Friday 28 March 2014

Top 5 Albums of 1972

I think 1972 is the first year I have any vague recollection of. I was four and I remember driving a red plastic pedal-racing car in the back garden while my Gran & Grandad came to visit. I also remember being grumpy a lot of the time and my Mum asking why I didn't smile more, a possibly pivotal moment in my upbringing.

1972 was the year the British government declared a state of emergency over a miners' strike, I remember the regular power cuts though back then I didn't have many toys that needed electricity. In other news The Godfather was released in cinemas and the Watergate scandal broke.

1. Nick Drake "Pink Moon" - It took me while to really click with Nick Drake. I had Bryter Layter & Five Leaves Left for some time but hadn't really fallen in love with either. My pal @rich_thyer got me to reconsider and championed the sparse instrumentation of Drake's 3rd & final LP. It's a beautiful album made poignant knowing Nick took his own life a year or so later and had been too depressed to do any more arrangements after the piano on the title track. I love those earlier albums now as well but Pink Moon is astonishing and a record I don't think I could ever tire of.

2. Genesis "Foxtrot" - Hot on the heels of Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot was another step up for the band. I love every note from start to finish. Can-Utility & The Coastliners is probably my favourite track though it is run close by opener Watcher Of The Skies & the seriously epic Supper's Ready. Now I've seen the classic Quo line-up reform, Genesis with Peter Gabriel & Steve Hackett are my next big reunion wish.

3. Deep Purple "Machine Head" - This is the best album Deep Purple ever made. Recorded during December 1971 in Montreux, Switzerland which as anyone who has heard Smoke On The Water will know is "On the Lake Geneva shoreline". Smoke might be a hard song to really enjoy having heard it a few million times but I still love the lyrics a lot and you can't deny that riff is a bit special. Album opener Highway Star is probably my favourite Purple song but Lazy, Space Truckin' and Maybe I'm A Leo are all corkers too.

4. David Bowie "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" - I'd been steadfastly ignoring Bowie for most of my life. I'm not entirely sure why but in the last few years I've been gradually dipping into his back catalogue. The @LPGrp listening sessions have helped with this, Ziggy won the poll for best concept album and that was the final push I needed to really enjoy the album.

5. The Rolling Stones "Exile on Main St." - Similarly Exile was the album that finally broke the Stones for me. Prior to hearing this album I only really knew their singles and, good as they were, wasn't massively interested in getting the albums. Exile is a collection of songs that work really well together though probably none are amongst the bands best known. I think it's an album that works really well as a collection, possibly a record that's greater than the sum of it's parts.

Near misses; ZZ Top Tres Hombres, Lou Reed Transformer, Status Quo Piledriver, Pink Floyd Obscured by Clouds, Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band Clear Spot, Jethro Tull Thick As A Brick, Black Sabbath Vol. 4, ZZ Top Rio Grande Mud, Yes Close to the Edge and Hawkwind Doremi Fasol Latido.

Albums to try; Rory Gallagher Live in Europe, Wishbone Ash Argus, Roxy Music Roxy Music, Aphrodite's Child 666, Tim Buckley Greetings From LA, Faust So Far, Neil Young Harvest, Yes Close To The Edge, Curtis Mayfield Superfly, Big Star #1 Record, Sandy Denny Sandy, Aretha Franklin Young, Gifted and Black, Slade Slayed?.

Friday 21 March 2014

Top 5 Albums of 1971

1971 was a really good year and there are several albums that didn't make this top 5 but still got into my top 50. It was also the year when, for me at least, things started to go really Prog.

I was 3 in 1971. It was the year the UK went decimal, I know this as I had a big tin of old coins that I used to play with. Just to be clear, in the early 70s a tin of old coins was considered an exciting new toy! Though I think Mum & Dad really kept it for card games, I had an early fascination with putting things in order. In other news the Aswan Dam was opened, Jim Morrison died and Evel Knievel set a world record by jumping 19 cars in Ontario, California.

1. Jethro Tull "Aqualung" - Tull are one of my all time favourite bands. I've seen them live ... a lot. Aqualung is undoubtedly their best known album and for good reason. It's their first really Proggy effort but has a lot of variety from riff heavy tunes like Aqualung & Locomotive Breath to acoustic gems like Wond'ring Aloud & Cheap Day Return. Ian Anderson would argue it's not a concept album, and I'd agree, but it hangs together well and provides some recurring themes that help the songs work well as a complete piece of music.

2. Genesis "Nursery Cryme" - I'm a big fan of early Genesis (when Gabriel was still with them) and Nursery Cryme is really the first album where everything fell into place for them. This was the band's third LP but their first with Collins on drums and Hackett on guitar. The side one triplet of The Musical Box, For Absent Friends and The Return of the Giant Hogweed is a magnificent run of tunes that side two cannot quite match, though album closer The Fountain of Salmacis comes close.

3. Yes "The Yes Album" - I still have some significant gaps in my Yes collection but I've had The Yes Album for a long time and don't think they ever bettered it. It's got all my favourite Yes songs on, including Yours Is No Disgrace and Starship Trooper, and sees the band find a nice balance between catchy pop tunes and virtuoso musical ability.

4. David Bowie "Hunky Dory" - I have to confess I'm only just getting to grips with the Bowie back catalogue, having resolutely ignored him since my METAL years. I've been gradually dipping into his classic albums but it was Boy George, of all people, who really convinced me to give this album a spin having eloquently sung it's praises in a Danny Baker LP discussion on the telly last year.

5. Caravan "In the Land of Grey and Pink" - Prime movers in the Canterbury scene which is a little like Prog but with a Jazz inflection, this was the first Caravan album I heard and is still my favourite. Opening with the wonderfully English whimsey of Golf Girl and ending with the epic Nine Feet Underground, it's magnificently unhinged.

Outside the top 5; Sly & The Family Stone "There's A Riot Going On", Black Sabbath "Master of Reality", Led Zeppelin "Led Zeppelin IV", Pink Floyd "Meddle", Status Quo "Dog of Two Head", The Rolling Stones "Sticky Fingers" and The Who "Who's Next".

Albums I need to try; Roy Harper "Stormcock", Can "Tago Mago", Leonard Cohen "Songs of Love and Hate", Joni Mitchell "Blue", John Martyn "Bless The Weather", Mountain "Nantucket Sleighride", Van Der Graaf Generator "Pawn Hearts", The Beach Boys "Surf's Up" and Karen Dalton "In My Own Time".


Friday 14 March 2014

Top 5 Albums of 1970

Join me, if you will, on a journey back in time. Earlier in the year I compiled and published my Top 50 albums of the Seventies for Twitter (along with a lot of other Twitter users). I've been meaning to do a blog post to capture that ever since. A while back I did this for Nineties albums but the Seventies took even longer. I listened to a lot of albums and then spent another few weeks trying to work out what order to put them in. I like doing this sort of thing but even so this was quite a struggle. Rather than hit you with the top 50 in one go I figured I'd go year by year first (if you're not a fan of seventies music you might want to give this blog a miss for a few weeks and come back when I'm finished) and build up to the spectacular conclusion (drag this out as long as I can in other words).

1. Aretha Franklin "Spirit In The Dark" - This is probably the best album she made in the seventies, one of my favourite Aretha albums ever and possibly the last great album she made.

2. The Stooges "Funhouse" - A ferocious LP that predates punk by several years, it grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. I saw them play this live in full (at a 2005 reunion show with Mike Watt on Bass) and was stunned by how tight they sounded.

3. Black Sabbath "Paranoid" - The first 4 or 5 (or maybe 6) Sabbath albums are all outstanding but Paranoid edges it for me. It's got War Pigs on for a start, and that's a corker of a tune. Like the Stooges I saw Sabbath live at the Birmingham NEC during their '97 reunion shows. We were at the back of a pretty huge arena but I was blown away by how great they were. I knew Iommi was a great Guitarist but I had no appreciation of how good the rest of the band were. Bill Ward was a mighty fine drummer and Geezer Butler one the best bassists I've ever seen. Ozzy was incredible too, he might spent most of the gig pacing side to side and screaming (occasionally dunking his head in a bucket of water) but he was a thrilling front man.

4. Jethro Tull "Benefit" - Benefit is currently my 3rd favourite Tull album though there have been times when it's been my number one. It still hints at the progressive blues sound Tull made their name with but begins the move into the more classic prog sound on the seventies. I first discovered Tull supporting Marillion at Milton Keynes in '86. They were fantastically different from anyone I'd seen at that point and probably since. They're more than Living In The Past and a funny looking man playing flute and standing on one leg.

5. Led Zeppelin "Led Zeppelin III" - As a teen metal head I was really into Led Zepplin but I have to admit I struggle with them now. It's all a bit loud and overbearing at times. Led Zep III is described on Wikipedia as Folk Rock, Hard Rock, Blues and Heavy Metal which might be pushing things a little but gives a hint as to why I still like it. There's a bit of everything in here which gives it more light and shade than some of their other LPs. It's also got that awesome "interactive" cover, which is almost enough to give it a place on its own. Gallows Pole & Immigrant Song are two of my favourite Zep tracks though I also love the quieter moments like Tangerine and Hats Off to (Roy) Harper.

There were a few near misses worth mentioning. Deep Purple In Rock, Nick Drake Bryter Layter & Genesis Trespass were all in the running. Black Sabbath were so good back then they managed two incredible albums in 1970, debut LP Black Sabbath was probably the closest to knocking Led Zep out of contention.

Reading other peoples' top fifties also gave me a huge list of new albums to try and listen to. These include; Neil Young After The Goldrush (I've never really clicked with Neil but must give him another shot), Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Deja Vu, Creedence Clearwater Revival Cosmo's Factory and The Groundhogs Thank Christ For The Bomb. I'm going to be time travelling musically for quite a while I think.

Friday 7 March 2014

Chop's Film Fiesta - group 1

One of my New Year's resolutions was to watch more films. Partly to catch up with a lot of amazing cinema I've not had time to see over the last few years but also to try and get the used capacity on my TiVo down to a manageable level. I thought I could encourage this by getting people to vote for which film I watch.

Group one consisted of Argo, Django Unchained, Killing Them Softly & Senna and I asked for votes via Twitter & Facebook with the following results;

1st - Senna (6 votes)
2nd - Django Unchained (4 votes)
3rd - Argo (3 votes)
4th - Killing Them Softly (1 vote)

So, last Friday I sat down to watch Senna. A documentary depicting the life and death of legendary Brazilian motor-racing Champion, Ayrton Senna. Focused on Senna's Formula One career, from his debut in the 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix to his death at San Marino in 1994. The film uses archive footage and home video clips to show events as they happened. There is no formal narration as the story is told through original commentary & interviews interspersed with a few contemporary interviews. It's a spellbinding film if ultimately tragic. I was probably at the peak of my interest in F1 back then and remembered seeing a lot of these events first time around. It was thrilling to re-watch Ayrton's dramatic rise up the rankings; his remarkable 2nd place finish at Monaco in 1984, his first GP wins in the John Player Special sponsored Lotus team, and first World Championship having moved to McLaren in 1988.

Much of the film examines the rivalry between Ayrton Senna & Alain Prost. Two very different drivers, Senna seemingly prepared to push the car to its absolute limits, Prost a more calculated but conservative driver. I was a bit of a Prost fan, having first got into F1 when he was driving for Renault. Renault had become my team partly because I liked their bright yellow livery and partly because my Dad had driven a series of Renault 16's. Hardly the most graceful of cars, the Renault 16 sliced through the air exactly the same way that bricks don't, but I had a soft spot for them having grown up travelling round the country in Dad's succession of purchases. I think the way Senna was deprived of the 1989 WDC was the point I finally switched allegiances. He was a truly remarkable driver and made the sport more exciting than it had ever been before.

The conclusion is a chilling piece of cinema. Knowing what's about to happen makes it all the more powerful. A shocking and tragic loss that changed the sport dramatically. Despite the sad ending Senna is a wonderful film, celebrating the life of a man who transcended his sport and who left behind a lasting legacy that includes The Ayrton Senna Institute, a charity helping to create opportunities for children in Brazil.

I'm not entirely sure when my next film session will be but blog readers are welcome to vote on my next block of movies (either comment below or see me in the pub).

A: Tyrannosaur
B: Brassed Off
C: The Inbetweeners Movie
D: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy