Friday, 30 September 2011

Top 5 Albums by R.E.M.

Last week saw the sad, though slightly overdue, news that R.E.M. have called it a day. They certainly seemed to lose something when Bill Berry left the group, though by that point they had already surpassed most other groups with the quantity of very fine albums they'd released. My first thought on hearing the news was how long would it be before they get back together for the re-union tour. Inevitabilities of the music industry aside, R.E.M. have contributed massively to indie-rock over the last 25 years and deserve huge respect for their consistency and longevity.

1. Document (1987) - The band's final independently released album and the tipping point between their early "college rock" success and the subsequent multi-million selling stadium filling era. Some of their best songs are included ("Finest Worksong", "It's the End of the World as We Know It" & "The One I love") mixed with a few quirky numbers and a great cover of Wire's "Strange".

2. Out Of Time (1991) - This was my R.E.M. point of entry and sound-tracked my summer that year, I played it a lot and it's one of those albums I will always have a soft spot for. My musical interests had previously been more heavy rock based, so whilst I was aware of the band I hadn't really shown much interest. However, by the early nineties I was broadening my musical horizons and this caught the mood of the time perfectly. An uncharacteristically chirpy album that saw the band having fun with additional musicians and guest vocalists.

3. Murmur (1983) - The first album and one that created their reputation for introverted tunes and difficult to decipher lyrics. The vocals are indeed quite low in the mix but this is still a fine album with many of the bands best songs. "Radio Free Europe" is a jaunty opener and the bands debut release. "Perfect Circle" was not a single but remains one of the bands very best songs and one of my favourites.

4. Automatic For The People (1992) - There's something about the unrelenting greyness of the cover that has always depressed me and, unlike "Out Of Time", it's huge popularity has probably contributed to lowering my love for it. I think it's the band's biggest selling album, providing them with six singles that will be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in the band. Some of those songs have suffered (to my ears) from being overplayed. I'm not sure I ever need to hear "Everybody Hurts" again. But, replaying the album in preparation for this top five I realised how good it is. "Drive", "Find The River", "Ignoreland" and "Man on the Moon" are all wonderful tunes whilst "Nightswimming" is a beautifully delicate song that only features Stipe's vocals and Mills' piano motif.

5. Reckoning (1984) - A surprise final entry but when I played it again I realised how many of my favourite R.E.M. songs are on this album. I never felt quite the same attachment to "Fables Of The Reconstruction" or "Lifes Rich Pageant" and though I like "Green" and "Monster" this album edges them all out. "Reckoning" was their second full length release and has a brighter/crisper sound than "Murmur". The singles "So. Central Rain" and "(Don't go back to) Rockville" are both great songs and "Pretty Persuasion" is a more upbeat rocking number that may well feature highly in next weeks Top Five Singles by R.E.M.


Friday, 23 September 2011

Top 5 Bands named after fabric

A quick topic this week for no particular reason other than it made me happy. I was listening to Marc Riley a few weeks back and he played Corduroy's cover of Motorhead by Motorhead. I think it's a great name and it got my mind thinking.

1. Denim - Nineties Glam Rock revivalists formed by Lawrence from Felt.

2. Suede - Bowie influenced Brit-Pop upstarts.

3. Felt - Eighties Indie band who released 10 albums & 10 singles in 10 years. Led by Lawrence from Denim.

4. The Chiffons - All girl vocal group from the early sixties.

5. Corduroy - Nineties acid-jazz quartet.

Thanks to those of you on Twitter that helped me find a few more.

Black Lace - Novelty euro-pop horrors.
Cotton Mather - Indie rock outfit from Austin, Texas.
Denim - American party rock band from the early seventies
Nylon - Apparently Iceland's most successful, singer/songwriter girl-band.
The Nylons - Canadian a capella group
Poly-Esther - Possibly just a 5olly joke but I did find a brief mention of a Canadian band with this name. (UPDATE: It wasn't a joke he meant this band The Polly Esthers, check 'em out and let me know what you think)
Silk - American R&B group from Atlanta, Georgia
Cheryl Tweedy - Maiden name of former Girls Aloud singer
Wool - melodic punk-rock band from Washington D.C.


Friday, 16 September 2011

Guest Top 5 - Grateful Dead years by Richard Allen

A second guest top five from Richard who is now a "proper published author" as well as continuing to write about Fulham at Craven Cottage Newsround. In fact not only is he a published author but also an Amazon Best Selling author! The book is a nostalgic look at a century of Fulham Football Club as is published, appropriately enough, by Haynes. If you're a Fulham fan you should definitely buy it - it's less than a tenner on Amazon.

Having got to know Richard through Fulham we have also discovered similar interests in fiction (his previous top five was an excellent summation of Raymond Chandler novels) and music. I've never really "got" the Grateful Dead. They have a massive back catalogue and like many bands with a long history it's easy to be put off by making a poor decision early on. I bought the fairly awful live album "Dylan & The Dead" and never went back. This top five seems like the perfect place to start again.

Pull up a chair. I’ve got about an hour of the greatest music you’ll ever hear.

You maybe couldn’t do this Top 5 about any other band. Best year? Who knows? But the Grateful Dead are different, in lots of ways.

The Dead, bankrolled and maintained by Owsley “Bear” Stanley, started to record their shows well in about 1968. Stanley, who had become famous as one of San Francisco’s leading LSD manufacturers, also had some mighty ideas about sound equipment, including the need to record performances. So their gigs – which were often very long and very strange – were committed to tape, and from ’68 to 1995 a good (and growing) proportion of their shows can still be heard.

So what? Why would anyone be interested in this? Well I don’t know. On the one hand, imagine if you could hear your favourite song 50 different ways? Fast versions, slow versions, long versions, short versions, isolated versions, versions in the middle of jams. That’s all possible with the Dead.

But more than that, it’s wonderful to be able to hear the band evolve from a psychedelic blues-rock band in the sixties… well then we get country influences in the early seventies, juggernautism in the late seventies, some… ordinariness in the eighties, and a brief but wonderful resurgence in about 89. It’s all there, it can all be listened to , and most of it’s great. My ipod is full, and contains little else.

On we go then. My top five Grateful Dead years:

1. 1977 - Peak Dead. They’d been going long enough that they’d evolved tremendously, but not too long that they were jaded. Check that: they were jaded – they took most of 1976 off – but this only gave ’77 more freshness. The stretch in May is unparalellable, with the show at Barton Hall, Cornell University on the 8th particularly famous.

Why? I talked about the live music, right? Well until Jerry Garcia died much of this was kept in the Dead’s vault, and was only available through leaked soundboard recordings or audience tapes. (Fans were encouraged to tape the performances, thanks to a mixture of apathy on the band’s part and probably a sneaking suspicion that this all helped get the word out – a masterstroke, in retrospect).
Anyway, there were various circles of tape collecting, and if you knew the right people you might get the good stuff, if you didn’t you’d be stuck around the edges with a dodgy audience recording of a show nobody liked.

One show – a brilliant quality soundboard - worked its way to everyone though: Cornell University, Barton Hall, 8/5/1977. It might not be the best Dead show but it’s the best Dead show most people had on tape, and so became something of a gold standard.

Rightly so. The band had it all in May ’77, and in recent years two of the best live albums they’ve put out have come from that one, glorious month. This is fantastic music, absolutely mind blowing.

Sample: Morning Dew from the above show. Listen to this and tell me that the last few minutes aren’t the most extraordinary music there’s ever been.

2. 1969 - Alright, this is probably the best year, but marked down slightly because I have so much love for ’77.

Around 69 and 70 the Dead had the best of both worlds, their raw sixties glory and the LSD soaked improvisations combining to magisterial effect. It led to some music that really was, to coin a phrase, far out.
This is Dark Star. This is what they’re famous for. This is music for acid. This is everything...

(Check out the album Live/Dead if you liked this – taken from a run of shows in ’69)

3. 1968 - In ’68 the band were so raw, so deliciously raw. There’s a wonderful ragged edge to the music. Tapes from ’68 are – if the quality’s okay – always a joy. The band had a smaller repertoire, but absolutely nailed it every show. Or that’s how it seems to me anyway.

Here’s Viola Lee Blues from 1968. Tell me you wouldn’t want this playing in the background of the film of your life...

It’s amazing. I have a couple of 20 minute versions of this and they do it every time I hear them. Oooooooh.

4. 1989 - If you’re still with me you might be wondering what I have up my sleeve next. Well!

This is 1989. The 80s were pretty crap for the Dead. Heroin, Jerry Garcia’s coma, plodding and uninspiring music. Then post-coma we get a resurgence. It took until 1989 to hit another peak, and by now the boys were on fire again. The clip I have below is from a show they played as “Formerly the Warlocks” in a bid to escape the crowds, and showcases the band’s awesomeness rather nicely. We get vocal tracks from Garcia, Bob Weir’s in there too, but the star is Brent Mydland, the band’s third (fourth? Who am I forgetting?)keyboardist. His vocals grab the hairs on the back of your neck on their own. Wowzers.

Garcia’s soloing in here is also something else. There’s an eighties feel to it, for sure, but it’s unmistakeably him and unmistakeably amazing. (Check the run from about four minutes for some great guitar work and some top growling from Mydland).

This was a third peak, in my mind, and the fall would be swift. Garcia never did control himself or his drug habit, Mydland died of an overdose in 1990, and after that they bumbled along to bring in the much needed cash, but playing big, soulless venues to fans who in some cases didn’t get the band at all. Dispiriting stuff.

5. 1974 - Bob Weir, the Dead’s second guitarist, once infuriated producer Dave Hassinger for asking for the music to sound like it was being played through ‘heavy air’. This was taken by some as evidence of Weir and the band’s insanity, or their being hard to work with, or something or other, but what Weir was after was that delicious sound you get in outdoor venues in the summertime.

The Dead cracked this with the Wall of Sound, which was exactly what it sounds like: a gigantic wall of amps that created a massive, massive sound, but a sound which was as clean as a whistle.

The problem was that the wall was so huge they needed three of them: one for the current venue, one traveling ahead to the next, one being taken down from the previous venue! The band also needed extra crew to handle all this, and the costs started to become a problem, leading to endless tours in increasingly large venues, and ultimately to burnout and a year off (1976). They took the wall apart and sold it off bit by bit.

But while it was going… wow. The 1977 sound was very polished, driven, exciting. ’74 is very different, holding onto the early 70s experimentalism, but somehow combining a laid back air with something very hard to explain.

That sound (from Wikipedia):

The Wall of Sound consisted of 89 300-watt solid-state and three 350-watt vacuum tube amplifiers generating a total of 26,400 watts of audio power. This system projected high quality playback at six hundred feet with an acceptable sound projected for a quarter mile, at which point wind interference degraded it.

It was way ahead of its time and led to some classic Dead shows.


An absolutely wonderful Brokedown Palace from Dijon, France, in 1974. Hear that sound about three and a half minutes… so clean, beautiful.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Guest Top 5 - Real Ales brewed In London by SW6Badger

I started following SW6Badger on Twitter because he was a Fulham fan. I don't follow all Fulham fans on there but he had a nice icon with dancing badgers that appealed. I soon realised that not only was he a Fulham fan but he was also a fan of real ale. This is a good thing. I have recently also returned to drinking real ale as is befitting a man with a beard in his mid-forties. I suspect SW6Badger is a little younger than me but he clearly knows his beer. This is handy as my knowledge is a bit limited and handicapped by the fact that whenever I go out to "research" the subject I struggle to remember many of the details. Over to Mr Badger ...

This is the first time I have ever written a top 5 about beer, or any subject for that matter.

So let me introduce myself. I originally come from South West London now; I live in South East London. I used to be a lager drinker but about ten years ago I switched to “Real Ale”.

One day I walked in to a pub in Putney and thought why I am always drinking, Stella, Fosters etc.? Then it hit me! We live in a country that produces dome great beer. In fact I live in a city with a great brewing history. Why drink fizzy tasteless imported rubbish when we have so much choice in our on back yard?

I am not saying all beer from Europe, the U.S and others are rubbish. Some of my favourite beer comes from outside the U.K. So here are my personal top 5 ales from London.

1. Naked Ladies - 4.4% (Twickenham Fine Ales)
Twickenham Fine Ales started in 2004 and is one of the many new breweries that we now have in London. Yes the name is Naked Ladies. Do take the name with a pinch of salt. The name refers to the water nymphs statues that reside in the grounds of York House in Twickenham. This ale for me is everything that I want ale to be. It has a great aroma and golden colour. When you drink it, the hops really send your taste buds alight. It is refreshing with a satisfying finish.

2. London Gold – 4.9% (Twickenham Fine Ales)
Twickenham makes the list again. This one I tried for the first time a few weeks ago at a beer festival. After one half I was hooked. I kept coming back for more. What I can say if the London Olympics did have an ale event, this might just clinch gold. This ale is big on hops and brewed with a few different types. Again it is golden ale that goes down very well. London Gold is occasional ale, so not always available.

3. Wandle Ale – 3.8% (Sambrook’s Brewery)
Sambrook’s started in 2008 in Battersea. These guys have gained a loyal following and I am one of them. This ale is names after the near by river Wandle. This is a great session beer. By that I mean a beer suitable for a few hours down the pub. The golden colour and balanced taste make this a popular brew. One to try on your lager drinking friends.

4. London Pride – 4.1% (Fuller’s)
It is an oldie but a firm London favourite. Fuller’s have been brewing in Chiswick since 1845. So they should know a thing or to about beer. A beer I have drunk more times than I can remember. Especially prior to a Fulham match. This ale has everything a well-balanced beer should have. A malty base with a hoppy finish. One thing I have noticed on my travels around London. To try this beer at its best I would always drink it in a Fuller’s pub. They always know how to keep in top condition

5. Spring-Heeled Jack – 4.0% (Ha’penny Brewing Co)
My last beer is a London Porter. Ha’penny started in 2009 in Ilford. This one is a bit hard to find. So if you spot it this winter, try it before it’s gone for another year. Being a porter it is a dark beer with a rich black colour. This beer has a great coffee/chocolate taste and great for cold nights in the pub by the fire.Don’t mistake porter for stout. They may look similar but are not the same!

A Top 5 for London ales is almost impossible as the London brewers are always brewing new beers. This is just a small sample of what is out there. London is now an exciting place for beer and new brewers are starting up all over our great city. So give them a try.

Other breweries in London. – Kernel, Brodie’s, Redemption, Meantime, Camden Town, London Fields, Redchurch, ELB.

Brew pubs in London – Brew Wharf, The Florence, and Zerodegrees.

Sorry Young’s, moving to Bedford has now ruled you out as a London brewer.

That’s it from me. Hope you enjoyed it.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Top 5 Snow globes (I have owned)

It probably won't entirely surprise you if I admit to the fact that I used to own a small snow globe collection. This wasn't entirely my fault. I'd worked alongside an American contractor for a year and we got on and kept in touch after he returned home. I'd also spent several weeks working in St. Louis and one of the mementos of that trip was a snow globe of the Gateway Arch. The Christmas after my friend repatriated I received a package from an unknown sender that included a snow globe from London. That began a period of several years in which I would randomly receive packages containing snow globes from various locations throughout the US; Washington, Memphis, Myrtle Beach and all points between.

Having recently reminded my self about this I went to look for them only to realise I had uncharacteristically thrown them all out. That means some of the pictures aren't identical but the nearest match I could find on the Internet. If you fancy starting your own collection this site seems to be the mother lode.

1. St. Louis - So this was the snow globe that started it all. The water in the one I bought myself went a muddy colour after a year or so but I felt this accurately reflected the state of the Mississippi that runs through the town. Later I received a second identical globe in one of my random packages.

2. Guinness - A trip to Dublin for a stag do in the late nineties gave me the opportunity to pick up something very similar to the one in the picture below. Mine had proper white snow instead of shamrocks and created the most realistic snow storm I have ever seen in a plastic souvenir.

3. Loch Ness - Another colleague brought this in to me with the words "I thought you'd like this to add to your snow globe collection". I answered "I don't have a snow globe collection, I just get sent them occasionally from an old friend". She stared briefly at me, then looked at the growing numbers of snow globes that adorned my desk, raised her eyebrows and left the room.

4. Paris - Probably the first globe I bought after admitting that I was a snow globe collector. Manages to achieve everything a cheap snow globe should. A minimum of three major city landmarks - check. A vivid use of colour - check. A small red on white nameplate - check. White plastic flakes that manage to completely fail to capture the way that snow looks - check.

5. Niagara Falls - I think this may have been the last snow globe I received from my overseas pal. This one is particularly pleasing as I'd been to Niagara Falls during my stay in St. Louis. Despite the natural beauty of the falls themselves the town was the closest thing I've found to an English seaside resort outside of this country. The globe is a genuine work of art. I can't look at it long without chuckling. The falls could not be any less dynamic and the rainbow is gloriously lacking in colour.