My 100 Essential Albums – 15 – It’s A Beautiful Day , by It’s A Beautiful Day

It’s A Beautiful Day , a supreme summer of love album, with attitude

its a beautiful day

Released in 1969 this is a tremendous album that rewards repeated listening and I can not imagine being parted from it for any length of time.  Perhaps that is a quick definition of an essential album.  When I picked up the album in a record shop I dismissed the claim on the back cover that David LaFlamme played violin like Hendrix played guitar. I was wrong.

Looking back it may seem strange that I loved this album while also loving Velvet Underground and Beefheart, but I do not think that it is that strange. It’s A Beautiful Day sounds like a quintessential Summer of Love album, but it isn’t. The songs have an edge. White bird was written by LaFlamme and his wife while living in a cold and wet Seattle while they were broke and had little food. “Girl With No Eyes” is beautiful love song but so sad. Other tracks are not Summer of Love at all even though It’s A Beautiful day were saddled with that association. “Wasted Union Blues”, “Bombay Calling” and “Bulgaria” all show the power of the band.

The stand out track is “Time Is” a lovely evocation of love. The intertwining voices of LaFlamme and the remarkable Patti Santos, sadly no longer with us, sums up It’s A Beautiful Day for me. A band of power and beauty, and a remarkably good live band. I saw them at Them at The Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music bizarrely held at Shepton Mallet in 1970. It’s A Beautiful Day more than held their own against the other bands appearing that included; Led Zeppelin, The Keef Hartley band (who were wonderful), Zappa and the remarkable Hot Tuna.

Those listening to It’s A Beautiful day for the first time may think that they recognise “Bombay Calling”. It is perfectly possible because it was used by Deep Purple as a basis for “Child in Time”.

 

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My 100 Essential Albums – 14 – Bitches Brew, Miles Davis

Bitches Brew Number 14 of My 100 Essential Albums

 

The Wonderful Bitches Brew

Released in 1970 Bitches Brew is a revolutionary album.  Davis moved from his previous “cool” and “modal” style into a freer, more rhythmic, improvising style.  To be honest I had not listened to much, if any, of Davis’ work before this.  I did not know that the use of multiple electric pianos, guitars, two or three drummers and two basses was revolutionary.  I just adored the noise that they made.  The expanded rhythm section provided a solid base for the soloists.

I did not appreciate it at the time but Bitches Brew included many wonderful musicians.  Mind you they had to be wonderful to be able to record this album.  The album itself took just 3 days to record and the musicians were called in at short notice.  As for rehearsals, there were a few, but not many.  It seems that the players were given a few hints about tempo, a few chords, maybe a hit of the melody.  Apart from some comments about the mood that was it.  Davis wanted to work like this so that the musicians had toi listen to each other while they played and give each other space.  It was very spontaneous and you can here Davis saying “keep it tight” at times.

In many ways I was prepared for this album, what with my love of Beefheart.  Trout Mask Replica had come out the year.  After TMR Bitches Brew, shunned by many of the more traditional jazz followers, seemed normal to me.  Normal in a very special way that is.

Bitches Brew opened doors for me into jazz and that would make this one of my essential albums, even if Bitches Brew did not stand up on its own as a fine album.  Through it I started investigating jazz and found Sun Ra, Coltrane, Chick Corea and others.  My life would be much less rich without this magnificent album.  All hail Bitches Brew, a gift to us all.

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My 100 Essential Albums – 9 – George Thorogood and the Destroyers, GT&TD

 Thorogood is good! George Thorogood and the Destroyers

george thorogood and the destroyers

Recorded in 1977 this was the first George Thorogood album.  Mainly blues covers with only two self penned songs it introduced me to the talent that is George Thorogood.  A love of blues shines through the playing.  It is one of those things, 10 bands can play the same song but you know instinctively which band really feels the music.  Add to that passion a deep talent and you get an album like this.

His influences are obvious, Hound Dog Taylor, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley.  You can tell from that list that this will not a willo’ the wisp, guitar twiddling, feint hearted album.  This is full on rocking blues of the highest calibre.

The riffs may be the same but the passion that he displays seem to make them his own.  The power of the music that this band produces explains why the album stands the test of time.  It is also why they have been one of my fave live bands for the last 35 years.

The Iconic “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” made its George Thorogood debut on this album and it no accident that it is a corner stone of his live performances and that it becomes better every time you see him play.  The same goes for “Ride on Josephine”.  Add to those two tracks standards like “You Got to Lose”, “Can’t Stop Lovin’”, and “Kind Hearted Woman” all played by someone who understands the music and you have the recipe for a stomping good album, and that is exactly what this is.

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My 100 Essential Albums – 13 – Led Zeppelin, by Led Zeppelin

My 100 Essential Albums – Led Zeppelin the eponymous first album

led zeppelin

 

Released in 1969 Led Zeppelin is album was recorded in 1968. It only took 36 hours of studio time to record which might have something to do the band paying for the studio time. The other reason it was quick to record was that a lot of the material were songs that Led Zeppelin had been playing on their inaugural Swedish tour. Also, some of the material was based on the Yardbirds’ numbers that Jimmy Page knew so well. To this day people complain that it was case of plagiarism. I remember one review comparing Led Zeppelin adversely to the Jeff Beck group as they were playing very similar stuff, both Page and Beck having been in the Yardbirds.

 

With the honourable exception of Chris Welch in The New Musical Express the album was panned by the music press. The press can maybe forgiven, it was the day of “super groups” but comparisons to Cream, The Jimmy Hendrix Experience were wide of the mark. This was not another over hyped group of musicians, this was a band that played rock music informed by the blues and folk. Led Zeppelin had to fight to prove their authenticity.

 

Whatever the press said Led Zeppelin was very successful commercially. We bought it in our droves. This was new, improved version of powerful blues rock. It laid the bedrock on which hard rock was built. More than that it was not just heavy, it was intelligent and very well recorded. Jimmy Page produced the album and had the sound he wanted in his head. One innovation was the way he arranged the mikes. Until then, with the exception of Joe Meek and a few others the mikes were in front of the amps, and that was it. Page did that but he also placed mikes back from the amps. He balanced the output to give a more ambient sound. It was like a breath of fresh air.

 

The music was arranged with dynamics used to produce light and shade. The music and vocals fitted together perfectly. The blues device of call and response was used with Plant’s voice echoing Page’s guitar. Page used a violin bow to produce the sounds he wanted. Where Vanilla Fudge was heavy they now sounded muddy and confused. Led Zeppelin, both the album and the band changed rock forever.

 

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My 100 Essential Albums – 11 The Great 28 Chuck Berry

My 100 Essential Albums number 11, The Great 28 by Chuck Berry

The Great 28

How could Chuckles not be in my 100 essential albums? This is a greatest hits album released in 1982. I normally do not like greatest hits albums. To me there is something wonderful about hearing a track in its intended place, in context. Besides there are usually some duff tracks on a greatest hits compilation. Not so with this one. I am not the only one who thinks that this is an essential album so did the people who put together Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. They had this marvelous collection of Chuck Berry tunes at 21. The only compilation that ranked higher was Presley’s “The Sun Sessions”

The album covers Chuckles’ first 11 years with Chess records and so does not include My Ding-a-ling (which is a mercy). As you can see from the track listing this is a wonderful album and really does deserve to be in anyone’s list of essential albums.

1. “Maybellene”

2. “Thirty Days”

3. “You Can’t Catch Me”

4. “Too Much Monkey Business”

5. “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”

6. “Roll Over Beethoven”

7. “Havana Moon”
8. “School Days”

9. “Rock and Roll Music”

10. “Oh Baby Doll”
11. “Reelin’ and Rockin’”
12. “Sweet Little Sixteen”

13. “Johnny B. Goode”

14. “Around and Around”

15. “Carol”

16. “Beautiful Delilah”
17. “Memphis”

18. “Sweet Little Rock and Roller”
19. “Little Queenie”

20. “Almost Grown”

21. “Back in the U.S.A.”

22. “Let It Rock”

23. “Bye Bye Johnny”
24. “I’m Talking About You”

25. “Come On”

26. “Nadine (Is It You?)”

27. “No Particular Place to Go”

28. “I Want to Be Your Driver” (from Chuck Berry in London)

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My 100 Essential Albums – 12- Complete Recordings, Robert Johnson

My 100 Essential Albums number 12 The Complete Recordings by Robert Johnson

robert johnson - number 12 of my essential albums

This is, for me, one of my essential albums because it really shows what real blues was all about.  Robert Johnson was the archetypal blues man.  Born in 1911, his family was run out of town by some white businessmen, he was brought up by his mother before being sent to live with his father.  Later he went back to live with his mother and her new husband.  Later on he became an itinerant blues player.

The real myth about Robert Johnson is that he went away for a few months and when he returned he was a much better guitarist.  The story, at the time, was that he had sold his soul to the devil in return for being a master guitar player.  It obviously worked!  Years later while listening to Johnson on the album “King of the Delta Blues Singers” Keef Richards though that there were two guitarists playing!  Hi death is also in keeping with the blues man myths.  He died in 1938, probably after drinking poisoned whiskey.  It was poisoned, it is thought, by a jealous husband because in keeping with the stereotypes Johnson was a hard drinking, hard loving man.

Back to this, one of the most essential albums.  It contains everything that Johnson recorded in 1936 and 1937.  This is what most people regard as the “true” blues.  There is the argument that Johnson does not represent the real blues because blues was a popular music form and so people like the Mississippi Sheiks (a dance band) would represent The Blues.  It is like saying that The Bay City Rollers were more representative of Rock in the latter part of the 20th century because they were more popular than say, The Velvet Underground.

Another reason why this is one of the essential albums of all time is that it is direct link back to type of music that has informed and influenced almost everything that came later.  The songs themselves have been covered by countless others.  Countless musicians have also cited this album as an influence.  Robert Johnson died nearly 80 years ago but he lives on through his music and this album is key to understanding his legacy.

Clearly, a remarkable album and one of my 100 essential albums

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My 100 Essential Albums – 10, The Velvet Underground and Nico

my eesential albums. number 10 The Velvet Undergound and Nico

 

In my last post about my 100 essential albums I explained that I had removed Exile on Main Street from the list because when I thought about it I did not think that it was one of those essential albums that I could not live without.

However, its replacement, The Velvet Undergound and Nico certainly is an essential album.  The only surprise to me is that it comes so low down the list.  Released in 1967 this is the banana album.  Designed by Andy Warhol the early covers featured a peel able banana skin which revealed a peeled banana underneath.  At the time some saw this as more to do with Warhol than the music.  How wrong they were!  Brian Eno was wrong when he said that although the album only sold 30,000 copies in its first few years “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band”.  His point about the influence that the 4 members (I do not count Nico) had has echoed down time.

For a young lad living in Bristol this album was a revelation!  No Moon and June, this was about drugs, prostitution, S&M, hurt, pain and loss.  It was the real music, real rock!  It was not a commercial success at the time, in fact it was almost totally ignored by the music press of the time.  I first heard tracks from the album while listening to John Peel’s radio show.  (I have so many things to thank JP for).  From the time I bought my first copy, this has been one of my essential albums.

The track listing is;

1.         Sunday Morning

2.         I’m Waiting for the Man

3.         Femme Fatale

4.         Venus in Furs

5.         Run Run Run

6.         All Tomorrow’s Parties

7          Heroin

8          There She Goes Again

9          I’ll Be Your Mirror

10        The Black Angel’s death Song

11        European Son

From raw noise to drones, from simplistic words to complex lyrics this album has it all.  Rolling Stone published a list of the 500 essential albums and this was the thirteenth.  It is a marvelous record, it launched Lou Reed and John Cale, it was the precursor to Punk, it made writing about real issues possible. The number of people who quote VU as being an influence is beyond counting.  This was, truly, a seminal album.  It really is one of my essential albums.

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My 100 Essential Albums – The Difficult 10th.

The plot so far is I am listing my 100 essential  albums so when they come to put me in an old people’s home they know which ones to take with me! Hopefully, not for a few years yet but planning is always good. The 10th on my list of 100 essential albums was to be Exile on Main Street by The Rolling Stones. I had begun writing the blog to say what is so good about this album. The thing is the more I wrote about Exile on Main Street the more I realised that it did not belong in a list of my essential 100 albums. Nice to have, yes but an essential album? No.

The really odd thing is that I find that I am feeling vaguely guilty about taking this out of my essential albums list. Yes, really. How weird is that? By the time I get down to the bottom half of the list of essential albums perhaps it will reappear. But if it is not an essential album and makes it at number 90 or whatever then I do not have 100 essential albums. In the meantime I will be reviewing my essential album list, are there any more that need to be dropped? Time will tell.

Until then Here is the updated list of my essential albums;

1 Strictly Personal                                                                                Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band

2 Gone Ant Gone                                                                                  Tim Fite

3 Horses                                                                                                 Patti Smith

4 Music From a Dolls 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 Velvet Underground with Nico                                                     Velvet Underground with Nico

11 The Great 28                                                                                    Chuckles Berry

12 The Complete Recordings                                                            Robert Johnson

13 Led Zeppelin                                                                                   Led Zeppelin

14 Bitches Brew                                                                                  Miles Davis

15 It’s A Beautiful Day                                                                      It’s A Beautiful Day

16 Punk Single Collection                                                               The Adverts

17 Berlin                                                                                             Lou Reed

18 We’re only in it for The Money                                                Mothers of Invention

19 Howlin’ Wolf                                                                               Howlin’ Wolf

20 Go                                                                                                 Bo Diddley

21 Songs for Swinging Lovers                                                      Frank Sinatra

22 The Heart of Saturday Night                                                  Tom waits

23 Bringing it All Back Home                                                      Bob Dylan

24 Let It Bleed                                                                                 Rolling Stones

25 Revolver                                                                                     The Beatles

26 The Rise & fall of Ziggy Stardust etc.                                   David Bowie

27 The Anthology                                                                          Muddy Waters

28 Live at the Regal                                                                     BB King

29 Marquee Moon                                                                      Television

30 Back in Black                                                                         AC/DC

31 Raw Power                                                                              Iggy and the Stooges

32 Freak Out                                                                              The Mothers of Invention

33 American Beauty                                                                 Grateful Dead

34 Closing Time                                                                         Tom Waits

35 Stripped                                                                                 Rolling Stones

36 With Eric Clapton                                                               John Mayall Blues Breakers

37 Nick of Time                                                                         Bonny Raitt

38 Ramones                                                                              Ramones

39 Saucerful of Secrets                                                           Pink Floyd

40 In the Court of the Crimson King                                  King Crimson

41 Those About to Die                                                           Coliseum

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My 100 Essential Albums – 8 Disraeli Gears by Cream

My 100 Essential Albums – 8 Disraeli Gears by Cream

One of my essential albums, Disraeli Gears

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

As essential albums go this is so automatic it should be illegal

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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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