Friday, 9 December 2011

100 LPs Shortlist #17: "East" by Cold Chisel

Cold Chisel - East

Bogans have stolen my music!

Or at least that's how it looks. But, it was never meant to be that way.

NOTE: For overseas readers, the term "Bogan" is the widely accepted Australian equivalent of the American term "Redneck" or the British term "Yobbo"; someone who appears to be of a lower intelligence than most, with an affectation of being "lower class" and "rough around the edges".

Cold Chisel never asked for the ubiquity their music has received over the years. Since first splitting up in 1984, their legacy has snowballed. For a country of 21 million, they have allegedly sold 6 million records, over 1 million of those were for their compilation LP "Chisel" (the one with the gold cover). Their legacy has now been almost physically tied to that of the image of the bogan - the sort that patronises commercial rock stations like Triple M and who seem to think that they can escape their Australian music quotas by playing 11 out of the 12 tracks off today's featured album.

Of course, the charm of Chisel is their ability to craft a great song and also to write lyrics that specifically reflect Australian life. The irony is that the sometimes oblique references are lost on most of their fanbase. It has been said that more people know the words to "Khe Sanh" than they do the Australian national anthem. The sad fact is that the song is actually about a drug-addicted Vietnam Vet who can't integrate into society properly after returning from his tour of duty.

"East" is by far the most well known Chisel LP, and indeed it has most of its 12 songs played on commercial radio frequently. And indeed, if you grew up in Australia in the 1980s you will be more than familiar with most of these tracks. The meaning of most of these songs could be lost on most 21st century listeners, however the themes are largely universal.

Starting with the original Side 1 of the LP, "Standing on the Outside" is a tale of sympathy for inmates of the nation's jails. Indeed, Don Walker, the writer of the song, has never been "inside" (hence the title), he sings of the stories of inmates, from his vantage point of being outside the prison walls.

"Never Before" is an atypical relationship song, that is rhythmically interesting, with some stellar guitar work from the song's writer, Ian Moss.

Hands up who knows the real meaning of the lyric to "Choir Girl"? Yep, didn't think so. It's about a girl getting an abortion. I bet you'll never hear it the same way again…

We all know that Barnesy was a hell-rasier in his day. So much so that his future wife Jane didn't like his behaviour very much, and nor did her parents. So she fled back to her home country after he had a spat. Hence came the song "Rising Sun". The fact that Chisel are legends in this country is probably the only reason why a song with these racist anti-Asian lyrics still get played on the radio…

"My Baby" was a perfect pop song written by bass player Phil Small and sang by Ian Moss. The song was popular and the writer so shy that he didn't submit another song to the Chisel canon for the next 18 years when another modest track appeared on the comeback LP "The Last Wave Of Summer".

"Tomorrow" sings about the tension of living and making ends meet in the seedy parts of the city, like Darlinghurst and Kings Cross in Sydney. Tales of damp squalor and hookers abound in this one.

The original Side 2 of the LP starts with the now-Bogan anthem "Cheap Wine". The tag line "Cheap wine and three day growth" was easy fun in the sagging economic climate of 1980. Now it is a rallying cry for the cheap drunks and those complacent with their personal hygiene.

"Best Kept Lies" is, in my opinion, a companion piece to "Never Before" on side 1. A nice rhythmic shuffle with some great guitar work. Lyrically nothing special, maybe that's the reason it has escaped airplay.

"Ita" is a strange tale of unrequited love for the journalist and one-time editor of Cleo magazine Ita Buttrose. Lyrically similar at times to "Tomorrow" (minus the hookers), Barnesy sings of a bizarre animal lust for Ita while watching her TV show on a cheap crappy television in his squalid digs in inner-city Sydney.

"Star Hotel" is a well regarded track but one whose meaning has been lost on most listeners who don't remember the incident. This track details the attitudes and emotions surrounding the riots in King Street, Newcastle after the closure of the Star Hotel in 1979. The sleeve notes of the "Chisel" LP state that the closure of the pub was the last straw for a generation fed up with high unemployment and zero prospects, but in reality it was more than that. In reality, it had more to do with the police trying to eject patrons by force after closing time and shutting down the band on stage by hitting the singer in the mouth. The moral to this story is God help you if you ever try to get between a Novacastrian (i.e person from Newcastle, NSW) and his drink. Contrary to popular belief, Cold Chisel were NOT on stage on the night of this riot. Indeed, they never played a show at the Star Hotel.

"Four Walls" - a companion piece to "Standing on the Outside", but a lot more sober and stark. It still contains heavy amounts of empathy for inmates, much like the aforementioned jail ditty.

"My Turn to Cry" is a barnstorming closer. Mossy's guitar is the star here. The track is classing boy-girl breakup stuff - young boy and girl meet and go out. She dumps him. She finds someone better. Baby baby it's my turn to cry.

The playlist below features the 1999 remastered version of the LP with three tracks recorded around the same time for inclusion on the LP, which were subsequently dropped. One of the tracks, "The Party's over" was featured on a bonus 7-inch single that came out with the first copies of the LP (earlier copies of the CD and cassette are missing this track, and indeed the A-side of the single, a tepid live version of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" found its way onto the "Swingshift" double live LP). This track carries on Don Walker's fascination with Ray Charles-styled soulful ballads. "Hands Out Of My Pocket" was issued as a single when it was rediscovered and released in 1994. The last track, "Payday in A Pub" is a throwaway that would have made a nice single B-Side. Still, it's way better than most other bands best work. These three bonus tracks were previously released on "Teenage Love" in 1994, which was deleted when these bonus track reissues were released.

These days, if I had to play a Chisel album at all, East is probably the one Chisel album I'd avoid playing. Circus Animals, 20th Century and the first record all hold far more charm, mostly because they haven't been overexposed in their entirety! More on those later...

For now, here is Chisel's commercial high point. Enjoy!

Cold Chisel - East by David Kowalski on Grooveshark

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

100 LPs Shortlist #16: Aerosmith by Aerosmith

Aerosmith - Aerosmith

For a while, in the mid-1990s, my vinyl collecting phase took me to some interesting places, both musically and geographically. Musically, I found a entire group of albums that were common in only one theme - first LPs by a famous band that sound completely different to the artists we know and love. Bands that have staked their reputations and careers on a certain sound, for better or for worse, but their first LP was radically different from the rest of their work. The reasons are different in each case, but in a lot of cases the bands have found what works for them and then taken off on that tangent.

Among the bands whose first record that caught my attention in those days were:

Chicago (then known as Chicago Transit Authority)
Electric Light Orchestra
Midnight Oil
Cold Chisel
The Rolling Stones
Wishbone Ash
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Pink Floyd
Bob Seger
The Who

…among others. All mainstream I know, but one needs to start somewhere...

The first Aerosmith album is notable due to the fact that it sounds hardly like anything the band are famous for.

The real star of this album is not Steve Tyler's voice (although this is remarkable in itself here, for reasons that will be explained later) but Joe Perry's guitar work. His playing is stellar throughout, but the guitar sound is curious - it sounds like he is using a Gibson Les Paul through a tiny 20-watt or so practice amp, turned up full boar and close-mic'ed. Still, the guitars are way up in the mix to give a big sound, whatever the origins.

It sounds like it was recorded cheaply in a tiny studio, giving a grit and edginess that is missing from later records. It is almost as if the band were getting down the core of their live set onto tape as quickly as possible. There are very few overdubs or little evidence of studio trickery.

Steve's voice is such that he doesn't use the high-pitched screech on this record, rather it is more of a smooth croon. It would appear he hasn't developed that sound yet (or he hasn't taken too many drugs yet), although there are small hints of it on "Dream On" and "Moving Out". Also curiously absent is the sleaze and double entendre that is ubiquitous in their later work and, for my money, the record makes for a refreshing change. Here, the lyrical themes are of a small bar band trying to make a go of it, as mentioned in "Moving Out":

…"working like a dog in a rock 'n' roll band".

The band hadn't mastered that 4-on-the-floor rhythmic groove that characterised some of their later work, like on "Walk This Way" or "Sweet Emotion". However, the band was firmly entrenched in their Rolling Stones obsession; churning out loud twin-guitar riffs reminiscent of Mick Taylor and Keef on "Exile On Main Street" and "Sticky Fingers". Indeed, the final track is a version of a song that the Stones tacked on their first LP, "Walking The Dog". Aerosmith's version is well-intentioned but misguided, it sounds more like a lumbering elephant than a swaggering beast that the band were capable of.

The rest of the songs here are originals, and they are all killer. "Dream On" became a rock radio staple in the US upon its re-release as a single in 1976, and it still gives me goosebumps listening to it. Indeed it was sampled by Eminem for his track "Sing For the Moment", but the original features these creepy, snake-like guitar lines that are just amazing to hear as the rest of the band ebbs and flows, driving the emotion up and down as necessary. "One Way Street" is a very cool 7 minute blues jam where the guitars just rule. "Mama Kin" was covered by Guns 'n' Roses on their first EP, but they don't come close to the crunch of the sound here.

The band's next record, "Get Your Wings" had a much more polished and clinical sound, again borrowing a song made famous by a British Invasion band ("Train Kept A-Rollin" by the Yardbirds), but the band completely slaughter it. The polish drained any edge from the sound and left the songs feeling flat. This was all fixed again for 1975's "Toys In the Attic", which sent the band into the stratosphere. But that's another story...

Aerosmith - Aerosmith by David Kowalski on Grooveshark

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Albums a thing of the past?

I got really incensed by this article in the Sydney Morning Herald online. Granted it's an opinion piece, but really, it just highlights the ignorance of the author more than anything.

The key point, as highlighted in the quote off the left side of the story is:

Musicians need to swallow the fact that we are the curators of our musical exhibitions, not them.

What complete rubbish. Musicians should be able to release their music in the form they choose. It is their canvas of expression, NOT the consumers. Who are we to dictate to our favourite artists how they make records? They're our favourite artists BECAUSE of what they do, because we like what they do. Not because they are a puppet to the whims of their fans. Unless of course, they're a winner of "The X Factor" or a band like Nickelback, of course.

Sure, I have no problem with hearing a song off an album, and if I like it, I explore the album, and then other albums by the same artist if I really like them. The fact that people don't care much for albums as a long-form statement these days surely can be put down to a lack of attention in the listener.

Also, I'm not averse to making random mixes or playlists from album tracks. Radio stations do it all the time and I think sometimes playing a mix like that is refreshing. It allows the listener to recontextualise the music against other songs, making a rich listening experience. However, album should be taken as a complete whole. That's how they were designed. "Best Of" albums are designed as a collection of tracks; regular albums, in a lot of cases are complete pieces of art. Most of the best albums of all time are best experienced when played from start to finish.

Sure, make a mix, or play a song from an LP as it suits your whim. But don't let that cheapen the value of the album as an artform and a creative statement. Creating a great album demonstrates talent and skill or the highest order, as far as I am concerned.


Thursday, 3 November 2011


Apologies for being a little slack with posting of late. I haven't put blogging as my priority, so it looks like I've been slack.

So, not to celebrate slackness, but rather in spite of it, here's a bit of slacker pop for you all. This genre was first pioneered with the laid-back kitchen-sink vibes of Beck, but my favourites are Cage the Elephant and Brad Sucks.

Brad Sucks is an internet Musician who sporadically releases albums, but when he does, they're usually really cool. For your listening pleasure, we have his sensational first LP "I Don't Know What I'm Doing" containing killer tracks "Look and Feel Years Younger", "Sick as a Dog" and "I Think I Started A Trend", coupled with his second LP entitled "Out Of It".


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Stone Roses re-unite!!!

The latest news is that the Stone Roses have agreed to reunite and possibly make some new music.

I have to be honest, but the thought of this kind of scares me. Iconic bands re-uniting can always be hit and miss affairs. It's hard to recapture the magic that was once created by bands at the height of their youth. There is a chance that it could just be totally crap, like Cold Chisel's 1998 reunion record "The Last Wave of Summer" was, or the most recent Crowded House efforts, which were lacklustre at best. Let's not even go near Queen's atrocious "The Cosmos Rocks"...

There is, on the off chance, that it may be awesome. But when your legacy is huge, it's always a possibility that anything else you create will pale in comparison to your classic old work.

The Stone Roses really are about to be in this position - staring down at their own legacy. It will be interesting to see what develops.

The first time I ever heard the Roses was when I was watching Rage one morning on the ABC, watching the top 50 chart, and "Fool's Gold" comes on. The initial response was "What the **** is this? They look like a bunch of pommie yobs!", which really was ironic considering I was right into some pretty garish looking dudes playing Hair metal at the time - Guns 'n' Roses and Motley Crue especially.

My wife was introduced to their music by her cousin when she went to England in 1997, and I did kind of like "Love Spreads" whenever it appeared on the radio. She played me a tune called "Ten Story Love Song" which I thought is a killer tune. I kept that in the back of my mind until I heard the 10 minute version of "Fool's Gold" again and just fell in love.

Fast forward to 2005, the legend of the Stone Roses in music media builds. Maybe I need to check this band out again. I found a copy of "The Very Best of The Stone Roses" in a sale bin in a record store. I fell in love again. How the hell could I miss this band the first time around? This very album is one of a few fixtures on my MP3 player that I just do not ever remove from it.

Funny, "Dr Feelgood" doesn't have the same appeal anymore. I certainly haven't played it as much as I have the Stone Roses in recent years. Maybe the Stone Roses offer something more layered and musically substantial than the good old Hair bands, I dunno. Whatever the answer, I was kind of excited that they reunited today. Here's a collection of great tunes from the band for you all to check out.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Australian's relationship with Britain

Some years ago I spoke to a gentleman by the name of Stuart Coupe, who is the owner and proprietor of Laughing Outlaw Records in Lewisham, NSW. I had occasion to drop in there on my way to classes at Uni at one stage.

One of things that has stuck with me from those times in the small shop when we spoke was a point that Stuart made about commercial radio in this country:

"...Australians don't buy British sounding records...".

In context he was saying that the record he was spruiking would not be getting airplay on the station because it sounded too "British".

I have thought about this for many years. I find it laughable that such a statement needs to be said; however, the evidence is there to back up his claims.

Staunchly British bands such as Madness, The Jam and Blur have barely sold a record in this country. Ditto The Smiths, Joy Division, Suede and plenty of others. Paul Weller formed The Style Council after dissolving The Jam and turned his music into a more American styled soul sound and was quite popular here for a few years. Oasis did well despite there being far better Brit-pop bands around.

So why is this the case? I have a few theories.

1. Radio dictates the public's taste.
Radio panders to its advertisers, so it tailors its playlists to suit. By limiting the field of reference (i.e. the scope of the music, narrowing the playlist) you reduce the risk of being eclectic, and thus alienating people. You can then play something within that narrow range of music and everyone is happy...almost.

2. Most Listeners only consume what they are fed, rarely going and actively seeking out new music under their own steam.
The listeners will often attach themselves to a station over long periods. Once loyalty is established and a reputation for playing a similar style of music, radio can play anything they want and the audience will lap it up. Even if a new song is complete rubbish, by continual repetition the song will get into the listeners heads and it will be a hit.

I still don't think that covers all the bases, but it's a start. I may be wrong. Discuss...

R.I.P. R.E.M.

The news resounding around the world over the past 48 hours has been about REM splitting up after 31 years. Sad, maybe, but not at all shocking. I'm surprised they kept going after drummer Bill Berry retired in 1997. Even so, the grace and dignity with which they conducted themselves and the circumstances of their split is admirable, something the Gallagher brothers could learn a lot from.

Here is a playlist of career highlights from the band, from their first EP in 1982 to their latest record, 51 tracks in all. Enjoy.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Red Dog

Yesterday I saw a new Australian film entitled "Red Dog".

I was intrigued by what the ABC's movie program "At The Movies" had to say about the film. Surprisingly (considering their usual lofty opinions on films), they gave it 4 and 4.5 stars. A number of commenters on the page for the film have them slammed the film as being an inaccurate reflection of Australia. Some comments included:

"It was like watching a bunch of b grade Aussie actors from the city with fake dirt on them trying to act as if they are from a mining town…"

and also: "
"Cliched charactures, cringe and corn abound."

As well as:
"This country is so full of culture, history, tradition, good and bad and this is the only thing we can come up with."

Of course this country is full of tradition, but there is one side of the country and its history that we have forgotten about - the side that does it tough in the North West. I lived there for a couple of years to get my career started again after retraining. I can tell you that the life is tough and you need to build yourself a life all over again in order to survive. You need to become part of the community - get involved, meet people, be part of the town's events, otherwise you'll be one lonely little black duck.

I can tell you that people still come from all different countries to work in the mines of WA. The housing is still bad - they still live in dongas (disused shipping containers with doors and windows cut into them.) The Heat is still hot, the red dust still gets into everything, the sense of community and mateship is strong. You need to be tough to handle it - the homesickness is a killer, the scorching sunlight is also a killer, the isolation and the humidity and drive you insane. If you want a change of scenery, be prepared for a drive of 2 hours or more in any direction before you meet the next town, and even then, the change will be little more than another choice of fast food and a few more shops.

Consequently, those who survive are rough and tough but they have a heart of gold. And you cannot find a better sunset anywhere in the world than in the Pilbara. You can't find better friends than up you'll find up there. The landscape, the openness and the space of the place is awe-inspiring. The ranges, the gorges and waterholes are like nothing else. It has it's plusses and minuses, but trust me, you'll never come back the same person as when you left the place…and that's for the better.

The film Red Dog captured all that beautifully. The landscape was beautifully captured, the people rugged but loveable. The work and the living is tough, and sometimes people die in the process. The film captured all of that. There's not much to do out there, and you need to keep yourself amused with whatever you can, and a mate in the form of a kelpie sometimes is all that you need.

There were a few anachronisms though, like for example some of the music was out of time and place. For example, when Johnny-boy was romancing Nancy and Jocko was looking after Red Dog, they played "Shadow Boxer" by The Angels. The story goes that Johnny died in 1975, The song by the Angels was released in 1979.

Anyway, get out and see the film, here's a sample of what you'll hear on the soundtrack.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Easybeats

In anticipation for the upcoming SBS documentary this Saturday night, let's take a look at the impact of The Easybeats.

It is very easy to write off the Easybeats as just another beat group out of about 1 million of them in the mid 1960s. There is merit in the argument that out of the millions of bands in the mid-1960s, The Beatles and the Stones were the top of the heap.

Down here in the Antipodes, most bands could merely copy these bands in the hope of riding the wave of success achieved by the British beat bands. They were in most cases doing copies of the sounds learned from records that were often released quite a while after they were released in Britain. This inherently meant that the bands were already one step behind the rest of the bands in the world (we'll talk more about that in a minute).

One of the things that made the Easybeats special was that they wrote their own material and released it exclusively. Thorpey and the Aztecs, Ray Brown and the Whispers and The Twilights were all among the big bands of the time in Australia, and all of them almost always did covers. The Easys wrote all their singles themselves, which was something quite novel in those days. After that, bands like The Groop and the Master's Apprentices wrote their own songs, but largely the bands and singers of the time were all sourcing outside material.

The Easybeats early records crackle with energy and fire that outstrips their local rivals of the time. Those early tracks, like "Wedding Ring", "Sorry", "I'll Make You Happy", and "Women" still hold up today, despite the fact they were recorded on primitive mono equipment.

From 1964 to 1966, the band conquered the local market, they were far and away the biggest band in the land. They decided to try their luck in England. After all, they were capable of generating Beatlemania-styled hysteria in Australia, they should be able to achieve a similar level of success in the mother country, right?

...well, remember how I said that the bands were copying styles from records that were slightly behind when compared to the British? In 1966 through to 1969, rock music changed so rapidly and it left many bands washed-up in the wake. The Beatles were at the vanguard of this change. Their songs and their music changing rapidly from single to single and from album to album (just listen to the jump between "Revolver" and "Sgt Pepper" in terms of songwriting and musicianship!). Even bands like the Stones and The Beach Boys struggled to keep up (Brian Wilson from the band had a mental breakdown trying to compete with the Beatles!)

The Easybeats were also casualties of this change. These cocky naturalised Australians swanned into Swinging London, went down to the Marquee club to see some local bands and realised how behind the times they really were. This was the start of a crisis of confidence and identity for the band. Their first overseas release, "Sorry", hit #1 in Australia but bombed in the UK and US. Their first recording session with Shel Talmy (producer of The Kinks and The Who) produced the landmark single "Friday On My Mind" and then they failed to have any more hit records of the same magnitude.

"Friday..." was their high watermark. Trying to keep up with rapidly changing trends, they failed to hit on a singular sound and style that worked for them and they spent the next couple of years releasing single after single only to see them sink like a stone. Management problems, record company problems, depression, alcohol abuse and drug abuse set in and the band imploded in 1969, but not before they had one last hit in Australia: "St Louis". By the time it was released the band no longer existed.

The post-Easybeats fallout was somewhat bittersweet: Lead singer Stevie Wright descended into heroin abuse, but released a couple of highly regarded records in the mid 1970s, including a three-part, 11 minute epic track "Evie" that hit #1 in Australia in 1974. Guitarists Vanda and Young went on to produce a string of excellent records for the likes of AC/DC, The Angels, Rose Tattoo and others, as well as having a few hits of their own under the name of "Flash and The Pan"; not much is known about the other band members. Maybe the doco on Saturday night will shed some light on things...

...for now, remind yourself how good those early records were.

Friday, 19 August 2011

100 LPs Shortlist #15: Suzi Quatro - "Can The Can"

Suzi Quatro - Can the Can

There was a time, during my formative years, where current music of the time was getting quite stale and I needed something more to reflect my teen angst, which I often did through music with fired up distorted guitars. Indeed, as a young guitar player, I consumed a lot of music, eating up as much guitar technique from records as I possibly could.

Come 1990, at the height of the Hair Metal period, with bands like Poison and Motley Crue ruling the music world, I grew quite bored after a while. I still needed to hear something thumping, and I didn't find a lot of it in my parents collection. When my mates and I started looking around our parents' collections, we found a few hidden gems within, largely from the 1970s. Slade, The Sweet, Neil Young, Ziggy-era David Bowie, Deep Purple, Kiss, Alice Cooper and, of course, Suzi Quatro.

The thing that inevitably made these old records interesting to us 1990's teenagers was the fact that they were not mainstream anymore - they weren't on the radio, they weren't showing their videos on the music channels, no hype in the press to taint our view of the music - it was just what was in the grooves of the black scratchy platter that was important.

Suzi Q's first LP is a mind-blowing record, on a number of levels. Firstly, it's a vicious record, brimming with tension and passion. Secondly, the energy is unbridled - the guitars are fired up and the drums don't back down from their fury for the album's entire length. Thirdly, considering this record was sponsored by the bubblegum-pop-hit machine of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn (also behind the careers of The Sweet, Mud and Smokie), it's a wonder a record this wild and unhinged ever escaped from the studio under their watch.

Oddly enough, this album is largely untouched by the influence of the Chinnichap pop factory. The presence of her two big hit singles ("48 Crash" and "Can The Can") aside, the record is full of Suzi-Q originals and a handful of covers given a tough sound. The result is a surprisingly uniformly strong record. It's also unusual in that it's far longer than your average pop album, clocking in at over well 45 minutes (the standard then was around 38).

From start to finish this record is just one hell of a good time. Suzi's bass work is great is right up front in the mix - she even gets a solo on "Get Back Momma", which is one of many highlights here. There's something very sinister buried deep within the rhythmic tribalism of "Primitive Love"; "Glycerine Queen" stomps with the best of the glam tunes of the time; while her version of "I Wanna Be Your Man", incongruous as it may appear, actually rocks with stop-start abandon. It's not the best version of the song ever recorded, but the solo mid-section, in itself, is pure musical madness. Her versions of "Shakin' All Over" (complete with double speed guitar solo) and "All Shook Up" are quite good as well.

For it's age, this album holds up remarkably well. To get it's full value, however, you need to listen it to it LOUD!!!

Note: The Spotify version below is the recent remaster with all the non-LP single B-sides on it.


Friday, 5 August 2011

Albums for any occasion

In today's online version of the Sydney Morning Herald, there was a story about albums for any occasion.

As per usual, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to something like this. I would like to know what your favourite albums are for the categories they have listed, which were (along with their author's ideal choices):

Party - Off the Wall, Michael Jackson
Sex - Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Underworld
The morning after sex - Dusty in Memphis, Dusty Springfield
Cleaning the house - Zombie, Fela Kuti
Driving - Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
When you've got the blues - High Violet, the National
Working out - Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem
Post breakup - In the Wee Small Hours, Frank Sinatra
Dinner parties - The Complete Blue Note Sixties Sessions, Dexter Gordon
For dancing with the kids - See!, Holly Throsby

They came up with some very interesting choices here. Not all of them I would choose, and neither would you. So what would your choices be?

After a lot of thinking, I'm not sure I have settled on a definitive list. But here's some ideas:


I've never been a big Michael Jackson fan so I'd resist playing much of his music. My mates and I would probably get rowdy to a record with some big grooves like "Blood Sugar Sex Magic" by Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Sex: I'll pass on making a call on this, but I haven't liked any Underworld record since "Underneath The Radar", an album which the band have all but disowned in the years since.
Underworld - Underneath the Radar

Cleaning the house: The choice of a Fela Kuti album was an inspired one. The title track "Zombie" has such a wicked groove and it lasts around 15 minutes at a stretch - perfect for vaccuuming the house. My cleaning house records are more likely "Greatest Hits" by Sly and the Family Stone or "Funk Power 1970" by James Brown.
Sly and the Family Stone - Greatest Hits

Driving: Bruce Springsteen records are cliche driving records. They're a great listen don't get me wrong, but...

A record like "Ramones Mania" by the Ramones, which is a 73+ minute compendium of the finest moments from their first decade as a group will get you from one end of the F3 to the other without changing CDs, but you'll need to stop for a caffiene hit at the end because you'll be exhuasted (trust me, I've tried it!).
Ramones - Ramones Mania

Years ago when tapes were de rigeur in the car, the one-two punch of classic albums like "East"/"Circus Animals" by Cold Chisel worked a treat, as did "#1 Record"/"Radio City" by Big Star.
Cold Chisel - East Cold Chisel - Circus Animals
Big Star - #1 Record Big Star - Radio City

I tend to drum on the steering wheel while I drive, and "Superunknown" by Soundgarden is a great record to do that to.
Soundgarden - Superunknown

When you've got the blues: Frank Sinatra adds a bit of class to a sad moment, but it just won't feel right without having a scotch on the rocks along with it. For me, I don't want to stay down too long, so I try and pick myself up quickly, and "All Things Must Pass" by George Harrison works a treat - it always takes me to a better place. "Grace" by Jeff Buckley is achingly beautiful, but it makes me feel worse in times like this.
George Harrison - All Things Must Pass Jeff Buckley - Grace

Working Out: When I work out or do exercise of any form, I'm just happy to be listening to ANY music of any form, but it has to be intense. For a while a few years ago, the album of choice was "St Anger" by Metallica.
Metallica - St. Anger

Post breakup: Again, "Grace" will get the tears moving, but after that, I go into "He-Man Woman Hater" mode and I get angry. For that, there's nothing better than "F.O.A.D." by Broken Bones. Hardcore agressive metal.
Broken Bones - F.O.A.D.

Dinner parties: I reckon you can't go past "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis. Or even a bit of "Jazz Impressions of New York" by Dave Brubeck, if you want an extra bit of class. For candlelit suppers with your loved one, you can't go past "The Koln Concert" by Keith Jarrett.
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue Dave Brubeck Quartet - Jazz Impressions of New York Keith Jarrett - The Köln Concert

For dancing with the kids: I'd let them choose. Best dance session ever with my kids was to Fela Kuti and Africa '70 "Live".
Fela Kuti - Fela With Ginger Baker Live!

Now, I have a few other categories that I'd like to acknowledge:

Washing the Car: For a long time, the album of choice (or rather, tape, as it was then) was "5150" by Van Halen. Lately it's been "Death By Sexy..." by Eagles of Death Metal.
Van Halen - 5150 Eagles of Death Metal - Death by Sexy...

Driving to the beach for a surf: something fierce, like "Radios Appear" by Radio Birdman or "Among The Living" by Anthrax.
Radio Birdman - Radios Appear Anthrax - Among the Living

Rainy day music: I love listening to "Veedon Fleece" by Van Morrison on a rainy afternoon.
Van Morrison - Veedon Fleece

Music to remove unwanted guests: anything by Captain Beefheart!
Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica

Until next time...

Monday, 1 August 2011

100 LPs Shortlist #14: Roxette - "Look Sharp!"

Roxette - Look Sharp!

Ok. Guilty pleasure time, folks.

All right, I cannot tell a lie. I've had a soft spot for these guys since I was in high school. And you know what? Their music STILL holds up as some of the best Europop ever created. You've seen Eurovision, right? Roxette put anything in that competitions cheesy, tacky, questionable music history to shame.

ABBA may have been the Swedes of choice for the baby boomers, but the GenX-ers dug Roxette. Per Gessle could really write a tune, and Marie could really sing. They may have been marketed as a pop band, but they could really ROCK. They wrote some of the best power pop songs ever, especially into the 1990s.

"Look Sharp!" was released internationally in 1988. It was their second LP. Their first, "Pearls of Passion" was a hit only in Sweden, it bombed everywhere else. Not that it matters - "Look Sharp!" was streets ahead of it in terms of songwriting. If there's one problem with this, it's the thin, synth-washed production that was so endemic on records in the 1980s. Underneath the gloss, remains some excellent songs that had more substance than your average pop band could muster.

They had tried 3 singles off the LP, and they were all flops. Single number 4, "The Look", hit big - #1 in over one dozen countries. Not bad for a track whose lyrics were just something to fill in a gap for a guide vocal before the real words were written. Different words were never invented, these ones were so good.

Soon after, the previous flops were re-issued: "Dressed For Success" was first, and it found its way into the top 10. Next, a ballad - "Listen to your Heart" was up there too. Single #2 "Dangerous" was reissued and it followed suit. Soon they were one of the biggest bands in the world.

Between 1988 and 1995, the band had 14 top 10 hits in America, which isn't bad for a band whose native tongue reminds one of the Chef on the Muppet Show. English isn't their first language, but they managed to make memorable songs better than most who grow up with a good command of the language!

What is below is the original album, as it was on the CD. The vinyl and Cassette didn't contain track 11 "I Could Never Give You Up" which was issued as the b-side of "Listen To Your Heart", and for my money, it didn't need to be there. the 12 track LP was spot on as it was. But I digress.

If there's any flat spot at all on this record, it's the somewhat bland "Cry" which concludes the original side 1 of the album. What's left is a series of songs that can be neatly divided into one of two categories - upbeat pop/rock tunes laden with melody, and ballads laden with melody. Such is the dichotomy of the group that their best work can be neatly split into those two categories (so much so that they released two best of records in the early 2000's "The Pop Hits" and "The Ballad Hits", thus illustrating my point).

Anyway, enjoy!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Vale Amy Winehouse

Farewell Amy, I hardly knew thee...

I've never been much of a fan of the neo-Soul divas coming out of the UK lately. I've had a fleeting interest in Duffy, but that's about it.

Amy Winehouse was always someone that I just couldn't come at. I always vowed I wouldn't let the senseless media hype and sensationalism taint my view of the music, nor would I let what the muso looked like have an impact on my opinion of their music. But, I confess, Amy's beehive coiffure, eyelash extensions and grotesque tattoos turn me off. It's shallow, and I have no excuse. I've heard the music was great, however. Granted, the track "Rehab" didn't impress me, but she has other songs in her canon that I should check out.

Billy Bragg had it nailed, in my opinion, when explaining her acceptance into the "27 Club" - Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Cobain - all the members of said club all had well publicised battles with hard drugs. It could also be said they had significant amount of private pain that they were either unaware of or unable to deal with in a safe fashion, so they self medicated with whatever was available. When you are a celebrity and you have heaps of idle cash, usually there are plenty of people hanging around willing to separate you from it...

We need to remember that we shouldn't mythologise any of these people for the hard and fast way they lived. The vicariousness of their lives is great for tabloid reporters, but it is not a smart way to stay alive.

She should be remembered for her contribution to music - her voice and her songs. It's what's in the grooves that counts. Anything else is beside the point.

More tunes soon.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

100 Lps Shortlist #13: Def Leppard - "Hysteria"

Even if this record wasn't spectacular for its great songs, if nothing else it would be legendary for the painful conception, gestation and birth alone.

Sheffield band Def Leppard started in the late 1970s as contemporaries to bands like Saxon and Iron Maiden. Their first two LPs sold respectably in the US, their third LP "Pyromania" sold 6 million in the US in 1983, but the band had hardly made a ripple in their native territory. In fact, while the heavy metal press in Britain thought the band was great, mainstream press thought they were actually American!

So how do you follow up a 6 million selling album? That was a big enough problem in itself, but it was nothing like what was to come...

Firstly, the band lost their producer of choice ("Mutt" Lange, who produced "Pyromania"), clashed badly with new producer Jim Steinman (songwriter on Meat Loaf's "Bat Out Of Hell" album) and nursed their drummer through rehab after a horrific car accident which severed his left arm, causing him to have it amputated.

Drummer Rick Allen slowly learnt to play again with one arm, having a modified MIDI drum kit developed for him to make it easier to play. He eventually played on all the album sessions through 1986/87. The band also signed Lange back on as producer, but they had to wait 3 months for Lange to recover from his own car accident. And then the gruelling recording sessions filled with technical dramas with layering of guitars and synths and other technology.

The result however, was extraordinary. Released in the latter half of 1987, during the last 4 years the legend of Def Leppard grew in the UK to the point where the LP debuted at Number 1 on the British charts. The album took close to 12 months to climb the summit in Australia.

The album was superior in almost every respect to anything the band had done previously, and also to everything they have done since. Their sound was already big, but on "Hysteria" it was massive. It sold the most out of all their albums - some 20 million copies as of 2009 (source: Wikipedia). Of the 12 tracks on the original LP, it produced 7 hit singles (every track on the original side one of the LP plus the title track) equalling Michael Jackson's record on the Thriller LP. It was the most expensive production of any of their albums, and it was the longest to make.

This last point is notable because 4 years was unfashionably long for ANY BAND to make an album in the 1980s. Their contemporaries like Kiss and Iron Maiden were in the habit of turning out LPs every 12 months or so during this period. It was a huge risk, as most bands would have lost momentum and their first LP in 4 years would have bombed, but not this one...

So here it is, in order to remind yourself how great it was...

...and for Glen Ironman, to hear for the first time.

Monday, 11 July 2011

R.I.P. News of the World

Over at our sister blog Think Again we discuss and celebrate the closure of "The news of the World" tabloid in the UK.

I thought it would be good to listen to a few songs that were inspired by the dirty rag:

The Jam - "News of the World"
Wire - "Field Day For The Sundays"
The Beatles - "Polythene Pam"
Pretenders - "Back On The Chain gang"
Joe Jackson - "Sunday Papers"
U2 - "Last Night On Earth"
Elvis Costello - "Fish 'n' Chip paper"
Billy Bragg - "Never Buy The Sun"
The Smiths - "This Night Has Opened My Eyes"
ManBREAK - "News of The World"

and of course the classic Queen LP "News of the World"...

links to the songs coming soon....

Triple J's Hottest 100 Australian Albums...

Here we go again, yet another list of albums to inspire debate and arguments. This time, compiled from listener votes from Australia's youth radio station (or, if you like, antipodean equivalent to the BBC's Radio 1) Triple J.

I'll be honest here - lists like this both amuse and infuriate the hell out of me, and this one is no different.

One of my main complaints is with this article from the Sydney Morning Herald. It is claiming that listeners are showing their age in their choices of albums, and how a great deal of "old" albums are showing up next to recent favourites, reducing the "hipness" of the countdown. I totally disagree. And I disagree on the count of the fact that most of the records in this list date from between 1994 and 2011, with only a handful of real "classics" from the 1970s and 1980s. The immediately recent 15 or so years does NOT class as "all time", and most of those that feature here from this period are not really all that great.

Some albums in the list should come as no surprise for anyone with an ounce of knowledge of Triple J's 30+ year history. The writer of the article above cites a record like Skyhooks' "Living In The 70s" as "Zimmer frame music". The writer, however, neglected the fact that this record is almost synonymous with Triple J. It was, after all, the first record played on air when it began in 1975, playing one of the 6 banned songs from the LP in the form of "You Just Like Me 'Cos I'm Good In Bed".

It's no surprise that there was quite a few Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel LPs, plus The Go-Betweens, AC/DC and the immortal "(I'm) Stranded" by The Saints: all these bands were championed by the Js back in the day long before the mainstream radio stations caught on. It's also no surprise that this music is also what is regarded as "classic" by mainstream media, and that it would be something that the 20-something listeners of JJJ would be highly familiar with from their parents.

What WAS a real shock was that John Farnham's "Whispering Jack" made it into the top 50. This was a record that Triple J wouldn't touch with a barge pole back then, and usually wouldn't go near now.

This list is also filled with records that are also so fresh that they haven't really been out long enough to be time-tested for greatness. I mean Washington's "I Believe You, Liar" may be a good record, but will it still have legs in 10 years time?

One record that certainly has not stood up well, in my opinion, is "Frogstomp" by Silverchair. I still think this record sucked when it came out and it still hasn't gotten any better, and yet it turns up at #2 on the list? Youthful enthusiasm and energy counts for a lot on a good record, but the songs contained within are forced and naive at best, even cringe-worthy. Frogstomp? More like Frog shit. For a few years around the time this came out I was embarrassed to refer to myself as a "Newcastle" person, even though I am, simply because of the fact that most people would associate "Newcastle" with this crap band, but I digress...

One cannot blame the voters for this list and what's here, nor the compilers. You can blame the media and the crap they push on the voters, who are simply regurgitating it back at the providers. Media outlets create a demand for stuff simply by keeping it firmly in the mind's eye of the audience. If it's out of sight, it's out of mind. So play it repeatedly until they never forget it, such is what the Js have done with all the music here on this list. Silverchair were never very good, but constant airplay has created an audience, and that's how we get things like this.

I've said for a long time we need an outlet for Triple J to play music that they used to play, so that music fans can get the best of both worlds - if the hipness gets too much, flip over to J classic and hear the cool stuff we grew up with. Triple J have access to a monster music library, but they only play about 1% of it regularly, at most. Their audience is not getting a wide-ranging coverage of Australian music, and that's what is being reflected in this countdown. Compare this list to the list put together by industry professionals on the same site, and even the list in John O'Donnell's book 100 Greatest Australian Albums. Even they cross broader boundaries and present a more broader perspective on what Australian music "of all time" is, flawed as they are.

There will be no "definitive" list of Australian albums. No-one is ever going to be completely satisfied with any list that is produced. But there sure could be some more coverage of it in the airwaves.

Now, if I could just get my own commercial radio show...

Oh, and for the record, the number one on the list was "Odyssey Number 5" by Powderfinger. Not a great record by any stretch, but if a Powderfinger record had to top the chart, I'm kinda glad it was that one. "Internationalist" and "Vulture Street" were much more successful and popular, but the former suffered from some poor production choices and some questionable arrangements throughout (plus it has the worst ever opening track on an album in the gawd-awful "Hindley Street") while the latter was filled with mundane and uninspired songs, played very, very loudly. "Odyssey..." also contained pointless filler (the title track), crap guitar sounds ("My Happiness"), and a poor remake of a brilliant, previously released track ("These Days"). But it also had it's share of strong songs like "Up and Down and Back Again", and "Waiting for the Sun".

My apologies to the boys from Powderfinger. I just really liked "Double Allergic" better. I'm really glad you beat "Nirvana In Pyjamas" to the top spot though...

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Video hits gets Axed

So Channel 10 Australia has finally decided to axe the only music program on its network. I'm not surprised, but I am annoyed about some aspects of the reporting coverage of it.

Take a look here at the story from the Sydney Morning Herald.

I'm sure I remember the show starting on air in 1986 (I'm pretty sure that's the show where I discovered the track "Infected" by The The, which was a hit in 1986) playing the top 40 videos of the week, much like Rage on the ABC was doing at the time. Over the years it has changed its format to now include interviews and funky presenters, including one Dylan Lewis, although he is not as edgy and quirky on VH as he was back in the 1990s on the ABC.

I had to laugh when it said that VH was instrumental in assisting the careers of Australian artists like Missy Higgins and Angus & Julie Stone. Umm, I'm pretty sure that there's a think called Triple J radio that got them started somehow, especially in the case of Missy Higgins who won Triple J's Unearthed competition.

So what's the problem here? Would it be a fair assumption to assume that Australians don't consider music an art-form worthy of any serious consideration?

Who were the producers of the show marketing it to? Did they miss their audience demographic?

Are we so blase about music that we can't be bothered watching it on TV?

Has the iPod mentality reduced our consumption of music down into bite-size pieces of our own choosing, thus rendering a 2 hour music show pre-programmed by someone else redundant?

My view is that music programs on commercial TV have always been about the ultra-commercial. The ABC has been prone to this too, with Rage playing top 50 hits every Saturday morning since the show started.* However, targeting music shows on TV has always been risky simply because there's already a number of channels on PayTV who arguably do music programming better, and for longer, plus now we have the Internet, where you can just watch YouTube videos ad nauseum.

So is a music TV show on free-to-air TV really necessary? Given all that, plus the rapidly declining attention spans of viewers means that it's harder and harder to find a ratings-winning format.

For the most part, the ABC provides a tele-visual compliment to the content on radio JJJ at the expense of almost everything else. But then the ABC are not worried about ratings either...

Seeing as though Ten want to ditch the 24 hour HD sport channel OneHD, maybe they could try a 24 hour music channel and see how it stacks up...? Then again, if they've ditched Video Hits after 24 years, that idea will probably float like a brick...

* This ended about 4 years ago when ARIA, the company who issues the sales charts every week, decided they were enough of a recognisable brand name now and wanted to have their own marketable show with their name on it, and refused to give their charts to the ABC for Rage to compile the show. Now, saturday morning Rage is just filled with whatever the hell the programmers felt like selecting at the time.

Monday, 4 July 2011

100 Lps Shortlist #12: Sly and The Family Stone - "Stand!"

Sly and the Family Stone - Stand!

Sly and the Family Stone are the classic personification of 1960s egalitarianism. A funk-rock-psychedelic-soul-R&B band with a mixture of white, black, male AND female musicians, singing songs of joy and peace during the revolutionary hippy era.

Their fourth LP, "Stand!", released in 1969, 4 months before they appeared at Woodstock, is their finest moment.

It could be argued that only a band of this type, playing this kind of music could have come from San Francisco in the 1960s; a product of it's time, maybe. However, the music contained within is timeless. It still has the power to move hearts, minds and booties all these years later. It was unique-sounding then, and it still is now.

I first heard this one after I found a copy at my local Salvation Army store in 1994 for $1. It was scratched to the shithouse. I bought it anyway. Despite the surface noise created from years of neglect, the music was still powerful. "I Want To Take You Higher" and "Sing A Simple Song" hit like electric shocks - simply amazing.

Over the 8 songs here, you have flat out party jams in the form of "I Want To Take You Higher", pleas for equality in "Stand!" and "Everyday People", hope and positivity in "You Can Make It if You Try", pointed civil rights criticism with "Don't Call Me N*****, Whitey" and inner-city paranoia (the kind that would come to its full fruition on 1971's "There's a Riot Goin' On") with "Somebody's Watching You". The only real flat spot on the record is the 13+ minute instrumental blues jam "Sex Machine", which is about 8 minutes too long, however, still worth the listen.

Taken as a whole, this is one stellar collection. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Mark "Jacko" Jackson - "I'm an Individual"

Don't you just love it when a celebrity, like a film or TV star, makes a pop record? Some are quite ok, usually they are tolerable, but at worst they can be unlistenable. (We're not naming names here!)

A special category should be reserved for sports stars who release records. With the exception of a couple, including Aussie indigenous boxer Lionel Rose whose efforts are widely respected, these records generally suck.

In Australia, footballers usually have larger than life personalities, but the idea of the larrikin footballer is dying out, with outrageous behaviour being frowned upon now. For my money, NRL (rugby league) personalities are just plain awful. The VFL/AFL ones are much more hilarious, but no less stupid than their NRL equivalents.

Enter Mark "Jacko" Jackson, former St Kilda, Melbourne Demons and Geelong AFL player. The man made a splash outside the field with a few records in the mid-80s. The biggest of which was "I'm an Individual" from 1985.

This turned up on my random mix at home the other day and I was struck by the fact that this is a half-decent song. It's sheer poetry:

"I'm an individual, you can't fool me.
An Inda-bloody-vidual, you can't fool me.
I'm a genuine original, you can't fool me..."

Poetry indeed. I was also struck by irony of the lyrics at the end of the chorus: "Gotta keep an open 'cos I'm thinking all the time". Huh? Since when are you being paid to think? Since when DO you think?

Notice, dear reader, that I said it was a "half-decent" song. What followed from both Jacko and his colleagues never came close to such a lofty perch.

Jacko's follow-up "My Brain Hurts" is simply tragic. Although, that's nothing compared to musical travesty that is (Sydney Swans AFL player) Warwick Capper's attempt at a single "I Only Take What's Mine", which he released after "I'm an Individual" started heading skyward on the charts. But that is so bad that I wouldn't denigrate my blog by posting the video here.

Later on, Jacko went on to great fame as the guy in the Energizer Battery advertisments, which were a stroke of larrikin genius back in the day.

A few years later he released another musical travesty, with the aforementioned Wazza Capper in tow; a techno track called "Rippin' Undies" which is so bad that even YouTube doesn't have the video for (thank heavens!!!) and Wikipedia doesn't even acknowledge it's existence.*

If nothing else, he kept us entertained for a brief few moments. Good on yer, Jacko.

* Andrew Denton's Breakfast Show on Triple M radio in Sydney uncovered this one in their search for the worst songs of all time some years ago.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

100 LPs Shortlist #11: The New Pornographers - "Twin Cinema"

Who says a supergroup can't produce a great record? Who says they can't produce numerous great records?

By definition, a supergroup usually is a gross collection of over-inflated musician egos that collapses under the weight of its own hype (Blind Faith, I'm looking at you). They usually struggle to create a decent set of songs together, all the while being mindful of justfiying their own existence as a legitimate band as opposed to an ego trip.

Canada's New Pornographers have been labelled a "supergroup", however, justifying that tag is sketchy. About the only way they meet the criteria is that all the members are moonlighting in other indie bands or are working on their own solo careers. The band is usually a six piece, featuring alt-country, red-headed bombshell Neko Case, fellow red-head A.C. (Carl) Newman, (from Zumpano), John Collins (from the Evaporators), Dan Bejar (from Destroyer), Kathryn Calder (from Immaculate Machine) and Kurt Dahle on drums.

The reason I hesitate to apply the supergroup label to them is that in their music, these musos genuinely leave their egos at the door and come together to play their instruments in an effort to make the best music possible, as opposed to having a excuse to show off. With a number of great songwriters on board their music is beautifully written and pperformed, lushly textured and layered with a sound that always reveals something new with each listen. The melodic gifts of the members are amazing.

I heard about these guys while living in remote Western Australia a few years ago. With nothing good on radio and TV, being in the middle of nowhere, with a record store or two with nothing beyond the basic stock that every record store has (read: general crap), how do you discover cool new music?

Thank you,

Unfortunately now they have blocked Australian users, but back then, their list of eMusic Summer Essentials was inspiring listening. I bought "Twin Cinema" on a chance based on the review I read on this list, and while it didn't grab me first off, after repeated listenings the real charms reveal themselves.

Neko Case's crystal clear voice lifts songs like "The Bleeding Heart Show" and "Bones of an Idol" into transcendent territory, while "Use It" simply just kicks butt, with some choruses that are just out of this world. The songs here are uniformly strong and there's hardly a bad track here.

This is arguably their most consistent and strongest record to date. The two follow-ups "Challengers" and especially "Together" are also highly recommended, but this is the first high point of a still burgeoning career.


Monday, 20 June 2011

Who the hell is Mary?

So just who is this "Mary" person who Bruce Springsteen is always singing about?

One thing that has always fascinated me about Bruce Springsteen, more than music, was his fascination with this mystery girl. There's always something quite interesting about the stories he weaves and the emotions he conjures up in his music.

It's not like he doesn't sing about other girls. After all there's Sandy, Candy, Rosalita, Linda, Crazy Janey, Cynthia, Gloria, Maria and Sherry among others.

Some years ago, an uncle of mine was raving about Bruce and he mentioned Bruce's fixation with a girl named "Mary". For some reason, that conversation has stayed with me and I keep hearing this "Mary" character mentioned more and more when I listen to Bruce's work.

So who is she? In certain songs, such as "Jesus Was An Only Son", "Terry's Song", and "Linda, Let Me Be The One" the name "Mary" is used as a religious image, that of St Mary, mother of Jesus. However the same reasoning cannot be applied to a song like "Thunder Road", surely!

Given the fact that the name turns up as the protagonists girlfriend in a number of songs, from "Thunder Road" to "The River" to "The Rising" it makes me think there is more to it than meets the eye.

I think that maybe "Mary" isn't a real person at all. I think she is a character sketch, a fictitious entity, a muse. An intangible, non-existent woman for the purposes of fictitious writings. She would most likely be a composite character, someone who's experiences and behaviours and other details would be borrowed from real people and ascribed to this fictitious entity for the purposes of the song. Plus the fact that the name is easy to say - it just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Considering it turns up quite a lot in his work, I think the topic is worth more than an inconspicuous footnote in Bruce's biography...

Indeed, the man himself has been quoted, from VH1 Storytellers no less, as saying something to the effect of "Mary can be many people. A mother Mary, Jesus' Mary, a fictional Mary... pretty much... whomever you want her to be."

Here is a celebration of Springsteen's "Mary" below.

"Mary's Place"
"Thunder Road"
"Mary, Queen of Arkansas"
"The Rising"
"The River"
"Gypsy Biker"
"Bring On The Night"
"Car Wash"


Oh, and R.I.P Mr Clarence Clemons.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

100 Lps Shortlist #10: James Brown - "Funk Power 1970"

James Brown - Funk Power: 1970: A Brand New Thang



If there's one example of a performer whose accolades, hype and hyperbole are justified, it has to be James Brown. A self made man, self taught musician who redefined R&B, Soul and even changed the way we think about the use of rhythm in popular music.

He redefined the live concert as a life-changing force. His groove is the backbeat of every hip-hop and rap record ever made. He wrote, produced and recorded an insane amount of music during his lifetime, as well as writing and producing a number of records for other artists. He worked hard, and he expected his fellow musicians and staff to follow suit.

For all this, his recorded discography is a shambles. He recorded a number of essential singles, but die to their length, cut them down into neat 3 minute pieces and slapped one on each side of a single. His albums were often studio records with dubbed audience noise on them. His albums were, more often than not, two sides of his latest single combined with a bunch of older studio cuts leftover in the vault. Not only that, there sheer volume of material he released during his time (well in excess of 80 LPs) makes his catalogue almost impenetrable.

In the age of the CD, reissue specialists have sought to make sense of Mr Brown's disco-graphical mess, to the point where the best records of his to own are actually compilation albums. In 1991, the definitive boxed set "Star Time" was issued. However, for my taste, the best buys, by far are the 1996 compendiums "Foundations of Funk 1964-1969", "Funk Power 1970: A Brand New Thang" and "Make It Funky: The Big Payback 1971-1975".

These albums take the original single mixes of some of James' greatest jams, and presents them in their uncut, unedited, unfaded-out glory. Some of these are presented in genuine live cuts, but mostly they are just live in studio jams. They are all seriously cool.

The album in question here is "Funk Power 1970". This album highlights the white-hot funk ensemble that was the original JBs, that included drummer Clyde Stubblefield, bass player extraordinaire William "Bootsy" Collins and his brother Phelps "Catfish" Collins on guitar, among others. This album is one, solid, 78 minute funk workout, with 9 killer jams (including two different versions of "Sex Machine", the longest of which is 10 minutes), all cut live in the studio with the band jamming up a storm.

The great thing about these recordings is you get to hear the band stretch out and have fun getting into what they're playing. And you can tell it's live because you can hear James directing the band when the changes are coming. None better than the example of "Give It Up Or Turn It Loose", where the arrangement scales back to just James ad-libbing over a bongo player's groove. Then he calls the drummer in - "CLYDE!" and he falls in with 4 bars of the funkiest drumming you've ever heard before James calls for the bass player to lead the rest of the band back into the song. "Huh. Huh! Bootsy!"

Don't let the length of the tracks scare you off - the first version of "Sex Machine" is the shortest track here at just over 5 minutes. Most are around 6-7 minutes, with "Soul Power" being 12 minutes, "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothin'" is just shy of 15 minutes - you'll be dancing so hard you won't notice.

I defy anyone to listen to this album and not want to shake their backsides, even when sitting down. This is what dance music is all about. If you don't want to dance while listening to this, you either have no soul, you're dead, or your speakers are broken. Make sure you drink plenty of water because 70+ minutes is a long time to dance.


Monday, 6 June 2011

My first mix tape

I'm sure everybody over a certain age will be able to remember their first mix tape.

Over at Hidden Track, in a recent Friday Mix Tape, they surmised that everybody had a few of their choices on their first playlists. A couple of their selections came close to mine, but I didn't hear anything by the Grateful Dead for many years yet. (See their selections here .)

I thought that if I looked hard enough around my house I might be able to find a mixtape old enough to come close to being my "first" one that either was made for me, or that I had created for myself to listen to. (Pre-fab chart hits albums like "Throbbin' '84" and the like don't count.) As it turns out, all my old mix tapes (bar one or two later ones that I gave to my kids) I had thrown out before I moved to West Australia a few years back. I had to delve into the dark recesses of my mind to recall something...and here's what I came up with.

Around 1987, my uncle took a 6 month working holiday to Europe. He left his beloved '72 HQ Holden wagon with my dad to look after. The day after dad picked up the car, he presented me with something - a kings ransom of sorts; my uncle's in-car cassette collection. I listened, learned, discovered and educated myself about heaps of music that I'd never really heard before, and I made myself a number of mixtapes purely from this collection. Only one survived for a number of years, as I only had a limited number of tapes, and they had to be recycled in order to record more music. That original mix-tape is the oldest one I could remember and, although it didn't survive the great chuck-out of 2007, I can still remember most of the albums my uncle had in that tape box (as evidenced by the fact that I grew to love them all so much I bought copies for myself over the ensuing years), and the likely tracks I'd selected for my mix.

The selections that I can remember from the collection are below. It's pretty obvious that you could assume that I had "catholic" tastes at the time. But hey, what 11 year old doesn't? While a lot of this music was still fairly current at the time of the original compilation, it is now the type of music a dreadful commercial radio station like Triple M will play ad nauseum.

In this day and age, the art of the mix-tape is all but dead and buried. These days, it is replaced by "playlists" within iTunes. The art of sequencing and selecting the tracks in order not only to make them fit the length of the tape, but to get as much music on each side without the songs cutting out halfway through them (a common problem) and also to make it enjoyable to listen to from start to finish.

It's ironic then, that this recreation of the mix tape is presented to you now in a Grooveshark playlist...


What we have here:

  1. Beastie - Jethro Tull (from "Broadsword and the Beast")
  2. (I Love It When You) Call Me Names - Joan Armatrading (from "Track Record")
  3. Bad Boy For Love - Rose Tattoo (from "A Decade of Rock")
  4. Refugee - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (from "Damn The Torpedoes")
  5. The Number Of The Beast - Iron Maiden (from "The Number of the Beast")
  6. Under Pressure - Queen and David Bowie (from "Greatest Hits")
  7. Down Under - Men At Work (from "Business As Usual")
  8. Espresso Love - Dire Straits (from "Making Movies")
  9. School's Out - Alice Cooper (from "Greatest Hits")
  10. Things Don't Seem - Australian Crawl (from "Crawl File")
  11. Bustin' Loose - Moving Pictures (from "Days Of Innocence")
  12. Don't Do Me Like That - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (from "Damn The Torpedoes")
  13. Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Pat Benatar (from "Crimes of Passion")
  14. Go Your Own Way - Fleetwood Mac (from a commercially available classic rock Compilation album that I've forgotten the name of)
  15. More Than A Feeling - Boston (from a commercially available classic rock Compilation album that I've forgotten the name of)
  16. She's Not There - Santana (from a commercially available classic rock Compilation album that I've forgotten the name of)
  17. Stay Young - INXS (from "Underneath The Colours")
  18. Cheap Wine - Cold Chisel (from "East")
  19. Solid Rock - Goanna (from "Spirit of Place")
  20. Another One Bites The Dust - Queen (from "Greatest Hits")
  21. Africa - Toto (from a commercially available classic rock Compilation album that I've forgotten the name of)
  22. And She Was - Talking Heads (from "Little Creatures")

Monday, 23 May 2011

100 LPs Shortlist #9: Ratcat - "Blind Love/Tingles"

Quiz question: Who was the band who kick-started the 90's alternative rock revolution in Australia?

If you were thinking Nirvana or Silverchair, you'd be wrong.

In 1990, a small, start-up indie label with major label backing sprung up and started signing small bands from around the country - The Screaming Jets from Newcastle, The Hummingbirds, the Trilobites and Tall Tales And True from Sydney, Martha's Vineyard from Perth, all scored hits of various magnitudes, but there was one band from their initial crop of signings that went stratospheric...Ratcat.

Ratcat were instrumental in bringing the alternative/underground into the mainstream. They were an inner-city Sydney band, playing small venues and releasing independent singles and albums, and had done for about 4 years before they unleashed the "Tingles" EP in 1990, on the rooART label. It went gold in no time at all. The lead track "That Ain't Bad" was a noisy yet simple scuzz-pop gem that starts off quietly with just bass, drums and vocals, but when the chorus hits, the wall of guitars is so thick and heavy it's like a smack in the face. The rest of the record comes through with plenty of great cracking tunes, heavy on the noisy guitars with plenty of melody.

Noise-pop/shoe-gaze - or whatever the buzzword of the time was - bands didn't sell massive amounts of records, because critical acclaim doesn't often translate over into record sales. Ratcat's nearest contemporaries at the time would have been bands like Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Neds Atomic Dustbin, Dinosaur Jr, Inspiral Carpets and The Jesus and Mary Chain.

What's more, for any indie record to hit the mainstream charts and get airplay on mainstream radio in 1990/1, let alone an AUSTRALIAN one, was no mean feat. The only other local bands at the time to come close were The Hummingbirds and The Screaming Jets. And then, in 1991, things went nuts.

The biggest locally produced record of 1991 was their single "Don't Go Now" which hit number 1. In May the accompanying album "Blind Love" sold over 100,000 copies and the band was hot property, with their gigs filled by screaming girls everywhere. They quickly issued a live mini-LP by the end of the year and a rush-released follow-up in 1992 called "Insideout" but by the close of the year they star had faded.

Early in 1992, Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene became the biggest thing since the last big thing and Ratcat were quickly forgotten. Their massive impact in those early months B.N. ("Before Nevermind") has been played down by rock historians of the last decade or so and the band, while they have continued to gig and release records, have not scaled their once dizzy heights again.

The band are doing some shows to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their landmark "Blind Love" LP. Take a listen below to both the Tingles EP (the first 6 tracks) and the Blind Love LP (the rest) to remember how great they were.

Friday, 20 May 2011

100 LPs Shortlist #8: Anthrax - "Persistence of Time"

I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday...

It was 1996. Radio JJJ were hosting Jason Newstead of Metallica to premiere the first single from their first album in 5 years - "Until It Sleeps". I was sitting in my car, in the carpark of a McDonalds, chomping on a caramel sundae, en route to my next guitar student's house. I was listening to this bass-player berate anybody who'd dare to speak up against the mediocrity of the song. I'd missed hearing the playing of the song so I paid no real attention to the jibbering.

They played it again. And I hated it. I was upset and outraged on so many levels.

In protest at the perceived weakening of the bands resolve and of their muscular sound, I went looking for some real thrash metal. Enter Anthrax.

"Persistence of Time" is the last album of the band's first, some would say "classic", period. Lead singer Joey Belladonna would leave/be fired not long after this album. It also happens to be their darkest, heaviest and most pummeling record to date.

In 1996, post-"Until It Sleeps", my need for metal was satiated by this record. I moved from my Metallica fixation and onto other things from here. It's still a perfect car album. The goosebump-inducing into to "Time" is still great. The seemingly strange choice of cover version contained within of "Got the Time" by Joe Jackson is incendiary.

Anthrax would morph and change into the 90s and beyond, but this was a unequivocal high point in their career. They never left heavy music behind, but they never made a record this consistent again. Turn it up and MOSH!!!!!