Hello and welcome to the second in our run of occasional newsletters delving into the much wider world of record collecting. Following the success of our analysis of compilations (see ‘news and views’ issue 59), this week it’s our turn to look at AAA solo spin-off releases. Solo albums occupy a curious place in the heart of the collector and the reaction to solo sets varies considerably depending on the individual and the group involved. Many Beatles fans consider it necessary to buy as many released by Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and even Starr as they can, most Moody Blues fans will settle for buying Justin Hayward’s biggest hits and most Rolling Stones fans will turn round and say ‘eh, I didn’t know Mick Jagger made solo albums?!’ Oh and this also means, sadly, that some of our AAA artists who are solo already – such as Nils Lofgren, Lulu, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Otis Redding, Cat Stevens and Neil Young - are out of necessity missing from this list. So are some of the AAA bands who haven’t yet made any AAA records, such as – amazingly – Oasis. So having taken all that into account, which solo albums should you buy? Well, bearing in mind that even we don’t own everything connected with every AAA band (yet!), we can at least point you in some directions...
Brian Wilson: ‘Brian Wilson’ (1988) was a wonderful surprise when it came out just three years after Brian officially left the band and even though we know now that Brain was nowhere near back to the full health he enjoys now, everything seemed to be positive. The songs are for the most part marvellous, with Brian cherry picking influences from all periods of his writing (‘Nighttime’ could have been a classic early 60s single, ‘Baby Let Your Hair Grow Long’ is a follow-up to ‘Caroline, No’ and the exotic nine-minute rock opera ‘Rio Grande’ borrows much of its atmosphere from the ‘Smile’ sessions) on a fantastically consistent album. The only problems lie with Brain’s voice (which after 20 years of almost permanent lying in bed, plus excessive drinking smoking and drugging, had lost its velvety tone) and the very 1980s production, which dates this album far more severely than the timeless Beach Boys run of 1962-72. Highlight: the simple but very Brain ‘Love and Mercy’ and the gorgeous ‘Melt Away’. 7/10.
‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ (1996) Following the split with Brian’s ‘therapist’ Eugene Landy – who took the credit for many of the lyrics on Brian’s first album despite never having written a not before – Brian fell into another slump. This album finds his voice and energies even more ragged than before on some inessential covers of past Beach Boys classics, made for a tie-in documentary which might have been quite interesting had the production team not insisted in making it in black-and-white (perhaps this is where Oasis got their ideas from?!) Highlight: while many of the track choices are spot-on (especially the rarer material from ‘Friends’), the only new arrangement that stands out is the soulful cover of the mournful ‘Til’ I Die’. 3/10.
‘Imagination’ (1998) swapped the first album’s consistency for a real curate’s egg of an album: the highpoints, such as the imaginative single ‘Imagination’, the moving eulogy for brother Carl ‘Lay Down Burden’ and especially the edgy harmony-fest ‘Cry’ – which rivals the very best of The Beach Boys – which are all essential for any Beach Boys fan. But some of the other songs are clunky, with awkward lyrics nestling with tunes that sound over-familiar to ones from Brain’s past. A tacky Beach Boys cover, of the rare flop single ‘Let Him Run Wild’, simply shows up how amazing Brian’s vocal and arranging gifts were in the 1960s compared to the 1990s. Many of the album’s better songs were ‘rescued’ from an abandoned 1990 release ‘Landlocked’, which was abandoned when Brian split with Landy. 6/10.
‘Smile’ (2004) is already covered elsewhere on this site (as classic album 101). Suffice to say this remake of the long lost Beach Boys original from 1966/67 is every bit as daring, inventive, memorable and moving as you’ve been lead to believe, played sensitively by Brain’s new backing group The Wondermints and Brain and lyricist Van Dyke Parks’ few attempts to tie up the loose ends are wonderfully unobtrusive (only on ‘Song For Children’ can you see the join). ‘Good Vibrations’ is the most tame and conservative song here! It’s probably worth adding here that some fans who hadn’t heard the band’s 1960s tapes were disappointed by this album, expecting a more cohesive and less sprawling album like ‘Pet Sounds’. Don’t listen to them: ‘Smile’ is as good as music ever gets – and that’s very very good indeed. A definite 10/10 – I’d give it 100/10 if I was allowed to!
‘Gettin’ In Over My Head’ (2003) is another of the mixed bags we’ve come to expect from Brian. Songs like the moving title track, the unreleased and only recently finished duet with brother Carl from the late 70s ‘Soul Searchin’ and the sweet ‘You Touched Me’ are among the best of Brain’s career, certainly his solo career. But the three ‘guest appearances’ tracks with the likes of Eric Clapton, Elton John and Paul McCartney are truly dire – we’d waited years to hear Paul and Brain together and then they end up doing schmaltzy stich such as ‘A Friend Like You’. Nice collage cover by Peter Blake though, the man who designed ‘Sgt Peppers’. 6/10.
‘That Lucky Old Sun’ (2008) has also been covered elsewhere (see ‘news and views 55’). A fascinating, if flawed, concept album centred around a cover of the title track and – possibly – about Brian losing and then re-gaining his creative muse. This album finds Brian and the Wondermints at their ambitious best, although a few ordinary-sounding tracks let the side down. The clear highlight is ‘Midnight’s Another Day’, another truly heart-wrenching fragile song from Brain about losing your way. 7/10.
Dennis Wilson: ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ (1978) - the first solo Beach Boys release - is a truly amazing album. 12 tracks that sound like nothing made before or since, mixing the lyrical emotional impact of ‘Pet Sounds’ with the orchestral ambition of ‘Smile’. Dennis’ raspy voice sounds far more at home in these surroundings than it ever did with The Beach Boys and – barring a couple of iffy tracks on the first side – is a musical treat from beginning to end. The only downside is that the best tracks – added to the CD in its deluxe re-issue in 2008 – are better still and should have come out in the 70s. Highlights: the full scale ecology-with-harmonies attack of ‘River Song’, the eerie ‘Dreamer’ with that wonderful twist in the middle, the sprightly ‘rainbows’ and the lonely ballad ‘You and I’ (although the bonus track ‘Only With You’, much better than the band version from ‘Holland’, is still my favourite). 9/10.
Follow-up ‘Bambuu’ (1979) never officially came out, but as the deluxe CD re-issue of ‘Blue’ showed it was more or less complete. The album isn’t quite as together or as impressive as ‘Blue’ but still contains many many fine songs, the funeral-like ‘It’s Not Too Late’ with brother Carl and the joyous ‘Wild Situation’ being about the best. The eerie and unfinished ‘Holy Man’ (with newly recorded vocals not by Dennis) is also truly moving and its easy to see why the song haunted those who heard it in 1978 for so long. 8/10.
Note: I haven’t yet bought Brain’s festive album ‘All I Really Want For Christmas’ (although the title track – released as a single - is quite fun), either of Carl Wilson’s solo albums (which are meant to be extremely dodgy but are still well overdue for a CD release), any of the recent Al Jardine and Friends CDs or the remaining Mike Love albums.
The best McCartney albums are Ram, Band On The Run (which we haven’t covered yet as its too well known),Venus and Mars, London Town, the severely under-rated Press To Play and Flowers In The Dirt, whilst 2009’s ‘Fireman’ CD ‘Electric Arguments’ is a pretty fine return to form. The ones to avoid are the woefully misjudged new wave album ‘Back To The Egg’, the patchy and instrumental-filled ‘McCartney II’, the light and poppy ‘Pipes Of Peace’ and especially the godawful ‘Flaming Pie’ and ‘Chaos and Creation In The Back Yard’.
As for George Harrison, ‘All Things Must Pass’ and the under-rated ‘George Harrison’ are must-haves for any Beatles fan, whilst the religion-filled ‘Living In The Material World’ and patchy posthumous ‘Brainwashed’ are also recommended for the more passionate fan. The two albums worth your while avoiding are the dull ‘Extra Texture’ (which ironically sounds like it has the same texture all the way through) and the very 1980s ‘comeback’ ‘Cloud Nine’ (which is radio friendly but not very fan friendly, given how shallow most of the songs are).
Ringo is most famous for his ‘Ringo’ album of 1974 with lost of help from ex-Beatles, although its also his shining moment as composer too. I’m also quite fond of the country album ‘Beaucoups of Blues’ from 1972, his ‘Stop And Smell The Roses’ album of 1981 (definitely the best of his post-Lennon albums) and Ringo’s 90s material, ‘Time Takes Time’ and ‘Vertical Man’ plus 2005’s ‘Choose Love’, albums which sill never set the world alight but are well played and with something to say. There is, however, plenty of competition for the nadir of Ringo’s work, with the 1970s ‘Goodnight Vienna’ and ‘Ringo’s Rogotravure’ and virtually all of his 1980s albums like ‘Bad Boy’ and ‘Ringo The Fourth’ submitting entries. The worst might well turn out to be ‘Liverpool 08’, though, a horribly childish album that died a death after the cash-in title track failed to sell and Ringo insulted his home town, losing him many fans as a result.
(taken from later issue):1) Ringo Starr “Y Not?” (2010) I bought this as a present, honest. I don’t go around buying modern Ringo CDs usually (though I did for a while in the 90s when they were actually quite good) but I thought I’d give this vaguely controversial album (yep, Ringo’s being all moody about his home town of Liverpool. Again) a listen. Like many a Ringo album there’s only two tracks worth hearing – ‘Walk With You’, a duet with Paul Mccartney which marks the first time the Beatles have worked together since 1997’s ‘Flaming Pie’ and, surprisingly, ‘The Other Side Of Liverpool’, the track that’s causing all the fuss. Much as I hate hearing celebrities banging on about how horrible their early life was (Liverpool’s been a lot kinder to Ringo than he has to Liverpool after all), this one at least has some clever lines (‘Liverpool is cold and damp – only way out, drums, guitar and amp’ is the best Ringo lyric since ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, even if it’s terribly unfair. Liverpool was a port, Ringo. It’s the best place for any American record-loving teenager of the 1940s to be born. And trust me, even the roughest end of Liverpool wasn’t that much worse than other Northern towns). But hearing some caterwaulingly awful modern singer taking over the last track (I never did find out who it was and I’m afraid of finding out) and the desperate attempts to be modern make you despair. Ringo’s really been missing George’s guest appearances on his last three solo albums – what the hell happened to the man who gave us the fairly promising ‘Time Takes Time’ (1992) and ‘Vertical Man’ (1995)? And where the hell is the re-issue of Ringo’s second best (after 1974’s ‘Ringo’) album ‘Stop and Smell The Roses’ with AAA favourites Stephen Stills and Van Dyke Parks (lyricist on ‘Smile’) taking part? ‘Y?’ might be a better question.
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN:
(I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson (2012)
As only the second member of Belle and Sebastian to go solo (after the surprise runaway success of Isobel Campbell), you'd expect Jackson to have a similarly large amount of songs he wanted to get off his chest. Stevie Jackson is a likeable chap, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of rock and roll even I can’t hope to match and this album features as large an array of ideas, styles and emotions as you’d expect. Through it all, though, Stevie’s love of a basic rock and roll beat shines through. ‘Richie Now’ is particularly interesting, especially the latter which is a re-write of The Kinks’ glorious ‘Do You Remember, Walter?’ about a childhood friend who changes. Richie even had ‘all the Beatles LPs and the Twist and Shout’ EP from 1963’, so he must have been a special kind of guy! The other, glorious song is 'Pure of Heart', with an earnest teenage Stevie trying hard to act all macho and hard because none of the girls go out with him, before finally acknowledging he ought to stay pure of heart, a classy pop song as great as anything Stuart Murdoch has written. It has to be said there’s only two songs here to rival Jackson’s two greatest B+S moments to date ‘Roy Walker’ and ‘Seymour Stein’ though. It’s a shame, though, that the last two rather lesser B+S albums didn’t make more use of Jackson’s talents – had they split half of Murdoch’s songs with the better half of this album ‘Write About Love’ wouldn’t have been such a crushing disappointment.
‘The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band’ (1973) was a misguided attempt by David Geffen to make up his own CSNY based on who he had on his record label. Whilst JD Souther was rarely heard of again (although he does make a guest appearance on CSN’s ‘Live IT Up’ album in 1990), Hillman is The Byrds’ Chris Hillman and Furay is the Springfield’s Richie Furay. Alas, despite both men’s starring role as second-in-command to band leaders, the pair don’t gel with either Souther or each other and, despite some quite impressive harmonies, the trio’s songs have very little in common with each other. This first album’s highlights include Hillman’s storming opener ‘Safe At Home’, which gives the erroneous impression the band are actually working together quite well, Hillman’s despairing song about changing fortunes ‘Rise and Fall’ which is one his best solo songs and Furay’s moving song of earnestness ‘Believe Me’. The other seven songs, however, are truly limp. To think Hillman left Manassas for this! 3/10.
Alas I don’t own the second Souther-Hillman-Furay Band record (much worse than the first, apparently, and most people hate the first), Dewey Martin’s solo album or any of Richie Furay’s other work outside Poco.
Gene Clark: Whilst I am, alas, missing ‘Gene Clark With The Godsin Brothers’ (1967), the ‘American Dreamer’ and ‘The Farmer’ soundtracks (1971 and 1977 respectively), the Dillard and Clark albums (1968-1975) and the two duet albums with Carla Olson (1987 and 1992), I can at least talk about the rest.
‘White Light’ (1971) was the name Gene intended to give his first true solo album, which mistakenly came out as plain ‘Gene Clark’ instead. It’s a suitably moody and evocative album, completely removed from Gene’s 1960s Byrds material but very much in the early 70s singer-songwriterly folky vein. None of the tracks are truly amazing but nor are any of them bad, with the highlight for me the moving ballad ‘Because Of You. 6/10.
‘Roadmaster’ (1973), which was released in Holland a full 13 years before Europe and America caught on in 1986, is actually an unfinished record released when Edsel gave up waiting for Clark to finish his next album. Considering all that, its surprisingly good for the most part, especially the two dreamy Byrds reunion tracks ‘She’s The Kind Of Girl’ and ‘One In A Hundred’ and the closing trilogy on side two, ‘In A Misty Mountain’ ‘Shooting Star’ and I Really Don’t Want To Know’ (note: some pressings of the album sequence the songs in a different order, which is a shame as I love the hypnotic feeling of this closing section on my copy). Much under-rated and probably Gene’s best solo album of all, incomplete or not. 7/10.
‘No Other’ (1974) has become something of a cult classic with collectors now, occasionally making its way into top 100 record lists. This is in stark contrast to its reputation in 1974 when it was dismissed as being an expensive flop by its record label Asylum, costing a then-record amount to record and selling a paltry few thousand copies. The truth lies somewhere in between: this is an impressive forward-thinking record and some tracks, like the highlights ‘Silver Raven’ and ‘From A Silver Phial’ are very powerful. But there’s something lacking about this album, which rarely varies its tempo or mood throughout and at eight tracks from such a prolific writer it sells itself a bit too short. 5/10.
Finally, ‘Firebyrd’ (1984) is a low budget release from small label Making Waves who had barely pressed up the first batch of albums before they went into receivership. Very few fans got to hear it at the time, but luckily a CD release came out after Gene’s death in 1991 which is far more common. Considering that a good three albums’ worth of material from the same era remains un-released, this is a frustratingly ordinary record, complete with re-makes of two Byrds tracks which smacks of record-company-wanting-a-hit-desperation. Still, Gene’s vocal is still strong in this period and his reading of Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ far eclipses the original, for me anyway. ‘Rain Song’ is also quite an impressive piece, showing Gene still had the talent when someone took an interest in his music. 4/10.
Chris Hillman: Alas, I am missing the final two Hillman albums ‘Morning Sky’ (1982) and ‘Desert Rose’ (1984), as well as albums by the later ‘Desert Rose Band’ under Hillman’s leadership and the two albums with Rice, Rice and Pederson. I have also missed out the ‘Manassas’ albums from this list (some fans think of them as solo albums, but can’t decide if they’re solos by Stephen Stills or Hillman!) See ‘Buffalo Springfield’ above for the ‘Souther-Hillman-Furay Band’ LP.
‘Slippin’ Away’ (1976) is a disappointment. After 11 years of recordings with The Hillmen, The Byrds, Manassas and the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, the world finally got to hear Chris on his own – and 10 tracks later we still don’t know him very well. ‘Slippin’ Away’ is just your standard 1970s session musician fare, rarely breaking sweat and with very little to say although none of it is bad on its own terms, just bland. Only the catchy title track and the superb Manassas leftover ‘Witching Hour’ (by Stills, not Hillman, incidentally – Stills’ version only came out in 2009) make any impression at all. 2/10.
‘Clear Sailin’ (1977) is much more like it. Hillman’s break up with his third wife inspired several strong songs of guilt and separation and the few covers here all fit the album ‘s themes of loss well. The intriguing rock-ballad hybrids ‘Fallen Favourite’ and the sublime ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’ are the stand-outs, full of pathos and inventiveness we hadn’t seen from Hillman since 1968. Not every track is up to this standard, but thankfully none of them are as bad as on the last LP. 7/10.
Roger McGuinn: I currently own two McGuinn solo albums and I am reliably informed that both of them are probably his weakest (which might explain why I’ve delayed seeking the others out for so long!)
‘Roger McGuinn and Band’ (1975). Truly awful. The band sound decidedly pedestrian and their domination of the writing credits – leaving Roger just four songs (two of them re-makes) – is not funny. Especially when one of the recycled tracks, ‘Born To Rock ‘n’ Roll’, was already pretty much the worst Byrds song ever and certainly the weakest on their 1973 reunion LP. However there are two highlights: ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ was never my favourite Dylan track but this ambling version does have its moments, whilst the re-make of ‘Untitled’s ‘Lover Of The Bayou’ is nicely raw and dangerous, even if its not up to the Byrds’ original. Still give it a miss though – my ears are still hurting and I haven’t played this album in three years! 1/10.
‘Back From Rio’ (1991) The first McGuinn release of any kind in 14 years is suitably understated, despite guest appearances from Crosby and Tom Petty. Roger has successfully updated his sound for the 1990s, making a much better first of sounding ‘modern’ than many of the artists on this list, but alas his songwriting is still pretty weak given that he had 14 years to make this album. The best track by far is ‘Car Phone’, complete with its ridiculous eight-mile-High-like guitar solo, but the fact that such a throwaway becomes the best thing on the album says it all. 3/10.
McGuinn, Clark and Hillman: When three of the original Byrds got back together in the late 70s, I wondered if they’d guess that they’d end the project every bit as divided as they were in 1968. There was talk of the band reviving the old name, which thankfully was passed over in an attempt to relaunch the band for the late 70s, thankfully because while this band is tuneful and well made as anything The Byrds did, ‘McGuinn, Clark and Hillman’ (1979) hardly in the same league as far as originality. The band scored a hit with the reggae throwaway ‘Don’t You Write Her Off’, but its Gene Clark’s fascinating epic ‘Backstage Pass’, about a nervous performer gaining his confidence on stage who sounds awfully like the man himself and the Hillman-sung cover ‘Release Me Girl’ which are the best of a faceless bunch. 4/10.
‘City’, by McGuinn and Hillman and ‘featuring’ Gene Clark, is yet another of those Byrds albums recorded in the middle of a split. Yet, despite the fact he only gets two songs this time, its still Gene Clark’s material that shines through, especially the seemingly-autobiographical ‘Won’t Let You Down’ about a character whose changed his wayward ways and is fully committed to a new project. Alas, in the turbulent life of Gene Clark a song like this was just wishful thinking and this album was robbed of his presence on most of the rest of the songs. The rockier, harder edge given to the album by McGuinn and Hillman is much more fitting than the slick cod-reggae of the first LP, though, and this album packs more punches than the rest of the Byrd solo albums on this list. 5/10.
David Crosby: ‘If Only I Could Remember My Name’ (1971) has already been covered – as review no 45 – and is a gem, its choral folky sound unlike any other Crosby album solo or otherwise. The many guest appearances by members of the CSNY family, Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane can’t obscure the fact that this album is Crosby to a tee – delightfully weird tunings, jazzy improvisations, sensitive lyrics and melodies to die for. The only downside is that there was never really a follow-up: the next solo album won’t be till 1989 when Crosby is a long way away from writing songs like these. Highlight: the philosophical ‘Laughing’, simply one of the greatest songs of all time. 9/10.
‘Oh Yes I Can!’ (1989), Crosby’s second record, delayed by nigh-on 20 years after various CSNY projects and a drug addiction that saw the musician serve an 18 month prison sentence. Much of the album dates back to the late 70s and an album rejected by Atlantic, seemingly because CSNY were deeply out of fashion. Although that album would have run horribly short, many of the tracks – such as ‘Melody’ and ‘Flying Man’ – are still among Crosby’s best and appear here, 10 years later, more or less unchanged. Alas many of Crosby’s later tracks written to pad out the album, such as the drug metaphor ‘Monkey and The Underdog’ and the written-for-soundchecks-joke ‘Drop Dead Mama’, are among his worst ever. The highlight is a toss-up between the gorgeous 1970s track ‘Distances’, perhaps the best song Crosby has written on one of his favourite themes of mis-communication, and ‘Tracks In the Dust’, a four-way conversation about hope and reform that updates Crosby’s 60s and 70s hippie persona with a song about how revolutions are never black and white in who they help and hinder. 7/10.
‘Thousand Roads’ (1993) is a bit of a lost opportunity. Crosby only writes or co-writes two tracks (one with Joni Mitchell) but neither are particularly good. The rest are covers, mainly taken from contemporary writers of the 1990s that Crosby admired. This album shows off both Crosby’s fine voice, only slightly dimmed with age by this time, and his good choice in material – but alas this album seems impersonal and could have been made by any one, featuring none of Crosby’s usual characteristics or quirks. The best song is a choice between the poppy coverage, which sounds remarkably like 1980s Hollies, the dreamy ‘Columbus’ or the moving death-wish song ‘Too Young To Die’. There are many tracks you’ll want to skip though. 5/10.
Stephen Stills: ‘Stephen Stills’ (1970) itself is a well loved and well regarded album by CSNY aficionados and ‘Laurel Canyon’ collectors alike. It’s also staggeringly eclectic and powerful considering its the 5th album made by Stills in just two years. However, it’s not my pick of the best Stills releases as the songs are sometimes a little too stuck on one idea without the twists and turns that made the Manassas albums so memorable (neither of which are covered here, although many think of them as Stills solo albums). Still, though, there is much to admire, from the hit single ‘Love The One You’re With, to the slow-burning ‘To A Flame’ – one of Stills’ best ballads – and guest appearances by Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix (a fortnight after the latter died – the album was pulled at the last minute and a dedication to Stills’ friend added to the sleeve). The highlight, though, is the fascinating ‘Sit Yourself Down’, a classic song about taking on too much and not knowing when to stop which could be the work-addicted Stills’ theme song. 7/10.
‘Stephen Stills II’ (1971) is no 48 on the list – although passed over by many fans this album is even better than its predecessor, being a much more varied set. It’s 12 tracks are more or less split four ways between pop songs, rock songs, ballads and epic orchestral pieces featuring the might of a blaring horn section. Many fans find this album too much in one go, but taken in bits it’s highly revealing about Stills’ craft and honesty and there are many tracks that are among the best in the CSNY canon. The highlight is perhaps Stills’ greatest ever song, the chilling acoustic blues of ‘Word Game’, which somehow manages to damn every blinkered racist across time without coming across as preachy. 9/10.
‘Stills’ (1975) has also been covered on this list – as review no 65 – and is the end of a staggering run of form that has seen Stills been involved with no less than five albums good enough to be on this list in just six years. It’s a much more mature and wiser album than before, passing over the energy of old for some even deeper insights into the psyche of Stills as family man, annoyed at himself for still making the same old mistakes. It’s a really lovely album this one without a single bad track and a fascinating cover of the obscure Neil Young song ‘New Mama’ rewritten as rock classic, but the highlight is probably Stills’ multi-layered ‘Love Story’, with the two damaged-in-the-past characters successfully dancing round each other before committing themselves. The closing melancholic ‘Myth Of Sisyphus’ is pretty moving too. 9/10.
‘Illegal Stills’ (1976) starts a run of patchy Stills solo albums, although there are still plenty of highlights. The opener ‘Buyin’ Time’ about the mid-1970s recession is about the best of the bunch, along with the catchy ‘Closer To You’, although Stills is showing signs of tiredness with so many tracks given over to protégé and Richie Furay sound-alike Donnie Dacus. 5/10.
‘Thoroughfare Gap’ (1978) has been much maligned in CSN/Y books down the ages, but considering its unloved reputation I’ve always been impressed with it. Disco was never the greatest genre that ever lived but I nominate Stills as being the best writer for the medium – the opening ‘You Can’t Dance Alone’, with the Bee Gees’ younger brother Andy on vocals, is truly exciting and tracks like ‘We Will Go On’ and the hilarious (once at least) ‘Can’t Get No Booty’ are good fun too. Yes there are some poor tracks and it’s hardly the deepest album Stills ever wrote, but there’s still plenty of evidence of his talent. 6/10.
‘Right By You’ (1984) is also a bit better than its reputation will tell you, without being in any way up to the strength of the early 70s run of albums. This album tries a lot harder than its predecessors, both to have a contemporary sound (wghich sounds horribly dated now) and to be somewhat deeper, but ironically this album is best when it keeps things simple – such as ‘Grey To Green’ about a girl whose eyes change colour depending on her emotions, the atmospheric ‘Stranger’ and ‘Come Again’ with the classic Stills line ‘love is an accident of faith’. Under-rated, even if the ssssllloooowww cover of Neil’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ is one of the worst cover versions of all time, completely missing the point of the song and the long awaited Chris Hillman reunion on ‘No Hiding Place’ is truly awful. 5/10.
‘Man Alive’ (2006) was a big shock when it came out in more ways than one. The first solo release from Stills in 15 years (see below it came without warning after several years of hearing how Stephen was stock-piling his better tracks from CSNY projects for the album. Alas it was a huge disappointment – Stills’ fine gravelly voice is all but shot and his writing skills either re-tread tires and tested ideas badly or are so simplistic it hurts. The too-bad-to-be-a-charity-single ‘Feed The People’ is one of Stills’ worst songs of all and the commercial, simplistic commercial feel makes a bad song worse. But there are highlights: the closing 12-minute epic ‘Spanish Suite’ doesn’t quite take off but is one of Stills’ most ambitious tracks in years, while the reading of the traditional ‘Different Man’ with a guesting Neil Young is pretty darn good. 3/10.
Graham Nash: ‘Songs For Beginners’ (1971) is already covered on our site proper – as review no 46 – and is a forgotten gem, an equal mix of breathlessly happy hippie harmony heaven and moody emotional pieces about the singer’s troubled relationship with Joni Mitchell. There are almost as many guests as on Crosby’s first LP and- again – they don’t get in the way of the charismatic Nash. The highlight is the moving follow-up to ‘King Midas In Reverse’, ‘I Used To Be A King’, although this album works best as one long mood piece, without a single bad track to be found. 8/10.
‘Wild Tales’ (1973) is a much more up-and-down affair, suffering greatly from Nash’s astonishing output in the early 70s (one CSN, two CSNY, two solo and one Crosby-Nash album in four years). The album is also rather more dark and nasty than its predecessor, born in part from the sudden and violent death of Nash’s girlfriend of the time Nancy, murdered by her own brother. Not that you’d know that from the lyrics, which deal with love less than on any other Nash release, but the sinister atmosphere is there quite a lot of the time. Even though the three country tracks are among the worst Nash ever released, its the album’s highlights that stay with you, from the simple ‘I Miss You’ to the extraordinarily moving ‘Another Sleep Song’. 6/10.
‘Earth and Sky’ (1979) is a forgotten album recorded during CSN’s lowest ebb, when record companies didn’t want to know and Crosby’s drug addiction wrecked any chance of the lengthy get-together record labels demanded. ‘Earth and Sky’ is another mood piece that rarely changes tempo or sound from one track to the next (barring the album’s only two rockers which close out both sides on the original vinyl) and is another impressive and consistent release, even if none of the individual tracks match those on the two albums above. Nash is also firmly in love with wife Susan, with more love songs here than ever before, but some of the tracks about family life – like the album’s highlight ‘Magical Child’ – are the right side of mawkishness and are very good indeed. ‘Barrel Of Pain’ is also a fine update of CSN’s ecological songs of the early 70s, complete with ‘new wave’ backing. 6/10.
‘Innocent Eyes’ (1986) falls in every ‘contemporary’ trap going, however, a curious release that – like Crosby’s ‘Thousand Roads’ – seems to be doing its best to undermine everything we associate with Nash. The result is a truly oddball album, full of some truly awful simplistic sloganeering songwriting and a bunch of faceless covers, although album highlights like the moving ‘Sad Eyes’ and the song-of-friendship to the ailing Crosby ‘Glass and Steel’ are still well worth owning. 2/10.
NOTE: Shockingly I am still missing two of the rarer CSN-related releases, ‘Stills Alone’ from 1991 (which recycles many old songs in acoustic format, not always successfully according to most books) and Graham Nash’s ‘Song’s For Survivors’ from 2004 (which is a patchy but semi-impressive release given both what I’ve read and what I know from Nash’s box set ‘Reflections’). Neil Young’s songs have not been covered in this section (because there’s blooming 60-odd of them, about 10 now reviewed on our site!)
DAVID KNOPFLER: ‘Behind The Lines’ (1984): First up, though, is this forgotten record by Mark’s younger brother, a member of the band for the first two records. Whilst it would never win any awards this album is a slick but intriguing record. David might not match Mark in terms of songwriting but his playing nicely emulates his elder brother’s here and is evidence of a forgotten talent. 4/10.
Mark Knopfler: ‘Local Hero’ (1984) is the soundtrack to a very successful film which isn’t very Dire Straits-ish but does reveal Knopfler’s passion for atmospheric folky music with keyboards. Dire Straits’ Alan Clark should arguably have pushed for a co-credit, given that he gets more to do on this record than on most band LPs. Very few tracks are ‘songs’, more moody instrumentals, but if you treat this album as an intriguing second-class record rather than on a par with ‘Brothers In Arms’ its still quite rewarding. The title and moody atmospherics of one track, ‘The Mist Covered Mountains’, is arguably the influence for the title track of the Brothers In Arms’ record. 5/10.
‘Missing...Presumed Having A Good Time’ (1993): A forgettable retro album, ostensibly by the ‘Notting Hillbillies’ but dominated by Knopfler, which sounds like a lesser Travelling Wilburys. Released in the wake of the last Dire Straits album, this dead end is no substitute and like many of these albums sounds like a lot more fun to record than to listen to. 1/10.
‘Golden Heart’ (1998): Another disappointing set, Mark’s first solo release ‘proper’, which is nearly all acoustic and on which mark sounds like a pub singer. I haven’t played my copy in years – in fact I seem to have lost it somewhere as I can’t find it – but I won’t lose too much sleep over that! 2/10. Update: I've found it again and - after a space of ten odd years - it sounds rather better to me now, after knowing Mark's other solo albums instead of being hit with it post-Dire Straits. It's still a fairly weak album though with only 'I'm The Fool' really standing out. Perhaps a 3/10?
‘Sailing To Philadelphia’ (2000): Much much better. The muse is clearly back with Knopfler as this far more varied and assertive album would have been a best-seller with Dire Straits’ name attached. The highlight is the subtle storytelling of ‘Prairie Wedding’, although the sweet ‘Silvertown Blues’ isn’t far behind.6/10.
‘Shangri-La’ (2004): Keeps up the good work, courtesy of some fine ballads which are again the class of the field, but also a truly energetic and fired-up backing band. The eerie, unusual closer ‘Don’t Crash The Ambulance’ is perhaps the biggest highlight, quite unlike anything Knopfler has written before, but the catchy single ‘Boom, Like That’ is the one you’ll still be singing when the record ends. Note the presence of Neil Young sideman regular, drummer Chad Cromwell, in the credits. 6/10.
‘All The Road Runnings’ (2006), a duet with Emmylou Harris, is impressive and frustrating in equal measure. Stylistically the two songwriters match, with several good ideas that really show off a sensitivity and observance of real life, although its a shame they didn’t co-write more across the album. Vocally, though, this is an often painful album to listen to as the pair have nothing harmonically in common and often sound tired on this album. The single ‘This Is Us’ and the comparatively hard-edged ‘Right Now’ are as good as it gets. 3/10.
‘Kill To Get Crimson’ (2007) is an attempt to change Mark’s image from the title on down. But the better tracks aren’t the ones where Knopfler comes over all shrieky and modern, they’re the ones where he shows off his confidence at what he does best: retro rockers (thankfully much more inspired than on the Notting Hillbillies album) and acoustic bluesy roots song (again, far better than on ‘Sacred Heart’. Highlights are the storytelling parable ‘The Fish And The Bird’, the trance-like ‘Scaffolder’s Wife’ and the why-I-became-a-songwriter ‘Heart Full Of Holes’. 6/10.
Jerry Garcia: ‘Cats Under The Stars’ (1978) is the album that might have been between ‘Terrapin Station’ and ‘Shakedown Street’. In many ways, its better than either, if slightly too soporific and repetitive for its own good. The presence of the Godchauxs, especially Donna, makes more sense here than on most Dead albums as they suit this album’s folky, intimate climate much more. Some of the tracks, such as ‘Rubin and Cherise’, the title track and ‘Rain’, could easily have become well-loved Dead tracks (indeed, the former often appeared in their concerts in the 1979-80 period). But without the other members of the Dead present Jerry isn’t pushing himself to the limits and you really are crying out for him to rock out just once after hearing this album complete. 6/10.
‘The Jerry Garcia band’ (1991) is one of many extra-curricular releases from this period that didn’t sell well, but luckily unlike the others this one has made its way into my collection. It’s a collection of live songs, for the most part extended tremendously past their normal limit, which features some oddities such as The Beatles’ ‘Dear Prudence’ and the highlight, a solo Garcia song from the early 70s ‘Deal’. There are too many songs that sound the same again, though. 4/10.
Robert Hunter ‘Tiger Rose’ (1975): A typically eccentric record which – unlike the writer’s other LPs – features guest appearances by the Dead throughout, under a long list of wild and wacky pseudonyms. None of it is up to the Dead’s band standards – and by his own admission Hunter is not a natural vocalist – but the songs are always quirky and quite unlike anything else you’ll ever hear. 5/10.
Allan Clarke: ‘My Real Name Is ‘Arold’ (1972): Considering Clarkey was itching to make this album and enjoy the same success as Nash, effectively breaking up The Hollies to get it made, this first record is quite a timid and unsure album. The title – and cover – find Clarke ‘stripping’ away the past to become more honest with us, telling us his real name along the way (‘Allan’ was a name he adopted very early on in life), but this isn’t a confessional album in a ‘Plastic Ono Band’ or even The Hollies’ ‘Confessions Of A Mind’ sense, just a slick album of songs. Having said that, the rocking and eccentric ‘St Francis Of Assisi (Let Us Prey)’ is well up to the Hollies’ standards and the sweet ballads ‘Mary Skeffington’ and ‘Patchwork Quilts’ are to-notch ballads. The best track might well be the Halloween special ‘Walpurgis Night’, though, which sounds like Queen, but better. Long overdue for CD release. 6/10.
‘Headroom’ (1973) is already covered on this list – see review no 57 – and is by far the best of the solo Hollies. The songs are impressive, equally split between heavy analysis and light and fluffy ballads and the backing crew are on truly rocking form, spinning the majority of the songs out with scintillating extended fades. There’s also a re-write of Hollies classic ‘Would You Beleive?’ Majestic in almost every way, the only thing missing to make this a 10/10 classic are those familiar Hollies harmonies. 9/10.
‘Allan Clarke’ (1974) was recorded when Clarkey was back with the band he’d founded, but as a result he has far less songs to go round for both projects. This album benefits from some strong songs choices (the very first Bruce Springsteen covers – tie-in single ‘Born To Run’ should have come out before The Boss’ own version), but there’s also far too much lumpy uninspired filler here, unworthy of Clarke’s tremendous talents as a singer. The highlight is the gorgeous if overly dramatic ‘I Wanna Sail Right Into Your Life’, co-written by two sets of Clarke’s regular co-writers, Rogers Cook and Greenaway and Herbie Flowers. 5/10.
‘I’ve Got Time’ (1976) is slightly more polished but actually slightly more heartfelt, despite the continued lack of Clarke in the writing credits. Clarke’s singing is top-notch as always, but the backing band aren’t on the run of form they showed on the last two LPs and again the album is frustratingly hit-and-miss. Ther highlights are the moving ballad ‘Sunrise’, the strident ‘Hallelujah Freedom!’ and the pop classic ‘Stand By Me’ (no, not the Ben E King version, but a good song nevertheless). 6/10.
‘I Wasn’t Born Yesterday’ (1978) finds Clarkey re-configuring his voice for the post-punk/new wave audience and although I’ve met plenty of fans and critics who love it, for me this is Clarkey’s weakest release. Whilst Clarkey is back to cow-riting the majority of them, there’s nothing here up to the standard of that year’s Hollies album ‘A Crazy Steal’ and even that was hardly one of the band’s best. The single ‘Shadow In The Street’, about someone refusing to take no for an answer, sums up Clarke’s attitudes to the solo career he always wanted, but he wasn’t likely to find it with this set of material. The classy ‘Hope’ (though I’m still confused over the ‘Salvador Dali Inspiration’ note on the sleeve), the moody ‘No Prisoner Taken’ and the fascinating ‘Manufacturer Of Daydreams’ (which –grr – is missing from the most common CD version which has this album as a double with next LP ‘The Only Ones’) are the only things that are likely to catch the ear. Needless to say, Clarkey’s vocals are great though. 4/10.
‘The Only Ones’ (1980) is much better, even if it’s the hardest to find of all these albums. The presence of the mighty ‘Sanctuary’, a track perhaps more familiar from The Hollies’ ‘Rarities’ set but re-recorded here, does much to help this album’s reputation, but it’s the album’s closing suite: the song about childhood reminiscence when the world was safe ‘Imagination’s Child’ and the bittersweet nostalgia of ‘Legendary Heroes’ that makes this one of Clarkey’s more fascinating products. However, the best track is the lengthy ‘Survivor’, a song that’s equal parts Air That I Breathe and Long Cool Woman, switching between moody aching ballad and proud triumphant rocker in a truly satisfying way. 7/10. Note – there is a seventh and final Clarke album ‘Reasons To Believe’ (1992), but it was only ever available in Germany (judging by the title track – which did make it over here as a single – its a fine, poppy album remade in an 80s/90s style similar to The Hollies’ ‘What Goes Around’).
Terry Sylvester ‘Terry Sylvester’ (1974): Unwilling to let Clarke and Nash take all the solo plaudits, Graham’s replacement tried his hand at a bland but likeable LP, made up of several slow ballads which also featured re-makes of a couple of his Hollies songs (including a third appearance for ‘Pick Up The Pieces Again’!) The backing band sound woefully slick and insincere in places, but the presence of the hippest a capella group The King’s Singers adds a great deal to the tracks. The best thing by far is Mike Hazelwood’s, co-writer of Air That I Breathe, ‘The Trees, The Flowers And The Shame’, a song about an adolescent couple who defy their family’s disgust at their newborn child and make a happy house together which would have made for a fine Hollies single. 6/10.
There are also two albums Terry made after The Hollies with James Griffin, of which only the first self-titled LP came out in Britain (and even then, only very briefly). The album is a sort of cross between The Hollies and Leo Sayer, with Griffin very much taking the lead for the most part. The pair’s harmonies do go nicely together, though and the album’s single ‘Please Come Into My Life’, the album’s highlight, deserved to do much better. 5/10.
THE HUMAN LEAGUE:
Philip Oakey/Giorgio Moroder: ‘Philip Oakey/Giorgio Moroder’ (1985): Most fans know this album’s spin-off single ‘Together In Electric Dreams’, which as well as being a top three hit has deservedly made it into most of the League compilation albums over the years. Not many fans seem to know there was an album attached which, surprisingly after the single’s success, sold really badly. In truth, there’s nothing on this record that’s the equal of the single, but nor is it that bad – in League terms I’d put it just under ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Romantic?’ and just above ‘Crash’. ‘Electric Dreams’ aside, the highlights are probably ‘Good Times, Bad Times, the most League-like track here, and the poppy Valerie. 5/10.
Paul Kantner/Grace Slick: ‘Blows Against The Empire’ (1971), no 44 on the list, is an out and out classic, a fascinating rock opera of a bunch of hippies taking over a spaceship built for imperialism and going out on their own long voyage of happiness. Despite the plot, this album hasn’t dated a bit and the music – built round Grace’s very individual block chord piano playing and feedback drenched guitar, has a sound unlike any other. It would be unfair to list a highlight – this is practically all one long highlight, with only ‘The Baby Tree’ falling short. The presence of other San Franciso luminaries from the Dead and CSN families is the icing on the cake. 10/10.
‘Sunfighter’ (also 1971) is more of the same, a marvellous hippie album celebrating the birth of the couple’s daughter China (that’s here on the cover) and the sense of values held by San Franciscans in the day. The album can’t compete with its predecessor – what can? – and the closing track ‘Holding Together’ is one of the most unlistenable things the pair ever made, but by and large this is another impressive album. Grace’s acerbic ‘Silver Spoon’ is one of her fiercest songs, celebrating sex and seemingly cannibalism at the same time, whilst ‘China’ finds her at her most contented in motherhood. The biggest highlight, however, is the pair’s ‘When I Was A Child I watched The Wolves’, a glorious evocative song about how humans travel in packs and submerge their own individuality. 8/10.
‘Baron Vol Tolbooth And The Chrome Nun’ (with Quicksilver’s David Freiberg) is yet more of the same, with slightly diminishing returns. ‘The Ballad Of The Chrome Nun’ is Slick at her feistiest, this time damning Christianity, whilst ‘Across The Boards’ is an equally chilling diatribe against the male sex. The rest of the album, though, seems almost passionless, simply drifting away on a sea of production values. This works well on Kantner’s ‘Your Mind Has Left Your Body’, perhaps the ultimate hippie song taking in everything from the afterlife to second consciousness to mankind’s creation, but it makes the rest of the album sound a bit lifeless. 6/10.
The KBC Band ‘The KBC Band’ (1993): The KBC stands for Kantner-Balin-Cassidy, one of the weirder Jefferson get-together line-ups, and could just as well have stood for ‘KFC’ seeing as this is a woefully lifeless album that could have done with losing a lot of weight. Having said that, I still prefer it to most of the Starship records (as in plain Starship, not Jefferson Starship who are an entirely different line-up), with the last track, a sweet Balin pop-ballad in ‘Miracles’-mode, the best thing here by a country mile. 2/10.
GRACE SLICK: ‘Manhole’ (1973): Not so much a solo record as a continuing of the Kantner/Freiberg projects, this album doesn’t even feature Grace on one track (Kantner’s lilting ‘It’s Only Music’). The trouble with this record is a) most of the best songs were being saved by the trio for the first Jefferson Starship record ‘Dragonfly’ which is its superior in every way and b) no less than 18 minutes are taken up by the title track which is the weakest song here and the least deserving of filling that playing time! The record isn’t a complete disaster though: grace sounds superb on the eccentric ‘?Come Again Toucan?’, shows a delicate and pleasingly folky touch on the opening ‘Jay’ and the closing ‘Epic #38’ is an unheralded Jefferson classic, complete with six false endings! 4/10.
‘Dreams’ (1980) is such a beautiful album I’ve already made sure I’ve covered on the website proper (see news and views no 39). It’s the only one of Grace’s albums that really was intended to launch a solo career – she ended up back with Starship the next year – and is clearly inspired by the guilt caused by her leaving the band after increasing alcohol abuse on the tour. It’s a classy, mature collection of songs vaguely linked by the theme of dreams and ideals, featuring possibly the best use of orchestra across a whole AAA-linked album. Not every track is a classic – ‘Seasons’, especially, is really uncomfortable to sit through – but most of them are spectacular, especially the guilt-ridden autobiography of ‘She’ll Do It The Hard Way’ , in which Grace discusses the downside of her justice-fuelled anger. Magical. 8/10.
‘Welcome To The Wrecking Ball’ (1981) was such a disappointment after falling in love with the above album. Hardly any of the songs are by Slick and the production values, clearly inspired by the punk/new wave rebellion, is so different to the last record you’d be hard pressed to realise it was by the same singer. Grace’s soaring vocals end up barking through this album in clipped sentences like some dodgy pogo-ing punk rocker rather than the psychedelic multi-layered vocalist we know she can be. The only standout song is the weird closer ‘No More Heroes’, which unlike the rest of the album at least has a recognisable theme (politicians letting us down and celebrities sounding all the same), though you won’t want to hear even this track that many times.The nadir of Grace’s career – even the late-period Starship records have more soul than this! 1/10.
‘Software’ (1984) sold abysmally when it came out and is missing from many Jefferson discographies I’ve seen. But even though it’s no classic and suffers too much from the writing partnership of Slick and Jefferson Starship pal Peter Wolf (her biting lyrics and his poppy synths really aren’t the best of bedfellows, even though both are quite strong in their own right), it’s a big improvement on the last record. The record also fails badly in comparison to the Starship’s ‘Nuclear Furniture’ record that year (see review no 87), where Slick and Wolf’s collaboration works an awful lot better. Grace’s luddite song ‘All The Machines’ wins the highlights award by a small nose. 3/10.
Dave Davies: ‘Dave Davies’ aka ‘AFL-13606’ (1980). This record gains most of its marks from its inventive title – the only record I know of that’s named after its barcode! Many of the songs do touch on the related themes of commercialism and the artist being used as a product, but in truth you can’t hear the lyrics all too well – this is a terribly noisy, almost heavy metal album with Dave more involved in reclaiming his position as the inventor of the heavy metal riff than his songwriting. Not that this album is as bad as some people say it is, in the right mood its very enjoyable, but its hardly built for background listening. The lighter-than-most ‘See The Beast’ – about temptation leading mankind astray - is one contender for best moment, as is the singalong and intriguingly Ray-like ‘Imagination’s Real’, about the short line between fantasy and reality. 5/10.
‘Glamour’ (1981) is more of the same but not quite as good, clearly recorded in a hurry after the relative success of the last record and after 16 years of his Kinks career preparing for his big album moment, Dave can’t complete a second album in less than a year with all his best songs saved for Kinks albums. ‘Eastern Eyes’, which is equal parts all-out rocker and eccentric atmospheric ballad, is the best thing here. 4/10.
‘Chosen People’ (1983) is much much better. The songs have a softer edge without becoming softer and the lighter moments that allow us to catch our breath makes the harder-edged rockers all the more powerful as a result. This album is also fused with Dave’s own ideas about spirituality (we’ve said it before many times but Dave really does claim to have spoken to aliens and this album is full of what they told – especially ‘True Story’. And I don’t mean that last sentence in any jeering way as I’m a fellow believer). ‘True Story’ itself is a highlight, along with the dramatic ‘Cold Winter’ and the slow-burning ‘Freedom Lies’, although all three are trumped by the chilling why-are-so-many-people-against-our-love? ‘Is It Any Wonder’, which is the equal of any 1980s Kinks songs. Very impressive with a lot of thought and care – how typical ‘People’ is the worst selling of all three ‘original’ solo records. 8/10.
‘Bug’ (2004) was rather overshadowed when Dave suffered a stroke just before its release, meaning he was missing for most of the publicity for the album which died a death. That’s a shame, not because its Dave best album – much of it is like his first noisy pair – but because of the new direction for Dave’s writing showcased in the middle. ‘Rock You, Rock Me’ is a strong candidate for Dave’s best ballad (very Dave that – the song with ‘rock’ in the title is one of the few on this album that isn’t a rocker), ‘Flowers In The Rain’ is a lovely bittersweet track about Dave’s troubled adolescence and courtship (getting his girlfriend pregnant at the age of 15 and watching his parents conspire to take her out of his life) and ‘Fortis Green’, a terrific nostalgia song for Dave’s childhood in Klassik Kinks mode, complete with oompah-ing brass section. 7/10.
Taken from a later issue of News, Views and Music:
Dave Davies “I Will Be Me” (CD, 2013)
I ought to be getting to used to the sheer shriek and power behind Dave Davies’ solo albums by now (this is number six), but even compared to the others this is noisy. Kinks fans who love the band noisy and grungy (as a sort of updated heavy metal take on ‘You Really Got Me’) will love it for it’s sheer power and refusal to grow old gracefully and yet the problem (as with the first two albums ‘AFL’ and ‘Glamour’) is that there’s no dynamics here: no let-down in steam and speed as there was with albums three and four (‘Chosen People’ and ‘Bug’, the best two out of Dave’s half dozen solo releases). In fact, if you come to this album straight from one of the Kinks’ more lyrical moments such as ‘Waterloo Sunset’ (or any of Ray’s mid-70s concept albums) then you might struggle to recognise the playing at all (this is a noisy, thrashing sound the Kinks stopped playing at all between 1965 and about 1977). Some of the songs are wonderful, such as Dave’s typically quirky opener ‘The Little Green Amp’ where he tells us the old story of slashing his amplifier with a razor blade to get his trademark sound, only for the neighbours to complain. It could easily have got silly, but a poignant middle eight still yearning for girlfriend Sue 50 years on now (who became pregnant by him, aged 15, in 1963 shortly before the Kinks broke big and their respective families ‘split them up’) adds just the right touch of heart to this autobiographical tale. Title track ‘I Will Be Me’ is great too, Dave spitting out his defiance in an update on ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ from 1965. At long last an AAA member tackles the Coalition, too, in the track ‘Living In The Past’ in which ‘The blind lead the blind leading towards death’ and in which the credit crunch came suddenly ‘everyone was still laughing’. Unfortunately, the other 10 songs on the album don’t make much of an impact and seem to pass by in a sea of noise. Worse still, Dave’s voice is still hesitant and awkward after fighting back from the stroke that hit him ten years ago and is at times painful to listen to. Still, that’s not his fault – it’s wonderful to have Dave back at all and far from mellowing him that stroke only seems to have made him stronger and more determined to go back to making music ‘his’ way, without thought to commerciality or – at times – listenability. ‘I Will Be Me’ is far from Dave’s best work but it has much to recommend it if you like your Kinks loud, proud and unbowed. 5/10
Ray Davies: ‘The Storyteller’ (1998) is actually a live recording of Ray’s two-man touring show, which he actually took to plug his ‘unofficial autobiography’ rather than a record, hence all the chat between songs. Even though I’ve missed out most live recordings in this list (which would double in length otherwise!), this recording tweaks the arrangements of so many ‘old’ songs they sound almost new and the presence of no less than six new tracks, based on ideas in the book. A riveting and very angry ‘20th Century Man’ is the best of the old songs, swapping the original’s slow-burning fuse for an all-out screaming attack, while the clever ‘X-Ray’, about mankind’s obsession with looks and Ray’s own childhood fear of a man with a humped back who lived down his street, is the best of the new ones. Oh and there’s also The Ballad Of Julie Finkle, a song that’s very close harmonically to many bold Kinks songs but has new lyrics about ray’s love for a groupie and is one of his most pleasing songs in years. All in all a successful experiment. 7/10.
‘Other People’s Lives’ (2006): A welcome return to the studios, interrupted by the hurricane that destroyed New Orleans where ray spends part of his time nowadays and the infamous mugging when Ray was shot in the leg protecting his girlfriend from a robber. The sheer work that went into this album paid off – just look at all the scribbling out and re-drafts of the lyrics in the booklet – with almost every track going somewhere different and almost all of the songs working (all except ‘Stand Up Comic’, which as Ray admits in his notes, was deliberately written for us not to like it). ‘Next Door Neighbour’ is the most ‘Kinks’ like song, wondering where all Ray’s kindly neighbours throughout his life are nowadays and the depression ballad ‘Over My Head’ is another bright spot. But its the eerie ballad ‘Lonesome Train’ about a restless runaway that wins top marks. Really, though, what’s most impressive about this album is its consistency, something The Kinks were never well known for. 8/10.
‘Workingman’s Cafe’ (2007): It was too much to ask for Ray to keep it up, although I have met some Kinks fans who prefer this record to the last. I think it is fair to say, though, that it sounds a bit rushed coming so soon after its predecessor – and the fact that some songs were passed over for ‘Lives’ doesn’t bode well. There are two good songs though: ‘Morphine Song’, a moving hallucinogenic piece written when Ray was in hospital after the mugging quite unlike any of Ray’s songs we’ve heard before and the very Kinks-like ‘Imaginary Man’ which, once again, questions the ability of man to see between reality and imagination. 4/10.
Note – there is also an EP from 2000, ‘Thanksgivings Day’, which hasn’t been included here as most of it is on either ‘Storyteller’ or ‘Lives’. However the one track unique to this collection – ‘Yours Truly, Confused, N10’ – is a true Ray Davies classic, an open letter to the world’s media moaning all things Britain has got wrong in the 21st century. Like the best Kinks songs it can make you laugh and cry at the same time.
‘Pipe Dream’ (1973) has already been covered on this website – see news and views no 63 – and is a fine album that would have been amazing had Lindisfarne Mark I survived longer than three years. Fans of Hully’s acoustic songs on ‘Fog On The Tyne’ will be very pleased, as there are several similar pieces of social comment here about such subjects as money, drugs and class. The best tracks, though, are the moving ‘For The Bairns’ which somehow manages to be childish and grown-up all at once (with the great life ‘wickedness and strife is only part of living, not life’), the classic where-am-I-going? pop song ‘Song For A Windmill’ and one of Hully’s career best tracks, the hypnotic ‘United States Of Mind’. Only the last two uncomfortable tracks let this album down. Oh and a great cover too, a Magritte painting of a man with his nose in his pipe, referred to in many Hull songs, which reportedly cost record label Charisma a fortune! 8/10.
‘Phantoms’ (1981) has a strange and troubled history – it was first released under the name ‘Isn’t It Strange?’ by a short-lived band called ‘Radiator’ that might have been another Linidsfarne had the six-piece not cost so much on tour. Hull’s seven tracks for the Radiator album are reproduced here along with three new recordings (and three by the other band members on the CD), but by and large its all a bit wishy washy and disappointing, with Hully singing in his ‘sarcastic’ voice more or less throughout instead of the sincerity of ‘Lady Eleanor’ or ‘Clear White Light’. None of the songs are all that promising either, although ‘Walk In The Sea’, played by Lindisfarne in concert, is an overlooked gem and the equal of anything Hully made post-1973. The cover is another Magritte painting, but this time less interesting than the first. 3/10.
Taken from a later issue of News, Views and Music: Micky Dolenz “Remember” (CD, 2012)
It’s been a while since Micky released an album (1992 as far as I can tell) but there’s actually very little difference between this album and ‘Micky Dolenz Puts You To Sleep’. Both are nostalgic albums full of memories from the past and – sadly – are almost all cover-based (in his Monkees heyday Micky wrote songs every bit as good as Goffin-King, Boyce-Hart, Leiber-Stoller and all those other famous songwriting acts the group used to cover). Micky’s voice is older and deeper now and he sensibly doesn’t strain it, which gives something of a pipe-and-slippers feel to the record – in fact had Micky and Dave Davies got together to make half an album each you’d have had the perfect record; just as Dave is too dominantly loud and noisy, however, so this album needs a bit of ‘life’ to get it going. Again, though, there’s much for old fans to enjoy: Micky tackles no less than three old Monkee favourites and whilst ‘I’m A Believer’ is a little obvious a choice (sung in a similar but superior way by writer Neil Diamond on his last LP) the other two are fantastic. ‘Sometime In The Morning’ by Carole King, the highlight of second LP ‘More Of The Monkees’ is a sweet song about first love, rattled off by a teenage Micky in heart-throb mode in 1967 and now revisited as something warmer, more heartfelt and nostalgic, as if the couple are still together some 40 years later. ‘Prithee’ (Better known by Monkees fans as ‘Do Not Ask For Love’) is one of the most famous Monkee outtakes, finally released with Micky singing it in 1987 some 20 years after it was recorded (Peter Tork sings it in the ’33 and 1/3rd TV special’ in 1968). Dispensing with the Elizabethan backdrop of harpsichord and strings, Micky reaches further back in time to make this song a madrigal, complete with a dozen chanting Micky’s. The result isn’t quite up to the original, but it’s still mighty impressive and the song is a great choice, still one of the best Micky ever sang. The real album highlight, though, is ‘Good Morning, Good Morning’, a Beatles song with a Monkees connection (you hear a snatch of it in the last ever Monkees TV episode ‘The Frodis Caper’ written by Micky; Dolenz asked John Lennon for his permission, making this the only time in the 1960s a Beatles song was ever heard on television outside of a fab four appearance). One of Lennon’s most under-rated songs, it misses the punchy strings and grungy McCartney guitar of the original but fits the album’s slowed-down nostalgic mood really well (‘Taking a walk by the old school’). It’s a more adventurous choice than yet another cover of ‘In My Life’ anyway! Overall, then, there’s maybe four songs from ‘Remember’ that are, well, memorable – the rest really aren’t up to much, but the peaks of the album make up for some of the lesser moments.
Mike Nesmith: ‘The Witchita Train Whistle Sings’ (1968): Mike’s album have always been hard to get hold of, although life has got a lot easier for the Monkees collector since first Camden and then Edsel got round to re-issuing them all on CD. This first album – recorded at the end of the ‘Pisces, Aquarius’ sessions– is the rarest, a bizarre brass band-and-orchestra instrumental album covering four of Mike’s already-released Monkees tracks and no less than five songs that appear on either late-period Monkees LPs or solo Nesmith albums. One track, the decidedly country ‘Don’t Cry Now’ – which ends with Peter Tork doing his favourite warm-up piece Cripple Creek on banjo - has never appeared in any other form. As you can probably tell, this album has confused the heck out of collectors over the years, although like its close cousin ‘Thrillington’ (Paul McCartney revisiting his ‘Ram’ album) on its terms its quite good in a what-Nesmith-could-have-sounded-like-in-a-parallel-universe-where-rock-and-roll-never-happened kind of a way. The album was also allegedly a tax dodge, when Nesmith balked at the amount of money the state were taking from his first big Monkees cheque and made this album as a write-off instead, although he’s denied that story since. The highlight has to be ‘While I Cried’, one of Mike’s highlights with The Monkees anyway, and even though this version is almost unrecognisable it has the same yearning melody and one of the more interesting arrangements on the album. 4/10.
‘Magnetic South’ (1970) is the first solos album ‘proper’ with backing by the 1st National Band. This album pretty much follows on where Mike’s country songs for The Monkees finished off (especially the outtakes on Missing Links III), with several Monkees rejects such as ‘Nine Times Blue’, ‘Little Red Rider’ and ‘Calico Girlfriend’ which don’t sound a patch on the earlier recordings (this album is a very low budget down-to-earth kind of experience compared to the often grandiose Monkees-era Nesmith recordings) but the songs are still great. In fact, this was quite a pioneering album for the time, uniting country and rock in a way that hadn’t been heard outside The Byrds (and, mixed bag that it is, I much prefer this album to the woeful ‘Sweethearts Of The Rodeo’). The single ‘Joane’ is one of the better songs, complete with Nesmith’s unexpected yodelling falsetto, and the brief ‘1st National Rag’ reveals that Nesmith still had his Monkeesy sense of humour, but the consistency isn’t as high as with other Nesmith records, with the dragging all-out country ‘Keys To The Car’ the worst offender. 5/10.
‘Loose Salute’ (1970) came out just four months after its predecessor and yet against all odds it’s a much more rounded and consistent album. The Monkees outtake favourite ‘Carlisle Wheeling’ finally makes it onto record under the name ‘Conversations’ after no less than seven attempts and although this slowed-down dramatic version is far from the best it’s still the highlight of the record, along with a throwaway re-recording of ‘Listen To The Band’ which sacrifices sincerity for fun. The country pop of ‘Silver Moon’ and the curious stop-start ‘Hello Lady’ are probably the best of the new material. 6/10.
‘Nevada Fighter’ (1971) is probably my favourite of the Nesmith LPs, containing no less than three absolute classic in the moody Harry Nilsson cover ‘Rainmaker’ (his best song, I reckon), Nesmith’s own glorious ‘Propinquity’ about fighting out that someone close to you has been in love with you for years without you knowing, which has one of Nesmith’s greatest ever melodies and the fascinating ‘I Looked Away’ which starts off as straightforward country-rock romp and descends into chaos as the narrator’s life unravels, before getting it all back together again by the end. Alas the other tracks aren’t up to this high standard, with the slow and dreary cover of the traditional ‘Tumbling Tumbelweeds’ especially heavy going, but for the most part this is a strong album. 8/10.
‘Tantamout To Treason’ (1972) is a bit of a backward step, with the second National Band now backing Nesmith – a much rockier combo than the first. Alas, this album is full of all-out rockers with country twinges and the balance is tipped too far to noise with some truly unlistenable and unmemorable fare here. The highlight by far is ‘Wax Minute’ which is similar to ‘I Looked Away’ from the last album, mixing its sweet and light and dark and off-tune verses in a way that makes it one of Nesmith’s more satisfying epics. Alas that care and attention seems to be missing from most of the rest of the album. 3/10.
‘And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ (1972) was Nesmith’s sarcastic take on his poor-selling status – and yet, ironically, many of the songs here are indeed his best known to Monkees fans. ‘Different Drum’ was actually Nesmith’s first ever published song and a hit for Linda Ronstadt in 1965, the year before The Monkees and Mike sings it well. ‘Harmony Constant’ is another lovely song, promising that the narrator’s love for his girl is the only thing that won’t change in his wayward life and ‘Two Different Roads’ is a glorious Monkees-like pop song about going separate ways. Many fans now consider this album their favourite and it may well be the strongest and most consistent collection of Nesmith material. Alas, though, the musicianship levels are reduced further still with only Nesmith and pedal steeliest Red Rhodes on hand and this album could have been so much better with a full band to do them justice. Many fans like ‘Hits’ for its space and simplicity, though, so see what you think. 7/10.
‘Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash’ (1973) is another pretty good album, even though at just seven tracks (one of them a medley) it sells itself a bit short. Given the archive-delving and speed at which these albums were being made I’m amazed the lovely ‘Some Of Shelley’s Blues’ had been passed over until now as it’s a great song, the equal of any from the end of the Monkees days. ‘Continuing’ is another strong song, perhaps the best mix of country and rock yet, while the strident parable ‘Winonah’ and the lilting closing ballad ‘Prairie Lullaby’ is also strong. The only misfire is the badly recorded made-up-as-we-go-along ‘Back Porch And A Fruit Jar Full Of Iced Tea’ and even that can work quite well if you’re in the right mood. If only this album was longer though. 7/10.
‘The Prison’ (1974) and ‘The Garden’ (1994) are fascinating, multi-media projects which contain a short story and a record of mainly instrumental music which are designed to tweak the listener/reader’s emotions when experienced at the same time. It doesn’t quite come off like that – although the middle section of ‘The Garden’ comes closest – and the project will probably infuriate most of Nesmith’s casual fanbase, but despite both record’s rather poor reputation I was dead impressed with these albums. The music isn’t as boring or as unlistenable as many fans make out and two tracks – ‘Life, The Unsuspecting Captive’ on the former and ‘Life Becoming Love’ on the latter – are among Mike’s best, as complex and beautiful as anything he’s done. The stories are clever parables too, taking a rather more serious look at The Monkees’ TV series’ confused relationships between real life and fantasy and how we construct out own ‘prisons’ and let our ‘gardens’ run over unless we take time to care for them. A fascinating concept that works more often than it doesn’t. 6/10.
‘From A Radio Engine To The Photon Wing’ (1977) came out after quite a long gap between recordings and finds Nesmith on the Island record label with a much more ‘traditional’ rock outfit. ‘Engine’ also features perhaps Nesmith’s best known solo song ‘Rio’ which is featured here in a full six-minute version (albeit much of the extra running time is sound effects) and is the album’s highlight alongside the catchy ‘Casablanca Moonlight’. 6/10.
‘Infinite Rider On The Big Dogma’ (1979) is another curious record, clearly inspired by the new wave/punk movement. It’s much noisier than normal for Nesmith and less personal too having looked through the lyric sheet and also has the confusing tactic of reducing each of the ‘normal’ titled songs to a single word on the back sleeve, as if reducing each track to its bare bones. For the most part, it’s a failed experiment, but album highlight ‘The Eclectic Light’ is another clever song, this time about inspiration and how we can get it from the unlikeliest of places. This song aside, though, the album is a mess. 2/10.
‘TimeRider’ (2000) – the ghost of ‘Dogma’ raises its head again with another near-unlistenable collection of screaming electric guitar (played by Richie Zito rather than Nesmith, sadly – his work ruins many a Grace Slick album too) and not much else really. This album is very much a film soundtrack rather than a work in its own right, with no Nesmith vocals sadly, but it was a welcome surprise at the time, some three years after Nesmith’s ‘retirement’. It’s still his last musical release at the time of writing (2010). Only the acoustic songs, which have the same hypnotic criss-crossing effects as ‘The Prison’ and ‘The Garden’ even sound like Nesmith. 3/10.
THE MOODY BLUES:
Justin Hayward: ‘Songwriter’ (1977) is an excellent album, eight very different tracks that follow on nicely from the then-recent Blue Jays album with John Lodge. Many of the tracks feature Justin solo, playing all the instruments and songs like the unsettling ‘Nostrodamus’, the breathless pop excitement of ‘Country Girl’, the hard rocking ‘Doin’ Time’ and the sweet rocker ‘Lay It On Me’ are equal to any of Justin’s Moody songs. The only downsides are the presence of the rather awkward and gauche ‘Stage Door’, complete with irritating sound effects and the fact that we only get nine tracks. Excellent stuff and still the best of the solo Moodies releases. 8/10.
‘War Of The Worlds’ (1977) (credited to Jeff Wayne and Various Artists): Many collectors will hate me for saying this but what was all the fuss about this musical version of H G Wells’ novel about? I spent my pre-teens being scared by it (as it sounds like no other album ever made – and not in a good way), spent most of my university days asking my flatmate to turn it down because he played it incessantly and the rest of my life being bored by it. There have been much better musical versions of sci-fi projects before and since and the synth work on this album –so celebrated at the time – in truth sounds awful when played alongside any Moodies album (why the heck didn’t they hire fellow Moody Mike Pinder, definitely the best musician to cope with theses complex instruments?) The guest stars like Phil Lynott and David Essex also sound bored and are completely mis-cast. Justin is the one exception to this, sounding genuinely moved on the songs ‘Forever Autumn’ (which sounds much better here in extended form, with Justin’s closing ‘but you’re not here’s’ coming a minute apart instead of sandwiched together on the album, really upping the feeling of hopelessness) and the Question-like ‘The Eve Of War’ which is the album’s surprise highlight, despite its short length, with a cracking tune and one of Justin’s greatest vocals. So, 8/10 for Justin’s contributions and 1/10 for the rest.
‘Nightflight’ (1981), however, is quite surprisingly poor and certainly the weakest release Justin has put his name to so far. The problem, like many Moodies reunion albums, is the now-dated production which makes Justin’s usually eclectic work all the same and there aren’t really any standout songs here, although the catchy ‘Bedtime Stories’ is possibly the best of a bad lot. 2/10.
‘Moving Mountains’ (1989) is an equal offender in terms of production techniques but this time Justin the songs to go with his ideas. While nothing compares to any of the classic-era Moody songs, tracks like ‘Goodbye’ (recorded with what was left of 10cc in 1980, a song that fits their 10/10 album quite well) and the title track are Justin’s best in years. Only Jeff Wayne’s ugly re-appearance on ‘Silverbird’ and an uncharacteristically obtrusive set of arrangements from Peter Knight (who did the same for Moodies album ‘Days Of Future Passed’ in 1967) gets in the way of the mood. 6/10.
‘Holly Days’ (1976) is a straightforward cover of a bunch of Buddy Holly songs, recorded on the cheap during a holiday from Wings as Denny’s mate Paul had just bought the rights to the catalogue. Whilst different enough, none of the new arrangements really improve on the original although the sighing false start on ‘Rave On’ is about the best. Really, this is just an excuse for Paul to enjoy his youth collecting Buddy Holly records without the bashing he’d have got from music critics for releasing them himself (he’ll change his mind and start releasing 1950s cover songs anyway come the 1990s). A real curio and a shame we don’t hear more of the always-underrated Denny. 4/10.
‘Japanese Tears’ (1980) was an album I used to own but seems to have gone missing from my collection, so my memory of some of the tracks are a bit hazy. I certainly remember the title track though, a damning put down of Paul McCartney’s drug conviction in Japan in 1980 which lost Wings an awful lot of money at a time when Denny needed it most. There are quite a few Wings outtakes here, too, although none of them are up to Denny’s released songs with the band (or the lovely ‘Find A Way’, an outtake from the ‘London Town’ sessions which still hasn’t come out on anything yet). 5/10.
‘Reborn’ (1996) is Denny Laine’s crowning glory as a songwriter, 10 strong songs about overcoming life’s difficulties and finding your way in a world that’s forgotten you and left you behind. Most of this keyboard-heavy album is played by Denny himself and somehow manages to circumnavigate the datedness of most mid-90s recordings. Songs like the multi-part ‘In Time’, with a character hoping for brighter days, the majestic choral harmony opening to ‘Reborn’ and the troubled ‘Hard Labour’ are the best of Denny’s long career, as catchy as his Moodies and Wings work but with a new, mature depth to them. Had this album come out in the 70s, when Denny was still a household name, this would have been a best-seller. Only the slight sameyness that plagues quite a few of these Moody solo albums lets it down a bit. 8/10.
‘Wings’ aka ‘Silly Love Songs’ aka ‘Perfoms The Hits Of... (2000-ish): Whatever the name and whatever the release date of this record, this is Denny reduced to re-recording his old songs for the Hallmark label to make money and sold only at discount stores (I got my copy for £1.99). Most of the songs come from the Wings era, both Denny’s and Paul’s songs and whilst it’s fun to hear a different voice singing songs like ‘Band On The Run’ and even oddities like ‘Picasso’s Last Words’ this is hardly an essential purchase. The tracks you might want to dig this set out for though are a riveting version of ‘Time To Hide’, already one of Denny’s better songs, and a revival of the rare and influential song ‘Say You Don’t Mind’, which flopped in 1966 when he’d just left the Moody Blues but brought Denny quite a lot of respect at the time. A bargain for £1.99, but it’s sad to hear such a talent reduced to making albums like this to make a living. 4/10.
John Lodge: ‘Natural Avenue’ (1977): I am aware that on this site I seem to be forever knocking John Lodge and I really don’t mean to – songs like ‘Ride My SeeSaw’ and ‘One More Time To Live’ are some of the best Moodies songs of the lot. But Lodge is hardly prolific writer like Justin or Mike Pinder and struggles here with a whole album of his own to fill. None of ‘Natural Avenue’ is awful, but it is bland and rather undistinguished in a way that none of the Moodies albums, even the bad ones, are. The best track is the rocking ‘Broken Dreams; Hard Road’, which far from being the self-indulgent whinge it sounds is actually a stirring song about fighting back against difficulties and the simple but jazzy ‘Rainbows’. 3/10.
Mike Pinder: ‘The Promise’ (1976): Surprisingly there has only been one ‘proper’ album from Pinder to date (along with some spiritualist talks with music available from his excellent website), even though he left the band in 1978. Whilst Hayward and Lodge returned to the mainstream for their albums, Pinder concentrates on all the spoken-word and instrumental passages the Moodies used to love on their albums and the result is a dated but still strong collection. I know many favourites who have this album as their favourite – and some who find it repellent, seemingly an all or nothing record (which, typically, I like but don’t love). Like many a solo Moodies record, you really miss the variation of having five writers in a band but the highs of this record – ‘Free As A Dove’ which would surely have been a hit single if done by the band, the rocking ‘Carry On’ and the title track itself - are all pretty good. 6/10.
Ray Thomas: ‘From Mighty Oaks’ (1976): Both of Ray’s albums are appearing on CD for this time next month, which is great news for Moodies collectors like me who love this little record. Ray is the only Moody who seemed to see a solo record as more of an audio diary in between albums than a launchpad for a new career and his songs on these two albums are far more autobiographical than his normal Moody songs. Whilst both records are strong, this is the best courtesy of the thrilling ‘Adam and I’, complete with chilling flutes and wistful lyrics about the singer’s newborn son. Not every track is as good – and the opening orchestral track which is several of the album’s melodies stitched together is a better idea on paper than it is on record – but there’s no doubt this record’s collaboration with Nicky James was good for Ray. 7/10.
‘Hopes, Wishes and Dreams’ (1977) is much the same, although there’s slightly less orchestra this time around. While songs like ‘Carousel’ sound more like the Ray Thomas of old, wasting his talent on whimsical songs that should be beneath him, there are still plenty of strong songs here with the powerful and very Moodies-like ‘We Need Love’ the ‘keeper’ of this album. 6/10.
Syd Barrett: ‘The Madcap laughs’ (1970) was a surprise release when it came out, some three years after the first – and only Barrett-led – Floyd LP. Syd clearly isn’t well and the backing band have a nightmare on their hands trying to second-guess what the singer’s going to do next (each take for these solo songs seems to have been in a different rhythm or key or sometimes both). Whilst not in the same league as the groundbreaking and tremendously exciting ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’, what’s surprising about these two albums is how ‘together’ they are. ‘Madcap’ is the more Barrett-ish of the two, with some very surreal and eccentric material and is quite unlike anything else you will ever hear. Whether you ‘get’ Barrett is a very subjective thing, depending on how tolerant you’re going to be with the duff notes, pauses, false starts and sudden switches of ideas all the way through. But there is undeniably glimpses of genius at work here, with the tremendous stream-of-consciousness-set-to-a-cracking-riff ‘Octopus’ and the gorgeous backwards-guitar psychedelia of ‘Late Night’ the most impressive songs here. 7/10.
‘Barrett’ (1970) was even more of a surprise – after three years of silence we got two Barrett LPs at once! Legend has it that Syd was far less approachable on this album, leaving the production staff desperate enough to hire in David Gilmour and Rick Wright to finish off the job, but you can’t tell that from the recording. Unusually, this record is a much more ‘mainstream’ one than its predecessor, with album highlights ‘Baby Lemonade’ and ‘Gigolo Aunt’ sounding almost conventional despite their frazzled lyrics. ‘Dominoes’ is the album’s other highlight, but that couldn’t have been written by anyone else but Syd – it’s an eerie oddball stream of consciousness song that somewhow seems to make perfect sense, with the idea of people ‘relating’ to another compared to matching pairs of dominoes. 6/10.
‘Opel (1988) is an outtakes set and heavy going for all but the most committed fan. To be fair, EMI were damned whether they did or didn’t release this album, seeing as Barrett fans had been pleading for more material for the past 18 years and some of this album’s highlights – the half-lovely, half-painful title track and the alternate, looser take of ‘Octopus’ – are the equal of the two ‘finished’ albums. But do yourself a favour and buy ‘Madcap’ or ‘Barrett’ first to see if you like this stuff well enough to buy a rarities set. 4/10.
David Gilmour: ‘David Gilmour’ (1978) is a curious record. Released during downtime between ‘Animals’ and ‘The Wall’, it’s a half-originals, half-covers album that sounds so suspiciously low on enthusiasm you wonder why Gilmour recorded it at all. It is, however, nice to see the return of Gilmour’s pre-Floyd bandmates from his first band ‘Joker’s Wild’ and the closing duo of tracks, a cover of the depressing but impressive ‘There’s No way Out Of Here’ and the surprisingly lovely last track ‘I Can’t Breathe Anymore’, which is about being overwhelmed by something wonderful. For the most part, though, this is a dull record that sounds more like someone else covering Gilmour’s greatest trademarks and clichés than a proper album by the man himself. 4/10.
‘About Face’ (1985) really was an attempt at starting a solo career after Waters effectively shut down the band and its a lot better than critics would have you believe. Most notably, Gilmour sounds angry about something and most of this album is him thrashing his guitar around in anger, although lyrically he’s too coy to tell us what (no surprises for guessing it’s Waters’ attitude though). As a result, it’s the songs that suit this dark mood best – like the multi-part and impressively multi-sided ‘Murder’ which mixes cold logic with emotion and the closing ‘Near The End’, which reveals Gilmour’s love of early 70s Americana harmony, that work the best. Listen out too for two interesting but not very distinguished collaborations with The Who’s Pete Townshend, ‘Love On The Air’ and ‘All Lovers Are Deranged’, which I must admit sound better as folky Townshend demos than they do as grungy electric guitar attacks. Nice, in parts anyway, but it will give you a headache if played too frequently. 6/10.
‘On An Island’ (2006) , released on Gilmour’s 60th birthday, restored Gilmour to the mainstream after 12 years away and can be seen as something of a Floyd eulogy now, months after the Live 8 gig and featuring the last contributions of Rick Wright. But since all the hoo-hah has died down, this album seems like something of a disappointment, with the listener having gained all they need to know in a handful of recordings, not like the multi-layered Floyd LPs whose full meanings I’m still trying to decipher hundreds of playing on. The best tracks are where Gilmour keeps it simple, such as the delightful ballad ‘Smile’, the closing ‘Where We Start’ which is effectively ‘Near The End’ part two and the very Floydian title track, complete with guest harmonies from Crosby and Nash. Much is made of this album’s supposed ‘watery’ theme, but its clumsily involved in the album instead of fully integrated like in all the best Floyd works and there are just too many moments full of dull instrumentals and sound effects without much happening to make this a classic CD like all the Floyd fans and music critics told us it was at the time. 6/10.
Nick Mason/Rick Fenn: ‘Profiles’ (1982) – a collaboration between the Floyd drummer and the 10cc Mark II guitarist – is one of those truly oddball LPs that no collection would be without. The album started life as a collection of advertising jingles and it sounds like it – lots of surface tunes to delight in but not much depth. Mason, as the drummer, also has precious little to do with it despite his star billing. But in its own way this album is delightful, as a sort of aperitif to the heavier Floyd albums, with the guest appearance of Gilmour on the track ‘Lie For A Lie’ and ‘Israel’, the only other track with lyrics, (with Danny Peyronel on vocals) the clear highlights. 5/10.
Roger Waters: ‘Music From The Body’ (with Ron Geesin) (1970), a collection of weird sound effects and quirky instrumentals, isn’t that good in and of itself, but its very important in the Floyd canon. This is arguably the first time Roger Waters sits up and believes he can be the star of the show –in the post-Barrett era up to 1970 the Floyd were a fairly democratic band – and the song ‘Breathe In The Air’ is clearly the genesis of the whole ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ project. As a result, lots of fans heap praise on this album – the ones who can get hold of a copy of this rare LP anyway – without actually playing it very many times, as in truth its rather heavy going. While Roger helps out with the sound effects (and goes into the same ‘Scottish rant’ he’ll re-use on ‘Ummagumma’), the only real ‘songs’ from Waters here are the wistful ‘Breathe In The Air’, the folky ‘Sea Shell and Stone’ in two different versions (which is much too good to waste on this project) and the closing ‘Give Birth To A Smile’, which features the whole of the Floyd (un-credited), but is very untypical of their material, sounding more like a gospel song. The highlight, though, might just be ‘March Past Of The Embryos’, a truly mad piece which sounds like a psychedelic King’s Singers! 4/10.
‘The Pros And Cons Of Hitch-Hiking’ (1984) came very close to being a Floyd album. In a burst of creativity never equalled by him before or since, Roger spent the late 70s demoing not only the double album of The Wall but this confusing little record, offering both ideas to the group to see what they would choose. Sensibly the others chose The Wall because although this album has a great idea at the heart of it – a sort of subconscious ramble from Waters’ sleeping form, full of sudden surreal plot twists and hidden secret fears – in practice this means an awful lot of tracks where we don’t have a clue what on earth is going on. Many fans praise this album for Eric Clapton’s guest appearances, but good as his playing is he sounds woefully out of place here, with his very instinctively calm playing working against Roger’s often quite angry lyrics, unlike Gilmour’s all-out attack which suits them very well. Some of the ideas are also poorly thought out – after quite an interesting section about the narrator wishing he could escape his current life with his new family, we then get a horrific scene of arabs with knives breaking into his bedroom and, later, a quite nasty song about Yoko Ono telling him to end his life and jump off a cliff(!) Even for the Floyd this is a weird album and, despite one or two very lovely moments, it honestly isn’t a patch on The Wall which sounds easy-going by comparison. The highlights are special, though and under-rated in Waters’ canon, especially the ballads ‘The Remains Of Our Love’ and ‘Every Stranger’s Eyes’, which offer quite a nice release after all that shouting. 3/10.
‘Radio KAOS’ (1986) is even worse, perhaps the most dated 1980s sounding record by an AAA member, complete with irritating DJs and booming computer drums. That may have been the intention, though, for this concept record about a telepathic lonely boy with learning difficulties who simulates a nuclear war in order to get world powers to start treating each other properly. That idea is a very Floyd one and could have been a very strong one, but alas all too many of these songs insist on telling us part of the story, often making the plot ever more complicated, instead of existing as songs in their own right. Some of the lyrics on this album are good, but there aren’t enough of them to sustain such a complex idea as this and Waters’ melodies aren’t a patch on what he used to write just a few years before. Only the album’s best known song ‘The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)’, an unusually optimistic song coming after an hour of how we’re all doomed, but even that sounded better played in Roger’s concerts as the end of ‘The Wall’. Here it sounds woefully out of place. A mess. 2/10.
‘Amused To Death’ (1992) has already been covered elsewhere on this site – as review 96 – and along with ‘Dark Side’ and ‘The Wall’ remains Waters’ most compelling work. The plot – of mankind dying out and being re-discovered by a group of aliens trying to work out where we went wrong - is far vaguer than on the last album and that works to Waters’ advantage, allowing him to take pot shots at military cowardice, greed for money, faith in religions that offer more questions than answers and the idea that ‘give any one species too much rope and they’ll fuck it up’. This record could so easily have become depressing – after all, not many records start off with a four-minute piece about a soldier guilt-ridden for leaving a comrade behind 50 odd years before – but Roger is on top form playing our emotions here, taking down the emotional level a peg or two when things are getting too involved. Not every fan will like it, especially the prematurely aged vocals which take some getting used to, but there are enough good ideas to keep most Floyd fans happy. 9/10.
‘Ca Ira’ (2005): Considering this opera was about 15 years in the works, it isn’t half slow and boring. If only Roger had stuck to his tried and tested concept album this work – about the French Revolution – could have been superb, but although working with a big booming orchestra is clearly right up Roger’s street, passing his libretto other to mere opera singers means we can’t get the breadth and depth and symbolism that Roger offers in his music. These are two entirely different worlds colliding and even master showman Roger Waters can’t get opposites this extreme to connect with each other. As Roger said in interviews of the time, most of his fans and critics (including me) did indeed stick firmly to their ‘little islands of culture’ regarding this project, which is just too far removed from waters’ past works for most fans to follow him. He also hadn’t got a hope of breaking the snobbish opera community who look down their nose at projects like this, however good the people involved. 2/10.
Rick Wright: ‘Wet Dream’ (1978): What happened to Rick? Back in the late 60s he was clearly the number two to Syd Barrett, with the clear-cut harmonies and the next-best songs after their eccentric leader’s. By 1978 he’s on the verge of being kicked out of the band by Roger mid-way through The Wall sessions and records this solo album more to pass the time than because he felt the urge to show off his own material. Because, considering this is a solo album, there’s very little of Rick on it – most of the album is made up of instrumentals showing off Snowy White’s guitar work rather than Rick’s keyboards and only four of the 10 songs have lyrics at all. Rick is also struggling with his confidence over his vocals, which are almost mumbled on this album and ducked heavily in the mix, making this a very murky sounding album indeed. Which is a shame because, although there’s far too much filler, there is much to enjoy when this record gets going and tracks like the moving ‘Against The Odds’ about needing a holiday to escape trials and tribulations and ‘Pink’s Song’, which is actually about the pioneering work by the Wright family’s tutor in keeping their kids on the straight and narrow, are both impressive enough. Had the four songs been fitted round a Floyd album, with lots of Floydian touched from the other three, then this could have been something special. As it is, it’s a frustratingly uneven affair and frustratingly has yet to appear on CD. 5/10.
‘Broken China’ (1996) isn’t an awful lot better, even though it was heralded at the time as the equal of the recent Floyd album ‘The Division Bell’ (1994), on which a newly confident Rick had taken all the album’s better moments. But this loose concept album about overcoming depression (his wife’s, apparently, not his), which should follow on from the glorious ‘Wearing The Inside Out’ on that album, is for the most part an anticlimax, with yet more plodding instrumentals getting in the way of real songs. And of these songs, most are played sooooo slllloooowwwwly that this album loses any sense of pace or direction, with Rick struggling to stay in key as he sings them. Only the guest appearance of Sinead O’Connor on the moving ‘Reaching For The Rail’ and ‘Breakthrough’ fulfil their potential. 4/10.
Mick Jagger ‘She’s The Boss’ (1985) By the mid-80s Jagger was clearly happier working on his own than with Richards and this album, which came out at the hight of the band-named ‘World War III’ was a major part in breaking up the band temporaily, with Richards bemoaning the fact that any member of the band needed to do solo albums. For all the fuss, this first Jagger record is a curiously understated affair, less a chance to put Jagger across as a star or present a new way of recording as a chance to swagger a bit without guitar solos getting in the way. With Richards fanning the flames in the press, most fans hated this record whne it came out, but some 25 odd years later it doesn’t seem too bad and it’s certainly a lot more enjoyable than the contemporary Stones LP ‘Dirty Work’. Think of it as a lesser Stones release and you won’t be disappointed, with the cockney ‘Half A Loaf’ winning the highlights award by the tiniest of margins. 4/10.
Taken from a later issue of News, Views and Music:
Mick Jagger “The Best Of” (2011)
A lot of fans won’t even know that Mick has released solo records away from the Stones, given how poorly most of them have sold over the years. Few will know that he’s released enough tracks to make up a 34 track album. And only the very smallest part of those would ever think that all of these songs deserve to get re-released on a two CD album. That said, considering the bad press Mick’s solo work has got over the years (causing a rift between him and Mick that still festers to this day, given some of the comments in Keef’s book ‘Life’) this set isn’t half bad. I only own two of Mick’s solo albums properly and whilst I can’t say I’ve played his first album ‘She’s The Boss’ all that much I do have a soft spot for third album ‘Goddess In The Doorway’. Mick’s sudden dalliance with disco and funk caught most fans on the hop in the late 70s and although the best of his work with the Stones has aged well (‘Miss You’) the first two solo Mick albums in a similar style aren’t anything like as good. The best songs from this set nearly all come from ‘Goddess’(‘Hide Away’ ‘Brand New Set Of Rules’) but the best song of all is a wonderful yearning ballad ‘Angel In My Heart’ from ‘Wandering Spirit’. Actually no, check that, because I’ve just been playing ‘Rules’ again and it’s even better than I first thought. It’s also clearly the first draft for one of my favourite Stones songs ‘Laugh, I Nearly Died’, with Mick regretting his recent mistakes and trying to put things right (it single-handedly manages to be the best Stones-related track of the past 30 odd years!) For that moment alone it’s worth buying this set, although 34 tracks are a good 20 too many. Tracks to download: ‘Angel In My Heart’ ‘Brand New Set Of Rules’.
Bill Wyman ‘Bill Wyman’ (1982). This was the album that carried the hit single Si Si (Je Suis En Rock Star), still the only solo Stones release to go top 20 in the charts. That’s not the best track on this quirky record though, an accolade that probably belongs to the follow-up single ‘A New Fashion’, with most of the album sharing the same tongue-in-cheek mix of modern and retro. We know since this album that Wyman’s heart lies firmly in the latter, what with the Rhythm Kings and all, but at the time Bill could well have passed for a with-it cutting edge kind of guy. Whether you like this album depends firstly on whether you can get over Bill’s tinny vocals (which are far less effective than on his only Stones appearance ‘In Another Land’) and the very 80s production, but if you can overlook these faults then there’s a good record in here somewhere which reveals Wyman as a heavily under-rated talent. 6/10.
THE SMALL FACES:
Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriott "Majic Mijits" (2003)
The last recordings made by the two chief songwriters in the Small Faces were never finished - Steve Marriott left temporarily for another Humble Pie reunion and then died in a house fire - so what we have here is a compilation of a CD of largely 'finished' material and a second CD of 'outtakes'. Most fans are disappointed by it and certainly this album doesn't compare to the band's 1960s material (not least because Ronnie's MS is giving him a real battle recording the vocals). But treat this album as a fascinating 'extra' and it certainly has its moments - lots more than the two 1970s Small Faces reunions anyway. Marriott is on particularly blistering vocal form and comes up with his single greatest song since the early 70s 'Lonely No More', on which he finally sounds happy (his 'Toe Rag', celebrating family life and his own 'Artful Dodger' like offspring, is pretty sweet too). Ronnie Lane's songs - his first recordings for nearly a decade after illness and record company problems - still sound like they've always done, gorgeous pieces of folk-rock that might suffer from the tinny 1980s recording productions and Ronnie's increasing problems with his once smooth vocals but beneath the surface are still as wonderful as ever (the autobiographical 'Son Of Stanley Lane' especially). Whenever any of the Small Faces got together post-split they invariably spent their time slagging off their early managers who cost them so much money and the way the Immediate record label went bust without warning. As a result there's a couple of really bitter songs here you might not be expecting from the pair's 1960s songs, but far from being off-putting these are amongst the best on the album, Ronnie taunting everyone whose ever stood in his way for being 'chick chick chicken!' Best of all are the chats between Steve and Ronnie mid-song and thankfully left intact, goading each other on and showing how much affection is in the room and that they've got together for reasons bigger than financial ones. A clever title, showing the duo are 'still' the Small Faces and then not quite the same after all, is the icing on the cake. 'Majic Mijits' isn't classic Marriott or Lane but it did deserve to come out at the time and would surely have boosted both men's popular standing in a way that the later Humble Pie and Lane's Slim Chance records hadn't quite managed. 6/10
Godley and Creme: ‘Consequences’ (1977) is a true oddity. A three album concept set that, despite roughly two hours’ worth of music still left the listener non e the wiser about what the whole thing was about by the end. A watered down ‘Music From Consequences’ is much more palatable but even this is heavy going throughout side two, which is made up of lots of sound effects masquerading as songs and frequent use of the Godley and Creme created ‘gizmo’, which allowed ordinary guitarists to bend strings a la the pedal steel. Of the side one songs, the gorgeous blurry-eyed ballad ‘5 O’Clock In The Morning’ and the operatic ‘Lost Weekend’ (with Lol Creme sounding convincing as a soprano) are truly wonderful, but two tracks isn’t much return for a triple LP. To think the duo left 10cc for this! 4/10.
‘Freeze Frame’ (1979) is my favourite Godley and Creme LP, the best mix of genuinely clever moments and accessibility, with the duo always in search of a neat idea rather than letting their eccentricity get in the way of a good song. The album’s single ‘An Englishman In New York’ isn’t that well loved by fans but I love it, with its tongue-twisting lyrics sneering atmosphere and out-of-synch production. The mangled ‘I Pity Inanimate Objects’ is another highlight, with the electronic effects enhancing this oddball song about a toaster wishing it could talk, or something like that. ‘Random Brainwaves’ is also a pretty song with very weird lyrics, while closing ‘Get Well Soon’ (with a guesting but inaudible Paul McCartney), about a hallucinogenic hospital visit where a man has only a radio to keep him going which eerily breaks down once he’s well again, is one of the duo’s best ever songs. None of the rest quite matches these four tracks, but none of it is unlistenable, unlike later Godley and Creme albums. 8/10.
‘Ismism’ (1981) is the best-selling Godley and Creme album, courtesy of hit singles ‘Under My thumb’ ‘Snack Attack’ and ‘Wedding Bells’ although – while the spoof video for the latter is one of the funniest things I’ve seen – none of these tracks are particularly strong. One other track, the nine-minute ‘Party’, is truly horrible, not so much a song as a sound piece with one host stuck in the bathroom about to throw up and another greeting hundreds of guests all with the name ‘John’. Only ‘The Question’ works well, with the duo spoofing all those hoary old maths tests about filling up a bath and taking a train in a certain amount of time and the truly oddball ‘Ready For Ralph’, where a straight-faced Godley tells us over and over that he’s ‘readied the room for Ralph’. You had to be there, I suppose. Still, where this album gets its ‘classic’ reputation from is beyond me. 3/10.
‘Birds Of Prey’ (1983) is somewhere between the two, with some witty tracks like the a capella song about growing old ‘My Body The Car’, which successfully extends the metaphor of the body as a car (right up to the crash at the end) and the glorious drama ensemble ‘Out In The Cold’ , where Godley’s electronically treated vocal really does sound ‘left out in the cold’. But there are too many tracks like the last album, such as ‘Madame Guillotine’ and the horrible Prison song ‘Save A Mountain For Me’ which are too busy telling a story to bother adding a decent melody or lyrics that actually scan. At 33 minutes (by my counting, anyway) this album is also way too short. 5/10.
‘History Mix’ (1985) is a weird ‘remix’ album, possibly the first of its kind, with the duo sticking snippets from all their old songs into two enormous side-long suites. The concept really doesn’t work that well and quickly gets irritating, especially when the band mess around with 10cc tracks by Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldmann which aren’t strictly theirs to meddle with. But the CD is worth looking out for as it includes singles mixes of some of the band’s better singles and the gorgeous ‘Golden Boy’, a single-only track that might well be the highlight of the duo’s 11 years together. 2/10.
‘L’ (1986): The best thing about this monstrosity is the cover – a very 10cc like spoof of themed album covers with hundreds of small pictures all relating to the ‘L’ in the title – and the album theme of ‘learning’ a trade. Alas the only song that matches this vision are the delightfully eccentric ‘Sandwiches Of You’ and the closing acerbic ‘Hit Factory’, which sounds like it belongs on a 1986 Kinks LP. The rest, especially the self-indulgent ‘Art School Canteen’ shows the duo running out of steam. 2/10.
‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ (1988) was the final joint album before Godley and Creme fell out and perhaps this album’s new style – every song drenched in harmonicas and a mass choir everywhere – was part of the problem (the duo don’t even feature on the opening a capella track). But even though this album sounds nothing like its predecessors aurally, the songs are just as weird, telling the vague story of mankind’s impending doom if he doesn’t get his act together. For the most part, this album works well and if you can get over how weird parts of it sound then it’s a very worthy farewell. The best tracks are those that deal with the afterlife: ’10,000 Angels’ about what might happen on judgement day is a classic rocker with an impressive harmonica solo, ‘Big Bang’ is a storming retro rocker, while the eerie ‘Crime and Punishment’, with its massed harmonies and insistent bass line, is one of the most moving tracks of any of these albums. Unusually, it’s the more straightforward tracks like ‘Gold Rings’ and ‘Sweet Memories’ that fall flattest, without the twists in the tale we’ve come to expect from anything 10cc-related and could have been made by anyone. Still, not half bad. 7/10.
Graham Gouldmann: ‘Graham Gouldmann’s Thing’ (1966): On a recent documentary about The Hollies, Graham nash remembers being invited to the house of a local 16-year-old who had some songs he wanted to play the band. Expecting nothing, Graham roped some of the other Hollies into appearing and couldn’t believe it when this skinny youngster offered him ‘Bus Stop’ ‘Look Through Any Window’ and ‘No Milk Today’. This album is Graham’s own attempts at recording his songs and was probably intended more as a sample of his demos than a proper product in its own right. Very poppy and simple as most of the songs here are, they show a ridiculous understanding of not only musical principles but also people – the innocent pair in ‘Bus Stop’ are brought to life in barely a few lines. The downside of this record is that, understandably for such a low budget release, the simple backing makes every song sound a bit the same and Graham hasn’t quite grown into his growly voice yet. Still, treat this album as a bootleg or as an extra from a box set and you’ll be fascinated. ‘Window’ is the clear highlight, a songwriting gem than and now. 6/10.
‘Animalympics’ (1981) was the soundtrack to a weird film which was recorded at the same time as the final 10cc album ‘Windows In The Jungle’ (see review no 86) and shares many of the same sound effects and – in one case – melody as its sister album. But whereas ‘Windows’ is the deepest and most serious of 10cc projects, ‘Animalympics’ is the kid sister, a carefree album of pop songs written for an interesting little film about animals competing in the lyrics. You won’t learn anything new or hear anything complex on this album, but it is nice to hear the ‘second’ line up of 10cc for the last time (they’re conspicuous by their absence on the last two band albums) and Graham’s pop sensibilities have never been better than on such two-minute masterpieces as the catchy ‘Under The Water’ . Having said that, though, there is one heavily patronising ballad about ‘trying your best’ which should have stayed on the cutting room floor (would you believe you hear this song three times in the film!) and two rather dull instrumentals which are only background music in the finished production. 6/10.
Eric Stewart (all updated from later issues)
"Do Not Bend" (2001)
Eric Stewart (all updated from later issues)
"Frooty Rooties" (1979)
The first 10cc solo album released while the band were still 'together', I was expecting more from this album, which isn't up to the standards of even 10cc's worst records. Eric recorded it quickly during his recovery from a life-threatening car-crash, which explains both why he gets so few songs on the next 'proper' 10cc album 'Look, Hear, Are You Normal?' and why he sounds rather less than himself here. Too often the album takes the easy way out, interesting ideas getting buried under silly retro-rock riffs and track titles like 'guitaaaaaarghs' that sound like pastiche 10cc rather than genuinely funny. There are highlights though: the opening song 'The Ritual' is a 10 minute mini-masterpiece of frustration at all the nonsense meaningless things humans do when they could be doing something bigger and clearly a key development in Eric's writing (it'll end up with what I consider his best work in a few years on 'Windows In The Jungle'). 'Doris The Florist' is a fun 10cc-ish story that doesn't go where you think it does that's funnier than most of 'Look Hear' to boot. Everything else, though, sounds a bit tired and unsure of itself - understandably, really, given the circumstances - with the title downwards rather too far a throwback to the 1950s: the horrid 'Night and Day' might well be the worst thing the guitarist ever wrote and even gets an unwelcome reprise! 3/10
After his car-crash Eric became ridiculously prolific, as if making up for lost time. This film soundtrack, however, isn't one of his better ideas: most of the songs are full of the sort of soft 'lift music' instrumentals every film from the 1980s seems to be full of and there are only four actual 'songs'. To be fair, these aren't bad: despite the generic titles 'Warm Warm Warm' 'Tonight' and the title track 'Girls' are real character songs, Stewart doing well to get into the mindset of an ambitious female blocked not by talent but by sexism (it may be that the 1983 10cc song 'Working Girls' started life here too - the date seems wrong but it sounds like a good fit at least). I couldn't tell you how the music fits the film sadly - like the soundtrack album it seems to have died a very quiet death and even Film4 have never repeated it to date. One for the committed fan only really, although you'll be pleasantly surprised once you get past the instrumentals. 4/10
Apart from two underwhelming 10cc reunions and his work with Paul McCartney, this was the first 'proper' Eric Stewart release in 18 years and hopes were high. A clever 10cc-ish title and some 10cc-ish song titles (sample: 'Set In Blancmange') set those hopes higher. But as a whole 'Do Not Bend' is even worse than Eric's 'Frooty Rooties' record, an embarrassing collection of white reggae and soul-less soul music without Eric's usual character and cleverness. Only closing track 'You Are Not Me' has any real emotion to offer - and then it's of the 'stop pigeon-holing me' type which seems a rather odd statement to make after so many poor re-makes of 'Dreadlock Holiday'. Eric is a terrific team-player - one of the best in fact, with harmonies to die for and an ability to put guitar to anything - but he really struggles to front a whole album, especially one as low budget as this done on the cheap. Give it a miss. 2/10
Roger Daltrey: ‘Roger Daltrey’ (1974): There is, however, one other solo record I do own and its Roger’s first album, still I think the best-selling of all Who spin-offs and a surprise hit for the singer, presumably on the back of his higher profile with ‘Tommy’. The record is the complete antithesis of the two Who albums around it, the complex multi-layered ‘Quadrophenia’ and the sucicide note ‘Who By Numbers’. It’s a light and fluffy album about nothing much in particular, with hardly any backing band and plenty of orchestra. It’s the kind of album rock and roll seemed to be put on the earth to destroy, and yet this album does weave a sort of magical spell, making more than one butch Who fan teary-eyed. Still, its very much a marking-time project than a full album on its own. ‘Whistle On The Wind’ is the best track, but to be honest none of them sound that different. 4/10.
Pete Townshend: ‘Who’s First’ (1976): To be fair, I only know this album from the excellent Townshend ‘Anthology’ double-disc, but seeing as I’m only missing two tracks it seems only fair to write about it. This album is an intriguing mix of Townshend leftovers from various projects, including demos for some of the better Who songs and a track from Pete’s tribute album to his ‘mentor’, the spiritualist Meher Baba. After hearing album upon album based loosely on Baba’s sayings, its quite strange hearing that track ‘Parvardigar’, but this song’s soothing and calm feeling is the equal of any Who song from the era. The sweet if inconsequential ‘Sheraton Gibson’ (with Pete in the Gibson hotel trying to think up a song on his Gibson guitar) is the best of the new material, although its the demos for under-rated Who single ‘Let’s See Action’ (which sounds even better here) and The Who’s greatest unreleased song ‘Pure and Easy’ from the abandoned ‘Lifehouse’ project, that take the top plaudits. 8/10.
‘Rough Mix’ (with Ronnie Lane) (1977): Seeing as this album came in between the two most depressing Who albums of all and only came about because Ronnie Lane had hit hard times and was looking for some easy money to resuscitate him, this album is surprisingly cheerful (indeed, this album really show how selfless Pete could be at times – Ronnie only came asking for a song, not a whole album but Townshend financed the project and helped his old friend out a great deal). Townshend sounds released from a need to keep coming up with big concepts, enjoying himself with some of the simplest songs he’d written since the mid-1960s and Ronnie’s songs too show a lightness of touch that had been missing from his later records. There’s also no signs of the MS which Ronnie reportedly found about during this album’ sessions, which finds him sounding genuinely contented, especially on his own self-mocking ‘April Fool’ (as Ronnie was indeed born on April 1st). Other highlights include the great fun ‘My Baby Gives It Away’, on which Pete sounds 20 years younger, the moving song about inspiration ‘Keep Me Turning’ and the jointly sung ‘Heart To Hang On To’. The only problem is that the pair only collaborate on one track, the title track instrumental on which they arguably don’t appear anyway, and only sing together once. 7/10.
‘Empty Glass’ (1980) is already discussed elsewhere on this website – see review no 77 – suffice to say it is a fabulous confessional album that is the true heir of ‘Numbers’ and ‘Who Are You’, unlike the last two disappointing Who albums. The song ‘I Am An Animal’ which is one of Pete’s best self-hating songs, the closing ‘I’m Gonna Get Ya’ which is one of the most exciting recordings Pete ever made with anybody, the complex title track which is one of the most rounded songs Pete ever made and the catchy hit singles ‘Let My Love Open The Door’ and ‘A Little Is Enough’ are all career highlights, never mind album ones. Only the curiously ordinary ‘Cats In The Kitchen’ and the truly awful ‘Keep On Working’ let the side down. Still, this is an impressive album, with Pete’s vocals and the on-form backing band of Who associates a delight. 9/10.
‘All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes’ (1982) is less satisfying as a whole record, although the high spots are every bit as good as on ‘Glass’. The biggest highlights are the impressive ‘The Sea Refuses No River’, a truly heartbreaking song about Pete realising he’s an addict and how low he’s fallen since submitting to the lure of drugs and ‘Slit Skirts’, a song that starts out timidly with Pete afraid to write all of the real horrors on his mind before deciding to write a ‘pretty’ nonsense song in the choruses, simply underlining how heartfelt the rest of the song is. However, some tracks like the annoying ‘Uniforms’ and the curio ‘Face Dances’ (the title of the Who’s 1981 LP, weirdly, even though that song was never recorded by the band) show a lack of inspiration and confidence. 7/10.
‘White City Fighting’ (1985) is the last throw of the dice for the concept albums Pete had been trying to write since the mid-1960s. It’s not one of his best either, being too full of contemporary trappings, although the idea – a famous star returning to the place of his childhood and being dismissed at how rundown it is and how damaged the people living there are – is a good one. The trouble with this album is the staid production which – in contrast to the ramshackle ‘Rough Mix’ and ‘Empty Glass’ – just gets in the way, David Gilmour returns the compliment paid on his album ‘About face’ by guesting on a couple of tracks, although again they’re not the best songs by either man. The best of a similar bunch is probably the powerful title track, with Pete windmilling just like the days of old, although the clever ‘Crashing By Design’ givers it a run for its money. 5/10.
Finally, I only own one of Pete’s ‘Scoop’ outtake sets – volume 3 (2005) – which are made up of various demos for Who and solo albums as well some unreleased songs. On the evidence of the third volume, there’s one hell of a lot of filler – several snippets or themes that never made it to whole projects – but the set really comes alive on the demos. Pete’s early version of ‘However Much I Booze’ is even more harrowing than the finished version, whereas ‘The Real Me’ sounds more like a fun rocker than the barnstorming character breakdown it is on ‘Quadrophenia’. Even later Who songs like ‘Athena’ (or ‘Teresa’ as it is here) and ‘Did You Steal My Money?’ sound much better here. However, the true highlight is ‘I Like It The Way It Is’, a terribly moving song about wanting to change but being secretly afraid of one’s darker side, a piece that Pete never finished because he was too embarrassed by what it revealed about his addictive nature. Still you have to sift through an awful lot of grit to get to the pearls. 5/10.
And finally, Wings: we've reviewed the Denny Laine albums separately in our 'proper' album reviews (see our great long list at the bottom of the page!) However, there is one more member of Wings who released a solo album: Henry McCullough “Poor Man’s Moon” (2009)
Don’t worry if you don’t recognise the name – chances are few of you will know it even if you own some of the album she plays on. But guitarist Henry McCullough was for an all too brief time a member of Wings, playing on the singles ‘My Love’ and ‘Live and Let Die’, the album ‘Red Rose Speedway’ and the TV show ‘James Paul McCartney’ (which still hasn’t had a proper release yet!) He left before ‘band On The Run’, refusing to go to Lagos to record the album (with good reason as it turned out, what with the muggings, monsoon weather and Macca’s collapse from a lung complaint) and to most people disappeared. Henry’s always been around though, playing small gigs (mainly in America) and releasing albums for low budget record labels (again mainly in America). His latest, ‘Poor Man’s Moon’, is the first of his many solo records to fall into my hands and its delightful, much slower and much bluesier than you’d expect for such a rocky guitarist (for both Wings and oe Cocker’s Grease Band) and Henry’s lived-in vocals suit his new acoustic compositions very well indeed. If I had a complaint its that the songs all sound so similar you’d be hard pressed to tell where one ends and another begins if you weren’t paying attention closely, but that can also be a good thing, with this album conjuring up a mood of laid-back weariness and thoughts about approaching old age and death. Henry’s always been a forgotten talent despite appearing in one of the 70s’ best-selling bands and – although not as essential a purchase as most of Denny Laine’s albums – all Wings collectors should own at least one of these records. Tracks to download (not that you can download them, but never mind): Opener ‘Too Late To Worry’ and ‘Big Old River’.
And that’s that. Do let us know if we’ve forgotten anything – doubtless we’ll have missed out some album on a list this long. Normal service will be resumed next week!
A complete collection of April Fool’s Day Columns (Plus Other Bits and Pieces):
#1 (published 2009, set in 2034): http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009_03_29_archive.html
#1 (published 2009, set in 2034): http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009_03_29_archive.html
#2 (published 2010, set in 2110): http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010_03_28_archive.html
#3 (published 2011, set in 2026): http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011_03_27_archive.html
#4 ('Swedish Elizabethan' edition, published 2012, set in a timeless universe): http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012_04_01_archive.html
#5 ('Max's Space Museum' edition, published 2013, set in 7114): http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/news-views-and-music-issue-7114-maxs.html
#6 (Max's Scrapbook' edition, published 2014 set in 2099):
http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/max-dogs-picture-book-news-views-and.html and http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/max-dogs-picture-book-part-two-news.html
#7 ('Multiverse with famous authors writing for the AAA' edition, published and set in 2015)
#8 ('The Story and Discography of Pixie Drainpipe', published 2016, set in 5838)
#9 (‘All Hail President Bingo!’, published 2017, set in 2020) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/april-fools-day-2017-all-hail-president.html
#9 (‘All Hail President Bingo!’, published 2017, set in 2020) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/april-fools-day-2017-all-hail-president.html
#10 (‘Spice Up Your Life!!!’, published and set in 2018) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2018/04/april-fools-day-2018-spice-up-your-life.html
#11 (‘Brexit Maxit and Farewell’, published 2019, set in 2029) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2019/04/april-fools-day-brexit-maxit-special.html
Compilation Special: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010_04_25_archive.html
Solo Album Special: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010_08_08_archive.html
Live Album Special: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010_09_19_archive.html
Book Special: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012_07_01_archive.html
Compilation Special: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010_04_25_archive.html
Solo Album Special: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010_08_08_archive.html
Live Album Special: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010_09_19_archive.html
Book Special: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012_07_01_archive.html
DVD Special: http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/news-views-and-music-issue-176-aaa-dvds.html
Every Single AAA Studio and Solo Release in Chronological Order: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/revised-article-every-single-aaa-album.html