Saturday, April 13, 2013

The air was full of sound (America)

The demise of CDs and the rise of downloads is having one benefit – desperate record companies are trying to eek out some profit from repacking back catalogue in budget collections. For a while I can pick up multi packs of an artist’s back catalogue really cheaply. Stuff that I missed the first time ‘round, like America.

I got the first five America albums in one pack for less than 20 dollars recently and I’ve been luxuriating in SoCal warmth for the week. The packaging is basic – fairly poor reproduction of the original album sleeves in miniature but at least there are no extra bonus bloat to ruin the flow..yes, that's right, I'm not a fan of the shady enticement to buy 'special edition' CDs. The practice is becoming ridiculous with multi CD box sets of albums like Fleetwood Mac's Rumours detailing every sneeze and cough of the recording sessions. In most cases (the fabs would be an obvious exception) I just want the original album in a repackage thanks very much.

But back to of my first single purchases was America’s Sandman in 1971. Somehow I’d heard it on the radio, I guess, and it had put its hooks into me right from the opening guitars and opening line: Ain’t it foggy outside?

A little later it reminded me a lot of the NZ group Waves and their single The Dolphin Song – same layers of lovely harmonies, the acoustic guitar interplay and electric guitar overlay and the same adventurous spirit.

For some reason I stopped collecting America after their first album until their Greatest Hits album came out with its outstanding collection of pop hits.

I’m pretty sure at one point I also owned a vinyl copy of Holiday as well but it’s gone A.W.O.L. from the collection somehow.

Now I have the chance to get their first five albums in one swoop and listen to all the hidden treasures that are lurking undisturbed on each album.

First surprise on their second album Homecoming (they had moved from England back to their home country) was the presence of a familiar song from that Sandman single. The B side had two tracks: the brief Everyone I meet is from California followed by A Horse With No Name (which went on to be a big hit, rather than the A Side track).

Homecoming has a side two revisit of Everyone…California. It’s beefed up with a new opening and it feels more polished and certainly it’s been extended. It feels like a new track now – something familiar but new. I love that!

I’m looking forward to getting into the third album Hat Trick now.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Look at him working (The Beatles)

Being old skool means watching DVDs rather than downloads. I bought a BBC documentary on George Martin a few months ago and finally gave it a spin a few nights ago.

It was great. The inevitable Beatles sections were skillfully integrated with the bio details, having his wife present and being interviewed by Giles, his son, were excellent decisions. The judicious Beatle stories avoided all the well known stories and instead centred on a few tracks like Eleanor Rigby. As time goes by nothing in the Beatles canon is really obscure but it was nice to hear him credit the violin sweeps in ER to both McCartney and the Psycho composer Bernard Herrmann (yes composer of Psycho would have been better, I agree) and GM nil.

It helps, of course, that the man’s a gentleman from a bygone era (a father figure to us all definitely), but the documentary is not a hagiography. Old George is definitely human! He can be curmudgeonly and resentful at times – the pay rate he received while he and the Beatles were making musical and social history was derisive, and he is presented smilingly by Giles as a highly competitive individual. His well practised comment that Let It Be should be listed as ‘produced by George Martin, over produced by Phil Spector’ is said with a wry smile still.

The surprises for me were the early years of abject poverty when his parents lived in London (George the cockney deliberately changed his accent to sound like the posh BBC one) and the extent of his pre and post Beatles work. I knew about the comedy records with the Goons but not that Macca knew them so well. I also knew about producing America and UFO but not Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow. The clip of Cilla belting out Alfie with Burt Bacharach was fantastic too. The girl has serious pipes!

The documentary made me wonder what else I’ve missed by him actually.

Minor moan - I did find myself wishing there was more footage of GM with the 2012 model Ringo and the 2012 model Macca. The obvious affection between them is special and we won’t have the great man around forever so we kinda need to gorge on the relationship while we can.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Blame it upon a rush of blood to the head (Coldplay)

Radio 2 is a great British institution and a national treasure, but it's not infallible.

On April 1 (ha ha) they published a top ten greatest albums of all time list using a listener's choice method.

What a joke it turned out to be (not a merman to be seen - sorry, obscure Hendrix allusion)

Here's the fool list

1 Coldplay Rush Of Blood To The Head (2002)
2 Keane Hopes and Fears (2004)
3 Duran Duran Rio (1982)
4 Pink Floyd The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)
5 Dido No Angel (1999)
6 The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers (1971)
7 The Pet Shop Boys Actually (1987)
8 The Beatles Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
9 U2 The Joshua Tree (1987)
10 Queen A Night At The Opera (1975)

Okay, so let's spose for a minute that it wasn't an April Fools' joke: it's nice in a way not to see the usual suspects in the top ten but is anyone with a musical brain listening to Radio 2 anymore?  Pet Shop Boys? Duran Duran? Keane?


What the...??

The absentees are what intrigue me. Americans for one - no American bands or singers make the list. None nada zip zilch.  Even given the British bias there is still no room for Stone Roses, Van Morrison, The Clash, or David Bowie to name a few. They have all been steady performers in various top tens over the years but not for Radio 2 listeners? I don't believe it.

Rolling Stone magazine makes a habit of doing top ten best of all time lists. Here's their latest one taking in the 1950s to the 2010s.

1 The Beatles Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Beach Boys Pet Sounds (1966)
The Beatles Revolver(1966)
Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
The Beatles Rubber Soul (1965)
6 Marvin Gaye What's Going On (1971)
The Rolling Stones Exile On Main Street (1972)
The Clash London Calling (1980)
Bob Dylan Blonde On Blonde (1966)
10 The Beatles The Beatles (1968)

Only Sgt Pepper makes the Radio 2 poll!

In comparison, here's a Rolling Stone taking in 1967-1987 best of list

1 The Beatles Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
2 Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks (1977)
3 The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street (1972)
4 John Lennon Plastic Ono Band (1970)
Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced? (1967)
David Bowie The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust (1972)
Van Morrison Astral weeks (1968)
Bruce Springsteen Born to Run (1975)
The Beatles The Beatles (1968)
10 Marvin Gaye What's Going On (1971)

Still only one of that list makes the Radio 2 poll - yup - Sgt Pepper's.

I know these lists aren't to be taken too seriously but how can an album consistently named the best album ever (at least by Rolling Stone from 1967 when the magazine began, until now) suddenly at the whim of radio 2 pollsters slip to number 8 behind Dido?

The end of Radio 2 as we knew and loved her? I suspect so.

As to Coldplay being judged the best ever? I like the album (like). It contains some excellent songs, which it would because Chris Martin is a good (good) songwriter and an emotive singer.