Friday 26 March 2021

On the turntable today...Jackson Browne

It's a 70's lockdown and on the turntable today we have Late For The Sky by Jackson Browne. Released in September 1974 it is easily one of my all time favourite top five albums. Yes, it really is that good.

Okay, I admit it, I hold my hands up. I had long hair and was a bit of a hippie in my younger days. The sixties and seventies were the decades when pop music evolved from the innocence of Please Please Me through to the angry punk of Anarchy In The UK. In fifteen short years we were given a pile of different musical styles and sitting comfortably right in the middle of that pile is the west coast singer songwriter genre and this is definitely my 'thing’. 

Laurel Canyon was the focal point for much of this creative songwriting energy of the early 70's with the likes of CSNY, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, James Taylor, Jackson Browne and the Eagles blossoming and going on to forge their own successful careers in the music industry.
There were some fantastic albums around at that time; James Taylor’s Mud Slide Slim, Carole King’s Tapestry, Neil Young’s After The Goldrush, CSNY's Deja Vu, Eagles Desperado, Carly Simon’s No Secrets and Joni Mitchell's Blue. Jackson Browne’s debut album and its follow up For Everyman were equally as good but his third album Late For The Sky is without doubt his best, most deeply personal and creative piece of work. It's a stellar album and I love it.

Every track on this album is delicious, if the singer songwriter music genre appeals to your taste then you'll just love this album. It's filled with acoustic guitars, piano, organ, fiddle, peddle steel guitar and these instruments are all blended with perfect backing vocal harmonies from the likes of Don Henley, Dan Fogelberg and J. D. Souther. There is no filler here, it's the quintessential southern California singer songwriter album rammed full of great songs oozing sheer class and quality.

There are just eight tracks on this album, all of them are exceptional. Stand outs are the title track, the stirring Before The Deluge, the delicate Fountain Of Sorrow, The Late Show with the infamous door slam at the end and the beautifully poignant For A Dancer. The songs have themes of love and loss that are deeply moving at times. 

It is music that encourages you to listen to every word that is sung, listen to every note that is played and most importantly it still stands the test of time. This album has it all; deeply moving lyrics, great melodies, superb vocals, excellent playing from a backing band of top musicians and good production. Even the cover sleeve is a work of art. It’s an album that I still play and listen to all the time. 
Late For The Sky is Jackson Browne's masterpiece, I urge you to give it a spin on your turntable. It’s songwriting, musicianship and production of the highest quality. I think it's a wonderful album but if you don’t like it, that’s cool, I’m okay with that. We all have different musical tastes, mine is clearly better than yours 😉

Wednesday 24 March 2021

On the turntable today...Yes

It's a 70's lockdown...on the turntable today we have a bit of prog rock. The Yes Album by Yes was released in February 1971, it was a critical success and a major commercial breakthrough making number 4 in the UK album charts.

The Yes Album was the bands third album release and the first to feature accomplished guitarist Steve Howe and keyboard player Tony Kaye. The album retained close harmony singing behind Jon Anderson's remarkable voice. Kaye's Hammond organ, Howe's acoustic and lead guitars along with Bill Bruford's drums and Chris Squire's melodic bass played progressive rock material that covered various musical styles including jazz piano, funk and acoustic music. All of the band members contributed ideas and tracks that were extended in length to allow music to develop.

Highlights from this album include opening track Yours Is No Disgrace, the three piece suite Starship Trooper at the end of side one and the closing cut Perpetual Change. The standout track for me though is the opener on side two, I've Seen All Good People.  

This early release is one of the bands more accessible albums and is a good introduction to the music of Yes. Please don't be tempted to write it off as boring old self indulgent prog rock until you've heard it. Their double LP set Tales From Topographic Oceans released some two years later was more of a self indulgent album, albeit a hugely successful one. 

Yes progressed through the seventies with varying line ups (keyboard player Rick Wakeman was in and out of the band) producing some very good and huge selling albums such as Fragile, Close To The Edge, Going For The One and Relayer. Their last album release, Heaven & Earth, was in 2014. It's perhaps true to say that different personnel changes to the band over the years did lead to some periods of varying degrees of quality and success in their musical output.

The advent of punk in the late seventies made music from bands like Yes and Genesis rather unfashionable. It became popular, and all too easy, to label prog rock bands as dinosaurs and irrelevant. However that shouldn't detract from the fact that Yes were a band of top notch musicians who progressed and changed their musical output throughout their career. They produced some highly rated and excellent albums over a forty five year lifespan. Not many bands last that long in the music business unless they have something about them; durability, quality and talent. Yes, enough said. 

Tuesday 23 March 2021

On the turntable today...Simon & Garfunkel

It's a 70's lockdown...on the turntable today we have the critically acclaimed Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel. Released in January 1970 this was their fifth and most successful long player, it's hard to believe that the duo actually only released five albums before they split later that same year.

The album opens with the magnificent tour de force title track with that sumptuous lead vocal from Art Garfunkel. It truly is the voice of an angel and it's heard here in all it's majesty in this gospel tinged beautiful ballad. Written by Paul Simon it was released as the lead single and went straight to the top of the charts worldwide, it's probably the duo's most well known and loved song. It may have been a mistake to open the album with this track as it was going to be an impossible act to follow, however they very nearly managed it with the opener on side two.

This album is heaving at the seams with great songs from Paul Simon. After the glorious magnum opus opening cut on side one we have the Spanish feel of El Condor Pasa (If I Could), then the jaunty Cecilia followed by a very up tempo Keep The Customer Satisfied (flip side of the Bridge single). The final cut on side one is the delicate So Long Frank Lloyd Wright, said to be the writers hidden final farewell to his partner prior to Simon leaving the duo to embark upon a successful solo career.

Side two starts with the epic The Boxer, a brilliant song that is almost as good as Bridge to my ears. The musical pace motors along with Baby Driver before falling back into a more gentle groove with The Only Living Boy In New York, a song written by Paul Simon and inspired by Garfunkel temporarily leaving the duo to act in the hit movie Catch 22. We continue into a more pop vein with Why Don't You Write Me and a live version of the Everly Brothers hit Bye Bye Love before the album is brought to a close with the quietly gentle Song For The Asking.

This album saw Simon & Garfunkel go out at the top of their game. With Simon's songwriting and Garfunkel's angelic voice the album hit a popular note with the record buying public who bought copies of Bridge Over Troubled Water in their droves. It proved to be a majestic swan song for the duo.

Monday 22 March 2021

On the turntable today...Neil Young

It’s a 70’s lockdown...on the turntable today we have Harvest by Neil Young.

This was the Canadian’s fourth album, released in February 1972 it was the biggest selling album in the USA that year. It had the likes of Graham Nash, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor on backing vocals.

The album featured the London Symphony Orchestra on A Man Needs A Maid and There’s A World while country rockers The Stray Gators backed Young on many of the other tracks. This was to be the breakthrough album for Neil Young and followed on from his previous release, the excellent (and some would say better) After The Goldrush.

Harvest was a massive smash album for Neil Young and is probably his most accessible and commercially aware piece of work. He has been prolific in his musical output since, more so than any other artist of his generation.

The success of Harvest caught Young off guard and he maintained it put him firmly in the middle of the road, a place he didn’t want to be. His natural inclination was to head towards the ditch for a tougher ride, as his follow up albums such as Time Fades Away and Tonight’s the Night would show.

Neil Young albums are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get when you dip into them. It could be the gentler acoustic, folksy country rock sound or the heavier electric, loud, noisy, garage sound when he works with bands like Crazy Horse, Pearl Jam and Promise of the Real. He’s a single minded awkward cuss with an unpredictable musical output, this is what makes the unwrapping of a new Neil Young album so exciting.

You never know what to expect from Neil Young but delve deep enough into his huge back catalogue and I guarantee that you will find some real gems. Harvest is a good starting point.

Sunday 21 March 2021

On the turntable today...Lennon

It’s a 70's Sunday lockdown...on the turntable today we have Imagine by John Lennon. Released in September 1971 it is considered one of Lennon’s finest albums.

The songs reflect peace, love, politics and bitterness. Gentle love songs such as Imagine, Jealous Guy and Oh My Love are mixed with heavier and more politically stronger tracks such as the angry Gimme Some Truth and I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier. The biting How Do You Sleep is an astonishing personal attack on his former writing partner Paul McCartney which doesn’t always sit comfortably with the listener despite being one the albums strongest songs.

The title track has since become John Lennon’s signature tune. Imagine, along with George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, is without doubt one of the best Beatle solo albums of all time. It set a musical quality benchmark that even Lennon himself found hard to improve upon.

Saturday 13 March 2021

On the turntable today...ELO

It’s a 70’s lockdown...Please turn me over as it’s back to October 1977 for a double vinyl album that’s jam packed full of great tunes. Boys and girls I present the magnificent Out Of The Blue by ELO.

Jeff Lynne’s songwriting was, and still is, heavily influenced by The Beatles. Lynne has an ear for a commercial tune that has a blend of orchestrated rock combined with a radio friendly sound, catchy memorable lyrics and terrific vocals. This was to be a perfect recipe for chart success and Out Of The Blue sold by the bucketload. This was the first double album in the history of the UK music charts to generate four top twenty hit singles. This LP was a natural progression from ELO’s previous outing A New World Record.
Side three, subtitled Concerto for a Rainy Day, was a four track musical suite based on the weather and how it affects mood, ending with the eventual sunshine and happiness of the wonderfully barnstorming Mr Blue Sky. I defy you not to sing along.
Created to be played loud and listened to in one sitting Out Of The Blue was beautifully crafted pop music laden with heavy strings and lots of overdubbed vocals coming out of every corner from your loudspeakers. 

It was, and still is, 70 minutes of pure joy.

Thursday 11 March 2021

On the turntable today...Eagles

It’s a 70’s lockdown...You can check out any time you like but you can never leave. It’s a real cracker on the turntable today folks. Released in February 1977, with punk music on the doorstep, we welcomed in The Eagles who gave us their stupendous multi million selling album Hotel California.

I love this record. It's title track contained one of the most memorable guitar breaks ever along with Don Hen Henley's superb lead vocal belting out above it and having a real poke at the excesses life in the sunshine state of California. Sitting alongside that magnificent opening cut we have the country tinged New Kid In town, the thoughtful ballad Wasted Time and the energetic Life In The Fast Lane. This album is jam packed with great songs, and then you add Victim of Love and Pretty Maids All In A Row which makes this album an even better listen.

The real nugget on this album though is the closing track, The Last Resort. It gives Hotel California the final piece of class and quality to make it stand out and shine as one of the best LP's of it's generation. The Last Resort is a simply stunning song and closes out a great album perfectly.
This has to be in my top five favourite albums of all time. Just a brilliant piece of work that you knew was going to be so tough to follow up for the band. You can’t make music much better than this and they never really did.

Wednesday 10 March 2021

On the turntable today...Marvin Gaye

It’s a 70’s lockdown...On the turntable today we have the best piece of vinyl Tamla Motown ever released. Celebrating its 50th birthday this year I bring you Marvin Gaye’s magnificent masterpiece What’s Going On.
Tackling serious themes such as the Vietnam war and ecology the album was way ahead of it’s time. The narrative established by the songs is told from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran returning to his home country to witness hatred, suffering and injustice. Gaye’s introspective lyrics explore themes of drug abuse, poverty and the Vietnam war. He was also one of the first black artists to promote awareness of ecological issues.
Produced by Marvin Gaye this is a beautiful album full of rich vocal textures and great songs, there’s no filler at all on this disc. It was a real change in musical direction allowing himself and other fellow black artists such as Stevie Wonder to set the benchmark in writing and recording about political injustices and other issues of the day.

It’s rightly regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time and was a landmark recording in popular music. Every home should have a copy of this LP, it’s simply brilliant.

Tuesday 9 March 2021

On the turntable today...Bowie

It’s a 70’s lockdown. Today on the turntable we have an LP that was released in June 1972. It was going be this or Hunky Dory on the platter today but David Bowie’s fifth album release Ziggy Stardust was chosen because it was simply a game changer.
Bowie set music and fashion trends, constantly evolving his musical style and look over the years. Like Neil Young you never quite knew what the next album would sound like when it was released.

Loosely described as a concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mar to give it its full title, was a huge hit and within Five Years it made Bowie into a global Star. See what I did there?

Monday 8 March 2021

On the turntable today...Elton John

It’s a 70’s lockdown...Harmony on the turntable today as we get a double album of music from October 1973. Ladies and gentlemen Sir Elton John presents Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Sunday 7 March 2021

On the turntable today...Carly Simon

It's a 70's lockdown...Putting this on the turntable today just seemed the right thing to do. It’s Carly Simon’s No Secrets released in November 1972. This was to be Carly's breakthrough album having released the critically acclaimed Anticipation a year earlier. No Secrets topped the Billboard album charts for five weeks.

Produced by top producer Richard Perry and recorded in London, No Secrets yielded the massive hit single 'You're So Vain' which topped the Billboard charts in America for three weeks. In the years since it's release people have been trying to established who the song was written about. Carly herself has said it's not about James Taylor or Mick Jagger, the rumour is it's Warren Beatty who was the target Carly's song lyrics. 

You're So Vain set the tone for the No Secrets project which was one of the first albums from a female singer songwriter who was writing from a position of strength as an independent woman of the early seventies. Surrounded and assisted by world class musicians such as bassist Klaus Voormann, drummer Jim Keltner and trusted friend and guitarist Jimmy Ryan, she had backing vocals from the likes of Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and husband at the time James Taylor which ensured that the album would be of the highest quality.

Carly Simon herself wasn't overly happy with the album at the time of it's release, she was more of a folk based musician and was unsure if Perry's slightly heavier production would be good enough to sell the record. She needn't have worried as it sold in bucketloads and proved to be her biggest selling album ever so I'm guessing she grew to love it. As for me I have to say that I prefer her earlier Anticipation album as a complete piece of work and That's The Way I've Always  Heard It Should Be from her first album is also outstanding. However there's no denying that You're So Vain is a great song and there are some other tracks on the No Secrets album that also reach the same high levels.

Saturday 6 March 2021

On the turntable today...Stevie Wonder

It's a 70's lockdown...On the turntable today we have Stevie Wonder’s musical masterpiece Innervisions which was originally released in August 1973. 

Like Marvin Gaye's What's Going On before it Innervisions marked a significant change in musical direction for Tamla Motown and showed further progression for Stevie Wonder. His previous offerings Talking Book and Music of my Mind had both indicated a radical change in the musical path that he was going along and Innervisions was the culmination of that trio of albums. It would set the style for his later albums such as Fulfillingness' First Finale and Songs In The Key Of Life. 

With songs that encompassed themes of drug abuse (Too High), racism (Living In The City), love ballads (All In Love Is Fair, Golden Lady). The album highlights political and social issues of the day and the final track (He's Misstra Know It All) is a scathing attack on then US President Richard Nixon. This album fell at just the right time socially and politically and sat comfortably alongside his stable mate Marvin Gaye's output at that time.