Monday 4 February 2013

News, Views and Music Issue 181 (Intro)

February 6th:

Dear all, have we finally seen sense from this Government at last? Have they really agreed to finally put back some of the descriptive indicators back into the disability assessments because under the planned new guidelines no one would have been able to pass the new tests at all (judging the blind on whether they could work with an imaginary guide dog or a wheelchair where the patient can’t afford one). Let’s not breath too many sighs of reliefs yet though – the planned changes in April are ludicrous and will lead to thousands more unnecessary deaths unless we keep changing things. Keep it up though, if we fight hard signing petitions (especially the ‘W.O.W. one) we’ll get through to them all somehow. Incidentally, it seems to have gone unreported but David Cameron ran out of so many arguments the other day that he actually swore under his breath at an SNP MP as can be seen in this video. Has he been made to apologise, explain himself or say why he ran out of erudite arguments and had to turn to expletives to get his point across? No, of course not. As ever in our British democratic system, he’s untouchable because he’s in charge and can get away with more or less what he wants. …

In the meantime our site has slipped back a bit from its peak of 200 hits a day at the beginning of January but is still well above last year’s average. At the moment our DVD special has now risen to first place, just above our two most recent Kinks articles. New in at no 4 is ‘The Who Sell Out’ (the only one of our ‘core’ album reviews in the top 10), no 5 is Wings’ Wildlife’, no 6 is our top 10 of AAA songs exclusive to live LPs, no 7 is our special on AAA books, no 8 is our review of Martin Kitcher’s ‘ATOS’ song, no 9 is our review of Denny Laine’s ‘Reborn’ and finally no 10 is our review of Cat Stevens’ ‘Foreigner’ from three issues back. What an eclectic mixture I have to say – I can’t work out what sort of articles are particularly popular at all from that little lot! We seem to have suddenly done rather well in Slovenia and Australia too – so hello to all of you new members who might be reading this! Thankyou for all your comments too, even the ones I don’t for the life of me understand (especially the lengthy piece about tax credits) – suffice to say I do read them all and reply where I can! Remember this site may have my name on it but it’s for all of you as well and without your input I’d just be talking to myself for page after page so thankyou again!

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Oasis "Heathen Chemistry" (2002)

You can buy 'Little By Little - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Oasis' in e-book form by clicking here!


The Hindu Times/Force Of Nature/Hung In A Bad Place/Stop Crying Your Heart Out/Songbird/Little By Little/A Quick Peep/(Probably) All In The Mind/She Is Love/Born On A Different Cloud/Better Man/(Unlisted Bonus Track: ‘The Cage’)

Oasis were on the verge of splitting when they made this album. OK, so that’s hardly groundbreaking news – I could have written that sentence at the start of every Oasis album review (and every Kinks and most Pink Floyd reviews come to that), but it’s especially poignant on ‘Heathen Chemistry’ because it’s the first time that both Liam and Noel sing about the dream being over and sound like they mean it. Fans of Oasis’ huffing and puffing bluster and swagger will find much to love on this album (‘Hindu Times’ is one of their most overlooked rock gems; ‘She Is Love’ one of their better attempts at writing a catchy single, even if it only ever charted as the B-side of ‘Songbird’), but what comes across most is tension, loss, nostalgia and – most surprisingly of all – fragility. Oasis had been going eight years as a recording band by the time this album was made and had somehow overcome the upheaval of 1999 that saw two founding members leaving the band in Bonehead and Guigsy, a fact that would have shaken many a lesser band (with several more upsets to come; this is the last album with the band’s best drummer Alan White). In Beatles terms, it’s their White Album, a hodge podge of differing sounds and styles (written by four-fifths of the band for the first time ever) all stuck together with a slightly melancholy, slightly crazed air despite containing several upbeat moments (by this same hypothesis this makes ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ Oasis’ unexpected ‘Abbey Road’ rising from the ashes at the last minute and ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ their troubled ‘Let It Be’.

Just as Beatles fans mainly argue about the merits of ‘Revolver and ‘Sgt Pepper’ (with occasional plaudits for ‘Abbey Road’, so most Oasis fans argue over ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘Morning Glory’ with the odd vote for ‘Truth’. I can’t argue with any of that (‘Definitely Maybe’ remains one of music’s greatest debut albums and ‘Morning Glory’ one of music’s greatest ever follow-ups, while ‘Truth’ is in many ways the most Oasisy sounding record just as ‘Road’ was the most Beatlesy) but I’ve always had a soft spot for the sprawling, endless canvas that’s the Beatles White Album – the first Beatles album where four distinct voices are heard working on the same project - and I hold this album equally dear too. Not every track is first-class, but by including everything (safe and scary all together on the same plate) we get much more sense of what Oasis stand for than normal.

On the surface things don’t look that good: Gem and Andy Bell may have written for their ‘other’ bands but never Oasis Before (this is only their second album with the band after ‘Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants’) and Liam has only had one Oasis album track to his credit before (the much maligned, probably unfairly, ‘Little James’). On this album the three of them (the ‘Beady Eye’ axis as we can call them nowadays) come up with five of the album’s eleven songs between them. Noel may talk nowadays about how a drug-induced stupor overcame his writing circa ‘Be Here Now’ and ‘Giants’ (part of which were made up from ‘old songs’) but I’d be more willing to place his creative haze to this period, the time when Noel, now 35 and having done everything he ever dreamed of with Oasis and more, begins to step away from the band as the be all and end all of life. There was, in fact, a very revealing interview Noel made at the time of the album’s release where an interviewer put to the former chief songwriter that he was being generous in letting so many of his band members take control. His reply was priceless and revealing all at the same time (‘I’m in a band love...personally I think they should have got their fingers out a lot earlier and started writing years ago)Yet the surprising thing is that the ‘new’ writers are coming up with much more traditional sounding songs than Noel is (‘Hindu Times’ aside) and they effectively take the ‘weight’ of having to come up with ‘typical’ Oasis songs off his shoulders (doing so with remarkable style for the most part: Liam’s ‘Songbird’ and ‘Born On A Different Cloud’ are respectively the light and fluffy and dark and hypnotic sides of the Oasis sound to a tee and among the best songs on the album). Noel, meanwhile, has new ideas to stretch the band’s sound and cobbles together two of his career best songs in the hauntingly beautiful ‘Stop Crying Your Eyes Out’ and the surprisingly sinister ‘Little By Little’. Was he, perhaps, already planning a solo album this early on and was only persuaded to rejoin the band at the last minute? Or did he see the end coming this early on? Either way, the tension between’s Noel’s future gazing and the others’ retro return makes for an interesting album, where only a couple of bits of ‘filler’ fluff stop this album approaching their very best work.

Ah yes, ‘Little By Little’. If ever there was a song that cried out for relief then, well, actually it’s ‘Talk Tonight’ the fed-up Oasis B-side from 1995 (barely 18 months into the Oasis journey) that found Noel Gallagher pouring his heart out to a fan about having to leave the group only for her to talk him back into it. But ‘Little By Little’ is an even more desperate and agonised song than ‘Talk Tonight’, Noel asking himself why the band can’t get it together and work as a unit, decrying some nameless person for not pulling their weight despite ‘giving you everything you ever dreamed of’ (no guessing that Noel’s at least partly referring to his brother there) and asking ‘why am I really here?’ - not just in an existential sense, but in a band sense. ‘Force Of Nature’, with its talk of a ‘bird released’ (was Noel already planning the ‘High Flying Birds’?) is another key song in the band’s development, Noel’s narrator trying to fly away to find himself rooted to the ground, screaming ‘It’s all over! The sun’s going down on the days of your easy life!’ Just look at the blurry album cover too – is it any coincidence that Noel (hidden away at the rear of the shot) has his back to us? Or that in the band photos inside the glossy booklet he has his eyes cast down, refusing to meet our eye? Noel could in fact have walked away from the band and very nearly did (the brothers came to more blows than normal), with Liam allegedly dragging his feet over the songs and adding his vocals, causing the final recording and mixing for this album to take place a full year after the last ‘backing track’ session was put together (to be fair to Liam, he thought only a year after the last record would have been ‘too soon’). Things got worse when copies of the complete album leaked on the internet a full three months before release by bootleggers tired of waiting for the album to appear (the first time this really happened to a mainstream act and certainly the first time it happens to an AAA member; it won’t be the last...) The band try to end things on a positive note with Liam’s ‘Better Man’ (a song that might or might not have been Liam’s response to his brother’s dark mood) but even then they can’t escape the reality of their situation. The album really ends on a mysterious instrumental (untitled on the album but referred to as ‘The Cage’ by Oasis themselves) that suddenly cuts in about half an hour after the last note of ‘Better Man’. Anguished, haunting and sombre, it’s the most melancholy Oasis have been, like a requiem for a career they think is ending (it’s their equivalent of The White Album’s slightly tongue-in-cheek ‘Goodnight’).

‘Heathen Chemistry’ indeed (the title was originally a logo on a T-shirt spotted by Noel on a holiday in Ibiza); however as is often the case with AAA albums created in time of adversity and tension (‘Band On The Run’ ‘Exile On Main Street’ ‘Wish You Were Here’ ‘The White Album’ again) all that negative feeling ends up infusing this album with a real danger and excitement missing from at least the past couple of Oasis albums. It’s not for nothing that this album starts with the words ‘I get up when I’m down’ on opening song and lead single ‘The Hindu Times’, a hymn to music that’s a clear parallel to ‘Rock and Roll Star’ (opening track on debut ‘Definitely Maybe’) and suggesting that for all the bad times music will always see this band through. Of course, we know now in 2013 that this is a bit of a false dawn (the band will split four years and two albums later, apparently for good – or at any rate for seven years and counting), but that doesn’t take away from the thrill of that opening surge of power, the Oasis template of old sizzling with more power than ever because we know what hard times the band have been through to come up with it. Throughout the rest of the album the band seem to be on a knife-edge throughout, their limited time together on the road and the bitchiness in the studio leading to backing tracks that are simpler than at any time since their debut record and rawer and looser, the sound of a band who still don’t quite know each other yet trying to sound like the effortless togetherness of the first line-up, who’d been together some years before they ever recorded a note in a proper studio.

Yes there are times when the band have gone onto auto-pilot, but at the same time there are songs where on first hearing you genuinely don’t know where the album’s going to turn next: rock, ballads and pop we’re used to, but psychedelia? Prog rock? Blues? Punk? The band even invent a new genre on the eerie ‘Born On A Different Cloud’, the highlight of an album filled with more great moments than most. So why isn’t this album better known? Well, it can’t be because of sales (‘Heathen Chemistry’ would have been the band’s best seller after ‘Morning Glory’ had ‘Truth’ not pipped it three years later) and it’s not because of lack of airplay (Oasis are well known for releasing a lot of singles from their albums, but amazingly ‘Heathen Chemistry’ is the only Oasis album where all four of them went into the top three of the UK charts; other people like Michael Jackson and *shudder* the Spice Girls have done that too but my reckoning Oasis are the first ‘serious’ rock act to have achieved this since Wings and ‘Band On The Run’ in 1973). I think the reason this album gets forgotten so often is because it’s so so sad; since 1994 Oasis had been the band you turned to when you were in a great mood, needing picking up or wanted to feel that your generation was ‘special’; a bit of angst on ‘Be Here Now’ and ‘Giants’ not-withstanding this is the first Oasis album that leaves you emotionally drained after listening rather than exuberant, with the ‘happier’ songs merely stepping stones between the more difficult, angular stuff. Like many of the best AAA records ‘Heathen Chemistry’ is a special record because it gives a real glimpse into the life of the people who were making it (happy as well as sad and angry), running the gamut of all emotion more than the other Oasis records.

As ever with Oasis, if you want to what’s really going on under the surface you look for the B-sides, the songs that only true ‘fans’ will unearth and discover. Unusually there are only two ‘proper’ ones from this period, both gorgeous, both written by Noel Gallagher and both featured on lead single ‘Hindu Times’. Unusually they both deal with the same them, bemoaning aging and becoming fake (the sort of thing that kept 60s stars awake at night during punk): ‘Getting Older’ and ‘Idler’s Dream’. The former sounds like the opposite of ‘Hindu Times’ with Noel telling us he’s fed up of his record collection and music in general, before pulling back from the picture to show that he’s really deeply disillusioned with where his life is taking him; the latter is a love song in reverse, Noel acknowledging that he should have tried harder with a relationship in the past, before acknowledging that he’s probably just saying that because ‘I don’t want to scream out loud and wake up on my own’. Even for Noel, these twin songs are highly revealing of how far his life was unravelling in this period. Add in the other period B-sides (a cover of The Who’s ‘My Generation’ and a live recording of one of Oasis’ earliest songs ‘Columbia’) and it’s clear too that at least somebody in the band is thinking about Oasis’ legacy and whether they still have a right to be there eight years after ‘Definitely Maybe’, with anything left to offer the world. As keen music scholars themselves Noel and Liam are more aware of ‘passing trends’ and ‘fads’ than most AAA men who rather ‘lucked’ into making music a career and considered it merely a valid alternative to getting a ‘proper’ job (Liam famously spent all his unemployment money in the record shop next to the Manchester job centre during his early gigs with the band, sure that he’d be a success as a singer and that he’d have to learn his craft by analysing other people’s work) and that feeling seems to infuse the making of ‘Heathen Chemistry’ for both brothers. Having recently repaired the cracks in the band with two new members they both admired they didn’t want to rest on their laurels but wanted to push into new horizons.

For new members Gem (formerly part of the band ‘Heavy Stereo’) and Andy Bell (best known for his work with Oasis sound-alikes ‘Ride’) ‘Chemistry’ was their first real input into the band’s sound (both men had worked on ‘Giants’ on a ‘wage’, rather than as part of the band and finished the album after Bonehead and Guigsy left partway through). Despite Gem being fractionally older than Noel and Andy being fractionally older than Liam (and a bit younger than Noel), the two ‘new kids’ really do bring youthful energy to the band, their sheer joy at being part of what was still the world’s greatest rock and roll group of a generation breaking up this album’s more difficult moments. Both of them write their first songs for the band and both are upbeat, closer in style to the Oasis of ‘Definitely Maybe’ than the rather weather-beaten songs the Gallaghers are writing and their enthusiasm for Oasis and all they stand for is a big part of this record’s success, offering a contrast to the ‘why am I really here?’ writings of the others. To quote from the album’s lead single ‘we get so high you can’t help but feel it’ and that enthusiasm does seep through even the most melancholy songs here. Both Gem’s and Andy’s contributions were surprisingly well received too (despite not being up to the Gallagher’s creations – until the next album at least) and this reception may well have inspired Noel at least to feel that there was still some life in the band. Ironically, zoom forward five years and it’s the way Gem and Andy tend to side with Liam in band arguments that will persuade Noel for good that the band is over.

Still, for now that’s all in the future and the present is a very rainy place indeed. Lyrical themes of disappointment and anger crop up a few times over (especially in Noel’s songs) but one key image especially is repeated so often throughout the album that it sounds like a ‘mantra’ (or maybe a musical). ‘Stars’ and other ‘heavenly bodies’ as it were have always been a useful metaphor for Noel’s writing (one of his better B-sides of this period – and love songs come to that - is the glorious ‘Heart Of A Star’, added as a ‘bonus track’ on some non-European copies of the album) and they usually signify happiness, an on-top-of-the-world feeling or simply good fortune (think ‘Champagne Supernova’). Here the stars – and other astrological entities or even simply birds flying in the sky - are featured heavily, either ‘going down’ ‘fading out’ or ‘flying away’. ‘Hindu Times’ features the chorus ‘you’re my sunshine, you’re my rain!’; ‘Force Of Nature’ features the sun ‘going down’; ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ features the chorus line ‘all of the stars are fading away’, repeated again in ‘Little By Little’ line ‘fading like the stars we wish to be’; ‘Songbird’ ‘flies away’ and contains the odd line ‘she’s a little pilot in my mind’; ‘She Is Love’ continues the ‘bird’ imagery and ‘wings that unfold’; ‘Born On A Different Cloud’ makes it use of sky imagery clear in the title. Add in the ‘God who woke up on the wrong side of his bed’ on ‘Little By Little’ and you have the overarching message of the album: that it’s been effortless fun all this time, that Oasis were destined be as big as they were – and now it’s all equally destined to fall apart and fail, tracks in the sky that the band can’t control.

Overall, then, ‘Heathen Chemistry’ is an album with an awful lot riding on it. After two poorly received releases in ‘Be Here Now’ and ‘Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants’ (both albums better than contemporary reviews would tell you, if not quite up to the first two records ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘Morning Glory’) Oasis’ future depended on this record. It needed to consolidate their old sound whilst adding something new whilst balancing the old swagger with a newfound maturity. On those terms ‘Heathen Chemistry’ does rather well. ‘Little By Little’ ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ and ‘Born On A Different Cloud’ are all valid attempts at adding a new sound to Oasis’ usual dimensions and are all three among their greatest achievements. As for fans who never want their favourite band to change, well, ‘Hindu Times’ ‘Songbird’ and ‘She Is Love’ may be Oasis by numbers but in their own way each of these songs is the equal of anything in their canon. It’s the other five songs that let the side down somewhat, but even then there’s nothing so obviously OTT and hopeless as swathes of ‘Be Here Now’ (an album where anything goes, generally stretched out to painfully long running times). ‘Heathen Chemistry’ is an album swimming with ideas and invention, little quirks of lyrics and melody that come close to the band’s best. On the one hand a little extra work - three or four superb new songs – would have made the album perfect; but then again the sessions for this album went on for so long and the album went through so many changes that perhaps too much work went into it. Either way, though, ‘Heathen Chemistry’ is an unfairly forgotten album from a band that still had a great deal to give and if it doesn’t quite come up to career highs then that’s only because Oasis had already set the bar ridiculously high during their first year together. For all its faults, this is still one of our dozen or so AAA picks from the past decade for good reason: even blistered, bruised and bloodied Oasis still sound like nobody else of their era and even whilst in the process of disintegrating sound like an unbeatable force. Many fans hated this record when it came out – some because it sounded too close to the ‘old’ sound, as if the first two albums had never happened; other fans hated it for its sadness and melancholia that sit in contrast to the optimistic anthems that litter those same two records. Time has been kind to this record though, with ‘Heathen Chemistry’ a record with more depth than usual and yet more of the Oasis sound than the records that came immediately before and after. It will never approach ‘Definitely Maybe’ or ‘Morning Glory’, but then Oasis are not a new band exploding onto the music scene anymore with a joy and abandon rock and roll hadn’t seen in two decades; considering this is now a band of people trying desperately to keep themselves together on their second line-up and finding out what their new place in the music world is eight years on it’s pretty darn good, even with a few inevitable mistakes. Well worth another listen.

‘The Hindu Times’ is a deliberate attempt to write an ‘Oasisy’ sounding song and had indeed existed for quite a while before Noel finally added lyrics to it and nominated it for the album. The title confused many people at the time, having nothing to do with the rest of the song: in actual fact it’s another slogan from a t-shirt Noel spotted, this time in a London charity shop (what is it with this album and t-shirts?!) As a result I’ve read some hilarious synopses of what the title and song represent: all its actually about is the power of music to overcome all ills and to try and capture that magical feeling when a band is flying at full power and sound ‘together’ like nothing else in life. To be honest this song is only partly successful in that: Oasis mark two are still a little wet behind the ears and this song sounded a lot better by the end of the band’s ‘Heathen Chemistry’ tour than it ever did on record, but there’s no escaping the fact that this is exactly the song Oasis needed to kick-start this phase of their career. It sounds like their old sound but increased by a factor of ten, with the stakes much higher; in the context of the album it also makes for the perfect riposte to the question Noel later asks on ‘Little By Little’ of ‘why are we really here?’ The answer, buried in the third verse, is unusually mystical by Oasis standards: ‘There’s a light that shines on me, it keeps me warm, it brings me peace’, before a chorus line that ‘God gave me soul in my rock and roll, babe’ an illuminating revelation on an album that’s dominated by characters motivated by fate and who seemingly have their lives already mapped out for them. Of course, this being Oasis, there’s a crowd pleasing censor-baiting moment too (‘I get so high I just can’t feel it!’) Not the greatest moment on the record by any means then, but the song’s riff (‘Taxman’ via the Stone Roses) is a great copycat of the sort of thing Noel had been writing eight years before and there’s a tangible excitement to this song, which doesn’t build so much as unfurl, revealing more and more of its brilliance as the song takes off.

A crossfade (unusual for Oasis, that) leads us to ‘Force Of Nature’, which is more typical of the album sound to come. Noel sings solo to a grungy gutbucket blues that seems to fly in the face of the points made on ‘The Hindu Times’. This character isn’t controlled by any higher power but he’s all the unhappier for it, staggering round life looking for sympathy and subtlety and looking for ‘release’. An emotional ‘force of nature’ who has no one to benefit from it, this narrator is at the limit of what he can take, watching ‘the sun going down on the days of your easy life’, leaving him no recourse but to pray to a power he no longer believes will save him. I’m tempted to see this song as being about the seeming end of the Oasis days; it’s not that dissimilar to the songs Noel ends up writing on both last Oasis album ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ and first solo record ‘High Flying Birds’ and the idea, long suggested in Oasis interviews and writings that the band were somehow ‘fated’ to their success seems to have inspired the frustration in this song that the narrator is watching his opportunities slide past him without any outside intervention. The rather clunky lines about outsiders ‘smoking all my stash, burning all my cash’ also sounds like a typical comment by a band on the road with managers ripping and hangers-on ripping them off (Noel should have got together with Ray Davies...) and yet this song also sounds pointed, as if Noel is singing to someone else rather than himself. The obvious target is his brother (just listen to the venom on the line ‘the sun’s going down on the days of your easy life’), which makes more sense when you read the stories behind this album (of Liam, allegedly not pulling his weight and dragging his heels, much to his workaholic brother’s chagrin). Simpler than most Oasis songs and with the slightly grizzled, frustrated tone that was becoming the norm for Noel’s vocal outings, this is an intriguing composition – again not up to the band’s best but with much to recommend it.

‘Hung In A Bad Place’ is Gem’s first Oasis song and it’s exactly the sort of thing all Oasis-copycats were writing circa 1996-97 when Oasis were riding high in the charts. Everything Oasis haters always complain about (repetitive melodies, scatterbrained lyrics, noisy guitars) aren’t generally true of 99% of their work but are true of this rather sorry song that badly needs Noel’s gifts as a songwriter to make it first class. That’s a shame because the central idea is a pretty good one, highly suitable for Oasis: the narrator has been trapped for so long he’s desperate to taste his new-found freedom and runs into life like a child in a sweet-shop, desperate to taste everything, giving the song a very rushed and energetic air that should sound a lot more exciting than it ends up becoming. It sounds to me as if Gem is recounting his own story here to some extent (something he’ll do more of once Beady Eye is formed), with the excitement of being in one of the greatest bands of all time after a whole decade of ‘nearly’ successes with his own bands (including Oasis support act ‘Heavy Stereo’) naturally leading to his thrill and zest for life in the present day. Unfortunately there are some very poor rhymes here (‘It’s hasta manana, you’re on your own banana skin feet now’ ‘I’ve been hung in a bad place, there’s been no sun on my face’). Still, Gem’s a better guitarist than he is a songwriter and his tearing guitar part – which effectively doubles Liam’s rather gruff lead vocal throughout – is the highlight of the song, playing with a skill and dexterity missing from Oasis’ sound throughout (as well as writing less note how little guitar Noel plays throughout the album).

‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’, perhaps the album’s best known song, is one of it’s shining moments. Putting the tension between him and his brother to good use, Noel turns in one of his best ever ballads, sung by Liam with Noel’s Leslie-speakered feathery vocal replying low in the mix. One of the simplest songs Noel ever wrote, it’s amongst his most effective, with a lovely reflective tune and lyrics that mirror ‘Talk Tonight’ in their urging the characters to get up and get on in life, overcoming any obstacle that comes their way. The lyrics are clearly about the state of the band, Noel writing for himself or his brother that ‘you’ll never change what’s been and done’ and repeating the mantra of the band’s ‘it’s meant to be’ mantra of their early years in the line ‘your destiny will keep you warm’. In many ways the roles are reversed: it should be elder brother Noel singing support to his brother but in true Kinks/Who fashion the voices have been switched so that the ‘writer’ gets to sing the ‘other’s role. The use of the two brothers effectively singing to each other is a magical moment, especially when rather than repeating they seem to interact (‘Don’t be scared!’ sneers Liam in the last verse, only for a defiant Noel to add ‘I’m not scared!’) Liam excels himself here, pitching his song somewhere between helpless frustration (‘Get Up! Come on!’) and sympathy (‘Try not to worry!’) on a vehicle that finally makes the most of his range and abilities, while the backing track is sublime. The very Beatlesy ‘aaaaaah!’ chorus is beautiful, far more effective than the easier task of using a professional choir, while the unique (for Oasis) blend of psychedelic mellotron and subtle, counterpoint string parts (very 1990s) is highly effective. Listen out too for the references to ‘stars’ – this is clearly about the band’s ‘stardom’ days, with a pun on ‘stars’ in the sky (driving our destiny) with our time as celebrity type ‘stars’ on Earth before the last verse turns the glare back on us and tells ‘us’ that ‘we’re all of us stars, we’re fading away...but not try not to worry’. Unfortunately, if this is a ‘message’ to us fans then it ends on a very melancholy note indeed with the band seemingly over (‘Just take what you need, and we’ll be on our way’) – was this in fact written to be the band’s ‘farewell’ single (a la ‘The Gift’ by The Jam?) Either way, this is a lovely song, much under-rated for its ability to add real emotion into what is in truth quite a simple song and make the most out of the contrasts between the Gallagher brothers. Simply beautiful.

‘Songbird’ was a surprise hit single – well a surprise to everyone except Liam who wrote it. Cuter and more melodic than expected, it’s clearly inspired by his new found love Nicola Appleton who by most accounts has brought out more of the caring and sympathetic side of Liam’s character. In Liam’s words he ‘took me shades off and had a look at the beauty in the world’, coming up with a lovely mid-60s backing track (again dominated by a retro mellotron) with some lovely gentle passing chords and some intriguing lyrics about ‘talking of better days yet to come, never felt this love for anyone!’ The rest of the band were apparently sniffy about the song (Noel claiming his brother’s idea of writing was to make up a ‘song’ about his ‘bird’) but actually the song is perfectly in keeping with Oasis’ style, with its imagery of birds ‘spreading their wings’ and ‘flying into the night’. There’s even another reference to the idea of the characters being ‘controlled’ in some way, Liam imagining the ‘songbird’ as the ‘little pilot in my mind’, steering him through the difficulties of life. It’s notable, too, that despite his image as a hell raiser and party animal Liam’s first two songs are about first his son (‘Little James’ from ‘Giants’) and now his fiancé (with a possible third song about brother Noel later on this album). Dismissed as many who missed his sweeter, sensitive side, it was nice to hear Liam get a chance to prove his critics won with this well received, heavy-selling song. The only shame is that the song is so short (at 2:08 it was one of the shortest songs to have made the UK top ten in some 20 years!)

‘Little By Little’, meanwhile, is Noel’s peak on the album, arguably the best in a long run of fine ‘bitter’ songs that date back to ‘Fade In Out’ on ‘Be Here Now’. The song tries hard to be philosophical about some loss or other (presumably the state of the band again) before real emotion finally breaks through the song and the narrator is all but overwhelmed by the real emotion of the moment. It’s a marvellous song this, perfectly poised between grief and understanding, trying to come to terms with the ups and downs of life first with the head and then with the heart. It’s hard not to hear this song as another bitter recrimination to Liam, saddened at the way a band who began with a bang seem to be ending with a whimper (‘Little by little, gave you everything you dreamed of! Little by little, the wheels of your life have slowly fallen off!’) By the second verse Noel’s philosophical stance is tongue-in-cheek, announcing that ‘the day has come and now you’ll have to accept’, only to undermine his own words with the line ‘you know I don’t mean what I just said!...’ and suggesting that Oasis are still feted to become the ‘people’s band’ against all the odds just like they were in 1994 (only the ‘God’ controlling fate has ‘woken up on the wrong side of his bed’). The key line of the song is ‘You have to give it all in your life’ and because of one thin g or another Noel for one is clearly afraid that oasis have left it too late to win their old audience back again and that he’s squandered his chances of fulfilling his potential. Noel’s vocal is tremendous here, the sound of a man breaking down bit by bit before wallowing in a delightfully destructive last note that sounds like the dying embers of a fire (‘Why am I really here?’) The song, however, takes no notice of his grief and simply keeps playing, on one of the most spectacular moments of the whole record: Alan White’s drumming mimics his sterling work on ‘Champagne Supernova;’ and recalls successes long gone, while Noel and Gem’s twin guitars with wah-wah pedals make for a wonderfully mournful, nostalgic air. One of the three absolute gems of the record, a song as good as any in the Oasis canon, with the band turning their old ‘nothing-can-get-us-down’ anthems on their head for a song about how easily things can go wrong and how hard it is to stay on top. Perhaps ironically but deservedly, this glorious song of self-doubt and worry over the band’s place in the music scene of the day ended up becoming one of their biggest hits and sounded especially wonderful in concert.
‘A Quick Peep’ is Andy Bell’s contribution to the record and, well, it’s not up to his later classics (by the band’s final days his songs are often the best on the record). A brief instrumental not quite lasting 80 seconds, its insubstantial but does at least offer good grounds for the great band Oasis were becoming, with an interplay even their early line-ups would have been proud of. The sound is unusually folky for Oasis too, sounding not unlike one of the Jack The Lad/Lindisfarne instrumentals from the early 70s (with a similarly tongue-in-cheek corny end), although Andy’s bass rumble (similar to Paul McCartney’s inventive work for The Beatles in the mid 60s) is the best thing about the song.

‘(Probably) All In The Mind’ is an unusual Noel Gallagher song and seems to have been built from the melody of ‘Within You Without You’ with the bass riff from ‘Taxman’, with the lovely harmony parts from previous Oasis song ‘Who Feels Love?’ (from ‘Giants’) as its template. While not as successful as that song, its nice to hear Oasis mining their 1960s influences again on a song about imagination, with references to lots of past Oasis songs thrown into the mix (‘Half the world’ ‘Let me take you down’ – actually a Beatles reference first and ‘I’ll Show You What You Love’ – seemingly the answer to ‘Who Feels Love?’). The song never really takes off and is a little on the light side for this comparatively ‘heavy’ album, while the vocals shared between Noel and Liam pall long before the end of the song even if its nice to hear the brothers in all-too brief harmony. However, even if the basis of the song is a little bland it does have its magical moments, firstly the ‘probably’ word before the title adding a sense of surrealism and possibility to the song (ie the world might be this wonderful; the differences between ‘its only in the mind and ‘its probably all in the mind’ are infinite). Secondly, the guitar solo that suddenly kicks in unexpectedly some two minutes in is a thing of beauty, as bold and as joyous as the bounce in the rest of the song. Thirdly, the way the song ends is a real treat, suddenly switching unannounced to a minor chord for the last few run-throughs of the song’s riff and undoing all the good and hopeful work of the past three minutes in one bass-rumbling go. Not up to the best songs on the record, but a worthy experiment at something new.

‘She Is Love’ continues with the lighter style and again wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a late 60s/early 70s folk-rock LP. This is Noel’s song of romance on the album, presumably written for his new girlfriend Sara MacDonald (although if so then the song must have been mighty tight on the album’s backing track deadline of late 2001). It’s as light and fluffy as ‘Songbird’, with ‘bird’ imagery of ‘;wings unfolding’ and some lovely gospel organ playing and a flute that mimics the sound of a bird rather well. Indeed, this song is arguably even better than ‘Songbird’ although lesser known (‘Love’ came out as a double A side with ‘Little By Little’ although most radio stations preferred playing the other side) and the delight in hearing Noel sound happy and carefree again is delightful after a couple of rather heavy albums. Lyrically simple, this song has a few confusing parts (‘She is love and her ways are high and steep’ – does this mean love is hard to climb and dangerous, but with a great view?) and a rather dangerous tag line (‘I do believe her when she speaks’ – presumably meaning that the narrator never used to believe what women told him, rather out of touch with the times circa 2002), but there’s no doubting Noel’s lovely vocal which is beautifully light and fluffy. However, Miker Rowe should take the biggest bow on the song, playing both the sensitive ‘earthy’ gospel organ part and the more melodic mellotron phrases over the main tune. Indeed, presumably the rest of the band don’t appear on this song barring drummer Alan White who adds a simple rhythmic pattern (there’s no bass and the vocals are all by Noel triple-tracked, while the guitar part sounds more like Noel than Gem). Was this song i n fact recorded for a solo album and only brought back into the band for consideration on the album at the last minute when they patched up their differences? Who knows...

‘Born On A Different Cloud’ is Liam’s second song on the album and one of my all-time favourite Oasis songs. For me Oasis always ring truer when they’re singing about difficulties and upsets (the last song not withstanding) and the eerie synthesiser part (again by Mike Rowe) makes for the perfect backing on a song about a misunderstood pioneer. I still can’t work out who Lima’s singing about on this song- at first the title line is a bit of defiance, as if Liam is singing about himself as a rebellious statement; but elsewhere the song paints a picture more like his brother (in a gorgeous middle eight Liam plunges further into minor key melancholy with the line ‘Lonely soul, busy working overtime...especially when your hands are tied’ as if in apology for the difficulties he caused during the making of the LP; Noel joins in the song at this point too). Yet again Liam sings ‘you’re my son and you’re going to shine’; along with all the Beatles references (‘classless, clever and free’ – a lift from Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ and the title of another classic Lennon song ‘Borrowed Time’) I’m actually more convinced this song is about his second son ‘Lennon’. Like Paul Simon, Liam writes about the difficulties of being a teenager by taking from memories of his own youth, picturing his son ‘loaded like a gun’ (on ‘My Little Town’ Paul has his character similarly ‘twitching like the finger on the trigger of a gun’). The line ‘breaking all your mother’s pride’, meanwhile, could refer to Lennon or father Liam both (or indeed Noel). Perhaps it’s really a song about the links between generations? Whatever the origins, ‘Different Cloud’ is a superb song, Liam’s voice treated by technical innovations invented by The Beatles and George Martin sounding older and fiercer than ever before, while the hypnotic synth hook (reaching up helplessly for a pained note that ‘clashes’ with the rest of the song, only to fall back down to the ‘root’ note) is one of the cleverest passages of any Oasis recording. The shocks aren’t over yet, however: there’s a sudden agonising switch over to electric instruments on the line ‘Lonely soul’ that effectively puts even more distance between us and the unknowable lead character. Later still there are some lovely cascading ‘na na nas’ from Liam double tracked and without the trickery this time that sound both hopeful and defeated. A wonderful mood piece, ‘Different Cloud’ is different to every other song there’s ever been, despite nicking bits from lots of them and is a truly remarkable song, the turning point in Liam’s writing where he began composing songs every bit the equal of his brother’s work. For some reason many Oasis fans don’t like this song, but all I can say is they’ve got cloth ears: the best song about isolation since The Rolling Stones’ ’20,000 Light Years From Home’ (with which it shares an eerie, mellotron-dominated mood), this is Liam at his very best and a recording that actually undersells itself at six minutes.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for ‘Better Man’, Liam’s third song that rounds the album to rather unspectacular form. Arguably the weakest piece here, it’s more of a riff than a song, a character making a promise to be a ‘better man’ (is this Liam persuading brother Noel that Oasis still have a way to go? In this context the line ‘Don’t want to hurt you, just want to see what’s in your hands’ is a revealing one) before an ‘ahhhhhhh!’ chorus of swirling harmonies. Only the sudden ‘reality check’ some two minutes in (when the band suddenly move key and sound much more urgent and more determined) catches the ear and this actually sounds quite delightful when the horns kick in –it’s just a shame there isn’t a fully formed song to go with it. By the standards of the rest of the album not much thought has gone into this song, which ends up sounding like a generic rock workout from the early 70s that doesn’t really add much the band hadn’t already said in the similarly titled ‘It’s Getting Better Man!’ that rounded off ‘Be Here Now’ in similarly unsuccessful style. Oasis are well known for ending albums on odd notes (‘Married With Children’ is one of the weaker songs on ‘Definitely Maybe’) but this one is particularly poor and arguably the weakest track on an otherwise fascinating CD.

That said, ‘Better Man’ is only the last track if you read the back of the CD box. In truth, there’s a further ‘hidden’ instrumental (apparently named ‘The Cage’) not listed on the credits that makes for a much more fitting farewell. Suddenly kicking in some 33 minutes into the ‘Better Man’ track (ie after 28 or so minutes of silence), its poignant and beautiful and sounds like a musical equivalent of the defeat that’s been hovering over most of the record. Liam probably doesn’t appear (this song may have been recorded at one of the many sessions where he failed to ‘show up’) leaving the core four of Noel, Gem, Andy and Alan to finally sound like a ‘proper’ band, playing live and without overdubs for the only time on the record. Noel’s chord choices give away who probably came up with the song, while Gem’s screaming feedback-based guitar sounds like a real howl of pain, while the rhythm section hopelessly try to lift the mood of the song without success. A mellotron part adds further melancholy while the saddest group harmonies you’ve ever heard offer a ghostly howl of ‘oooh!’, as if the band is no more and what we’re hearing is the ‘ghost’. Given the context of the problems making this record, it’s a moving requiem for what might have been and indeed would have made for a much more fitting farewell than what the band eventually bided adieu with (the ironic choice of Liam’s ‘Soldier On’).

In all, then, ‘Heathen Chemistry’ is an album that doesn’t get anything like as much credit as it deserves. Few albums are as revealing and honest as this one, with several references to band break-ups, tensions and feelings of failure. Yet that’s exactly the reason why so few fans rate this album, as Oasis traditionally are meant to be arrogant, confident and optimistic. However, times change and songwriters do too and I’d rather hear a band being honest about their situation than pretending everything is fine and recycling old songs ad infinitum (who mentioned the Rolling Stones?!) ‘Heathen Chemistry’ may not reflect the times anything like as well as ‘Definitely Maybe’ or ‘Morning Glory’ and its certainly not as track-perfect as either of those two glories. Yet in its way its a better album than even those – with songs born from pain and suffering and weariness rather than the confident blast of energy of youth. Had Oasis ended here it would have been near-perfect, the logical 180 degree step from where the band began but, for better or worse, the band came together on making this album like never before and went for a further two albums. In the end the t-shirt was right and the album is aptly named; this is a group of differences, of contrasts and opposites seemingly designed for conflict, rows and suffering. Yet when they do get together and forget their differences the sound is one of chemistry indeed. A sorely under-rated album. Overall rating – 7/10.

Other Oasis/Beady Eye/High Flying Birds album (and DVD!) reviews from this site you might be interested in:

'Definitely Maybe' (1994)

'The Masterplan' (B sides compilation 1999)

'Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants' (2001)

'Definitely Maybe' (DVD soundtrack 2003)

‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ (2005)

'Dig Out Your Soul' (2008)

'Different Gear, Still Speeding' (Beady Eye 2011)

'Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' (2011)

The 10 Youngest AAA Stars At The Time Of Their Debut Release (News, Views and Music Issue 181)

The other week I rashly stated that Lulu must surely have been the youngest of any AAA stars when she released her first single ‘Shout!’ at the age of 15. As two of you pointed out, I was wrong: two of the Beach Boys were even younger than that when they released their debut single ‘Surfin’!’ in 1961, even if it was only for a small local record company. In penance I’ve spent this week scouring Wikipedia and various official AAA sites to find out who exactly were the youngest AAA stars on the date of their first single. Please note that I’m going here for the records that most fans and scholars generally accept as a band’s ‘debut’ single so I’m not counting demos, unreleased tracks or songs given a limited release (to take an example we’re counting the first Beatles release as ‘Love Me Do’ in 1962 – making George Harrison a comparatively elderly 19 years and eight months – not the German-only ‘My Bonnie’ single or any of the Quarrymen/Silver Beatles recordings never intended for release. Each entry for this top 10 features the artist’s date of birth followed by the release date of the first single, with their age at the time in brackets afterwards. The list seems nicely balanced to me, including three drummers and four guitarists though interestingly no bass players (who are, by tradition, the oldest members of any group!) For the record a list of the ‘oldest’ AAA musicians by the time of a debut record would feature Byrd Skip Battin (34 by the time of ‘Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde’) and Mark Knopfler (29 at the time of ‘Sultans Of Swing’) but be dwarfed by Jefferson Airplane violinist Papa John Creach (who was a staggering 54 when he made his musical debut on the band’s LP ‘Bark’ in 1971).

David Marks (22nd August 1948 – 15th November 1961) (13 years 2 months 24 days)

David Marks was eventually kicked out of the Beach Boys after just four albums because he fell out with the Wilson brother’s manager-father Murray and, I quote, ‘messed around too much’ (you can hear evidence of this on the infamous ‘rehearsal’ tape of 1960 when a then-12 year old Dave says to Mike Love ‘don’t pop me in the mouth!’ every time he messes up). To be fair, though, what 13/14 year old in the same position wouldn’t be doing the same? There Dave was still at school, expecting a future consisting of double maths and PE lessons when out of the blue he’s invited to join the most hip and happening band in the whole of California for no other reason than he lived across the road from the Wilsons and they need a second guitarist. I mean his friends are all out having fun while he’s travelling the world – who wouldn’t be celebrating the fact? By his own admission Marks only got into music seriously after leaving the band anyway (at the age of 16!), turning into a fine guitarist, although Marks never contributed to their vocals until the recent 2012 reunion tour. Life must have been very difficult for him, working with three brothers and a cousin and managed by their father/uncle, and Marks was perennially the outsider, never as much a fixture in the group as his predecessor and successor Al Jardine (who toured with the band but didn’t appear on any of their records until 1964). Perhaps with good reason, Marks turned down an offer to rejoin the band in 1971 after Bruce Johnston quit the band (the Beach Boys’ reputation had never been lower, with Brian Wilson at his lowest ebb). Still, Marks was as talented a musician as any 13 year old I know and deserved better than to become a footnote in music history, with any of his post-Beach Boy bands (‘The Moons’ ‘The Band Without A Name’ and ‘Colours’) possessing the talent to show off his skill in his own right. As of 2013 the reunited Beach Boys are on hiatus and Dave Marks – part of the band since Carl Wilson’s death in 1998 – has his own health problems with Heptatis C. However it was a joy to see him back standing proudly at the front of the reunited band after all those years.

Carl Wilson (21st December 1946 – 15th November 1961) (14 years 11 months 6 days)

Carl, the youngest of the Wilson brothers, wasn’t all that much older than Dave, but believe it or not he already had the best musical pedigree of any of the band. Carl was passionate about music from an early age – and not in a detached way like elder brother Brian, Carl having taken lessons from a talented kid down the end of the road John Maus (later to become the guitarist in the Walker Brothers). Carl was, naturally, chosen as the lead guitarist on the band’s early rehearsals and this first single, Carl showing off his love of Chuck Berry and rock and roll in general despite being made to play like a ‘surf band’ (ie Jan and Dean). Whilst for Brian music was a spiritual guide and to Mike it was an expression of self, Carl was always a music fan first and foremost and kept his ear to the grindstone, falling in love with The Beatles long before 99% of America did and spending his time away from the Beach Boys nurturing and producing records for other bands. Carl died of lung cancer at the terribly young age of 51 whilst still a Beach Boy, even if the band had been quiet for a good six years before his death.

Lulu ( 3rd November 1948 - 17th April 1964) (15 years 5 months 14 days)

As we mentioned last week, ‘Shout!’ was such an unexpected and sudden hit that most people in the music world didn’t even know what Lulu looked like! Was she a blues singer who’d been struggling in isolation for years? Was ‘Lulu’ a pseudonym for a known legend whose name was fading in the mists of time? Even if she was a young and unknown then surely she must be in her 20s or 30s to have a voice like that – and have at least a little African-=American ancestry to match, this female reincarnation of Little Richard?! The truth that Lulu was a 15 year old schoolgirl who’d never travelled out of Scotland came as a shock to many, especially the men in music in the 1960s who were faced with a power and grit they could only dream of. Like our earlier entries, Lulu should have still been at school when she went on her first tours and somehow no one at her school thought to the local truant officer who paid Lulu’s mum and dad a visit asking why she hadn’t been in for six months. ‘Don’t you watch Top Of The Pops?’ her mother exclaimed, ‘she’s had a number one hit!’ Lulu remembers now in mock-horror how she used to be treating like a kid on tour, with the likes of John Lennon ‘taking care’ of her and making sure she was kept away from the swinging side of the sixties that rather passed Lulu by. After ‘Shout!’ Lulu spent her 16th year struggling without any chart entries at all, before finding her feet again at the still tender age of 17 with her work with Mickie Most. A genuinely sweet and adorable clean-cut kid, with the voice of a grizzled veteran, was a hard thing to market and all of Lulu’s records up to as late as 1990s struggle with coming to terms with Lulu’s image: was it the sweet lass who sang old musicals and music hall standards on her TV show or was it the r and b soul sister who sang from the heart and tackled some of the then-hardest hitting songs ever written? In truth Lulu was a little of both, a genuinely nice and caring person but with the need to sing out her soul at any costs and its to her credit that Lulu continued to push for more from her time at Decca, through to London and Atco, even if the sheer range of styles and standards makes your head spin listening to it all today.

Art Garfunkel (November 5th 1941 – November 27th 1957) (16 years o months 22 days)

This and the next entry on the list are a bit of cheat really – Simon and Garfunkel’s earliest songs were miles away from the passionate mature pop and rock songs of the following decades and the duo didn’t even use their own names (calling themselves ‘Tom and Jerry’ after the cartoon series). Debut single ‘Hey Schoolgirl’ was too important not to mention here though: the earliest self-written song on this list (by Simon and Garfunkel jointly in those days) and a pretty big hit, turning what would undoubtedly was a bit of a sideline interest for both men into a lifelong passion for music. Art (then using the surname ‘Garr’) wanted to become a graphic designer (like a surprisingly large amount of musicians it seems) and used to trace the movement of the pair’s half a dozen singles on graph paper, tracing their movement up and down the charts. ‘Hey Schoolgirl!’ was the first and the biggest, by the duo’s 1969 tour a joke to be rattled off in self-deprecating style but back in 1957 as good as any rock and roll single in the charts, cute and fun with a catchy tune. The later singles aren’t bad either, although they were the start of a drought that took nine years to break in any major way, by which time Garfunkel had given up on his musical dream and was back to studying graphic design at college...

Paul Simon (October 13th 1941 - November 27th 1957) (16 years 1 month 14 days)

Simon and Garfunkel had thus started a long-standing tradition of breaking up every few years. However Paul was still desperate to make a living from music and did two major things that stood him in good stead for his later career. One was that he, along with Carole King, recorded ‘demo’ singles for struggling songwriters, showing off how hit records could sound if a ‘name’ artists decided to record them (Paul also made another 20 or so singles under various names and in bands with various friends, ‘Tico and the Triumphs’ releasing the best of Paul’s work). Paul also undertook solo tours, often ones that took him far away from home such as a lengthy tour of England, which Paul had flown back to finish when he learnt the news that Simon and Garfunkel’s formerly flop single ‘The Sound Of Silence’ had been given an overdub of electric instruments by producer Tom Wilson and had become a surprise hit. The rest of the story is a rollercoaster ride for both men of success and failure, both of which these first recordings as Tom and Jerry paved the way for and which they offered a greater understanding of the music world than any amount of training would have taught them.

Kenney Jones (16th September 1948 – 6th August 1965) (16 years 11 months 20 days)

All the Small Faces were young (in the first line up Steve Marriott and Jimmy Winston were 18 and Ronnie Lane 19 at the time of their first single) but drummer Kenney Jones was still by far the baby of the group. However even by the time of the band’s first single Kenney had been in and out of groups for a while, starting a lifelong friendship with Ronnie Lane who was then an assistant in a London music shop and enthusiastic about the local music being played. The Small Faces’ debut single ‘What’cha Gonna Do ‘Bout It?’ made quite an impact and was followed by a staggering three year run of success, ending when Kenney was only weeks out of his teens. Kenney stayed with the band when Steve Marriott left and they became the Faces, backing Rod Stewart throughout much of the following decade before Kenney got the call to join The Who in the wake of Keith Moon’s death. Kenney – a big friend of Moony and the logical choice for the band - was still just 31 when he joined the band in 1979, staying with them for three years before the quartet finally called it a day in 1982. He still plays with his own band ‘The Jones Gang’ as well as the recent Faces reunion with Mick Hucknall the only person they could find who was even worse at singing than Rod Stewart!

Dennis Wilson (4th December 1944 – 15th November 1961) (16 years 11 months 20 days)

Our third Beach Boy on the list, Dennis only made it to the band’s debut recording reluctantly, the Wilson’s mother having asked son Brian if there was anyway he could include his brother and ‘keep him out of trouble. Not yet a drummer (Brian tapped a cymbal with his index finger to keep rhythm) Dennis was just a singer but became more and more into making music as the band’s records got better and their success and fame began to grow. Of course, the Beach Boys only existed in the first place after Dennis urged his songwriting brother to put his experiences at the beach into words and music (Dennis was famously the only member of the band who could surf). Despite making this list Dennis was what you might call a late developer, not writing his own songs until Brian’s bed-bound days in 1969 when the band had been going eight years and arguably reaching his peak on his two wonderful solo albums ‘ Pacific Ocean Blue’ and the originally unfinished ‘Bambuu’, both the equal of any Beach Boys album. By then Dennis was a frazzled, prematurely aged 33 whod’ been married six times (twice to the same person) and whose songs wound like the last gaps of a man whose seen everything in life and experienced all there is to know. It somehow makes a sad kind of sense that Dennis died in 1983, at the early age of 39, drowning in the sea around his yacht (Dennis was diving to retrieve precious objects he’d thrown overboard in a rage) – Dennis always did things fast and left his teenage years behind him much faster than most of the musicians on this list.

Dave Davies (3rd February 1947 – 7th February 1964) (17 years 0 months 4 days)

Even compared to their contemporaries the first line up of The Kinks were young and the other three (Ray Davies, Pete Quaife and Mick Avory) all nearly made this list in their own right too. Dave was still the youngest by far though, so young that his contribution to the band’s early sound was overlooked for years (many assuming that someone like Jimmy Page – present on many Shel Talmy produced recordings - must have invented his distinctive blistering guitar sound). However, Dave had lots of time on his hands – he’d been expelled from school for getting his 15 year old girlfriend pregnant and had lost his job at a guitar shop after sleeping in. Around 1962/63 when The Kinks were still mainly known as The Ravens it was Dave who was the central force, the lead singer and guitarist and the figure all the girls had come to see with his long hair and rebellious ways and the transition from him to Ray only took place near to the release of ‘You Really Got Me’ when Ray’s songwriting began to dominate the band’s sound. The listing here isn’t for ‘Got Me’ by the way but for the Kinks kover of ‘Long Tall Sally’, a flop on its release. Dave continued in the band right up until 1993, although he did have three stabs at a solo career, beginning with a storm with ‘Death Of A Clown’ at the age of 20 (when his songwriting began in earnest) and reviving it again in 1977 at the age of 30 when the ‘heavy metal’ sound Dave invented was suddenly the height of fashion.

Cat Stevens (July 21st 1948 – September 30th 1966) (18 years 3 months 9 days)

Some people are just born with too much talent. Cat didn’t even pick up the guitar till aged 16 but less than two years later his writing, singing and guitar playing impressed Decca enough to sign Cat up to a recording contract. First single ‘I Love My Dog’ is followed by an amazing year full of hits (‘Matthew and Son’ ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ ‘I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun’) in which Cat outsold everybody singles-wise in the music milestone of 1967 except for Englebert Humperdinck. Unfortunately Cat’s one man band talent caught up with him and by 19 he was at death’s door, collapsing from TB and exhaustion and forced to retreat from the music world that had offered him so much just a short time before. Unable to promote his last two singles and second album Decca figure Cat’s magic has lost its power and drop him from the label, leaving Cat all washed up at the age of 20. When Cat eventually returns (record label Island taking a chance on his new, more humbled acoustic sound) Cat has aged an awful lot more than just the 18 months he was out of the public eye and having grown his beard physically looks much older than his age too. Childhood and frivolity was over – by his third LP ‘Mona Bone Jakon’ Cat has souls to save and it’s hard to reconcile the two extremes together ...

Keith Moon (27th August 1946 – 15th January 1965) (18 years 4 months 18 days)

Moony seems to keep cropping up at the end of a lot of these lists – as if he can’t bear the thought of not joining the party! Compared to the rest of this list 18 seems awfully old (!) and yet Keith was adamant that whatever life threw at him that he would never grow up and that all of life is a game, however dark the rules might be sometimes. Indeed, fans sometimes struggle to reconcile the faded, jaded Keith of 1976-78 with their hero at all, with Moon just 32 at the time of his death but looking at least 20 years older after a lifetime of booze, drugs, rock and roll, devastated hotel rooms and limousines driven into swimming pools. We all remember him as the cheeky-grinned mod who always looked younger than his age anyway, the buffoon at the back keeping Pete Townshend’s loftier concepts weighted to the ground and living out the adolescent’s dream lifestyle. Despite being 15 months younger than Pete, the next youngest member of The Who (an absolute lifetime given the age of the band in the first place) the ‘Orrible ‘Oo never quite flew till the day Keith joined the band and the drum-seat was so obviously his that the group didn’t even bother telling him he’d joined until the mid 70s!
That’s it for another week – we hope to see you here again soon!

A NOW COMPLETE List Of Top Five/Top Ten/TOP TWENTY  Entries 2008-2019
1) Chronic Fatigue songs

2) Songs For The Face Of Bo

3) Credit Crunch Songs

4) Songs For The Autumn

5) National Wombat Week

6) AAA Box Sets

7) Virus Songs

8) Worst AAA-Related DVDs

9) Self-Punctuating Superstar Classics

10) Ways To Know You Have Turned Into A Collector

11) Political Songs

12) Totally Bonkers Concept Albums

13) Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

14) Still Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

15) AAA Existential Questions

16) Releases Of The Year 2008

17) Top AAA Xmas Songs

18) Notable AAA Gigs

19) All things '20' related for our 20th issue

20) Romantic odes for Valentine's Day

21) Hollies B sides

22) 'Other' BBC Session Albums

23) Beach Boys Rarities Still Not Available On CD

24) Songs John, Paul and George wrote for Ringo's solo albums

25) 5 of the Best Rock 'n' Roll Tracks From The Pre-Beatles Era

26) AAA Autobiographies

27) Rolling Stones B-sides

28) Beatles B-Sides

29) The lllloooonnngggeesssttt AAA songs of all time

30) Kinks B-Sides

31) Abandoned CSNY projects 'wasted on the way'

32) Best AAA Rarities and Outtakes Sets

33) News We've Missed While We've Been Away

34) Birthday Songs for our 1st Anniversary

35) Brightest Album Covers

36) Biggest Recorded Arguments

37) Songs About Superheroes

38) AAA TV Networks That Should Exist

39) AAA Woodtsock Moments

40) Top Moments Of The Past Year As Voted For By Readers

41) Music Segues

42) AAA Foreign Language Songs

43) 'Other' Groups In Need Of Re-Mastering

44) The Kinks Preservation Rock Opera - Was It Really About The Forthcoming UK General Election?

45) Mono and Stereo Mixes - Biggest Differences

46) Weirdest Things To Do When A Band Member Leaves

47) Video Clips Exclusive To Youtube (#1)

48) Top AAA Releases Of 2009

49) Songs About Trains

50) Songs about Winter

51) Songs about astrology plus horoscopes for selected AAA members

52) The Worst Five Groups Ever!

53) The Most Over-Rated AAA Albums

54) Top AAA Rarities Exclusive To EPs

55) Random Recent Purchases (#1)

56) AAA Party Political Slogans

57) Songs To Celebrate 'Rock Sunday'

58) Strange But True (?) AAA Ghost Stories

59) AAA Artists In Song

60) Songs About Dogs

61) Sunshiney Songs

62) The AAA Staff Play Their Own Version Of Monoploy/Mornington Crescent!

63) What 'Other' British Invasion DVDs We'd Like To See

64) What We Want To Place In Our AAA Time Capsule

65) AAA Conspiracy Theroies

66) Weirdest Things To Do Before - And After - Becoming A Star

67) Songs To Tweet To

68) Greatest Ever AAA Solos

69) John Lennon Musical Tributes

70) Songs For Halloween

71) Earliest Examples Of Psychedelia

72) Purely Instrumental Albums

73) AAA Utopias

74) AAA Imaginary Bands

75) Unexpected AAA Cover Versions

76) Top Releases of 2010

77) Songs About Snow

78) Predictions For 2011

79) AAA Fugitives

80) AAA Home Towns

81) The Biggest Non-Musical Influences On The 1960s

82) AAA Groups Covering Other AAA Groups

83) Strange Censorship Decisions

84) AAA Albums Still Unreleased on CD

85) Random Recent Purchases (#2)

86) Top AAA Music Videos

87) 30 Day Facebook Music Challenge

88) AAA Documentaries

89) Unfinished and 'Lost' AAA Albums

90) Strangest AAA Album Covers

91) AAA Performers Live From Mars (!)

92) Songs Including The Number '100' for our 100th Issue

93) Most Songs Recorded In A Single Day

94) Most Revealing AAA Interviews

95) Top 10 Pre-Fame Recordings

96) The Shortest And Longest AAA Albums

97) The AAA Allstars Ultimate Band Line-Up

98) Top Songs About Sports

99) AAA Conversations With God

100) AAA Managers: The Good, The Bad and the Financially Ugly

101) Unexpected AAA Cameos

102) AAA Words You can Type Into A Caluclator

103) AAA Court Cases

104) Postmodern Songs About Songwriting

105) Biggest Stylistic Leaps Between Albums

106) 20 Reasons Why Cameron Should Go!

107) The AAA Pun-Filled Cookbook

108) Classic Debut Releases

109) Five Uses Of Bird Sound Effects

110) AAA Classic Youtube Clips Part #1

111) Part #2

112) Part #3

113) AAA Facts You Might Not Know

114) The 20 Rarest AAA Records

115) AAA Instrumental Songs

116) Musical Tarot

117) Christmas Carols

118) Top AAA Releases Of 2011

119) AAA Bands In The Beano/The Dandy

120) Top 20 Guitarists #1

121) #2

122) 'Shorty' Nomination Award Questionairre

123) Top Best-Selling AAA Albums

124) AAA Songs Featuring Bagpipes

125) A (Hopefully) Complete List Of AAA Musicians On Twitter

126) Beatles Albums That Might Have Been 1970-74 and 1980

127) DVD/Computer Games We've Just Invented

128) The AAA Albums With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

129) The AAA Singles With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

130) Lyric Competition (Questions)

131) Top Crooning Classics

132) Funeral Songs

133) AAA Songs For When Your Phone Is On Hold

134) Random Recent Purchases (#3)

135) Lyric Competition (Answers)

136) Bee Gees Songs/AAA Goes Disco!

137) The Best AAA Sleevenotes (And Worst)

138) A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-70

139) More Wacky AAA-Related Films And Their Soundtracks

140) AAA Appearances On Desert Island Discs

141) Songs Exclusive To Live Albums

142) More AAA Songs About Armageddon

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In honour of this week’s review of an album released to cash in on a movie soundtrack (only one of these songs actually appears in ‘Easy Rider’...and...

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Having a family does funny things to some musicians, as we’ve already seen in this week’s review (surely the only AAA album actually written around...

Some artists just have no idea what their best work really is. One thing that amazes me as a collector is how consistently excellent many of the...

159) A (Not That) Short Guide To The 15 Best Non-AAA Bands

160) The Greatest AAA Drum Solos (Or Near Solos!)

161) AAA Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame Acceptance Speeches

162) AAA Re-Recordings Of Past Songs

163) A Coalition Christmas (A Fairy Tale)

164) AAA Songs About Islands

165) The AAA Review Of The Year 2012

166) The Best AAA Concerts I Attended

167) Tributes To The 10 AAA Stars Who Died The Youngest

168) The First 10 AAA Songs Listed Alphabetically

171) The 10 Best Songs From The Psychedelia Box-Sets ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Nuggets Two’

172) The 20 Most Common Girl’s Names In AAA Song Titles (With Definitions) 

180) First Recordings By Future AAA Stars

185) A Tribute To Storm Thorgerson Via The Five AAA Bands He Worked With

188) Surprise! Celebrating 300 Album Reviews With The Biggest 'Surprises' Of The Past Five Years Of Alan's Album Archives!

190) Comparatively Obscure First Compositions By AAA Stars

193) Evolution Of A Band: Comparing First Lyric With Last Lyric:

200) The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation)

202) Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain': Was It About One Of The AAA Crew?

217) AAA 'Christmas Presents' we'd most like to have next year

221) Dr Who and the AAA (Five Musical Links)

222) Five Random Recent Purchases

223) AAA Grammy Nominees

224) Ten AAA songs that are better heard unedited and in full

225) The shortest gaps between AAA albums

226) The longest gaps between AAA albums

227) Top ten AAA drummers

228) Top Ten AAA Singles (In Terms of 'A' and 'B' Sides)

229) The Stories Behind Six AAA Logos

230) AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! The Best Ten AAA Screams

231) An AAA Pack Of Horses

232) AAA Granamas - Sorry, Anagrams!

233) AAA Surnames and Their Meanings

234) 20 Erroneous AAA Album Titles

235) The Best AAA Orchestral Arrangements

236) Top 30 Hilariously Misheard Album Titles/Lyrics

237) Ten controversial AAA sackings - and whether they were right

238) A Critique On Critiquing - In Response To Brian Wilson

239) The Ten MusicianS Who've Played On The Most AAA Albums

240) Thoughts on #CameronMustGo

241) Random Recent Purchases (Kinks/Grateful Dead/Nils Lofgren/Rolling Stones/Hollies) 

242) AAA Christmas Number Ones 

243) AAA Review Of The Year 2014 (Top Releases/Re-issues/Documentaries/DVDs/Books/Songs/ Articles  plus worst releases of the year)

244) Me/CFS Awareness Week 2015

245) Why The Tory 2015 Victory Seems A Little...Suspicious

246) A Plea For Peace and Tolerance After The Attacks on Paris - and Syria

247) AAA Review Of The Year 2015

248) The Fifty Most Read AAA Articles (as of December 31st 2015)

249) The Revised AAA Crossword!

251) Half-A-Dozen Berries Plus One (An AAA Tribute To Chuck Berry)

252) Guest Post: ‘The Skids – Joy’ (1981) by Kenny Brown

254) Guest Post: ‘Supertramp – Some Things Never Change’ by Kenny Brown

255) AAA Review Of The Year 2018

256) AAA Review Of The Year 2019 plus Review Of The Decade 2010-2019

257) Tiermaker

258) #Coronastock

259) #Coronadocstock