Friday, 25 April 2014

Top 5 Albums of 1976

A year when my memories really start to kick in. It was the year of the great British drought. A long hot summer that I'd guess we've not seen the like of since, I have compared every summer since to 1976 and they've all failed to compete quite dismally. Björn Borg won the first of his five consecutive Wimbledon singles titles against Ilie Năstase. This was probably the first All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club Championships I watched and I really wanted Năstase to win as he was funny and played exciting tennis.

'76 also provided my first memory of the summer Olympics, held in Montreal. Great Britain came 13th in the medal table and the only medalist I can actually remember is David Wilkie who picked up a Gold and a Silver in the swimming. Concorde's first commercial flight took place and for years after we would stop whatever we were doing to watch it fly over our house. Musically it was the year that Punk broke in the UK, though it would be some time before I knew anything about that.

1. Ramones "Ramones" - I love the first four or five Ramones albums a lot but their debut remains my absolute favourite. It was the first I heard, has killer tunes from start to finish and set the template for a career blending Johnny's psycho guitar thrashing with Joey's love of great pop tunes. There are fourteen brilliant songs in under thirty minutes. I don't think rock'n'roll gets any better than this.

2. Status Quo "Live!" - "Is there anybody out there who wants to rock? ... Is there anybody out there who wants to roll? ... Is there anybody out there who wants to boogie?". That intro to Quo's Live! album by Jackie Lynton still sends tingles down my spine. Francis Rossi might not agree but to my mind this is Status Quo's greatest LP and is a valid exception to the "no compilations or live album" rule I'd normally apply to these lists.

3. AC/DC "High Voltage" - Despite spending most of my teens as a Metal Head I didn't get into AC/DC until much later. High Voltage was the band's first internationally released album containing the best tracks from their first two Australian-only LPs. This might not be the best known of the band's output but it was the second album I bought, a random pick from the Rock Box in Camberley having decided I needed more than just Highway To Hell in my life. It's grown in my affections the longer I've owned it and I think is a hot contender for my all-time favourite AC/DC album.

4. Tom Waits "Small Change" - Small Change was the first Waits album I bought after several failed attempts to get to grips with Swordfishtrombones. This album gave me a way into to Tom Waits back catalogue and I'm making good progress (I have most of his seventies output and also love Rain Dogs & Mule Variations) though I still haven't given Swordfishtrombones another shot.

5. The Modern Lovers "The Modern Lovers" - Compiled from demos recorded in 1971 & 1972 but not released until 1976, two years after the original band had split up. Confusingly, this came out the same year as Jonathon Richman's new band released Jonathon Richman & The Modern Lovers. The Modern Lovers has more of a punk feel to it and features some of my favourite Johnathon Richman tunes; Pablo Picasso, She Cracked & the seminal Roadrunner.

Near misses; Thin Lizzy Jailbreak, AC/DC Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Status Quo Blue for You , David Bowie Station to Station and Queen A Day At The Races.

Albums to try; Blondie Blondie, Bob Dylan Desire, Bob Dylan Hard Rain, Budgie If I Were Brittania I'd Waive the Rules, Harmonia and Eno ’76 Tracks And Traces, Jonathon Richman & The Modern Lovers Jonathon Richman & The Modern Lovers, Selda Selda and Warren Zevon Warren Zevon.


Friday, 18 April 2014

Top 5 Albums of 1975

1975 was the year I discovered football after Fulham reached the FA Cup final for the first, and so far only, time. Both my Dad and my Grandad were Fulham supporters so this was an exciting time in the Harris household. I don't remember much about the lead up games but by the final I had posters of both teams on my bedroom wall along with a Fulham rosette and a bunch of cuttings from the Evening Standard Cup special. Of course Fulham went on to lose 2-0 to West Ham, preparing me for the lifetime of football disappointment that was to come.

1. Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here - I was a massive Floyd fan in my teens but may have overplayed some of their biggest albums. Wish You Were Here has lasted the course though. It is probably their most accessible album but it's also a fabulous LP that I don't think I could live without. I love it from the industrial noises that usher in Welcome To The Machine, through the wonderful melody of the largely acoustic title track, to the epic conclusion of Shine On You Crazy Diamond.

2. Patti Smith Horses - Horses is the only proper Patti Smith album I own (I should probably look into that) but it's an absolute corker. Patti's voice is urgent and powerful when she sings whilst her poetic roots are evident in the spoken word introductions to Birdland & Horses. The reworking of Gloria makes the original seem quite tame and the fabulous Break It Up, co-written with Tom Verlaine, wouldn't sound out of place on a Television album (no doubt partly due to Tom's cameo on Guitar).

3. Dr. Feelgood Down By The Jetty - A relatively recent discovery having finally got over the Milk & Alcohol thing and realising how great a band they were in their early years. This was largely thanks to the soundtrack of Oil City Confidential and the inclusion of She Does It Right as a regular feature in JB & The Wolfmen's setlist. Wilko is an amazing guitarist, a true original with a genuinely unique style, and Lee Brilleaux was a fantastic front man. If you've not seen the film Oil City Confidential I highly recommend it.

4. Black Sabbath Sabotage - Hilarious cover aside this is a fabulous album. The final release of Sabbath's legendary first six after which things went downhill for all the usual reasons. There's a more progressive feel here but it also room for the fairly blatant pop of Am I Going Insane (Radio). Album opener Hole in the Sky is typical of Sabbath at their peak, a crunching Iommi riff backed by the dynamic rhythm of Butler & Ward with Ozzy's vocals managing to find the fine line between tunefulness and unadulterated screaming. The changes in pace and acoustic breaks are what makes this LP one of my favourite Sabbath albums. These are particularly evident in the London Symphony Orchestra featuring Symptom of the Universe. I was at college when I was introduced to Sabotage by a pal who was into Death Metal and wacky backy. He particularly liked the stereophonic madness of the latter part of the record, from Megalomania to The Writ, it's Sabbath at their most experimental but doesn't lose any of their trademark power. Interestingly, Wikipedia lists a David Harris as tape operator and saboteur, he's no relation as far as I'm aware. This is a good thing as it turns out Thrill of it All had to be re-recorded because of the reference tones the technician put on the master tape for the song, resulted in the original track being accidentally recorded over.

5. Bruce Springsteen Born to Run - I'm still getting to grips with Bruce's full catalogue but I had a bit of a Springsteen phase in the mid-Eighties, around the time I was revising for (and eventually failing most of) my O-Levels. I guess this was the album that really broke Bruce big and it's my current favourite Springsteen LP. The E Street band are in fine form, especially Clarence Clemons whose Sax is all over the album none more so than on album closer Jungleland. The production is sumptuous throughout and it seems no expense was spared with Bruce throwing as many instruments & musicians into the pot as possible, this never overwhelms the record though as the songwriting shines through.

Near misses; Camel The Snow Goose, Bob Dylan Blood on the Tracks, Hawkwind Warrior on the Edge of Time, Status Quo On the Level, Tom Waits Nighthawks At The Dinner and Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti.

Albums to try; Brian Eno Another Green World, Curtis Mayfield There's No Place Like America, Neil Young Tonight's The Night, Neil Young & Crazy Horse Zuma and Nils Lofgren Nils Lofgren.


Friday, 11 April 2014

Top 5 Albums of 1974

Nothing remarkable springs to my mind about 1974, though this might have been the year I accidentally cycled into an old lady who was walking down our road. I got a serious thump for that from my Dad, who didn't accept my claim that it wasn't my fault as I'd been transfixed by the pattern of the pavement whooshing by as I cycled head down as fast as I could. Dad went and checked she was OK but I've always felt very guilty about it, realising afterwards that my over the shoulder shouted apology, as I hurriedly cycled off in the opposite direction, didn't quite cut it.

Wikipedia tells me that this was the year Swedish pop group ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo. I don't really remember a time when ABBA weren't a fixture in Mum & Dad's record collection so I guess this was before my interest in music took hold. 1974 was also the year the Watergate scandal finally caused U.S. President Richard Nixon to resign and, of more direct import to me, the year Ceefax started by the BBC.

1. Genesis "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" - The fourth year in a row that Genesis have featured, which I guess shows that I really quite like them. It took me longer to get to grips with The Lamb than any of their other albums, it's a double with a fairly epic scope, but that might be why I still hold it in such high esteem. There's a background story that, if I'm honest, I never fully got to grips with but that aside this is a fine collection of songs. It was the perfect conclusion to the Gabriel era, and though the band made many more albums, I don't think they ever bettered this.

2. Richard & Linda Thompson "I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight" - Fairport Convention's late sixites output is fantastic but they didn't make an album I really loved in the seventies. This is Richard Thompson's second solo LP (though the first credited as Richard & Linda) and it has become a bit of a favourite for me since picking up a copy last year. Linda has a great voice that brings out the warmth in Richard's compositions. Meanwhile the music is sublime and Thompson's guitar really shines.

3. Hawkwind "Hall of the Mountain Grill" - For me (and I think Lemmy) this was Hawkwind at their peak. Robert Calvert is absent, and his madcap input could only be missed, but this line-up includes Dave Brock, Lemmy & Nik Turner who were all on very fine form. The album opens with The Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear in Smoke) a corker of a tune that was also released as a single. Lost Johnny (written by Lemmy with Mick Farren of The Deviants) is a real rocker and was subsequently rerecorded by Lemmy's post-Hawks band, Motorhead. Side two starts and ends with a live track, both recorded at the Edmonton Sundown in January 1974, which might not suggest the most consistent of albums but actually work really well.

4. Camel "Mirage" - OK, a small confession. I'm not entirely sure this album is better than the entry at number five BUT I really wanted to squeeze Camel into my top 50 and, not wanting to give away any spoilers, already had a Status Quo albums making the cut. I listened to a lot of Camel in the build up to this, and struggled to nail down my favourite. The Snow Goose, Moonmadness and Breathless came close but Mirage edged them all out by a smidge. Mirage couldn't be more Prog with the punchy opener of Freefall and two epic tracks, the Lord Of the Rings influenced Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider and the 12 minute, multi-part genius of Lady Fantasy.

5. Status Quo "Quo" - So, not only have I slightly falsified it's position in the cannon of 1974 albums I also feel a little guilty that this doesn't score higher on my list of Quo albums. It's Quo's rockiest effort, thanks largely to the increased input of original bassist Alan Lancaster. The recent Frantic Four reunion shows have revived my love of Quo and also reminded me how brilliant an album this is. Perhaps if I ever revisit this top 5 or the whole 70s top 50 it will get it's due reward. In the meantime just know this is a cracking rock album that you really ought to own.

Near misses; John Cale "Fear", Tom Waits "The Heart Of Saturday Night", King Crimson "Red" and Jethro Tull "Warchild"

Albums to try; Budgie "In For The Kill", Eno "Here Come The Warm Jets" & "Taking Tiger Mountain", King Crimson "Red", Neil Young "On The Beach", Rory Gallagher "Irish Tour 1974", David Bowie "Diamond Dogs" and The Residents "Meet The Residents".


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Chop's Gig Reports - February & March 2014

I've been distracted by the 70s Album countdown and got behind with my gig post reminders. Here's the latest four, all absolutely cracking nights for many different reasons.

Anaïs Mitchell at The Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall - Tuesday 18th February 2014 - This was the first time I'd seem Anaïs live and I couldn't have asked for a better introduction. The Royal Albert Hall is an impressive venue, tonight's show was in the Elgar Room, tucked away on the circle level but still exuding the aura of a posh night out.

Ezra Furman & the Boy-Friends at The Sebright Arms - Wednesday 19th February 2014 - The Day of the Dog was one of my top 5 albums of last year but it doesn't sound like a contemporary 2013 release. When I first heard Tell Em All To Go To Hell I thought it was by some obscure 70s glam act. The album is full of potential hit singles and, to my ears, could easily be a greatest hits compilation. I'm possibly not the best judge of what makes a top selling act but I really can't recommend that record highly enough.

JB & The Wolfmen at The Alleycat Club - Thursday 20th March 2014 - Having stumbled across this venue a few years back when in search of a late night beer after a Jim Jones Revue gig, it's taken me far too long to actually get along to one of these regular Blues From The Crypt evenings. Tonight's event saw four fairly diverse bands stretch the definition of Blues to it's outer limits for the princely sum of three pounds. A bargain if ever I've seen one.

Status Quo & Wilko Johnson at Hammersmith Odeon - Friday 28th March 2014 - Roughly this time last year I saw the classic "Frantic Four" line up of Status Quo live for the first time. It was everything I hoped it could be. Francis Rossi was never going to completely submit to a return to the old Quo long term though and so, for now, this was my last chance to see the greatest live band this country has ever produced and I sure wasn't going to miss it.


Friday, 4 April 2014

Top 5 Albums of 1973

I remember 1973 being a fabulous year, though I'm not entirely sure why. I was 5 so this was the year I started primary school and the year I first got to know my best mate. It was the year of the final Apollo mission and I really got into things to do with space including collecting the Race Into Space PG Tips cards which I think I still have tucked away in a box in the loft somewhere. It was also the year that IDEAL toys released the Evel Knievel stunt-cycle. I never had one but I did get a go with a friend's and remember it turning out to be a little disappointing.

1. Status Quo "Hello!" - Regular readers may remember that Hello! is my favourite Quo studio album. Having discovered them in the early 80s (I had my finger on the pulse of current music!) that's to such Radio 2 fodder as Rock'n'Roll and Marguerita Time, Hello! was one of the first classic Quo albums I discovered. They'd nailed their trademark sound with 1972's Piledriver but Hello! was the first album to feature all original compositions and their first UK number one.

2. John Cale "Paris, 1919" - This is perhaps a little higher than it should be. When I first compiled my 70s top 50 I was on a bit of a Cale groove and probably overestimated how much I liked it. There's no doubt this is a very fine album though. I'm not a big Velvet Underground fan at all but enjoyed the album Cale released with Lou Reed about Andy Warhol (Songs For Drella) and really should have investigated his solo catalogue sooner.

3. New York Dolls "New York Dolls" - I'd always ignored the New York Dolls due to the Glam image. There were a lot of 80s hair metal bands who took their image from this band who really weren't my thing. However, that view began to change when I read the book Please Kill Me about the American Punk revolution and realised how big an influence they were on many bands I like. Opening with the excellent Personality Crisis the pace rarely let's up, ten cracking originals and a storming cover of Bo Diddley's Pills.

4. Pink Floyd "The Dark Side of the Moon" - Perhaps an album I overplayed when I first got into Floyd. It is still a special album, I love the way it flows into one piece of music, but it doesn't quite enthrall me as much as it used to. This was one of two album covers I remember my junior school art teacher showing in class one lesson (the other was Animals so I guess this would have been around 1976) and it made a big impact on me and must have influenced my early interest in music that wasn't in my Mum & Dad's record collection.

5. Genesis "Selling England by the Pound" - Probably the most commercial of the Gabriel era albums. It's got a more polished sound than their earlier stuff and features the band's first charting single I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) which reached number 21 and opened the band up to a new audience. It also includes one of my all time favourite Genesis tunes Firth of Fifth which pretty much sets the standard for Prog bands trying to use awkward time signatures.

Near misses; Black Sabbath "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath", The Stooges "Raw Power", Tom Waits "Closing Time" and Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band "The Spotlight Kid".

Albums to try; Roxy Music For Your Pleasure, Lou Reed Berlin, Bob Marley and The Wailers Catch A Fire, David Bowie Aladdin Sane, John Martyn Solid Air, Man Back Into The Future and Budgie Never Turn Your Back on a Friend.