Sylvester, Allan Coates and even Don Rathbone have more than a few interesting tales to tell we haven't heard before?) Covering 52 years of recording (plus several years before that) in just 144 pages is a tall order and much of the book is taken from known sources: interviews that appeared in magazines or CD booklets. So why did this book make this list at all? Well, it's accurate as far as I can tell. It's fair, which is more than some biographies out there. It's written by someone who clearly likes The Hollies but isn't sycophantic enough it like everything they did. I just wish that there was more of everything here: that every Hollies turning point was a chapter rather than a pithy paragraph. There's a great story to tell about The Hollies and while this certainly isn't awful, this really isn't it.


THE FIVE BEST AAA ARTICLES OF THE YEAR?


We end our list with a bit of self-indulgence, a chance to nominate articles we thought deserved a bit of an extra plug or when the writing muses seemed to be somewhere in the same room rather than the other end of the galaxy. For the record our most viewed articles of the year weren't any of these five at all but 'The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society' (thanks mainly to the plug from our fellow Kinky web creators at Kinda Kinks!), 'Hidden Harrison - the best unreleased recordings by George' (339 - not a clue why this one took off!), Neil Young's 'The Monsanto Years' (286) thanks mainly to the plug by our good friends at Thrasher's Wheat, The Rolling Stones' 'no 2' (220 - not a sausage) and The Hollies' 'For Certain Because' (216- goodness knows!)

1) April Fool's Day Issue

http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015_03_29_archive.html
As usual, our top plug is reserved for this year's 'April Fool's column, which is one of our best yet (no, really!) In year eight our site mascot Max The Singing Dog's cousin Nostrodogmus has found a way of going into a trance and visiting parallel worlds. While there he manages to get a review for each of our AAA artists from people who in their timelines are unknowns but in our timelines are either famous or infamous writers. Go on, give it a read - where else can you read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle talking about The Monkees or William Wordsworth waxing lyrical about The Who?!

2) Every Single Grateful Dead Archival Concert Reviewed (Well Up To Early 2015!)

Time stood still back in March when I wrote these two columns dedicated to brief reviews of every single Grateful Dead archive CD release made in the past twenty-one years- some two hundred nearly! If you're a Dead fan you'll know what that meant: every single Dick's Picks, every single Dave's Pick, every single Road Trip, every single Download Series and more miscellaneous extras than Wharf Rat has had hot dinners. Some 60 China Cats, some 40 odd dark stars, more 'Mama Tried's than I ever want to hear again...It's a wonder my mind didn't explode - actually perhaps it has and I haven't noticed yet, that would explain a lot. Clearly these aren't the most detailed reviews in the world, but each one gets a lengthy paragraph full of best and worst songs of the night and a bit of news as well as a top ten score. While there are some good sites out there dedicated to a few of the individual series, this is to the best of my knowledge the only time any fan has been monkeynuts enough to have a go at all of them. One inevitably problem though: in the nine months since writing this column there have already been flipping five other sets to add at a later date, including the 80 'Trips Around The Sun' set outlined above!

Dick's Picks/Dave's Picks http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/grateful-dead-dicks-picksdaves-picks.html and Road Trips/Download Series/Miscellaneous Archive Releases
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/grateful-dead-road-tripsdownload.html

3) Oasis "Morning Glory" *to be added*
My favourite review of the year to write wasn't a record I have any real great feelings about. Though I love debut 'Definitely Maybe' and can wax lyrical about late-period Oasis songs most fans don't even know, I've never felt quite the same generational pull for my era's 'Sgt Peppers' as some other people out there. Sometimes, though, while you're writing about something in depth and trying to look for patterns you suddenly understand an album for the first time, even if you've spent twenty years listening to it without getting it. This isn't a feeling that happens very often (perhaps once a year if I'm very lucky) and these tend to be the articles that look like gibberish the next morning, but hey ho - for a second there I felt as if I knew what I was on about even if I couldn't convey it to you.

4) ME/CFS Awareness Week At The AAA

http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/mecfs-awareness-week-at-alans-album.html
Despite the fact that Belle and Sebastian's latest album has made me mention it twice already in this one article, I don't often write about my m.e. illness in print. Writing is my escape, my chance to leave my bodily aches and pains behind and spend more time in my head and ears and if I'm doing it right is the best distraction from pain there is (not that this always works mind - sometimes the pain is just too strong). There are also already a load of great sites out there that say everything about this illness so cleverly there's nothing more I can add - how you wake up feeling run over, how everything costs you energy, how everything you do will have a major impact over the rest of the week or sometimes the rest of your life. But his year's theme was reaching out to non-converts who'd never heard of the illness before and for once I had a bit of spare time and a website with a ready-made audience of 'other' readers - a dangerous combination as I'm sure you'll agree.

5) Why The Conservatives Didn't Win The Election

http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/why-tory-victory-seems-deeply.html

Finally, the news  story that in my life was front page for half the year but barely anyone else either noticed: the seriously dodgy results of the 2015 UK election. For those who don't live in Britain, The Conservative and Liberal Democrats were coming to an end of a five year period in rule which wasn't actually legal back in 2010 until they changed the law to make it so (Labour, the party in power 2006-2010, had the biggest vote but the two others combined had a bigger share yet). So we had a 'coalition of losers' who still saw fit to wreak the biggest social changes on our country in an attempt to 'turn back the deficit' which actually got bigger under their watch. People got hurt - many many people, innocent people whose only crime was to be made redundant or fall poorly or have a spare bedroom lying empty without a smaller house to move into. It was assumed before the election that Labour had to win against such a cruel regime - the only question was by how much and whether we would have a labour-made coalition for a change. The three leaders and sometimes more even took part in TV debates which pretty unanimously claimed that labour had won (if only as the best of a bad bunch). Even the exit polls the day before the election which 'guess' at the result based on a sample of people but Labour ahead with a clear majority. Then in May we heard the Conservatives had got more votes than ever and could now reign unimpeded by any coalition partners. Everyone was caught off-guard but accepted the new result because nobody would cheat at such an important thing as democracy would they? A lifetime diet of CSNY and Pink Floyd records has taught me to look for the truth and never to trust what I can't see with my own eyes so I went digging, turning up 25 cases of electoral fraud all reported in local papers in the week before, of or after the election. This went up to somewhere nearer 50 after the article was reported and a few more queries were raised. There are, of course, always two or three cases of dodgy voting - a human mistake like a misprinted ballot paper that wasn't spotted or a computer adding error. But 25? Four-fifths of them benefitting the Conservatives? The very same party who threw a record amount of money at 'fighting' the result in close elections? And who took part in such heavy smear campaigns even ex-members of their party began asking them to tone it down a bit? And these were just the ones that got reported on the net - how easy would it have been for more slip-ups to be hidden so completely people never even noticed? This was the closest election for years - in terms of total votes cast for the two leading parties if not for every constituency. It would only have taken the smallest of changes in a few key boroughs to change the result completely...



THE BEST OF THE COPYRIGHT 50 YEARS RULE AVOIDING RELEASES FROM 2015 SO FAR:


The Beach Boys "Party! Complete and Uncovered"


'We're not going to say anything about pot - we're just going to smoke it while we're recording!' Though we're still waiting for the Beatles set to join them, December 2015 has also seen the unheralded release of two of the most fabulous archive sets of this year or any year. regular readers of our reviews of the year may remember the flurry of activity across the last two years as record companies scrambled to release highly limited edition, unpublicised versions of everything releasable in their archives to avoid the '50 Years Copyright' ruling which would make their wares open to every bootlegger with enough money to fight the legal system. This has resulted in some real gems for recordings made in 1963 and 1964: an alternate Beach Boys Christmas album and Brian Wilson demos for other artists, the 'complete' recording for 'Beach Boys Concert', a teenage Janis Joplin's first tentative recordings and sessions set for The Beatles. 1965 was always going to be a more interesting year than either, though, and so it proves with a release we've been longing to hear: a fully unedited 'Beach Boys Party'. If you somehow missed our review from earlier in the year, this was a 'fake' party featuring unplugged recordings of some favourite cover songs and old favourites first recorded fairly cohesively and then given a new set of overdubs via a playback session where friends and family come in to add laughter, ad libs and munchings on potato chips. The result is a lot better than it has any right to be - I'll confess now, I much prefer it to 'Pet Sounds' - but we've often wondered: just how much of the Beach Boys' goofing off made it to the record? And how 'live' really was it? Well the answers are not much and not very: there's actually over two hours of this stuff condensed to a half hour record, here left to run in real time complete with breakdowns, abandoned ideas and some really corny jokes.

The new double disc set, which comes with a clever sepia tinges altered version of the original technicolour print, reveals that the sessions actually took place across five days and are every bit as chaotic as they sounded. Idea comes and go, with several songs abandoned along the way (the highlights include a sensational cover of the Stones' 'Satisfaction' turned into a Brian Wilson-led bongo frenzy, a gorgeous Al Jardine cover of 'Blowin' In The Wind' that's far superior to the 'Times They Are A Changin' that made the record and an early example of Mike Love's obsession with 'Riot In Cell Block #9', which will become the basis for his song 'Student Demonstration Time' in 1971, plus a deconstructed unplugged 'California Girls' that's tighter than the 'Little Deuce Coupe' medley that made the album, ruined only by a sneeze and the band forgetting their own lyrics). Even better than the new stuff, though, is hearing the old stuff in context: 'Barbara Ann' is not a planned disciplined hit single from the off but a Dean Torrence suggestion that grows in skill and confidence as the band first learn and then perfect one of their most endearing songs, Brian makes the band do the Beatles cover 'Tell Me Why' all over again because it's too slow and Carl Wilson cares so much about getting other cover 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' right that he takes himself off to lay down a proper backing track of just the guitar, which is great even without the vocals (The Beach Boys also try 'Ticket To Ride', though not very seriously).

There's also yet more fun and games from a band enjoying themselves like never before, lots of Mike Love puns and teasing going on back and forth (Dylan's 'She Belongs to Me' will never sound the same again, transformed from a song about a girl who 'steals everything she sees' into a girl who 'smells like a city zoo'. You had to be there really). Simply glorious - one of the Beach Boys archive session sets I've been longing for the most and it's both longer and better than I hoped. This shouldn't be quietly released in the hope that most people won't even know it's out and Capitol can bury it - it ought to be a deluxe gorgeous re-issue, trumpeted the world wide as an example of how great The Beach Boys can be.

Pink Floyd "1965: Their First Recordings"

Less fun but perhaps even more important is this first legal issue of a bootlegger's favourite, the six R and B covers and Syd Barrett originals recorded during the band's first time in front of a tape recorder. Even if, in truth, these recordings are mere stepping stones a world away from the brilliance of 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' in eighteen months time, there's so little of Barrett's work out there that all of it is 'important'. The Floyd clearly haven't found their sound yet and it's odd to hear the band with the blues stylings up and the psychedelia down, but there's already a certain originality and adventurousness in the sound and Syd is already a terrific frontman. 'Leave Lucy' is clearly the best of the bunch, a sort of low budget 'See Emily Play' that gets away with a 'Louie Louie' guitar riff, a classic eccentric Syd vocal and an unhinged guitar part that must have sounded obscene in 1965. Other songs have their moments too though: Roger Water's first 'song' 'Walk With Me Sydney' sounds like a prototype for 'Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk' if it was written in the music hall era and features several future Waters regulars: a slightly sour repeated stabbing line, references to 'brains' and lyrics that list rather than tell the 'plot'. Rick's wife of the time Juliette appears on backing vocals for the only time on a Floyd record too. The other four songs are R and B covers and truly bizarre: Syd channels Bo Diddley and Howlin' Wolf as he leers and snarls 'I got some love to give to you!' in a manner he'll never attempt again. In truth it doesn't quite work, but his guitar is already on the money and the Floyd already have a certain telepathy over their sound where what they don't play and leave unsaid is as important as what is spoken. Not the sort of CD you'll want to play too often, but boy is it musically, historically and culturally significant and just as with the other 'going out of copyright' sets it deserves far more care and attention than being released as quietly as this. 

Right that's all for this year. See you in 2016 for our final full year of newsing, viewing and music-ing, with another 52 reviews planned taking us ever nearer our goal of all 500 main AAA albums reviewed (that puts on 480-ish?) and a run of top ten columns taking us all the way from The Kinks to round about the beginning of the Rolling Stones (I'm currently up to the end of Pentangle!) Thankyou for being with us for what's been a most interesting year, full of new friends and old mates and some great great music. A very happy and musical new year to you all! Ciao for now!

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