Monday, 9 October 2017

Paul Simon "Graceland" (1986)

Paul Simon “Graceland” (1986)

The Boy In The Bubble/Graceland/I Know What I Know/Gumboots/Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes//You Can Call Me Al/Under African Skies/Homeless/Crazy Love Vol II/That Was Your Mother/All Around The World or The Myth Of Fingerprints

‘Is this my problem? Is this my fault? If that’s the way you feel I’m gonna bring this whole thing to a halt. You don’t feel you could love me, but I feel you could…’

So much has been written about ‘Graceland’ down the years that it all sounds like a natural career progression, a ‘how to re-invent your flagging career in the best possible way’ rulebook. Paul not only released the catchiest and most commercial album of his illustrious career at just the point when he most needed to, he invented a whole genre of ‘world music’ at just the right possible time when music was heading that way anyway. If you’re feeling generous you could say that Paul came up with the perfect album at the perfect time when the music world was looking for something a little different and recording an album in Africa when that country had never been in the news so much was a brilliantly creative idea. If you’re feeling generous you could (as some have claimed) said that Paul was exploiting the idea of talented but unknown musicians for his own ends in a desperate attempt to get a hit and breaking a boycott against apartheid in South Africa for his own selfish ends. We’ve had so many documentaries on the making of this album now that it’s success seems assured: there Paul is, with talented Simon and Garfunkel engineer Roy Halee in tow, building a recording studio almost from scratch in Johannesburg, working with collaborators who all knew this project was going to be a success, with Warner Brothers drooling over its prospects back home. This album always seems to be painted out as deliberate, whether you’re a fan who always knew that Paul would have an ‘ace in the hole’ when times got tough or a detractor who thinks Paul stole every note on this album and had it planned out before he even left America.

Actually the truth is more basic and started with a bootleg album named ‘Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits Volume Two’ leant to Paul as he started work producing an album by singer-songwriter Heidi Berg. At this point in his life (1985) Paul was fed up of music and had no plans of what to do for the last album of his contract with Warner Brothers. His last two projects ‘One Trick Pony’ and ‘Hearts and Bones’ had died an unfair death, as Paul’s marriage to actress Carrie Fisher crumbled and left him in a thoughtful and vulnerable mood, a million miles away from the bouncy commercial feel of the times. When an attempted Simon and Garfunkel reunion fell apart too in 1983 Paul felt betrayed and abandoned and didn’t even want to think about making music again, certain that no one was interested in what he had to say and that he was all washed up. Then he heard that tape of African musicians, led by Ladysmith Black Mombazo, and fell in love with it, his enthusiasm for music re-awakening. Every day for weeks he found himself waking up with their fast-paced African rhythms playing through his mind. Almost without thinking of it, Paul started scat-singing new melodies and words over the top of the tunes, thinking about what they might sound like had they been turned into ‘full’ songs. Always with an ear for talent, back in the early 1970s Paul had been quite a pioneer of world music anyway (the Puerto Rican jibe of ‘Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard’, the Jamaican reggae of ‘Mother and Child’ and the South American twinkle of ‘Duncan’ before half an album recorded at Muscle Shoals in 1973), but that aspect of his music had gradually dropped away as Paul discovered his own distinctive solo style starting with ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ and by 1986 it had been fifteen long years since he’d recorded with musicians who weren’t American-born. Nervously he asked Warner Brothers to research the musicians he’d heard on this bootleg tape, which didn’t even come with a list of musicians anywhere, not even knowing the country they came from (he’d figured they were probably Zimbabwean or Nigerian and might be open to travelling to America for an all-expenses paid trip).

Paul discovered to his horror that these musicians were all from South Africa, which back in 1986 created more problems than he was sure he could deal with. At this stage in African history there was still a totalitarian apartheid Government in power that kept white and black people far apart – the rest of the world, appalled, had tried to sanction the country to no avail and there was a strong boycott against the arts particularly having any negotiation with the government for cultural appraisal. Any political dissident who spoke out against the regime (such as Nelson Mandela) was locked up, seemingly for life. There was a peak AIDS epidemic that meant a continent already low on funds was crushed to the point of impending disaster. There was no chance that any of the musicians could travel freely to America even had they taken up Paul’s request. Paul had never travelled more than a few states away from his New York home to make music before – but as a white interloper from the West viewed with suspicion, would he really be safe in this strange land where they didn’t have any more than the basic recording equipment? Paul, at this stage, was convinced that this album, even if he was brave enough to make it, would sink his career without trace – no one else had ever recorded a full album using African musicians before and recording merely part of one wasn’t an option either and would have sounded off-kilter with any recordings made in American (although as it turns out there are far more recordings made back at ‘home’ than many fans assume on this album, all made after the basic tracks in Africa). He didn’t know if there was a market for African music at all just yet and figured he was making this album as a self-indulgence to wrap up his career with the sort of recordings he wanted to make, rather than any grand career statement. Paul truly expected to be ignored when this album came out (as he had been the last twice now) but knew that in the rare chance he succeeded this album would ask awkward political questions of apartheid and boycotts he didn’t quite know if he was prepared to face yet. To be fair to Warner Brothers, they let him get on with it and rather than talk him out of it the way a lesser record company would have done merely held him on a leash, providing low budget income and basic help to make this album.

The result is an album that’s undeniably courageous. Paul could have stayed at home and seen out his contract with a record that would have been much easier to make, without the political ramifications of by far the most controversial album by an artist who largely tried to shy away from controversy in his career or the day-to-day problems of simply making the thing with musicians who weren’t used to playing in a ‘Western style’ or indeed being inside a recording studio at all and with bands who had big rivalries between themselves (people miss the point now all these musicians have since toured with Paul as ‘friends’ but getting Ladysmith Black Mombazo (who sing on ‘Homeless’ and ‘Diamonds On The Soles Of Their Shoes’), Los Lobos (who play on ‘All Around The World’), Miriam Makeba (who sings on ‘Under African Skies’), guitarist Ray Phiri and  Juluka (an African pop band who never got the credit they deserved, being effectively the ‘session musicians’ for most of this album) is not unlike getting The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who and Pink Floyd to all appear on the same album, all with their different styles, regional accents and competitive drive). Instead Paul took a risk, that paid off – of sorts. ‘Graceland’ was given almost no publicity by Warner Brothers and at first only did as well as the last two albums. Then something happened. ‘You Can Call Me Al’ did unexpectedly well when released as a tie-in single: better than any Paul Simon song had performed since the start of his solo career in 1972. Even so Warner Brotherts still weren’t sure: it really didn’t sound much like the rest of the record and was their ‘safe’ option as the most Americanised track Paul had written for some time. But as the single sold more and more people checked out the album and ‘Graceland’ began to sell as word of mouth took off. By the end of 1986 it had become that year’s top-selling album and it would go on to receive accolades and awards for the next two, creating stars of many of the people who created it and becoming one of the 1980s biggest sellers in general. The album sold so well Warner Brothers didn’t blink at re-signing Paul to the label and asked him to make a sequel in a hurry; Paul being Paul he leisurely made the all-Brazilian album ‘Rhythm Of The Saints’ four years later which in truth has nothing whatsoever in common with this record except the way it was made (being a much darker, philosophical album than this oddly bright and commercial record).

‘Graceland’ has, however, also become mired in controversy. The way Paul made it was at least as revolutionary as why and caused a lot of grey areas that had never really been a problem for any previous album by anybody. Fired by ‘Gumboots’, Paul aimed to get the bands to play their own ‘groove’ to which he would later add his own American-eyed view of the world. For the most part this worked: most of the musicians were so keen to let Paul do what he needed to do they let him get on with it and basked in the publicity. However some musicians were more protective of their music and figured that Paul was a Westerner out to exploit them. Los Lobos attacked Paul even before the record was released, having been assured (whether in real life or their own heads) that all the musicians would receive a co-credit for their work. Instead Paul only occasionally credited the musicians if he was adding to a work that had already been established or if a musician had closely collaborated with him in some way and as the person who ‘shaped’ how the music turned out in the end Paul considered that this made him the sole creator of an actual ‘song’. It was a controversy that got bigger as a whole sea of musicians who had formed the music protest movement ‘Musicians Against Apartheid’ criticised Paul in public for his stance and naiveté (including Paul Weller and Billy Bragg). Ghana ambassador to the United Nations James Victor Gbeho publicly slayed Paul for robbing African musicians of their heritage. Political commentators said that Paul was trying to spread ‘colonialisation’ to South Africa by singing white man thoughts over black men’s music, a protest that grew bigger the more copies ‘Graceland’ sold. To this day people are split on whether Paul was naïve, brilliant or corrupt in making this record.

From my point of view Paul was simply making a record and didn’t have a political bone in his body (or at least hadn’t seen Nixon and Watergate). A humanitarian who always seemed to have low opinions of all politicians in private and in interviews, Paul was simply stretching out the hand of friendship to musicians he admired. He was at worst hopelessly naïve about where his musical curiosity weas taking him and trusted in his instinct over his logic a bit too much. For instance Paul was friends with Harry Belafonte and sought out the singer’s advice on whether to make this album or not. Harry said it was a brilliant idea promoting music he loved too, but that Paul would have to stay on the right side of the African Government and ‘suck up’ to them. Paul, of course, refused and whole he did seek out their permission to make this record the African Government were as critical as anybody when it came out and banned it, making ‘Graceland’ ironically the only Paul Simon album you couldn’t buy in South Africa for a very long time. Many people have scoured this album’s lyrics to try to find a ‘clue’ of what Paul was up to, but the closest this album gets to a political moment is the poverty of ‘Homeless’ (and if you’re attacking a musician for pointing out that people shouldn’t go hungry without a roof over their heads as a ‘political statement’ then you’re rather missing the point). Yes Paul could have provided a few extra credits, but he was at pains to mention every individual musician on the sleeve and gave each of the stars who toured with him their own solo spots showcasing their material and praised them to the hilt in the press. The ‘problems’ with Graceland come from the ‘outside’ world who considered any reference to African music a political matter – the fact that Paul jumped head-first into a sea of troubles that everyone else was skirting around makes him either brave or foolish, but not the appropriating criminal he’s often painted out to be. If anything Paul is firmly on the side of the African musicians across this album: ‘The Boy In The Bubble’ condemns the Western world’s belief in technology and progress to save them when it’s taking them further away from their true selves, ‘Graceland’ itself is an American institution of salvation and rock and roll that doesn’t ever take away the feelings of pain from the hurt pilgrims who attend it and ‘Crazy Love’ is as anti a Western dating song as you’ll ever find. Africa comes out of this record well – it’s the American who should perhaps have been paying closer attention.

However, there’s a deeper theme across this record which is how similar things are for humans ‘all around the world’. References to America and Africa both abound in this album’s lyrics and yet there’s very real difference in execution between them all. Poverty, homelessness, hopelessness, hope, fear, loss, pride: they’re universal emotions and all of these lyrics, you sense, would have worked just as well on Paul’s ‘normal’ style songs as they would on this album. Indeed some of Graceland’s songs are abruptly American anyway: Linda Ronstadt sings alongside the African singers with no problems whatsoever and Paul’s heroes The Everly Brothers even sing with him on the title track and you can’t get more American than that. ‘The Boy In The Bubble’ may have an African accordion peeking out of the main riff but it’s as close to contemporary riff-heavy American music as Paul ever came in his career. The album even ends with a song about how crazy things happen ‘all around the world’, finding a universal feel that his American and African fans can both agree with. And then there’s this album’s unique recording process: backing tracks largely made in Africa right at the heart of that culture, sweetened by and large in the heart of America with lots of local musicians too: this is meant to be a collaborative project, the musicians finding similarities via the universal language of music just as these characters do in their own lives.  This is an album trying to find common ground, not spread a divide. Many people who attack this people get it ‘wrong’.

The part that ‘works’ is where Paul himself finds common ground with the African musicians by returning to his own youth. The ‘Graceland’ title shouldn’t fit: it’s an American institution not an African one and is a bit like naming an album made in France after Martin Luther King’s house. ‘Graceland’ is inspired by a visit Paul took with his son Harper to Elvis’ family home, turned into a rock shrine (perhaps the first rock and roll museum out there). Paul feels awe and spirituality here and healing in a way that only music can bring him, as he returns to exploring his love for the musician who more than anyone turned him on to making music the way he did on ‘One Trick Pony’. The fact that another American institution – The Everly Brothers – sing alongside him makes the title song a hymn to the simple healing powers of music, a ‘universal language’. That enthusiasm for the music he felt the first time he heard it is used in parallel with the African music that excites him now. As perhaps the ‘simplest’ era of rock and roll, the 1950s vibe also makes several appearances across this album as perhaps the common ground between the two sets of musicians trying to meet in the middle by playing ‘simple’. Ray Phiri, South African jazz musician, deserves special praise for picking up on this and translating Paul’s distinctive riffs to what the African musicians can play and he’s the album’s star here, the ‘local’ musician who makes most effort to relate to Paul’s way of thinking (Joseph Shabala is the album’s other ‘winner’, finding new ways to make traditional Ladysmith Black Momboza sounds work in terms Paul’s audience can understand). Though ‘Graceland’ is Paul’s own personal ideal – a shrine to the musician who inspired him most – you sense that this album is actually eleven equal ‘Gracelands’, shrines to the healing power of music by whatever part of South Africa the musicians happen to come from.

However, there’s one major flaw at the heart of this album that means those who love it get it ‘wrong’ too in my opinion. Take away the bounce of energy in the recording, strip away the fact that it was the first album to do what it did and what you have is a very rum collection of Paul Simon songs indeed. While the album starts well with the raw noise and threat of ‘Boy In The Bubble’ (the greatest opening song on a Paul Simon record?) and ‘Graceland’ is a sweet re-write of ‘Hearts and Bones’ and ‘I Know What I Know’ is good fun, the most successful of Paul’s silliest tracks, the rest of the album is hard work. Too many of these songs are one-note at best, lacking the variety and intelligence Paul usually brings to his work. All the accordions and jive acts in the world can’t hide the fact that as a writer Paul is at his most timid across this album, even if as a producer and recording artists he’s as courageous as they come. Some of these compositions sound rushed, as indeed they were – written hastily back home in America as Paul stayed home playing the recordings over and over again on a tape recorder. In time he’ll work out exactly where he went wrong with this record, trying to impose a fixed forced Western repetitive style on these songs full of verses and choruses that really don’t go. ‘Rhythm Of The Saints’ works much better than this album because it puts the mystery back into the songs, with snatches of stream of consciousness images that along with music many fans wouldn’t have heard before adds up to a brilliant mood-piece full of pathos and philosophy. ‘Graceland’ just sounds like a bunch of songs that would be quite boring without the African musicians taking part and much of it is confusing: I haven’t got a clue what most of the lyrics on this album mean and –unlike the far more poetic ‘Rhythm Of The Saints’ – I get the impression Paul doesn’t quite know what most of them mean either. Even the Western overdubs aren’t that hot, with Paul on ropey vocal form and unable to engage with these songs as much as he normally does, falling a few takes short of magic. I’m convinced that many fans are ‘fooled’ by this album’s worth, though, more because the best songs are all stacked together at the beginning so that this record gets increasingly weaker with every single track. The final trilogy are particularly poor and amongst the weakest songs Paul ever wrote: ‘Crazy Love’ ‘That Was Your Mother’ and ‘All Around The World’ are tracks that wouldn’t even have lasted as B-sides in any other era. Even the ever-popular ‘You Can Call Me Al’ is Paul’s weakest hit single when you analyse it, a catchy bass riff and clever video in search of a ‘proper’ song. This album is horribly rushed in places and that fault lies firmly with Paul as the album’s creative visionary who seems to have simply run out of steam as this album progressed. As a result this is arguably my least favourite Paul Simon album outside ‘The Capeman’ musical, being too clumsy and one-dimensional for a writer of his talents. Even the album cover – an African drawing of a man on a horse, discovered in the Peabody Museum of Salem and apparently used simply because it looked vaguely ‘African’ – is the weakest of all of Paul’s front covers.

Even so, of course ‘Graceland’ was going to be a hit and a rare occurrence of the right album coming along for the right times. Though Paul created much of it by mistake, it ‘feels’ as if he knows exactly what he’s doing here. The catchiness of the title track and ‘You Can Call Me Al’ gives Western fans a branching bridge to get ‘into’ this music and a carefully sequenced album keeps offering something familiar after giving us something strange (though the two halves are of course vice versa depending on if you’re American or African). ‘The Boy In The Bubble’, sensibly released as a second single from the album, offers depth. Ladysmith Black Mombazo fulfil their brief to the letter, writing ‘Homeless’ as a song that Paul can stick on this album without sounding out of place or diluting their style (they deservedly became this album’s big stars). Making ‘Under African Skies’ start out as a duet between the American and African worlds before becoming the most ‘traditional African’ moment on the record is the perfect setting for a song that is a ‘journey’. ‘Gumboots’ is relatively successful at showing off the Cajun music that got Paul interested in making this record in the first place. Only the last three songs really mess up and by then most people have stopped listening properly anyway. The world needed something ‘new’ in music in 1987 that also sounded familiar and as someone with a sympathetic ear and an open musical mind Paul was the perfect musician to give it to them: ‘Graceland’ is an obviously successful record designed to appeal to people who didn’t even like Paul’s music and only had this album in their collection. People are wrong to criticise this album for the usual political reasons as they rather miss the point of what this album was meant to do, unite rather than divide and to be uplifting rather than patronising. This album gets several marks just for being brave enough to be the ‘first’ and go to places no other Western artist were prepared to go - and yet, examined as a Paul Simon record in the context of his career it still feels rather wanting and – the first three songs aside – is in truth something of a slog to sit through. It’s a great album for showcasing African talent, but in many ways the worst at showing off Paul’s as he suffers from writer’s block far more critical and hurtful than he suffered making ‘Hearts and Bones’. We’re talking about ‘ghosts’ and ‘empties’ by Paul’s high standard – the irony of the fuss over this album is not that this album was Paul exploiting African musicians but that they were exploiting his name and becoming famous on the back of an album where Paul is on such poor form he risks taking down their talent with his at times.

‘The Boy In The Bubble’ is the song where ‘Graceland’ truly works the way people say it does, as an album that couldn’t have been performed without the mixture of African and American sounds. Paul here uses the two sides as a clever tug-of-war as the sound of ‘tradition’ (the jive accordion) is dragged kicking and screaming into a modern age it doesn’t want to be a part of (Baghiti Khumalo’s gloriously modern and restless bass). Like the rest of this album the song existed as a backing track put together under the watchful eye of Paul long before he had any words. The difference is who asked accordion player Forere Motloheloa for a riff he could work around (it’s worth noting for this album’s detractors who thought Paul came to ‘steal’ music that Forere gets a co-credit on the song. Listening back to the recording, which could be contemporary rocky if not for that sour-sounding accordion which shouldn’t ‘fit’ (but somehow does) must have reminded Paul of a ‘fight’ between the two. A lesser writer would have made it a ‘fight’ between the first and third world countries, but Paul is too clever for that and instead makes it a fight between the past and the future, with Paul effectively mocking evolution on this song and the idea that life naturally gets better alongside the technology. Instead this is as angry and troubled a world as he’s ever put into song, with a soundscape that’s quite terrifying and paranoid and one of his career best lyrics. Everything in this song is moving too fast: for the worn-out soldiers baking in the heat of their march in yet another war, the radio technology that allows bomb-makers to blow more people up in a terrorist attack, the ‘dry wind’ that back in the middle of the Cold War sounds like a nuclear holocaust slowly moving its way across the planet counting down to the point when someone presses the ‘red button’ at last. Even the music-makers aren’t safe with a final verse that ‘throws a hero off the pop charts’, an angry Paul making a comment as his career fades about how sometimes the good things from the past should be ‘allowed’ to last into the present (what with the title track and all, he may well have been thinking of hero Elvis here too, who was as close to being forgotten as he’s ever been in the mid-1980s).

Clearly much of this song’s imagery feels ‘wrong’, full of anachronisms and people fighting old wars with new technology, with the overall theme that while the weapons change mankind never does. It’s also an age where we could do so much good with technology, but instead end up committing evil deeds over and over again. Just check out the extended last verse sung with real passion and awe: this is an age when we can have ‘lasers in the jungle’ but the poor living there remain, when we can send ‘staccato signals’ that mean nothing into space because mankind hasn’t learnt anything yet and where we are followed constantly by cameras recording lives that have nothing to say. Even worse, this technology is bringing us closer to breaking point, leaving us gazing at ‘the corner of the sky’ for someone to save us from ourselves – even though the constellations we gaze at to save us are recording time from millions of years ago by the time the images reach us and the aliens probably died out by their own technological progress too. No wonder, in one of his career best lines, Paul parrots the lines we’re so often given about how we live in ‘days of miracles and wonder’ but instead of being pleased to live in a land full of empty gadgets he simply sighs ‘so don’t cry baby, don’t cry’. The idea of the ‘boy in the bubble’ came from a 1976 John Travolta TV film ‘The Boy In The Plastic Bubble’ about allergy sufferers whose reactions are so severe they had to live their entire lives when outside encased within actual bubbles. Here, though, the bubble is a ‘mental vacuum’ of people trying to stay away from the danger technology poses and the boy in the bubble is Paul. The end result is inevitable though even so: everyone on the planet is affected by technology that can blow the planet up, whether they understand it or have heard of it or not. Paul backs off towards the end, throwing in one of his silliest verses with a ‘blocked out’ few lines of alliteration for fun that somehow lasted into the rest of the song (‘Medicine is magical and magical is art, think of the boy in the bubble and the baby with the baboon heart’, but even that works as a line potentially referring to organ transplants and its ability to give a new future to people who would otherwise have none – but at what cost to the planet and over-population as we devolve and go backwards?) The result is one of Paul’s most intelligent and well crafted songs, the music and words perfect foils for each other in this shady, aggressive world that keeps relentlessly moving us away from a place where we feel ‘safe’. The only trouble is the recording, which feels a little restrictive and ‘safe’ – the definitive performance of this track remains the even more paranoid second track to Paul’s ‘Central Park’ concert of 1991, with every instrument sounding ‘real’ and obstinate, each one fighting their own battle. Fans of this song might also be interested in the 12” mix, the only one of Paul’s career, which works rather well by looping the accordion part and brief bass solo into a much longer song where everything feels even more under attack – sadly this recording has yet to appear on CD. ‘The Boy In The Bubble’ remains a career highlight in any version though and is one of Paul’s most daring and thought provoking songs.

The title track ‘Graceland’ is the next closest to an album highlight, even though it has almost nothing to do with the rest of the album and was mainly recorded back at ‘home’ in Los Angeles. It’s a groovier, more commercial update of the songs of tension and turmoil that Paul had been writing about his split with Carrie Fisher as heard on ‘Hearts and Bones’. This time Paul is with Harper, his by-now teenage son from his ‘first marriage’ to Peggy and the pair are off for some father-and-son bonding while visiting the home of Paul’s hero Elvis in Graceland. This is more about the journey than the destination, though, as the pair take a sort of backwards trip of ‘America’ from ‘Bookends’ nearly twenty years before. Times have been tough and filled with horror, Paul travelling not with the colourful characters of before but ‘ghosts and empties’, reminded how the future should have been both for Paul and for Elvis. Paul ‘can’t explain’ why he feels the need to visit in song, but it sounds to me as if he is looking for his lost youth and the time when the future seemed safe, certain and quite quite brilliant, when it shined ‘like a national guitar’ (the very real shiny make of guitar that had appeared a year earlier on the cover of Dire Straits’ ‘Brothers In Arms’, the ‘other’ best-selling album of the 1980s). Instead he’s travelling, heartbroken, with ‘poor boys and pilgrims’ on what may even have been booked as a family trip with Carrie but is now taken with just a dad and his lad. Just to add to the feeling of ‘loss’, a reunited Everly Brothers make a superb guest appearance on the track – the ‘other’ singers who inspired Paul to take up music in the first place but have long since been forgotten and abandoned to the charts, much like Paul himself in 1986. A magnificent second verse recounts what went wrong: she tells him he’s leaving after years of trying to ignore the fact and pretending to ignore the fact, causing Paul to explode ‘As if I didn’t know that! As if I didn’t know my own bed! As if I’d never noticed the way she brushed the hair from her forehead’. He was truly deeply emotionally involved in this relationship and of course it hurts, as in another career best couplet he explains to us that emotion is hard to cover up, that ‘losing love is like a window in your heart – everybody sees you’re blown apart’. Presumably Carrie is the ‘girl from New York City who calls herself the human trampoline’, but rather than attack her here (as even Carrie herself seems to have assumed) my take is that Paul suddenly ‘understands’ how her turmoil ‘works’ here: without failure or collapse salvation would never taste as sweet as it does. A lovely restless tune, full of burbling pretty guitars and distant percussive hand-claps, sounds absolutely nothing like any Elvis song but doesn’t sound much like Paul’s past work either, managing to be both melancholy and upbeat. This is a song about redemption, about second chances, about things getting better as Paul realises with relief at the end that he’s ‘free’ and has ‘no obligations now’ and still has a day-trip to Elvis’ house and a return to his past to enjoy. A glorious happier take on ‘Train In The Distance’ and ‘Hearts and Bones’ itself, this song sadly admits the need to move on without ever finding the need to admit defeat, with this journey to find ‘Graceland’ full of more pit-stops and adventures along the way. Quite beautiful.

‘I Know What I Know’ is the album’s light relief and the one track here that’s a better performance than it is a song, full of some quite glorious meshing guitars and backing vocals that mingle both American and African musicians to great acclaim. The song was another recorded solely in Los Angeles and was written with General M D Shirinda and his band (the band leader gets a co-credit), although it’s the presence of his usual collaborators The Gaza Sisters who make this strangely ‘first world problem’ style-song their own who steal the show. Their music is collectively named ‘Shangaa Sing’ and is traditionally a ‘duet’ (make that ‘row’) between male and female, but Paul doesn’t sem to have got the message and instead turns this song into a witty acerbic take on modern day living. Paul gets out of himself here by playing his polar opposite: an extrovert who loves name-dropping and party-going who is chatted up not for his looks (a delightful opening couplet has Paul self-deprecatingly joking ‘She looked me over and I guess she thought I was alright – in a kind of a limited way for an off-night’) but because ‘I really remind you of money’. The song adds in a thoughtful chorus about what the character is really doing, that he’s making the most of his life in a maze and haze of parties and dating ‘because we come and we go, that’s a thing that we keep in the back of my head’. But really this is a song out to have fun and party hard, perhaps reflecting Paul’s mixed feelings about being on the dating scene again. Does the narrator really know as much as he claims to? Probably not, but this is a song that seems to have been designed from the start as a ‘nonsense’ song, designed to wrap up all sorts of phrases that Paul had written down that sounded fun but hadn’t fitted into a song yet. You can see why with just lines as ‘don’t I know you from the cinematographer’s party?’ as Paul tries to cram in as many unlikely words as he can simply to test his writing skills. Considering that this piece works surprising well and is a third classic song in a row, a glorious moment of fun and dancing on an album that’s far more serious and sombre than it’s usually given credit for. Even so, it’s the glorious performance that makes this one, with everyone in the room really giving their all and capturing easily the best performance on the album, all whoops, cheers and giggles.

I wonder sometimes how Paul Simon’s head works. ‘Gumboots’ is the song that kick-started the album after it was the opening song on Paul’s ‘Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits’ bootleg cassette. The backing track, re-recorded in New York, came as close as possible to the original instrumental and was still an instrumental at the time while Paul pieced together the lyrics he had been scat-singing over the top for months. Listen again to the song with just the backing, a fast-paced accordion jive with some gentle ‘woohs’ over the top. Which amongst you would ever have heard this for the first time and gone first of all a) this is the sound I want for my next album (‘Gumboots’ is the most ‘African’ moment here wherever the recording took place) and b) would come up with a lyric about a friend suffering a nervous breakdown? Even the melody Paul improvises over the top isn’t obvious. Unfortunately this is the start of a down-turn of this album’s fortunes where nothing quite works. ‘Gumboots’ is a track that just tries too hard, as Paul mixes his metaphors, urges his friend to recover from their problems, ‘slams into a brick wall’ out of nowhere and tries to get together with a ‘senorita’ (in the song’s best line saying ‘hey why don’t we get together and call ourselves an institute’, possibly with memories of Simon and Garfunkel being called exactly that down the years ringing in his ears). To soften the blow Paul throws in a chorus of ‘you don’t feel you could love me but I feel you could’ more or less out of nowhere and it really doesn’t fit. The ‘problem’ with Paul’s approach to this album is never bigger than here: this was designed as an instrumental that picks up steam without breaking it’s similar pace throughout – it doesn’t have room for verses and choruses and the asymmetrical lyric feels thrown together at random, like the round on Radio Four panel show ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’ where ‘one song is sung to the tune of another’. More interesting may have been Paul speaking to the ‘authors’ about what their song was ‘actually’ about: poverty. The ‘poor’ of Africa tended to wear gumboots back in 1986 and danced in the rain as they had nothing else to do after work or school – the ‘theme’ was really the very album idea of ‘hey we’ve got no0thing to celebrate but we’re going to celebrate it anyway and you can’t take this away from us!’ Alas Paul missed it, even if he still had enough thought to give co-credits (and royalties) to the song’s original creators Jonhjon Mkhalali and Lulu Masilela.

Side one ends with the scene-stealing arrival of all-choral group Ladysmith Black Mombazo, a Zulu group that became friends of Paul’s after his journey to South Africa to test out local musicians who might be interested in making this album and who were very supportive. The group, led by Joseph Shabala, had a long talk with Paul about their music – one he doesn’t seem to have had with any of the other bands involved in this album – and he tried to write a song in their style, ending up with both this track and ‘Homeless’. Paul wrote both lyrics as being political without specific, again contrasting the difference between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ of the world. The story is one that happens the world over: basically it’s a Romeo and Juliet-style tale of a rich girl and a poor boy getting together and would have been even more emotional for the caste-riddled African system of the day than back in America. For their part Ladysmith Black Mombazo added their distinctive opening with their own twists on these words, sung in Zulu, which translates to ‘It’s not usual, but in our days we see things happen – they are women, they can take care of themselves now’. For South Africa in 1986 this is akin to a feminist statement and Paul’s lyric about a girl who doesn’t need the dependence of a mate and their job to live off skirts with this topic without ever quite getting there. Instead Paul goes for surrealism in an attempt to unite the two sides of his audience, imagining the girl so small she ‘slips into my pocket with my car keys’ after telling us first that the boy is ‘empty as a pocket with nothing to lose’. It gets weirder when ‘she makes the sign of a tea-spoon, he makes the sign of a wave’ – what? Does this couple not even share the same language and are reduced to making signs now? In which case how did the poor boy ever get the rich girl to understand that he wanted to date her – and how did he ever know she was rich? What makes more sense is the following lines about the boy ‘pretending’ to be rich, adding aftershave he can’t afford to mask the scent of his poorness (is her ‘teaspoon’ being born with a ‘silver spoon’ then? But why is he a ‘wave’?) The idea, I think, is that love conquers all and even though she doesn’t ‘need’ the boy or his salary she still ‘wants’ him. The only verse that really works, though, is when he takes her on a date ‘his’ style, ‘below decks’ as it were and the pair have fun sleeping rough in a doorway in contrast to her millions. The song is certainly a popular one with fans, mostly because nobody had ever heard a crossover quite this ‘matched’ before, with the track ending on a magical round of ‘tanananana’s which sound both African and American all at once. For me, though, this song has never quite worked: some good ideas still don’t add up to a lyric that’s strong all the way through or even one that makes much sense, while the melody is forgettable by Paul’s highest standards. This is a song with diamonds on the soles of its shoes, with a very pretty a capella opening, but is ultimately still a ‘poor boy’ dressed up in rich clothing.

‘You Can Call Me Al’(an’s Album Archives!) is an instant hit the way ‘Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover’ surely was from music alone, with it’s hustling bustling horns and one of the best hooks Paul Simon ever wrote. But again, scratch underneath the surface and this is a very weird song indeed. The song is about ‘culture shock’, inspired both by Paul’s visit to South Africa (though the most ‘American’ song on the album, it’s one of the few actually written in Africa) and a party about a decade earlier when Paul and his wife Peggy had been introduced to the composer Pierre Boulez at a party. Paul, the biggest name in the room to most people, was tickled when the classical composer – who didn’t have a clue who anyone in the pop world was – misheard his name and referred to him as ‘Al’ all night and his wife as ‘Betty’. Somewhere that song turned into a mock-neurotic song where Paul thinks his very American first world problem thoughts about the possible end of his career and his life being ‘so hard’ while he’s ‘soft in the middle’ and unable to deal with it, while walking past poverty-stricken families struggling to exist from day to day. He’s a man who ‘doesn’t speak the language, who doesn’t hold the currency’ and yet he doesn’t need to: instead he sees the beautiful buildings and hears the constant noise (so like New York?!) and – tourist thyat he is – falls in love with Africa without a word being spoken (even seeing ‘angels in the architecture’). Alas this promising opening lyric turns weird too fast: Paul ‘doesn’t want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard’ and we get a whole sub-plot about meeting a girl in an ‘alley’ ‘now that my role-model is gone’. It also has nothing whatsoever to do with that odd quirky chorus, which has haunted me to this day when people hear I am a Paul Simon fan and insist on calling me Al when it’s one of Paul’s few songs I don’t really identify with (I’d rather be called ‘Julio’! Heck even ‘Richard Cory’ will do). Basically it’s a song about when in Rome think the way the natives do – but it would have helped to have a verse that ties this up and the end result is a catchy song that sticks in the ear but a lyric that doesn’t really stick in the mind. The reason it sold quite so well is surely down to the funniest music video of Paul’s career when  he plays second fiddle to Chevy Chase dressed as an overgrown Paul mouthing all the words and interrupting the singer whenever he tries to sing out. Great videos do not make great songs, though and this is in truth a very weird and oddly unlikeable song.

By contrast ‘Under African Skies’ makes perfect sense – so much so that’s it arguably a bit too limited and on-dimensional. An oddly religious work from a writer whose never really gone there in this era of his work (‘Silent Eyes’ being the main exception), this tale tracks an African version of Joseph as he walks ‘under African skies’, his fate written out by the stars that shine over him. A second verse has Paul moving on to ‘missionary music’ as Christians and Jews pass their music on to the African world. That’s kind of it though – we don’t even hear how the influx of religious ideas and music affected Africans in general or Joseph in particular. Though recorded in South Africa, this song is another that sounds oddly Westernised too with it’s chiming guitars that sounds rather like The Byrds and a guest appearance not by Miriam Makeba or a similar African legend but American country singer  Linda Ronstadt. Of all the controversial songs on ‘Graceland’ this simple track may well be the most controversial because it deals with colonialisation and one half of the world bringing the other half something it didn’t ask for. To be fair to Paul in no way does he comment on these imports of ideas or comment whether the Africans are better or worse for their appearance. However I’ve always wondered why Paul decided to sing this song as a duet with such an instantly recognisable American voice – surely of all these songs this is the one that most calls out for an African presence so that this song with a theme of ‘cultural appropriation’ can work both ways? The result is another of the album’s lesser songs and even if ignoring the obvious lyric has a decidedly meandering melody and a booming production dominated by the drums where nobody in the studio quite sounds as if they mean it (to be fair, this song sounded much better live when it had been knocked into shape a lot more).

‘Homeless’ sees the return of Ladysmith Black Momboza on a slightly superior second recording. Again inspired by actually listening to their songs and understanding what they were all about, Paul and Joseph Shabala collaborated on a song from scratch about a theme they could both identify with: homelessness. Back in 1986 a recession meant America was full of the homeless and Paul clearly identified with Joseph’s tale of his own upbringing surrounded by people without a roof over their heads through no fault of their own. However at the very beginning this song actually started life as a traditional ‘wedding song’ performed at many Zulu marriages which Jospeh taught Paul, whispering the translation in his ear: Paul picked up on the phrase ‘we are homeless’, spoken by the boy to the girl as they get married and have to leave their family homes and asked to make that the full song. Ladysmith shine for some 2:30 of the running time as they alternate between Zulu and English, repeating the same phrases over and over in both, adding in a verse about natural disasters when ‘strong winds destroy our homes – many dead, tonight it could be you’. It couldn’t of course – though America has its fair share of natural disasters, no Americans would wake up overnight without warning to discover their house being destroyed or risking life and limb. That’s a point that seems deliberately made in this song that otherwise oozes unity, as homelessness becomes a worldright problem that everyone must come together to solve. It’s almost a shame when Paul arrives to interrupt some quite glorious chanted singing for the last ninety seconds or so, but thankfully he doesn’t do anything to the words, an American joining in on a very African song rather than an African joining in on a very American one for a change. The track then ends with Ladysmith Black Mombazo’s ‘signature call’ which they add to many of their works and which roughly translates as the jokey ‘remember us – we’re the best singers of this type music in the whole world!’, an in-joke as they knew 99.9% of this album’s audience would never get the translation and would consider it to be something deep and profound! The result is a simply, humble song that works better than the other tracks on side two of ‘Graceland’ but which sounds oddly out of place in the middle of this record too.

Alas the final trilogy of ‘Graceland’ goes downhill sharply. Why is ‘Crazy Love’ subtitled ‘Part II’? Apparently Paul wrote a whole different lyric to this song – and it’s a shame he abandoned it as it can’t possibly be as bad or as weird as what we get. Another casualty of the way this album was made, pieced together to fit an already existing backing track, this song gets peculiar quick. The song follows ‘Fat Charlie the Archangel’ who sounds just like Paul moaning about Carrie Fisher again, jokingly picturing him as a ‘wrinkled balloon’. He files for divorce, sighs about the ‘year of his life’ it will eat up and is, presumably, asked by his lawyers to leave no comment about his feelings (‘I have no opinion about that’ Paul snaps). The result is two passionate people ought to hurt each other for revenge’s sake, trying to make the ‘joke’ on the other, but neither side is laughing – and frankly both sides need their heads banging together. The main part of the verses really don’t fit with the surreal imagery of the architecture coming to life and suing each other though, nor do they fit with the weird repetitive chorus ‘I don’t want no part of this crazy love’. More worryingly, nor does this song suit the African backing at all, with Paul not even nothing to meet the musicians halfway anymore but just getting them to add their distinctive sounds to this very American song, using them for ‘colour’ rather than ‘culture’. That’s a waste, because the sound of what they’re playing is way more exciting than anything he’s come up with here. Paul comes out of this song sounding unusually sulky and this is one of his least memorable or inventive songs, performed with one of his weakest vocals which conveys no emotion or even the detachment that might have made this song work.

At least he’s having fun on ‘That Was Your Mother’, a song that like ‘Gumboots’ was attached to an already existing instrumental performed in what is known in African terms as ‘Zydeco’ (you might remember that it appeared on every single flipping episode of Sesame Street for years when what fans really wanted to see was Ladysmith Black Mombazo teaching us our ABCs or Paul being upstaged by a four-year-old girl creating her own version of ‘Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard’). Unfortunately there isn’t a song to go with it, as Paul creates another weird lyric about the passing of generations. Paul recounts a fictional life as a ‘travelling salesman’ he’s telling to his family, remembering random flashing images of passing through different American states which somehow gets confused and end up with him in Africa ‘watching those Cajun girls dancing the zydeco’. He meets a girl ‘pretty as a prayerbook and sweet as an apple on Christmas Day’ that he falls in love with, but who presumably is not the mother of his son. Instead the hint in this track is the very grumpy feeling that ‘life was great’ before the narrator’s children came along and he ended up having to settle down and take responsibilities (which is surely not his children’s fault?) Paul concludes the song with the cutting line ‘you are burden of my generation!’ before thankfully softening the blow with the line ‘I sure do love you’. Even so, it sounds like too little too late. The result is another deeply unsettling song that keeps jumping between realism and surrealism and between an African setting and an American one. I suspect this song would have worked far better as the original instrumental, as the accordion players are striking yp a fierce groove on this one that at least gives this strong a fine melody. Alas though for once the original creators of the song don’t get a co-credit here, when they blatantly deserve one (to be fair the only time this happens on ‘Graceland…’)

…Or is it? Because oddly the very Americanised sound of the album closer ‘All Around The World’ or ‘The Myth Of Fingerprints’ which sounds like a fake white version of ska is the song on the album that’s been most disputed ever since the album came out. Los Lobos, who play on only this recording, say that they created this song as a ‘jam’ with Paul and had agreed to share the lyrics and the writing credit the way Ladysmith Black Mombazo had. Instead Paul went back on his promise and wrote the lyric himself and kept the song for himself…but if so it seems odd that he’d only do this with one song and equally odd, if fake, that a band should pick ‘this’ song to question as it sounds as frankly if I had a part of this song, the weakest on the album, I’d want to keep it quiet. This song is woefully misguided from beginning to end and closes ‘Graceland’ on a very weak and flimsy state. So far the album, for all its occasional faults, has done a god job at showing how things are the same all the way around the world – but this faux pop song makes the idea seem too obvious, chucking in the contradicting idea that there are no two fingerprints alike even though scientifically it’s not a ‘myth’ but fact. The melody is oddly bitty and forgettable, the blaring saxophones are some of the ugliest sounds on a Paul Simon recording and the drumming is way too contemporary and trendy, too 1980s for an album that’s tried so hard to be ‘timeless’ until now (one of the reasons why it sold so well at the time and continues to sell well now). It’s the lyric though that is the most disappointing aspect: surely Paul’s collaborators would have come up with a better line than ‘The sun goes down, ever since the watermelon’. Most of the song is a boring ramble about the life of an American talk-show host who, after a record about surviving poverty and hard-ship, seems more annoying with his minor problems than ever and yet doesn’t get his come-uppance or salvation by the end of the song. If he’d even been an American talk-show host sent to Africa to cover a story it would have made more sense, but no – instead this song tails off, seemingly half-finished on a ‘wooooh’ that sounds as if Paul is testing his microphone rather than singing seriously. I don’t like ‘Graceland’ as much as many of Paul’s fans but at least most of it is competent and the first three songs genuinely thrilling – this song though is easily on of the biggest disasters of his canon, whatever album it’s on. Given the context (‘my albums aren’t selling and this could be the last song I ever make as this is such a big gamble!’) it would have been a horrifyingly damp squib on which to end Paul’s career.

Thankfully instead ‘Graceland’ revived Paul’s career while also giving him an impossible moving target that commercially he’s never been able to hit since. Year upon year Graceland’s reputation grows as we get further away from the 1980s and realise how rare and genuinely inventive this album was, back in the days when the only way you could listen to ‘world music’ was by actually physically travelling to a new land. But is it really such a great album? Only in parts, with those three majestic opening pieces a distant memory by the time you get to the end of the album, with the second particularly the weakest of Paul’s career. ‘Graceland’ doesn’t quite offer the salvation that fans think it does, with too many half-baked songs written to backing tracks made by a combination of American and African musician s who haven’t been given the chance to know each other yet, with a few too many surreal lyrics on an album that’s crying out for realism to join the gap between the American and African worlds. Made in a rush with everybody crossing their fingers rather than fully confident, it’s holes are as obvious as its strong points and it’s a great irony to me how many more copies this album shifted compared to the Brazillian sequel ‘Rhythm Of The Saints’ which finds Paul knowing how to do this now, creating a poetic album that fully delivers on its combination of different sounds while enjoying the journey there so much more. Yet neither is ‘Graceland’ the travesty that many of its detractors call it: Paul had no greater aim than promoting African music and satisfying his musical curiosity – both of which he does quite brilliantly, creating deserved stars in America and Europe of many of this album’s key participants. ‘Graceland’ would be a pretty awful album without them, but Ray Phiri, Ladysmith Black Mombazo, General MD Shirinda and The Gaza Sisters between them are the perfect guests: they come along, offer their support and ideas and don’t try to hijack the album. If only Paul had taped into their talents a little more and had his own contributions and especially lyrics been as every bit as consistent as their parts then ‘Graceland’ might have been every bit the timeless classic people say it is. In pure composition terms ‘Graceland’ may well be the weakest Paul Simon album of all and only the brilliance of the opening trilogy and the (generally) fine backing tracks keeps it afloat.  However, at the same time, we ought to give this album the benefit of the doubt in some ways: though there are other, better albums that came long after ‘Graceland’ and travelling down the road, this one was ‘first’ and suffered all the teething troubles and insecurities that come with breaking new ground. The fact that Paul made this album despite the difficulties and managed to turn his career around with such an unlikely album is one of rock and pop’s great success stories and if ever an album deserved bonus points for courage this is it: not just for Paul’s contribution but the many wonderful people he worked with who were also taking a giant risk with this record.

 Other Paul Simon related articles from this website you might be interested in reading:
'The Paul Simon Songbook' (1965)
'Sounds Of Silence'
'Bridge Over Troubled Water' (1970)

'Paul Simon' (1972)

'There Goes Rhymin' Simon' (1973)

‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ (1975)

'One Trick Pony' (1980)

'Hearts and Bones' (1983)

'Rhythm Of The Saints' (1990) 
'Songs From The Capeman' (1997)
'You're The One' (2000)
'Stranger To Stranger' (2016)
Every Pre-Fame Recording 1957-1963 (Tom and Jerry, etc)
Live/Compilation/Film Soundtrack Albums Part One: 1968-1988
Live/Compilation Albums Part Two: 1991-2012

The Who: Live/Solo/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Two 1973-1975


(Track Records/MCA, April 1973)

One Man Band/The Way Of The World/You Are Yourself/Thinking/You and Me/It's A Hard Life//Giving It All Away/The Story So Far/When The Music Stops/Reasons/One Man Band (Reprise)

"Your smile is a shadow, your eyes tell it all, but I suppose that's the way of the world"

Roger's first solo album was something of a shock to fans. To date we'd only ever heard him as a rock singer, not the classical balladeer he was here, with perhaps the sole exception being Roger's testing-the-waters B-side 'Here For More', the one Who recording that sounds anything at all like his early solo career. It's all part of Roger's re-grooming of himself in the wake of 'Tommy' as a household name, free to be whatever he wants - including a pin-up young girls could swoon to without worrying about his backing band. To be fair to him, Roger also made it clear that he didn't feel right trying to sing rock and roll without his colleagues there behind him so rather than make a weak-kneed Who record it made more sense to go in completely the opposite direction. Where this album rises or falls, depending on your opinion, is whether you're the sort of Who fan that thinks that covering songs by a then-unknown Leo Sayer and singing in a soppy voice represents a betrayal of all The Who's original ideas or whether you're the sort of Who fan that thinks Roger has a very pretty voice. Even after years of knowing this record I'm still not sure what I think - it's as if Roger made up for recording the one type of album he knew would piss off Who fans the most but compensated by making it really really good and making it with care. It's no substitute for The Who and Roger would probabkly never have got a solo contract singing songs like this without his reputation - but then, unlike what Rod Stewart was up to outside The Faces, this was never meant to be a solo career as such but more a chance to stretch the Who palette and keep fans interested in the increasingly long gap between albums (managers Kit and Chris, worried about just that, actively tried to sabotage this album's release, further damaging their reputation with the group, but it sold well anyway - mainly to teenage fans with a crush on Roger after seeing him in concert). Measured on those terms it's a success, even if it won't please every Who collector out there.

Unlike some of the solo albums to come, Roger sticks to the orchestral ballad singing all the way through and the chance to sing softer and with more control shows once and for all what a great singer he is. Even when the song isn't much cop, Roger's vocals manage to tease out enough emotion and warmth to make then sound good, whereas the songs when Leo Sayer is on form sound spectacular. Leo was a vague pal of Rogers who contacted him about asking for some studio time - Roger replied that he would in return for a song for his album; Leo returned with eight (including two never recorded for this album). What this album doesn't have compared to later LPs is variety and if you hate one song on this album, chances are you're going to hate them all. The great thing about this album is that despite being the antithesis of everything The Who once stood for it's not without bite or power on occasion. Though Leo Sayer has come to be associated with everything slightly flat, wet and drippy about mid-1970s singer-songwriters there is real drama behind some of these songs. Roger's always proved he can handle emotion well and while Leo's songs are less subtle than Pete's he offers plenty of emotion for the singer to draw on. Theirs is a surprisingly strong partnership across the album, with Roger gentle enough to echo leo's voice while giving added danger on occasion, while outside the band that made his name Roger never found a better or more suitable songwriter than here. 'Daltrey' isn't perfect, but with its dreamy mock-Edwardian cover, dreamy mock-Edwardian strings and mock-Edwardian politeness, 'Daltrey' succeeds by offering a side of Roger he could never reveal as part of The Who and appealing to a whole new audience and for those who find Daltrey pretty dreamy anyway this became many fans' favourite LP for several genuine reasons.

'One Man Band' is a fun opener, with the title referring to Daltrey stepping out on his own. An unusual song for Leo Sayer it's the tale of a busker always being moved on and ignored and asking for love and attention, yet still content to play his songs whether anyone listens or not. Roger is perfectly cast as a slightly sorry-for-himself yet still proud narrator. Leo's later re-recording of this song became a big hit for him, though Roger sings it better.

Adam Faith's 'Way Of The World' features a slightly harder-edged vocal that doesn't quite suit the slowest and least beautiful track here but the lyrics are strong, recalling Pete's more self-doubting songs from 'Who By Numbers' as the narrator comes to the realisation that he should stop being a loner and reach out for help from another, 'unable to do it alone'. Russ Ballard turns in a fine languid guitar solo, about as far away from Pete's manic style as it's possible to be but still performed with emotion.

'You Are Yourself' is one of Leo Sayer's best songs on the album, with an opening piano lick just like the opening to 'Gettin' In Tune' (a brand new song when this album was being made so it wouldn't have been lost on Roger). The narrator of this song comes to the conclusion that he doesn't know his partner despite their years together but he doesn't mind - he loves her for who she is and likes to imagine that she's a 'queen' anyway.

'Thinking' is a cute and catchy sort of song too, another Leo-David Courtney collaboration that's folkier than most of the album though with a pedal-steel part closer to country. Roger's been thinking about his girl with a dreamy look in his eyes and wishing they could 'get back to before' when they were first dating and really happy.

Adam Faith is back for 'You and Me', a much prettier song which features Roger singing in a whisper over how he and his girlfriend have changed during the time they've spent together and he now feels 'complete'. Sadly this pretty ballad doesn't really go anywhere and the treacly string solo in the middle really annoys, but the tune and message are sweet and Roger sounds great singing - during the times when he's actually allowed to sing anyway.

'It's A Hard Life' is the closest thing to a rock song here with some very exotic and ear-catching instrumentation (the strings play like bagpipes here!) Roger sounds great at full roar on a 'How Many Friends?' style song about 'wasting your days' on other people who never repay your kindness. Roger sounds bitter and depressed but still hopes for better days.

Leo's 'Giving It All Away' was sensibly chosen as the album single as it's arguably the best thing here. The song starts as a slow and romantic ballad about being in love and switches to a hard and punchy chorus as Roger reflects on where a relationship went all wrong. He tried too hard and gave too much of 'it' away to his baby too quick (did Pete hear this song when writing 'Rough Mix'?!), reflecting that he's learnt from it and will do better next time. Memorable and grown-up, with a vocal that ranges from loved-up to guilty to regretful and hopeful again, this is amongst the best things Roger ever sang without a Townshend or Entwistle credit attached.

'The Story So Far' is a 'She Loves You' style song that tries to offer advice to a friend. Roger tells a girl to give up on her relationship without a friend because she clearly doesn't love him and she'll hurt him - the unspoken message being that he quite fancies her himself and would love her far more. There's a hint of the Roger of old as he gets angry at her refusal in the last verse and screams 'go back to those lonely streets!'

'When The Music Stops' is one of the lesser songs, simply because it's so dramatic and false (which just makes Roger sound drunk). A shame because the sentiments fit nicely into the Who tradition of putting songwriting metaphors in song. Roger knows that his dance with a girl is coming to an end and asks for them both to be free. With only strings to accompany his voice, though, this stop-start ballad is more irritating than moving.

'Reasons' finds Roger feeling betrayed but still willing to forgive his lover for finding another and finding reasons still to be with her. Which must have been quite a laugh for his new wife Heather as the reality was very much the way around! (She agreed to an 'open marriage' where Roger could be with groupies as long as he still came home to her at the end of every tour; it's a pact that worked for them as a couple as they recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary).

The album then ends with an eighty second burst of 'One Man Band (Reprise)'sounding very much the way it did last time we heard it.

Overall, then, 'Daltrey' isn't everything it could be - the Leo Sayer songs sound a bit the same and Roger doesn't quite get the range of material he needs to show off his voice. However as an exercise in proving that he could have an identity outside The Who and taking the chance on an unknown songwriter he felt had talent, 'Daltrey' is a big success. Though the album didn't quite sell as well as recent Who releases (even  'Quadrophenia') a #6 UK chart peak was nothing to be sneezed at and will remain the best any of The Who manage with a solo release until Roger's own 'McVicar' soundtrack in 1980. A taught, emotional, melodic album it makes up for in ideas and lyrics what it lacks in power or might but is something of an acquired taste. If you're new to Roger's solo work I'd check out a compilation first to see if you like it or look out for the 'Giving It All Away' single which, although the very first, remains the best Daltrey solo release all these years on. 

John Entwistle "Rigor Mortis Sets In"

(Track Records, November 1973)

Gimme That Rock 'n' Roll/Mr Bassman/Do The Dangle/Hound Dog/Made In Japan//My Wife/Roller Skate Kate/Peg Leg Peggy/Lucille/Big Black Cadillac

CD Bonus Tracks: BP Jingle x 2/Made In Japan (Early Take)/Peg Leg Peggy (Early Take)

"Don't give me no boogie woogie, I don't like big bands that swing, all I want to hear is rock and roll - I kind of learned that thing"

John's third album is much like his first two, only a tad noisier. What with the typically dark-humoured title and the coffin on the front cover, you could argue that John all but invents heavy metal here as he comes off sounding more and more like Black Sabbath, albeit one that grew up on rockabilly. This messy, raggedy, rocky set is certainly a complete contrast to the carefully thought out and erudite 'Quadrophenia' being recorded around the same time and this set is especially weird when it gets to the sexual innuendo humour more common to Roger's albums than John's usual work ('My Wife' - here in re-recorded form too - has clearly gone to The Ox's head). However, treat this album as a snack rather than a weighty piece of work and it makes more sense, with John sending up the rockstar lifestyle the way he will on 'Success Story' with some digs at what a ridiculous way it is to make a living and with lots of oldies treated as daft fun (the comedy 'Mr Bassman' is such an obvious choice for a cover you almost with John hadn't done it!) However it's two originals in the Showaddywaddy mode that impress the most, with 'Roller Skate Kate' a love song on skates that ends in an awful crash and 'Peg Leg Peggy' a screamed tribute to a pirate's bride. John has, title aside, never sounded more alive or as if he's having as much fun as on this album - whether you have fun as well really depends on how dark your humour is and how badly you want this album to resemble The Who's normal work. The album's tribute ('In loving memory of rock and roll, 1950 - , it never really passed away, just ran out of time!') is either hilariously spot-on or will have you nodding in agreement after hearing this slightly clumsy record. The backing band this time includes a few AAA friends - George Harrison's friend Tony Ashton (of 'The Remo Four' and the 'Wonderwall' soundtrack album), Howie Casey (soon to be chief sax player in Wings' horn section) and drummer Graham Deakin (who backed Moody Blues spin-off The Blue Jays in 1977). Legend has it this album was cheap to make too at $10,000 - with allegedly $4000 of that paying for the alcohol!

'Gimme That Rock and Roll!' is the messiest song on a messy album, a boozy tribute to the power of rock and roll that sounds as if it took five minutes to write and less to record. The band are going for a Jerry Lee Lewis-meets-Little Richard vibe, but it just comes off as an Elton John B-side.

Johnny Cymbal's hilarious 'Mr Bassman' is given a postmodern reading here, even though strictly speaking it's about a bass singer not player. John grooves along anyway, adding a sort of camp theatricality quite different to his normal style. In the end, though, this comedy song just isn't funny enough.

'Do The Dangle' is pure Entwistle despite more 1950s stylings. John has invented a new dance which you do while you're trying to hang yourself, with every innuendo milked for all it's worth too. This is what you might call an 'acquired taste' and probably won't be played down the Samaritans hotline anytime soon.

'Hound Dog' features a great gritty lead (that out-Elvises Elvis for my money, not that I'm a fan) and some great sax from Howie Casey but still falls a little bit flat - more a Chihuahua than a hound dog.

'Made In Japan' is probably the best song here, a bit more substantial than most of the jokes elsewhere. Consumer John is trying to look for quality and keeps finding the label 'Made In Japan' everywhere on things he knows are going to fall apart the next day. Though the song borders on racist ('Made In England' isn't a phrase that inspires confidence either), John manages to skirt that problem by taking a wider look at how we should be moving together globally as one - or something like that. I was too busy trying to decipher the lyrics  thanks to the ragged vocal and over the loud guitars to be honest.

'My Wife' is clearly the best song here by a country mile and John's slower, groovier version might not be up to the 'Who's Next' version but it still packs a whallop and features a better, strangely sober vocal this time around.

'Roller Skate Kate' is a hilarious 1950s pastiche that takes in the three biggest themes of the era: love, crashes and rollerskates. Poor Kate dies in a 'Leader Of The Pack' style crash after being the narrator's true love (don't get too sympathetic - she was going down the fast lane on the motorway!)  and, impassioned, he burns his skates and vows never to use them again. After 'Boris' and 'My Wife' probably John's funniest song.

'Peg Leg Peggy' starts with lots of out of control laughing as John tries to 'ooa-ar' laugh his way through the song's piano chords and gets hysterical. The song itself is a good one though, a fast driving riff-heavy track that's perhaps the most Who-like of this bunch. Peggy might only have one leg but she's a great dancer - even when she 'sounds like a sewing machine she really knows how to hop!'

Little Richard cover 'Lucille' is rather brainless and pointless, slowed down to the point where the song has lost all excitement and menace, though John's layered harmonies are actually quite impressive (it's probably the similarly slow Everly Brothers arrangement he had in mind).

The album closes with that other 1950s favourite, the motor-car. 'Big Black Cadillac' also deals with the idea of stars, as the narrator tries to hide from a gangster and pretend that he hasn't seen a thing. John's take on needless bureaucracy and the resulting humility has its moments, but the wild backing track doesn't really come together and this song isn't as clever or detailed as some.

The CD includes a number of even more sozzled bonus tracks: 'BP Jingle' is a 'Who Sell Out' style advert for the petrol company that's performed like 'Jaguar' on amphetamines (how did these two get together?!), an early go at 'Made In Japan' is more in the style of the earlier albums and is much better without all the surface noise and an equally early 'Peg Leg Peggy' is more focussed and less distracting.
Overall, then, 'Rigor Mortis Sets In' is having too much fun partying to offer the dark complex thoughts about death and passing that many fans might have been expecting. In many ways it's an album made in awfully bad taste, with silly songs about suicide and offensive songs about disabilities and foreigners but it's all done with affection too. If you're the sort of fan who thought 'My Wife' was misogynistic rather than comedy gold then maybe this album is not for you - but if you take this album in the spirit it was intended and treat it as a boozy version of 'The Beach Boys Party' rather than a more arty 'Pet Sounds' then you should find much to enjoy, even while you feel guilty for laughing.  

Keith Moon "Life With The Moons"

(Radio Broadcast 1973, partly available on 'Thirty Years Of Maximum R and B' box set 1994)

Life With The Moons/University Clhallenged/Poetry Cornered/Life With The Moons #2

"I'm Keith Moon, African road singer, going mixed infants, reading a comic upside down and a script very badly!"

Taking time off from being 'probably the best Keith Moon type drummer in the world' wasn't in the end a good idea for The Who's powerhouse. Pete's need to work on his concepts meant long stretches of time in the 1970s when The Who weren't doing anything and whilst Roger and John could involve themselves with solo albums, all the largely non-singing drummer had to keep him occupied was boozy parties, nights out on the town and shocking the people in his neighbourhood by dressing up as nuns and/or Hitler. In time The Who will learn how self-destructive gaps will be for Keith and cater them accordingly, with acting roles or 'The Other Side Of The Moon' solo-album-with-special-guest-stars-making-up-for-the-bits-Keith-couldn't-sing. The first idea, though, was arguably the best and certainly the most Keith way of keeping out of trouble: a radio sketch show where the drummer played what would normally be described as a 'larger than life' version of himself, had Keith's character not already been too large to get away with on public primetime radio. It's like the Monty Python team being directed by Kenny Everett via Keith's mate Viv Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, only even more weird than that.

The meeting of the BBC and the Who's self-destructing drummer seems an unlikely one but came about when producer John Walters was looking for a temporary replacement for DJ John Peel, who'd booked a holiday from the long-running pop programme 'Top Gear'. Figuring that a 'name' guest would be good for publicity, he approached a few names in the music business and quickly found a sympathetic ally in Moon who was, back in 1973, sober enough to get the job done but wild enough to make it fun. Fans have long assumed that Keith improvised everything as the material reflects so much of the drummer's free-wheeling style, but actually Walters wrote a good 90% of the material as a script and then encouraged Moon to make it sound as natural as possible (the producer repeated much of the show on his own 'Walter's Weekly' spun-off series in 1981). And largely speaking it does: Keith is a natural for the radio, with the twinkle in his gruff voice still very much alive at this point in time and allowing him to get away with good-natured snubs of all sorts of rock-star posing and the conformity of period British radio. One wonders if Pete and John paid closer attention to these sketches than we thought, given how closely parts of 'The Who By Numbers' album of 1975 matches this radio show's disillusionment with fame and sarcastic sideswipes at rockstar Gods.

Though it's likely more sketches were recorded (details are sketchy but it seems likely Keith recorded enough sketches to pad out programmes between Monday-Friday of a single week) so far four have been released into the public domain on the 'Maximum R and B' box set of 1993 (where they sound mighty odd interrupted by the music, but never mind), with at least one more widely available on bootleg. For a time in the late 1970s there was talk about recording a few more and releasing a full album, but Keith's death sadly put paid to that. Taking these in order, 'Life With The Moon's is a parody of 'Life With The Lyons', a long-running soap opera of everyday simple folk living in America that ran between 1950 and 1961 and had already been spoofed by John 'n' Yoko on their second avant garde album 'Life With The Lions' in 1969. Keith plays a simple everyday rockstar returning home from the road to a sneezing wife and joshing about a recent open-air festival where it rained all bloody day. Praising the organisation, Keith tells his long-suffering and long-sneezing wife 'pity the artist's wife's tent blew in the storm though wasn't it?!' and laughing at Viv Stanshall's map-reading abilities. Keith then spoofs Pete by claiming to have an idea for a rock opera based on 'Pilgrim's Progress', misquoting it as a work by Geoffrey Chaucer (it's by John Bunyan) and quipping 'Daltrey can help me with the hard bits!' Second and less funny is 'University Challenged', which is a parody of long-running fiendish UK TV quiz 'University Challenge' (where funnily enough they had a question about The Who on the other day) and features Keith introducing himself as three different characters with funny voices (Reg Blakensop, Amsel Nipples and Vince McRaincoat) before appearing briefly as himself. This is 'Poetry Cornered' - ie 'Poetry Corner' - which has an earnest Keith telling his beloved his love is like a dove' and will she be his, umm, 'vole' (he's really not very good at this rhyming lark!) Finally, it's part two of 'Life With The Moons' with - in the best gag of the series - special guest 'Fiddle Castrol' playing a 'revolutionary violinist!' This time Keith's wife has got the burps not the sneezes and Keith is relaxing at home so wants to take his coat off - cue nineteen full seconds of clinking bottles!

A fifth skit heard on bootleg has Keith in charge of a cooking show 'to find a snack that's both cheap and nourishing' and talks about how food has now been proved to have feelings. Keith predicts that 'by the end of the century we could well see a turnip running for president' (he was spot on with the younger George Bush!) The probable reason this sketch isn't on the official box set with the others and hasn't been heard since 1981 is because Keith insists on 'cooking pussy' that 'tastes like chicken with a bit of fish' - he means a cat, obviously, *ahem*, of course he does. Either that or his next idea about 'cooking Granny, which will help bridge the generation gap'. Hope I die before I get eaten...An intriguing extra-curricular glimpse at Who humour, you don't really need to own these sketches (and you will undoubtedly get sick of them interrupting the flow of the fourth disc of the 'Maximum R and B' set) and like Keith himself they're an acquired taste, but in the right mood this book's comedy interlude is as funny as they come and Keith really should have been encouraged to do more. 

"Odds and Sods"

(Track Records, October 1974)

Postcard/Now I'm A Farmer/Put The Money Down!/Little Billy/Too Much Of Anything/Glow Girl//Pure and Easy/Faith In Something Bigger/I'm The Face/Naked Eye/Long Live Rock!

CD Re-Issue: I'm The Face/Leaving Here/Baby Don't You Do It/Summertime Blues (Studio Take)/Under My Thumb/Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand (Alternate Take)/My Way/Faith In Something Bigger/Glow Girl/Little Billy/Young Man Blues (Studio Version)/Cousin Kevin Model Child/Love Ain't For Keeping (Alternate Version)/Time Is Passing/Pure and Easy/Too Much Of Anything/Long Live Rock/Put The Money Down/We Close Tonight/Postcard/Now I'm A Farmer/Water/Naked Eye

"Ir's goin' to my brain and easin' all my pain, I must hear the sound again!"

So many of these AAA books have complained that our other 1960s stars were worked to death by their management and record companies, that they had tight deadlines with two albums a year plus singles (six in The Beach Boys' case!) and that their work suffered unduly through the constant grind of having to come up with something (anything!) for release. The Who had the opposite problem: Townshend was such a prolific writer from 1965 onwards that the band had way too much quality material than one album and a couple of singles a year (going down to an album every other year from 1968-69 onwards) that inevitably some really great things ended up on the cutting room floor. In 1974 The Who had scattered in multiple directions, with - as Pete memorably put it in the 'Odds and Sods' sleevenotes - Roger busy filming Tommy, Pete 'ensconced in the studio, fast asleep but pretending to work' and Keith was 'dressed in a dirty raincoat drinking Guinness with a raw egg and flashing at passers-by'. John, though was twiddling his thumbs, having already released numerous solo albums to fill the time and badly needing something to occupy him. With even Track Records beginning to ask nervously for some new product in the wake of 'Quadrophenia', Entwistle as the band's chief archivist offered to go through all the tapes piling up in The Who's home studio and cobble up a filler LP. The fact that John got to release one of his favourite songs into the bargain (1973 outtake 'Postcard', also released as the album's tie-in single in 1974) may well have had something to do with this too. Roger, approached about the idea on set, said 'Oos going to want to buy a collection of odds and sods then?', giving the compilation it's perfect name into the bargain. Even the cover, front and back, is worthy with an outtake from the 'Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy' of a group of young kids who really do look like The Who (but aren't - Keith, of course, didn't know the others until he was nineteen) and the front features the band looking surly in American Football crash helmets for a jokey US photo-shoot that's both serious enough to do the set justice and gimmicky enough to laugh at the idea of making money for old rope (note though that Pete and Roger are both wearing each other's helmet, with the 'names' written on top of the 'ROCK' letters - the costumer discovered to their horror that she'd written the pair's head sized down wrong and got them muddled up!)

The result is one of those outtakes sets which, along with The Hollies' 'Rarities' and The Beach Boys' 'Endless Harmony', is far better than it has any right to be. The Who were on such top form between 1964 (with The High Numbers' B-side 'I'm The Face' the earliest song here) and 1973 (when an entire EP of songs got 'cancelled' for not being strong enough) that this set is a dazzling array of extras, all expertly chosen by Entwistle who really did seem to choose the pick of what we now know, multiple deluxe CD re-issues later, was a large pile of outtakes (only a few of the 'Who Sell Out' songs are conspicuous by their absence). After a five year period when everything The Who released was related to a concept somewhere, this was also a relief to many fans who simply thought of The Who as a great songs band. And even those who loved the 'concept' Who got to hear thrilling versions of three key 'Lifehouse' songs and 'Long Live Rock!', an early prototype for 'Quadrophenia'.

There are several highlights on the original LP as good as anything in The Who's arsenal: 'Now I'm A Farmer' is the silly side of The Who and they've rarely been funnier ('it's alarming how charming it is to be a-farming!'); 'Too Much Of Anything' is a pretty warning over the dangers of excess that really deserved a place on 'Who's Next'; 'Glow Girl's is the single best psychedelic song The Who ever made and it was a tragedy that this song was lost from 'Who Sell Out' combining as it does a plane crash, reincarnation and the future 'It's A Boy' theme from 'Tommy'; 'Pure and Easy' may well be the greatest 'Lifehouse' song of them all, a poetic take on the search for the 'lost chord' designed to join humanity together that works equally well outside the plot as it does within; 'Faith In Something Bigger' is a key and overlooked early spiritual Townshend song that struggles to deal with all he's learnt from the Meher Baba school of thought; 'I'm The Face' is a worthy career opener (even if it should have been an album opener) full of Mod intent; 'Naked Eye' is an early 1970s concert favourite about betrayal and naked intent that ends in a whirling dervish of glorious noise and destruction and 'Long Live Rock' is a worthy celebration of everything The Who and rock and roll were all about. All these tracks are not just worthy of release but amongst the best things the band ever did.

The only negative point to make about the original album was that it was so short, given how many glorious outtakes there still were in The Who's canon ripe for picking. Thankfully the CD re-issue of 'Odds and Sods' released in 1999 makes up for that, adding a further nine songs to the original twelve and restructuring the album so that everything was presented (at last!) in glorious chronological order. While some of these extras are just rare rather than brilliant (the Stones cover of 'Under My Thumb' still sounds terrible, even in a new mix!), there are any number of classics to pick from here as well: another ridiculously early recording in a barnstorming cover of 'Leaving Here', John's first playful take on 'Cousin Kevin', an equally glorious and thoughtful 'Lifehouse' outtake in 'Time Is Passing' and the fantastic Entwistle 'Quadrophenia' outtake 'We Close Tonight', which really nails Jimmy the Mod's desperation to fit in and appeal to girls while revealing the detail that he has a rather natty collection of jazz records at home. All are brilliant and make you wonder why 'Odds and Sods' wasn't a double-disc collection from the beginning.

The highlight of the CD version, though, is surely the earlier discarded take of 'Love Ain't For Keeping'. This electrified versions is different in every conceivable way: Pete sings not Roger (who probably isn't even here), there's a guest guitarist in Leslie West who plays the Mick Taylor-ish runs while Pete thrashes wildly on rhythm and the song doubles in length thanks to a manic false ending that just keeps on coming. The biggest difference is in mood though: the acoustic version we've all known and loved is one of the sweetest songs The Who ever performed, full of contentment and blessings as the narrator relishes having found the love of his life. The manic electric version is much more Who-like, being more about the pursuit than the goal itself and the narrator sounds desperate to have the life he could only dream of, with the two guitarists chasing each other on a glorious four minute suite of flying chords and jaw-dropping runs. West plays out of his skin as he keeps reaching for one more solo while everyone else valiantly keeps up on an ending they clearly haven't worked out yet, while Pete's vocal is one of his best and full of such passion and longing. 'Who's Next' is the sound of an older, maturer, quieter Who by and large and 'Keeping' was singled out as the most representative track for many, but this stunning version proves that even in 1971 the band could have sounded like the old Who and they'd still have made a colossal impact. The band's best outtake? In fact anyone's best outtake? Superb stuff.

Overall, then, 'Odds and Sods' is still worthy of your time even after all these years and though The Who keep re-issuing albums with bonus tracks left, right and centre the majority of this album is still surprisingly un-plundered. Only 'Glow Girl' (a sensible pick as the finale of the 'Who Sell Out' disc), 'I'm The Face' (which is also on the 'Quadrophenia' film soundtrack)  and 'Pure and Easy' and 'Naked Eye' ( obvious choices for 'Who's Next') have so far been re-released elsewhere which means that even if you own all those the CD has another nineteen glorious recordings to wallow in. And then there's the sleevenotes, rubbishing the group, rubbishing his songwriting, rubbishing his fanbase for collecting such rubbish – and still he comes over as proud and justly arrogant. As only Pete Townshend can, alternating between embarrassment and egotistical brilliance ('I'm going to tell you why they were never released in the first place and what a load of rubbish it is. Joking aside, it's all perfection. Are The Who capable of anything less?') No in a word. Long live rock indeed - it's rarely sounded better than here!

John Entwistle's Ox "Mad Dog!"

(Track Records, February 1975)

I Fall To Pieces/Cell no 7/You Can Be So Mean/Lady Killer/Who In The Hell?//Mad Dog/Jungle Bunny/I'm So Scared/Drowning

CD Bonus Tracks: Mad Dog! (Single Mix)/Cell no 7 (Single Mix)

"The voice of doom was a-ringing in my head!"

John's fourth album in four years meant that he'd already got as far through his studio solo career as The Who did after 'Who's Next' in 1971. Recorded in the lengthy gap between 'Quadrophenia' and 'Who By Numbers' it's the point at which he really begins stretching himself a bit thin, padding out albums with tired-out blues and rock songs and simple obvious jokes not up to the wit of old. However  there's a case to be made that John fares better than all but the 'main course' being offered to Who fans in this busy year of 1975 with an album that's more rocking than Rogers, more in tune than Keith's and less irritating all round than the Tommy film soundtrack - even if it lacks the depth and sophistication of 'Who By Numbers'. It's also an improvement, of sorts, on 'Rigor Mortis Sets In' given that it features some actual songs this time rather than merely bad pastiches and a bit of variety amongst the rock and roll (if still not quite enough). More or less the same band appears on this track as before, with the addition of future Pink Floyd sax player Dick Parry and Mike Wedgewood the string arranger and conductor who adds a touch of class to songs that, frankly, often don't deserve them. The biggest change, though, is the all girl chorus who add some heavenly vibes to John's vocal hell and the result makes for a very striking if not always a very musical mixture. What you get from this album really depends on how much you enjoy Entwistle's bonkers brand of humour (sample topics this album include paranoia, madness and domestic violence). The less said about the cover the better too - a close-up of a mad dog about to bite. Things sure have changed since the pretty Who single 'Dogs'!

'I Fall To Pieces' is one of the stronger songs, an angry snarling rocker about...being madly and hopelessly in love! The narrator takes umbrage at the fact that he's no longer in control of his senses and the fact he's now 'dangling like a puppet on a string' worried about what his significant other might say or do next. It's true love I tell you!

'Cell no 7' is perhaps the most important song here. It sounds like a version of just-released Who track 'Long Live Rock' with new words (John was lucky Pete didn't sue!) with some generic 'Jailhouse Rock' type lyrics. However all the details are accurate for an incident in 1974 when - after a night of particularly busy Moon antics in an American hotel - the whole band were arrested and charged with breaching the peace. Poor John wasn't aware of anything going on - he'd gone to bed early with a cold - and was most put out at being arrested for being asleep! The funny lyric includes such lines as 'The lead singer of The Who was in cell number two - pacing up and down like a tiger in a zoo' (Roger wasn't a part of the antics either!) and that John was paired with Keith in his cell where he 'dribbled on my coat and snored like a goat!' Hilarious, if a little rowdy and ragged musically.

'You Can Be So Mean' is a parody doo-wop song that sounds like 10cc on which John reflects on a life long infatuation with a girl who keeps running off with other boys before divorcing him and keeping John's kids, house and car. John is at his prettiest here despite his anger and the female chorus and sax make more sense here than on the rest of the album.

'Lady Killer' is one of the album's lesser songs, a noisy unfocussed song about a playboy (Roger?) that's played somewhere between Broadway musical and Mariachi marching song! It's all a bit shrill for me and lacks John's usual comedy or twists-in-the-tale.

'Who In The Hell?' is presumably the listeners' response when they hear this noisy, messy, pure country tune. I'll throw in a couple of 'What the?'s as well. John, by this point 31 years of age, angrily turns on his parents for making his adult life miserable. He's joking. Umm, I think.

'Mad Dog' itself is one of the album's better songs, with the backing singers doing most of the work. John's latest narrator, an adulterer, is told to run because his new girl's husband is out of jail early and running after him with a gun. Despite the story this song is quite calm by John's standards and strangely cute!

'Jungle Bunny' is an irritatingly bland four minute instrumental that the band attempt to liven up by rattling some weird percussion over the top and getting some synthesisers out but 'Sparks' this isn't. Truly pointless.

'I'm So Scared' is a 'My Wife' style song in a Jerry Lee Lewis style about not being scared of dying but being very afraid of the narrator's missus. It's clearly not as good or as funny as the similar earlier song, but it does have a good groove from the mammoth backing band and John is in good voice too.

The album ends with the sweet ballad 'Drowning', a pure 50s throwback complete with boo-wop-shoo-dops, strings and backing vocals as John drifts off to a lazy loved-up sleep. Funnily enough Pete's song 'Drowned' was a serious take on exactly the same idea - that love equates to water and that it's easy to 'drown' even though that's what you secretly desire - like 'Success Story' sending up every moment on 'Who By Numbers' by undercutting Pete's rockstar dramas, so this song goofily plays around with the mainframe of 'Quadrophenia'. If taken in the right frame of mind, it's hilarious - and quite pretty too!

So ends 'Mad Dog', a mixed album not up to John's first and second but an improvement on his last and better than the ones to come it has to be said. To a non-fan it's a mess: noisy, weird and very much out of its time. However if you're a fan of John's quirky B-sides you'll find much to love here. It's a shame John isn't being as confessional and direct with his emotions anymore, however, and 'Mad Dog' is the start of a trend towards pure humour that's going to be the undoing of many a future LP. Still, there's much to admire here. 

"Tommy: The Original Soundtrack"

(Polydor, March 1975)

Disc One: Overture From Tommy/Prologue(1945)/Captain Walker-It's A Boy/Bernie's Holiday Camp/1951-What About The Boy?/Amazing Journey/Christmas/Eyesight To The Blind/Acid Queen/Do You Think It's Alright? #1/Cousin Kevin/Do You Think It's Alright? #2/Fiddle About/Do You Think It's Alright? #3/Sparks/Extra Extra/Pinball Wizard

Disc Two: Champagne/There's A Doctor/Go To The Mirror!/Tommy Can You Hear Me?/Smash The Mirror/I'm Free!/Mother and Son/Sensation/Miracle Cure/Sally Simpson/Welcome/TV Studio/Tommy's Holiday Camp/We're Not Gonna Take It!/See Me Feel Me (Listening To You)

"It's so absurd to try to describe all the things you've done!"

Saying that Ken Russell's film version of 'Tommy' is a 'bit weird' is a little like saying The Lord of The Rings films are ' a little too long' (and  basically a New Zealand travelogue with hobbits) or that Braveheart 'got a few facts wrong'. That goes double for the soundtrack album, which instead of featuring one of the world's best rock and roll bands with one of the world's best rock and roll singers at his peak features actor Oliver Reed pretending he can sing and Actress Ann Margret pretending she can't. Even the instrumental passages are harder to take, with this album arguably the first to make synthesisers the 'lead' instrument across an entire work (and thus being responsible for most of the horrors of the 1970s and 1980s to come). The soundtrack album has, much like the film, divided fans ever since: it's nice to hear 'Tommy' being performed with a bigger budget (there really is very little shade or colour on The Who's studio original)and some of the guest stars are worthy (Tina Turner sounds more like 'The Acid Queen' than Pete Townshend anyday, while Elton John is as good as he gets as 'The Pinball Wizard'), but to get to those moments you have to sit through an awful lot of 'dear God, no!' moments whether it's a synthesised version of the 'Overture' (which sounds as if Tommy's being played on one of those pipe organs that turn up at motorway service stations every so often), an Eric Clapton funk-blues take on 'Eyesight To The Blind' or Oliver Reed getting increasingly drunker and more out-of-tune every-time he asks 'Do You Think It's Alright?' Thank goodness for Roger Daltrey, who rescues this album almost single-handedly in the second half when Tommy 'wakes up' and the best songs here are all stacked towards the end: a fierce 'I'm Free', a playful 'Welcome' and a surging 'We're Not Gonna Take It!' By contrast even Pete gets things wrong on his only cameos, a nervous 'It's A Boy' and an overblown 'Sally Simpson', though at least Keith has fun being the most outrageous of the many 'Uncle Ernie's out there, complete with hysterical hyperventilating. The Who play on most of the album, but you wouldn't know it given the dominance of Pete's synthesiser, with the exception of Keith who only plays on part of it. His future successor Kenney Jones plays instead while Keith Moon was busy filming or doing whatever on earth it was Keith was doing in 1975 and sounds pretty good with The Who providing a more, umm, 'controlled' sound than normal for this period, with Ronnie Wood sometimes providing rhythm guitar. Pete's younger brother Simon Townshend also makes his first appearance on a Who recording singing the 'Extra Extra!' theme - he'll go on to be a part of the touring band in every incarnation of The Who from 1989 to date. Pete also wrote three new 'songs' to make the plot clearer, although of these  only 'Champagne' comes close to working as a proper track in its own right (see below). Though far better than the hideously overblown orchestral recording (at least some people here sing well some of the time), the film soundtrack is something of a disappointment and not up to the studio original or, better yet, the 1969-1971 period live performance of the work.

Non-Album Recordings Part #11: 1975
Sounding more like a missing section from 'Quadrophenia' than 'Tommy', the first of the two 'new' songs written for Ken Russell's film soundtrack  is [172] 'Champagne' sung by Ann-Margret (as Tommy's mother). This song takes place at the part of the film where Tommy is still 'asleep' but has now become a millionaire, with people rushing the world over to see him play football. Added to the film primarily to give Ann-Margret something to do (both she and Oliver Reed's 'dad' rather disappear from the storyline after the middle), this is an odd song in that it makes the one vaguely sympathetic character in Tommy's life (his mother at least cares for his welfare, even if she's hopeless at providing it and trusts all the wrong people) into something of a monster. She's adoring this new lifestyle her son has  - apparently unknowingly - brought her and is becoming increasingly distanced from her roots and, it's hinted, slightly unhinged (this is the sequence in the film where first champagne and then chocolate pours from her TV set by the gallon; poor Ann-Margret cut her hand quite badly in this scene when the TV set smashed 'early' and had to be rushed to hospital, still in her chocolate-stained dress much to the shock of the hospital receptionist and doctors; like a trooper she returned the next day to set to finish the scene despite the very real chance she might get cut again). Until Roger finally wakes up, Ann-Margret is by far the most accomplished 'singer' in the film (her 1963 single 'I Just Don't Understand' was even covered by The Beatles on a 1965 BBC session) and yet Pete tries to give her a very 'ugly' passage to sing her, making her sing deep and gravelly on two notes a lyric about deceived people getting their 'just desserts' - was this song originally written for Oliver Reed? (did Oliver refuse to get drenched in chocolate and fake champagne?!) Pete cleverly writes in yet another 'See Me, Feel Me' refrain from Roger, however, hovering over his mother as her 'conscience' leading her to finally see the error of her ways ('What's it all worth when my son is blind? He can't hear the music nor enjoy what I'm buying') - well briefly (the passage then ends 'His life is worthless - affecting mine, I'd do anything to drive his face from my mind!' Charming - this is Tommy's mother, remember!) Clearly here to embellish the plot rather than for its musical worth, this is a funny start to the soundtrack album's second disc (coming in right after 'Pinball Wizard') and doesn't quite work. Find it on: the 1975 Film Soundtrack version of 'Tommy'

[173] 'Mother and Son' is another new song written especially for the film soundtrack and once again here to give Ann-Margret something to do in the movie's second half. Set in the film immediately after Tommy's recovery ('I'm Free!') it's where the whole plot moves around: from now on in Tommy's mum and dad will be the passive ones, their lives changed by their son ('And you, dear mother, must be prepared...' is an ominous line with which to leave the song). Rather neatly Ann-Margret now gets to sing 'See Me, Feel Me' as she tries to re-connect with the now grown-up song she doesn't know. Sadly the rest of the song is more ordinary, full of clunky plot exposition for anyone who fell asleep at the start of the film ('You're adored and you're loved, thousands watch you play. pinball, it's a fever and you're master of the game!') Roger clearly relishes the chance to sing 'heavily' though and sings with great conviction and power - to be a honest it's a shame he didn't wake up earlier. A nice backing 'fits' in neatly with the 'Tommy' style, a cross between 'Sparks' and 'We're Not Gonna Take It', but this is still a song rather clumsily shoe-horned into the song sequence to help movie-goers make sense of the plot (we music-lovers 'knew' the plot without such extra details the first time round, of course...) Find it on: the 1975 Film Soundtrack version of 'Tommy'

'TV Studio' is a brief 90 second addition to the film soundtrack, shared between Tommy's mum and dad in which they plot his - and their - future. A long list of places really tests Oliver Reed's drink-sozzled memory, but apart from that not much is happening on this song which is like a chirpier version of 'Champagne'. Find it on: the 1975 Film Soundtrack version of 'Tommy'

Keith Moon "Two Sides To The Moon"

 (MCA/Polydor, March 1975)

Crazy Like A Fox/Solid Gold/Don't Worry baby/One Night Stand/The Kids Are Alright//Move Over Ms L/Teenage Idol/Back Door Sally/In My Life/Together

1997 CD Bonus Tracks: US Radio Spot/I Don't Suppose/Naked Man/Do Me Good/Real Emotion/Don't Worry Baby (US Mix)/Teenage Idol (US Mix)/Together Rap

Additional Tracks From 2006 Deluxe Edition: Lies/Hot Rod Queen/ 6 x Mal Evans Mixes/We Wish You A Merry Xmas/Together Session Dialogue/Don't Worry Baby (John Sebastian Guide Vocal and Outtake)/Tracking Sessions for all ten studio songs/My Generation/A Touch Of The Moon Madness/I'm Not Angry/Solid Gold Fade Ad Libs Composite/OK Mr Starkey/Ringo and Keith Together...Again!/In My Life (Alternate Take)

"I think that covers it all" "Covers it? We buried it!"

Keith Moon doesn't really write much - certainly nothing on this, his one and only solo record. Keith Moon isn't much of a singer - and this album goes out of its way to prove why the band never let him sing much on this record. The only thing Keith could really do was play the drums - and he doesn't do that for the majority of this record, passing most of the work over to session musician Jim Keltner, as well as one track with his future Who successor Kenney Jones and a few recordings with his drinking buddy Ringo Starr (Keith said drumming felt 'too much like work' and he was on 'holiday' making this album, which explains a lot so he only plays on the re-make of 'The Kids Are Alright'). So what does 'Two Sides Of The Moon' have going for it? Well, big production values for one, with Keith taking up his new mate's template of getting big name stars to mess around in front of big glossy expensive backing tracks under the 'supervision' of an equally inebriated Mal Evans, The Beatles' favourite roadie. Good song choices on the other, as Keith had a real taste in music with tracks borrowed from his heroes The Beach Boys, his other new drinking buddy John Lennon and even his old band while the 'new' material written for Keith by some 'new' friends is remarkably strong. Keith too is a character and this is a 'character's record, getting by on enthusiasm and wacky good fun what it lacks in precision and beauty. Keith always thought he was a good singer and that he had a really good solo album in him to join the work of his Who members; neither are strictly true, but he gives both ideas a good go all the same - though not always in the most musical way. For all that, though, most fans sigh with relief when they learn that Keith didn't make any more records after this one, because one edition of 'Two Sides Of The Moon' really is enough - perhaps more than enough for most. Basically, don't take this record seriously (because Keith didn't take anything seriously, including his career) and treat it as a karaoke album made for fun instead and you'll enjoy it more. Umm, maybe.

Traditionally fans are said to hate this album, which is the sort of millionaire rockstar excess punk was out on this earth to destroy. But if you love Keith (and who didn't? Unless it was your hotel room he'd just blown up...) then you will love this album, eventually, when you understand what it was all about. If you hear it in the context of what The Who were up to in 1975 (depression and dark ballads full of philosophy) then 'Two Sides' makes a lot more sense. Keith couldn't do sadness - or at least he could, but it drove him even closer to the edge of madness and depression - so given a bit of spare time he preferred to kick back and make fun of everything, including himself. Most of his mates and fellow drinkers were musicians and few people had a more packed phone book than Keith did, so it was natural to put them all to work. This album might not be the most musical Who album out there and no it lacks the real humour and joi de vivre fans were expecting from a loony Moon LP, but it's an album Keith just had to make being the way he was. You can learn a lot about Keith from this record with the 'comedy' moments with Ringo geninely funny - once anyway. It's not just the humour though and Keith's off-the-wall leeriness that come across (we all knew about that), but also the passionate emotional heart rarely glimpsed behind the mask he always wore. 'Don't Worry Baby' and 'In My Life' may be sung as if with a sledgehammer but in Keith's eyes you can tell he's trying to be beautiful and emotional and the song choices alone (both handpicked by Keith) reveal a more sentimental side to the drummer than we normally get to see. The country song 'One Night Stand' is a genuinely sweet song about heartbreak that's sung with as much care as a non-singing alcoholic could manage and actually quite affecting. The Lennon and Nilsson covers, though sung for 'fun', show that Keith equally understands the depth and 'primal scream' of both men's material so he doesn't throw the songs away with a daft smile either. The result is a lot better than it has any right to be - even if it's not necessarily of any musical worth either. I'm reliably informed this album sounds better if you're drunk, which makes sense - so were most of the people making it. A sober listen just reveals the many many mistakes in this album and where's the fun in that?

This record was delayed being given a re-issue for many years - to 'protect Keith's image' allegedly being one of them (alongside the fact that this album wasn't issued on Track records in Europe like most Who albums - they baulked at the 'expense' account and the final recording so The Who's American label MCA released it instead), although there's nothing on this album fans who loved the drummer didn't realise already. Thankfully when the album did come out in 1997 it got an impressive range of bonus material that ran to another seven tracks, although this was topped again in 2006 when a whopping 41 bonus tracks in total were released. Many of these are better than anything that made the album: a fierce early Who-like attack on psychedelic garage classic 'Lies' by one-hit wonders The Knickerbockers; the gorgeous Nicky Barclay ballad 'I Don't Suppose' 9so much better than his song that made the album 'Solid Gold') where a nervous wannabe lover plucks up the courage to ask his girl out which is so pretty even Keith can't muck it up; the noisy uptempo rocker 'Hot Rod Queen' which is far more Moon-like than most of the album with its daft Beach Boys-style lyrics; two fine songs by Otis Redding's guitarist Steve Cropper - the poppy 'Do Me Good' and the Music Hall style 'Real Emotion'  and best of all the charming Randy Newman song 'Naked Man' where Keith almost sounds sober! That's alongside less vital but still occasionally interesting extras like the full Keith-Ringo improvised dialogue released on the Nilsson song 'Together', some funny promotional radio spots with Ringo again taking the lead and a rehearsal take of 'My Generation' that's performed like a drunk punk and great fun - far better, in fact, than the awful things Keith does to 'The Kids Are Alright'. No you don't need to hear all this or own it and on purely musical terms I'm not sure you need to own anything connected with these album sessions at all, but there was only one Keith Moon and only one Keith Moon solo album, so on those grounds alone it's all cautiously recommended.

'Hello everybody and welcome!' bids Keith at the beginning of the nicely aggressive rock song 'Crazy Like A Fox' by The Spirit's Al Faehly. Keith stumbles with his lyrics, is drowned out by the backing singers and doesn't quite understand whether he's the fox or his girl is (it's his girl looking at the lyrics), but it all sounds impressive and Joe Walsh turns in a great guitar solo.

'Solid Gold' is perhaps a joke too far: 'It's number one!' declares some gospel backing singers while Ringo and Keith speak their lines in their best upper class twit accents, so a #1 hit is clearly ambitious (in fact releasing this recording at all is ambitious!) This 'I'm The Greatest' clone (did we mention how much this was like the 'Ringo' album?) isn't anywhere near as funny or self-deprecating as it should be and only really comes alive on the fadeout when Keith starts getting the 'Uncle Ernie' style breathing problems as he turns into a laughing miser. Writer Barclay's 'I Don't Suppose', tried at the same sessions, was far more worthy for release.

In 1976 a fragile Brian Wilson was forced against his will back into the outside world for The Beach Boys 'comeback' album '15 Big Ones'. He reportedly broke down and cried when he heard what Keith had done to 'Don't Worry Baby', one of his favourite of his own songs and the depression killed off the album sessions for weeks. You can hear why: to untrained ears Keith sounds as if he's wilfully destroying something heartfelt and poignant with none of the sense of subtlety the song demands. But what Brian perhaps didn't know was that Keith was his biggest fan and there just had to be a Beach Boys song on this album somewhere. The song choice is more apt than it sounds too: Keith was desperate to have someone in his life who told him not to 'worry' and that his demons could be blotted out with humour, drink, drugs or funny costumes. A song about being told he never had to worry is exactly what Keith most needed to hear - and he means every word he sings, even if they're not always in the same key.

'One Night Stand' is one of the album's better ideas. Keith was perhaps taking more direction from Ringo than he should have been in this period and probably heard the drummer discussing his similarly drunken sessions in Nashville for the under-rated 'Beaucoups Of Blues' album. Moon stagger-sings in much the same way Ringo did throughout that record, capturing a rare sense of depression and melancholy along the way that's quite affecting, while the double-tracking helps ease the rawness of his vocals.

'The Kids Are Alright' was always one of Keith's favourite songs with its tale of teenage brotherhood and solidarity. As one of The Who's simpler songs, it made sense as a choice to sing, even if Keith struggles more than he should with the vocal and sounds even worse than he does on the rest of the record (Pete Townshend didn't quite weep when he heard this recording, but he admitted later this was the point when he really became concerned about his friend). His drumming too is pitiful, like the wonderful original played at slow speed (Pete deliberately wrote slower songs between 1975 and 1978 so that Keith's abilities wouldn't be shown up quite so badly, but no one seems to have warned Keith of that here). However the arrangement is rather lovely, with a grungy guitar adding just enough bite, while a sea of quite lovely harmonies add the beauty.

John Lennon's 'Move Over Ms L' is in many ways an apt choice for this album. Written during Lennon's 'lost weekend' of drinking with many of the people on this album, it's a cry for help masquerading as a song of escapism - and Keith knew all about that. In many other ways though it's far too personal - everyone knew who the 'Ms L' was (clue: it's Yoko) and John himself was so nervous of his former wife's re-action that he 'hid' it as the B-side to one of his 'Rock and Roll' singles, never putting it on an LP. Lennon's aggressive wit is what Keith sings here in a Roger Daltrey-like bark, but this song's not really about free-wheeling fun at all and Keith lacks it's creator's ability to show off several emotions at once (just check out the line 'You may think you're full of beans but you lost your mummy's roadmap!' - 'Mother' being a pet-name for 'Yoko'). A bit of a noisy mess.

Jack Lewis' 'Teenage Idol' is Keith returning to his doo-wop roots on another revealing song about being lonely and 'needing someone' (Keith had split up with wife Kim not long before, which must have been awkward for Kenney Jones - his bandmate in The Small Faces, 'Mac' McLagan, was going out with her). Keith sounds morose, drunk and terribly upset for one surprise moment on this laugh-a-minute album.

John Marascalo wrote several popular 1950s numbers, most of them for Little Richard - however 'Back Door Sally' is one of his more obscure tracks. Keith struggles to convey the revved up party style this song demands and to be honest this song only gets going when he shuts up and lets the piano player solo.

Against the odds, 'In My Life' ends up being a rather good cover. Keith sings this one straight - or at least fairly straight - and his fading, croaky voice actually suits this song of regret and aging. This time it's the arrangement that palls: we didn't really need all those singers, while the piano part is a little bit formal and floral all at the same time.

The album ends with Harry Nilsson's 'Together', a comedy song that was more in the vein that most fans probably expected this album to be like. Though in Harry's mind this song was all about the togetherness of a partnership, in Keith's mind it becomes a good opportunity to talk about his mates with Ringo popping up for some truly awful corny gags in the middle eight ('I don't give my dog meat' 'Why not?' 'He's been dead for two years now!', though sadly it missed out their spitfire pilot impersonations, which was the funniest moment on the full unedited song patter included on the 2006 CD re-issue). The song then ends with a curious cross-fade back to the poignancy of 'In My Life' for one last line, which is like being expected to be hit by a knockout gag and told to cry instead. It's almost as if the 'real' Keith was peeking through his persona at the every end and admitting that if he carried on the way he was he might not be long for this world; indeed the drummer died almost three years to the day after this album came out.

Overall, then, there are probably more than just Two Sides to Keith Moon and we get them all here: the defiant drunk, the genuinely funny comic, the gentle romanticist and philosopher, the party animal and the desperate, needy, attention-seeking little boy who refused to grow up. The song choices on this album alone are a psychiatrist's field day and the end result is one of confusion: should we laugh or cry? In music terms it's easy to dismiss 'Two Sides' as the work of a drunk with more time on his hands than he should ever have been allowed and a lot more money than sense. But somehow, beneath the laughter, this record sounds deeper than that and is a lot more poignant and heartfelt than fans were expecting. Keith can't sing and he's clearly in freefall as far as his abilities went, but to dismiss this record as a failed comedy karaoke record would be to dismiss Keith as a failed comedy act and this album is, at its best, a lot more than that. There's a lot more to this record than meets the eye and it's better than it should be in so many ways, even if it's booze-sodden edges and continuous party spirit also make it a poorly judged record in many ways and one that's far more difficult to listen to than it ever was to make. Well, well, well, I could write about this album all week, but I have a bed to catch. And far more important albums to write about. It was good fun though!

Roger Daltrey "Ride A Rock Horse"

(Track Records/MCA, July 1975)

Come And Get Your Love/Heart's Right/Ocean's Away/Proud/World Over/Near To Surrender/Feeling/Waking The Dog/Milk Train/I Was Born To Sing Your Song

"I was born to sing your song and if sometimes the tune sounds wrong I'm going to change it, re-arrange it all"

Roger's second solo effort was released three months before 'The Who By Numbers' and shares that record's sense of tuneful melancholia but without any of the inherent bitterness, anger or alcoholism. In fact 'Rock Horse' is an oddly sober album considering it was made by one of rock and roll's biggest hell-raisers and considering that the front cover features a memorable image of Roger as an indestructible-looking centaur with a horse's body (it was designed and shot by Roger's cousin Graham Hughes who also designed Entwistle's first solo album cover - and makes you wonder what Christmas dressing-up get-togethers were like in the Dakltrey family household!) And no, this album most definitely doesn't rock - even compared to 'Daltrey' few songs go above a whisper and even the hardest-edged songs come over sounding quite inhibited and slow by Who standards. However this album does 'roll' quite nicely, with some good song choices that bring out a whole new dynamic range to Roger's voice and the singer sounds mighty good singing some of these pretty melodies. The range isn't great, but by using so many different songwriters (the only regular is producer Russ Ballard) 'Rock Horse' has a more varied sound than the Leo Sayer-dominated 'Daltrey' or the more self-written future records. This album may well be his best solo work in fact, with a consistency the other albums don't match, although even here this album lacks the depth or originality of The Who and Roger comes across as a good singer singing good material, rather than a rock and roll God of the highest order as he does on The Who albums. It certainly helped Roger's reputation as a singer in the period when The Who were on a go-slow and he was in high demand for films and recordings after 'Tommy' and considering the speed it was made (Roger was starring in the very different and much more pretentious 'Lizstomania' at the same time this record was recorded) it's pretty good, even if it doesn't have the theme or vision of, say, 'Quadrophenia'. The record sold well too considering Roger didn't really spend much time plugging it and the UK top twenty/US top thirty chart statistics aren't a million miles behind 'Who By Numbers'.

'Come and Get Your Love' is the most Who-like song here, with clear R and B/Motown influences, a gritty, angry groove and lyrics about obsession. However the entry of the mass female backing singers and the horns takes us on a very different journey. It's all a little bit too much like every other song around at the time - hence perhaps it's chart peak high of only #68 when released as a single in the States - but Roger gets some emotion to sink his teeth into and Humble Pie guitarist Clem Clempson turns in a spirited guitar solo, cleaner than Pete's usual work.

Songwriter Paul Lora got his big break working for Elton John in his teens before making a name as an outside songwriter for the likes of P P Arnold while hanging out with a young Cat Stevens. However his work for Roger remains perhaps his highest profile work. 'Hearts Right' is a mid-paced song about the singer slowly realising he's met the love of his life and the signs are all there, even though they met as strangers with little in common. It's a sweet little thoughtful song, although it needs a bit more passion in the arrangement to really stand out.

The moody 'Oceans Away' is a very pretty song about being so deeply in love it feels like a 'dream' and being on auto-pilot all the time Roger isn't with his beloved. The sound of a full-blown orchestra and the big production job sounds incredibly un-Who like, but Roger is up to the challenge and is a good fit for another sweet romantic ballad.

Alas 'Proud' is one of the album lowlights and proof that Roger struggled to get loud without the rest of The Who backing him. A strange, angular song with a nagging riff hits up against Roger 'with my long hair and my jeans' proudly showing off his significant other as they walk down the streets and watching other people's jealous stares. However this song never really gets going and isn't really one to be 'proud' of.

Korda's second song 'World Away' is a typical mid-1970s bouncy breezy pop tune about wondering what the narrator's life might have been like if he'd been born in a different country and met a different wife. It's a nice song, but sadly Roger isn't the right singer for it and he gets pushed into an awkward falsetto that doesn't really suit him.

Ballard's second song 'Near To Surrender' is a slow-burning piano-led epic that has Roger back to singing in his natural voice and sounding like the biggest thing on the album. A song about having the strength to carry on when someone he believes in believes in him, it's not a great song but it fills in four minutes quite nicely and Ballard's own gutsy guitar works well on this track.

Korda's final song 'Feeling' is the best of the bunch and maybe the best thing here. Roger fits in nicely on a tight, upbeat rock groove as he struggles to come to terms with his feelings for someone who never loved him back and asks to be 'let be in the fantasy' and pretend the split never happened. The backing band play with real menace and Roger gets more space to let loose his scream.

Alas Rufus Thomas cover 'Walking The Dog', covered with Who-style cynicism by The Rolling Stones on their debut album, doesn't really suit the straightforward and rather echoey interpretation Roger gives it here. Daltrey skips the high innuendo count or the novelty element of a song about yo-yo sewing moves entirely and without them there's not really much point to this song.

'Milk Train' takes a lot of getting used to though. Roger sings this sub-standard song about a mistaken rock career and drug overdose in the style of a cockney Artful Dodger and while Hammersmith-born Daltrey has more right to the accent than most, it doesn't suit him or this very strange song which is near unlistenable.

Closer 'I Was Born To Sing Your Song' is, at last, what fans might have been expecting with the drama of 'Tommy' (albeit the film version more than any other). Roger promises that he was 'born to sing your tears' and that he knows what his audience is going through on this pretentious re-write of 'Listening To You' (which even shares similar chords!) The song works better as a love song when Roger announces that only he could write his beloved's 'book' because only he will truly understand her. Roger isn't as good a fit on this song as he in on some others on the album, however.

The end result is a record that confused many when it came out. The Who forums are full of fans complaining that they spent their hard earned pocket money/paper round money on this set expecting it to be rock and roll - and yet rather than being bitterly disappointed this album slowly worked it's magic on them anyway and they grew to become quite fond of it. Which sounds a bit right: if you can shift your vision of Roger as rock and roll hellraiser and imagine him as a more MOR act then the surprise is that actually he's rather a good one, soft and disciplined enough to put real emotion across while gritty enough not to become weak or wet. If you're a Who fan curious what the Daltrey records sound like without the others involved then, well, I'm afraid you're in for a shock on all of them for different reasons, but if you need to try one then this is a good entry point, being largely well sung, performed and written. Just don't mistake it for The Who and you'll be ok. 

Roger Daltrey/Various Artists "Lisztomania"

(A&M, November 1975)

Rienzi-Chopsticks Fantasia/Love's Dream*/Dante Period/Orpheus Song*/Hell/Hibernation/ Excelsior Song/Master Race/Rape Pillage and Clap/Funerailles*/Free Song/Peace At Last*
* = Roger Daltrey Performances

"Our love created the universe and will guide it across infinity - with added wigs!"

Capping off a highly productive year, Roger's third record of 1975 was the soundtrack to Ken Russell's even weirder follow-up to 'Tommy'. 'Lizstomania' was basically released to cash in on 'Amadeus' mania and takes a similarly irreverent take on Lizst's reputation to Alan Shaffer's take on the Mozart legend. Daltrey isn't a natural fit for the Hungarian composer (who actually looks more like Boris Pickett than any other 1960s rock and roller) and the music is oddly Wagernian throughout, but then that's kind of the point: this is a comedy not a history. Unfortunately though the film isn't very funny, just stupid for the most part and even the shots of Roger in a wig aren't enough to save the work from being a total write-off. The music recorded for the soundtrack is the best thing about the film but even that isn't particularly inspired: most of it is classically-driven and is dominated by Yes' Richard Wakeman rather than Roger and much more in his 'style' (ie flamboyant). However there are some lovely minor gems hidden away on this record: goodness only knows how but 'Orpheus' still winds up a sweet and sensitive love song as Daltrey pays tribute to the strength of Lizst's wife despite being treated to every excess under the song, while 'Peace At Last' is a prettier ballad than most on Roger's 'proper' solo albums. What this record doesn't have is cohesion and the horrors involved are enough to put you off playing the album's better moments, which is kind of like the film to be honest.