My Essential 100 Albums – 8 Disraeli Gears by Cream

Released in November 1967 this was Cream’s second album and regularly features in lists of the top 100 rock albums.

After the blues influenced, softer Fresh Cream, their first Album, Cream embarked on a different, heavier, path.  This is, perhaps, the prototype for later heavy groups while Cream retained their blues feeling on tracks like “Outside Woman Blues”, “Take it Back” and “Strange Brew”.  This last owes a lot to “Lawdy Mama” using an Albert King type solo to such good effect.

The stand-out moments on the album come thick and fast. Not just the guitar work of Clapton, but also the innovative bass work by the recently departed Bruce.  Add to them the mesmeric playing of the wonderful Ginger Baker and here is a band that changed rock.  Even the strange “Mother’s Lament” has a quality and charm that endeared itself to young lads (me included) everywhere.  It was not only the musicians who were of the first order.  It was produced by Felix Pappalardi who went on to play bass in Mountain (taking Cream’s sound with him, some say).  The engineer was Tom Dowd who worked on “Layla and Other Love Songs”.  Mind you Dowd did have his off days, he also worked on the excruciatingly bad “461 Ocean Boulevard”

The album was their break through album in the USA, they were already popular and well known in the UK.  This is in spite of the album taking a mere 4 days to record, which is just as well as the band’s visa to the USA ran out on the last day of recording.

As I was compiling my list of essential 100 albums the actual rank for each one became problematic.  Is this really better than the George. Thorogood album at number 9?  It all depends on my mood, of course, but what I do know is that this is a great album and “Strange Brew” is a fine, fine rock track.

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My Essential 100 Albums – 7 The Original by Ray Charles

This just has to be in my list of 100 essential albums because it is the first record I ever bought!

 At 13 I had a Saturday job working in a hardware shop in Stokes Croft in Bristol.  At the time Stokes Croft was not the best area in Bristol and the customers seemed to consist of drunken men and shoplifters.  My job was to be the odd job boy and to serve the various down at heel customers who actually wanted to pay for things.  One of my other duties, as I remember, was to spend my time in the cellar unwrapping bamboo canes from their covering.  They came in large bundles done up with matting made from bamboo leaves.  I believe that they were imported from China, although that might be my memory playing tricks.  What is certain is that the bundles sometimes held things other than bamboo, exotic looking spiders.  As someone who is not keen on spiders you can imagine my delight at finding large, hairy spiders looking at me from the bundles.

 Anyway, the second week I got paid.  The first week I was told had been a trial (unpaid) day.  With my £1 in my pocket I wondered off to spend it.  That was probably as much money as I had ever owned and I never was one for saving.  Just down the road was a second hand shop with a stack of records outside.  Looking through I came across this record.  I knew nothing of Ray Charles but felt drawn to it. 

 I have always been lucky when it comes to finding good records, CDs, and artists.  Luck is really how I found Beefheart, Tim Fite, George Thorogood, Daniel Johnson and so many more. 

 I parted with my hard earned cash and took my record home.  Naturally, my parents did not like Ray Charles, I later realised that if my parents disliked or did not approve of someone I was probably on a winner!

And so it proved.  This is a tremendous record.  Previously the only song that really excited me was Fever by Helen Shapiro.  This one soared past that instantly.  It also introduced me to one of my favourite songs ever, Sitting On The Top Of The World.  I love that song in its many reincarnations by various artists.  There was also; Jack, She´s On The Ball, You Always Miss The Water, and St. Pete Florida Blues.

 The record was scratched and the sleeve bent, but it all added to it in my mind.  However, I must say that years later I found a pristine copy, complete with the original receipt from 1959 that I have to this day.

 Wonderful

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My 100 Essential Albums – 6 – Transformer, Lou Reed

transformer

My first experience of Lou Reed’s music was courtesy of John Peel’s radio show.  Late at night on an old Bakelite radio while reading in bed, typical teenager stuff.  The first Velvet Underground track I heard was (I think) Heroin, but it could have been White Light.  In any event, I was sold.

Following the death of VU Lou’s first solo album, Lou Reed, was OK but not earth shattering.  As with Transformer most of the tracks were old VU material.  The stand out tracks were “Lisa Says” and “Berlin”.  Transformer (November 1972) was where Lou really nailed it.

All the tracks stand up.  Many displaying the edge that Lou brings to all his writing.  For example, “Satellite of Love” is a love song that shows paranoia and jealousy in the middle section.   Walk on the Wild Side was the single from the album peaking at number 10 in the British charts.  There was even a dance sequence performed by Pan’s People on Top of the Pops, and very raunchy it was too, well, for the times…….

Perfect Day is a great song and is one of the few songs that has been covered by the original artist, and covered badly.  In fact, the cover made by Lou (and hundreds of other artists) for the BBC in 1997 is quite possibly the worst cover of all time!  As with a lot of Lou’s work the song is either simple and straight forward, or not.  Is it a pure little love song written out of love or does it reflect Lou’s relationship with heroin?  As it was used in the film “Trainspotting” the jury is still out and has not made a decision.

The album was co produced by Bowie and Mick Ronson.  There are rumours, never confirmed that Bowie wrote Wagon Wheel.

To conclude, this is the album that confirmed Lou Reed as a major rock artist.  In turn he became an icon of dissolute youth, he is often referred to as the grandfather of Punk.  It is one of the few truly indispensable albums.

 

Track listing;

Vicious

Andy’s Chest

Perfect Day

Hangin’ Round

Walk on the Wild Side

 

Make Up

Satellite of Love

Wagon Wheel

New York Conversation

I’m So Free

Goodnight Ladies

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My Essential 100 Albums – 5 Trout Mask Replica Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band

 tmr

Quite simply, this is the best rock album ever. 

Less simply, it is not really a rock album.  It is a bluesy, rocky, multi faceted, arty, album that is difficult to pigeon hole.  The only easy description is that it is clearly the work of a genius. 

 By now I think that I have nailed my colours to the mast.  I love this album, I have always loved this album.  I am one of those poor sad so and so’s who will quote lyrics from their favourite artists, Beefheart being one. 

 I bought this as soon as it came out.  I was so struck with it I played it to my mates the next time they all came round, they hated it.  It was quite some time before I met anyone else who admitted to liking it.  Throughout my life this album has been like a secret code known to only a few of us.  When out with an old girlfriend watching Wilko Johnson playing in a blues club in Blackpool – OK a room above a pub – we got chatting to a couple only to find that he was a secret Beefheartian.  The women rolled their eyes as we chatted about the albums, the sayings and the general wonderfulness of “The Captain”.

 He had actually run into The Captain in a restaurant after a show.  The Captain came into the restaurant where John was eating.  Naturally John went over to The Captain and said how much he had enjoyed the show.  When The Captain left he came over to John and gave him his napkin.  On it was one of The Captain’s drawings, and although it would be valuable (The captain being a collectable artist) Joh obviously treasured it.

 One day while cleaning his partner found the napkin, and, without thinking, threw it away!  Amazingly their relationship survived, but John recounted the trauma with great passion in his voice.  THAT is what being a Beefheartian means to us.

 So, what is so great about TMR?

 Released in June ’69 it was released on Zappa’s Straight Records label.  Zappa, who was a long term friend of Beefheart’s was also the producer of this mystifying album.  It was a double album with 28 tracks.  It is said that all the instrumentals were recorded in under 6 hours.  Having said that the band spent 8 months learning, writing, and practicing the songs.

 To say that they spent 8 months rehearsing may give a benign gloss to what was a brutal process.  They practiced for up to 14 hours a day.  The band was in a house the suburb of Los Angeles, rarely going out except for buying and occasionally steeling food.  They had no money.  Captain Beefheart was a tyrant.  He would pick on a band member and taunt and bully him into submission.  All band members suffered at his hands.  There are some that said the bullying took on a physical edge.  The atmosphere within the house has been called cult like with Captain Beefheart at its head.

 The music shows many influences, it has an obvious blues element as well as elements of free jazz.  There are more subtle influences.  Is that a guitar line from a Gene Autrey song? Yup.  Someone highlighted a melody from Mile Davis to me that I had not noticed.  There is gospel in there as well.  Captain Beefheart was catholic in his tastes, just like his old mucker FZ.

 Since its release (it was nota commercial success in the USA initially but it did fair better in the UK) TMR is always mentioned in the lists of the most important and best albums released, show me a list and I will find you TMR.

 As John Peel said said of the album: “If there has been anything in the history of popular music which could be described as a work of art in a way that people who are involved in other areas of art would understand, then Trout Mask Replica is probably that work.”

 

The only mystery is why it is only at number 5 of my list.

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My Essential 100 Albums – 4 – Music in a Dolls House, Family.

music in a dolls house

The first album by Family “Music in a Doll’s House” (1968) is a strange and wonderful thing. Roger Chapman is blessed with a distinctive, warbling voice. The band were all talented musicians including Ric Grech on bass and Jim King on sax being the most recognised.

Family released this complexly orchestrated album in 1968 and it has been included in lists of great rock albums ever since its release. The band went on to have other well received releases but suffered over the years with in-fights, fist fights and constantly changing personnel. The result being that I do not think that the band reached its full potential.

Having said that this first album was breathtaking in its majesty. I was never a fan of progressive rock but I regard this as more a jazz rock fusion thing, whatever the genre it has remained a firm favourite over the years. I can not imagine a CD collection that did not give me the option to listen to the sound of British prog/jazz fusion at its best.

Standout tracks, for me, are “Old Songs, New Songs”, “Mellowing Grey”, and “Me, My Friend”.

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My Essential 100 Albums – number 3 – Horses by Patti Smith

HORSES

Horses – Patti Smith (1975)

This was The and Glorious (to use her official title) Patti Smith’s first album and was released in December 1975. This album rescued me from a life in which I thought that music was dying, if not dead. I was blown away by the power and majesty of what she was trying to do.

The first track that I heard was Gloria. It was one of those moments that stick in your mind. “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine”. A glorious opening, unexpected, haunting and thought provoking. Then it opens up to a song sung by Van Morrison while he was with Them. By half way through the track I had forgotten the original version. It is one of those rare things a cover that supersedes and improves on the original. She owns that song.

There are several very song tracks on this album. Although always credited as a leading light of punk the album includes “Birdland” that reflects her mother’s love of Jazz. The lyrics for that song is based “A Book of Dreams” by Wilhelm Reich. The album also references Arthur Rimbaud. This was just another punk album it was made by someone with a love of classic rock, of art, and the art of words. During the following years Patti fell in love, fell out of love with the music business, and returned to recording and performing.

Always Great and always Glorious Patti’s first album was a statement of intent that she followed up magnificently with some seminal works. Most people’s catalogues would be enhanced if they produced even one album half as good as Horses. For Patti this was just the first in a string of wonderful recordings.

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My Essential 100 Albums – 2 Gone Aint Gone Tim Fite (2006)

220px-Tim_fite_-_gone_aint_gone

It is my quest here to establish those essential 100 CDs that I would save if the house is going up in flames. The first one to be saved is Strictly Personal by Captain Beefheart and His Magic band.

That was an easy, easy choice. The second was equally easy.

Gone Aint Gone by Tim Fite (2006)

This was a chance find in 2006. There was a guy on eBay in the UK whose cousin was The Edge in U2. The Edge used to pass him lots of promo CDs that had been sent to U2. Whether that was the truth or not I have no way of knowing. This guy was selling them off at ridiculously low prices. I used to buy job lots of 20 at a time. There was a load of rubbish and some real gems. I came across bands that were new to me including the excellent PK-14, Twinemen, and The Transplants. There was also a promo copy of Horses by the great and glorious Patti Smith.

Amongst the piles of CDs was a promo copy of Gone Aint Gone. This is a wonderful CD.

Tim Fite is an interesting individual. An American multi instrumentalist he is hard to pigeon hole. His past releases have run the gamut from alternative rock, hip hop, indie with a bit of country thrown in. In other words, you do not know what you are going to get, which can be off putting for some. He produced one album that was railing against consumerism. Instead of trying to make money out of it (like so many others) he released “Over the Counter Culture” free on the web. (Damn good bloke in my view).

Gone Aint Gone was his first album and it was released on his (?) Anti- label. Although there are a couple of musicians on it the album is mainly sampled from $1 CDs that he picked up in used record shops. The result is an oddly wonderful album. I have seen it classified as Rock, or Folk, or Hip Hop. I don’t care, it is just sublime.

As for stand out tracks, there are 18 of them. “I hope Yer There”, “No Good Here”, “If I had a Cop Show” are among the best, but. For me the best track is the one featuring Paul Robeson “I Kept Singing”.

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On This Day – In Car Entertainment

crysler record player 2On this day in 1955 Chrysler introduces a high fidelity record player that was to be available in some of their 1956 Chrysler, DeSoto, Dodge, and Plymouth models.  The unit played 7 inch discs played at 45rpm as well as the relatively new 16 2/3 rpm.  It was some 4 inches high and a foot wide and was slung under the dashboard.  If you ordered this option with your new car you also received a set of 35 classical records.

You may be surprised to find out that there were problems with the needle skipping as the car went over bumps in the road (Who’d a thought it?) and so the units were discontinued.  I have only a couple of thoughts ab out this;

One, how much would one of these units be worth now?

Two, if it is dangerous changing CDs while driving can you imagine the dangers involved in changing discs while driving?  It just does not bear thinking about.

Amazingly, the disc player remained as an option until 1961.

crysler record player

Here is a copy of the press release;

HI-Fl RECORD PLAYER
26555

CHRYSLER CORPORATION
Press Information Service
Detroit 31, Michigan
Tulsa 3-4500

For Immediate Use

HI-Fl RECORD PLAYER AVAILABLE FOR
1956 CHRYSLER CORPORATION CARS

columbia-open.jpg (19k)

DETROIT – - Highway Hi-Fi, a record player that provides music and speech as you go, has been developed exclusively for the 1956 Chrysler Corporation cars.

This novel addition to the pleasures of highway travel, specially designed by CBS Laboratories as an accessory for Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler and Imperial, was introduced today at the press preview of Chrysler Corporation’s new cars at the company’s Engineering Proving Grounds.

For driver and passengers who prefer the lively scores of Broadway musicals, Highway Hi-Fi provides the lilting and memorable tunes from the hit show, “Pajama Game.”

And if the children are restless on a long ride, Davey Crockett and Gene Autry are ready at hand to help keep them quiet.

Highway Hi- Fi plays through the speaker of the car radio and uses the radio’s amplifier system. The turntable for playing records, built for Chrysler by CBS-Columbia, is located in a shock-proof case mounted just below the center of the instrument panel. A tone arm, including sapphire stylus and ceramic pick up, plus storage space for six long-play records make up the unit.

Using a new principle of design worked out by CBS Laboratories, the player and position of the stylus on a record are not affected by the angle of a car, its highway speed, or even severe cornering. Tests demonstrate it is extremely difficult to jar the arm off the record or even make the stylus jump a groove.

The special records also developed by CBS Laboratories, are seven inches in size, transcribed on both sides, and pressed especially for Chrysler by Columbia Records. They give up to 45 minutes of music and up to one full hour of speech per side, A collection of six disks will be presented to customers with each player.

Making up the collection are Tschaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, Borodini’s Polovtsian Dances, Ippalitov-Ivanov’s Procession of the Sardar, the complete score of the Broadway musical show Pajama Game, Walt Disney’s Davey Crockett, Gene Autry and Champion, Romantic Moods by Percy Faith and his orchestra, quiet jazz by Paul Weston and his orchestra, Music of Cole Porter and Victor Herbert by Andre Kostelanetz and his orchestra, and dramatic readings from Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell by a cast of top Hollywood and Broadway artists.

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My Essential 100 Albums – The First One! Captain Beefheart

captain

The idea behind this list is for me to say which 100 albums I will take with me if I was marooned on a desert island or when I have to go to live in an old folks’ home (not that I am anticipating that in the near future). The prospect of paring my CDs down to just 100 essential albums is daunting. However, it is also quite intriguing, which albums would I just have to keep and which, however good, would have to stay behind?

The only self imposed rule is that most artists or bands would be restricted to just one CD. Obviously, that ‘rule’ will probably not apply to Zappa or Beefheart but will to most people.

Although later choices will be more difficult the first choice is easy.

Strictly Personal – Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. (1968)

I have written an article about this album or rather How I Met Beefheart elsewhere on this site. This was the first Beefheart album I heard and is an automatic choice for the essential 100 albums list.

Released in October 1968 I first heard it in 1969 when a friend gave it to me as he had bought it and hated it. It had a profound affect on me. It seemed like grown up music. I had listened to blues, firstly, as part of the British Blues Boom and later I had begun listening to the original bluesmen. This was different. It was not like the straight blues copies of the BBB, Beefheart had taken a blues and changed it. Ah Feel Like Acid is the first track on the album and it mesmerised me.

From Strictly Personal I went to the wonderful Safe as Milk, the first album by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. I was a Beefheart believer, sometimes disappointed, often mystified, but always a devotee.

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My essential 100 Albums

I like Desert Island Disks.  For those that do not know this radio show the premiss is very simple.  A celebrity is asked to choose just 8 tracks that they would take with them if they were to be marooned on a desert island.  Obviously, 8 tracks is a nonsense.  That is just too few.  So I have set my limit to 100 (albums, not tracks).  It is a great way to while away a few hours, actually, more than a few hours.

So far I have produced my top 40, probably, the list could still change.  In later posts I will explain why the albums are in the list.  Here is the initial List;

1 Strictly Personal Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
2 Gone Ain’t Gone Tim Fite
3 Horses Patti Smith
4 Music From a Doll’s House Family
5 Trout Mask Replica Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
6 Transformer Lou Reed
7 The Original Ray Charles
8 Disraeli Gears Cream
9 George Thorogood and the Destroyers George Thorogood and the Destroyers
10 Exile on Main Street Rolling Stones
11 Velvet Underground with Nico Velvet Underground with Nico
12 The Great 28 Chuckles Berry
13 The Complete Recordings Robert Johnson
14 Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin
15 Bitches Brew Miles Davis
16 It’s A Beautiful Day It’s A Beautiful Day
17 Punk Single Collection The Adverts
18 Berlin Lou Reed
19 We’re only in it for The Money Mothers of Invention
20 Howlin’ Wolf Howlin’ Wolf
21 Go Bo Diddley
22 Songs for Swinging Lovers Frank Sinatra
23 The Heart of Saturday Night Tom waits
24 Bringing it All Back Home Bob Dylan
25 Let It Bleed Rolling Stones
26 Revolver The Beatles
27 The Rise & fall of Ziggy Stardust etc. David Bowie
28 The Anthology Muddy Waters
29 Live at the Regal BB King
30 Marquee Moon Television
31 Back in Black AC/DC
32 Raw Power Iggy and the Stooges
33 Freak Out The Mothers of Invention
34 American Beauty Grateful Dead
35 Closing Time Tom Waits
36 Stripped Rolling Stones
37 With Eric Clapton John Mayall Blues Breakers
38 Nick of Time Bonny Raitt
39 Ramones Ramones
40 Saucerful of Secrets Pink Floyd
41 In the Court of the Crimson King King Crimson
42 Those About to Die Coliseum

I know I said 40, but the last 2 just had to be in the list somewhere and so have sneaked on at the end.  Those that know me will not be surprised by Beefheart being well represented at the top, or that George T and the Great and Glorious Patti is up there.  But perhaps they will be more surprised by Tim Fite. I will explain later.

 

Oops, just noticed, no White Denim, now that is a BIG mistake.

 

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