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After The Gold Rush was the first Neil Young album released after his foray with Cosby, Stills, Nash and Young, enabling him to be shot into the limelight and the album to become of greater significance and prominence in the public eye. The album combined many of the elements of his CSNY work with some of his earlier pieces with Buffalo Springfield, with Crazy Horse backing Neil Young on many of the album's songs. This mixture of harder, grittier songs and country/folk acoustic pieces provides an interesting blend that helps to create a dynamic sound that can be different from one listen to the next. Although initially dismissed by some critics upon its release, again with Rolling Stone magazine dismissing it, as an unfinished piece of work, but this has slowly changed over time, and is now seen as a classic album, ranking 71st on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, Young's best showing on the list. And despite this not being the be-all-and-end-all, it does indicate the quality of this record, and despite it not appealing to everyone it is an album that is among the favourites in my collection.
And even though this album was originally meant to be a soundtrack for the non-starting film of the same name, the album holds up incredibly well, with the songs feeling cohesive and embodying much the same idea and feel to create an album with a singular goal. It is an expression of movement, love and youth, and album that tries to provide personal emotions and ideas at a level that can be provided easily in a lyric within a song. And the album itself does feel like a journey, with the opening track really feeling like a beginning, and for me Cripple Creek Ferry sounding exactly as I would expect a final track to sound, it has an air of finality, that is often lacking on many closing tracks.
I have always enjoyed Neil Young's work and his ability as a song writer has never been in doubt, and that point is clear here, with many tracks providing, as they should, multiple angles to a certain idea, or a suggestion of further ideas left unsaid. It is though still quite a light, enjoyable album, and includes many tracks that leave you simply enamoured with the unique (in a good way) vocals of Neil Young, whom I have always seen as a great vocalist, moving away from generic forms. And despite its short length, coming in at just over thirty-five minutes (the norm for many early Neil Young releases), it feels somehow complete, and not lacking depth or quality, which it has in abundance. Many albums can simply be seen as a collection of songs, but few are able to come away as a cohesive album, providing a degree of spontaneity and form at the same time, with the former something Young has always searched for in the studio.
1. Tell Me Why 2:54
2. After The Gold Rush 3:45
3. Only Love Can Break Your Heart 3:05
4. Southern Man 5:41
5. Till The Morning Comes 1:17
6. Oh, Lonesome Me 3:47
7. Don't Let It Bring You Down 2:56
8. Birds 2:34
9. When You Dance You Can Really Love 3:44
10. I Believe In You 2:24
11. Cripple Creek Ferry 1:34
Total Run Time - 35:15
1. Tell Me Why *****
The original Rolling stone magazine reviewer says that he feels the songs on this album are first-rate, but lacked a degree of polish and full completion, and perhaps that could be considered true, but then that is what this album uses to its advantage, providing something that sounds real and ragged, performances as they were meant to be heard. This track is a good example of that, with the opening line coming in seemingly too early at a slightly higher register than the rest of the song, but somehow feeling far more like an opening track on an album that can be personal to the listener. This idea of making it sounds slightly spontaneous and back to basics enables the listener to become more a part of the music and feel as if they are witnessing the formation of brilliance. The song itself though is really an expression of moving from youth to independence and responsibility, where life seems to put you down for your inexperience but still expects you to go out and provide something for society. But then it could also be seen as an expression of some of the problems with relationships, in that there can be a lot of compromise, when there is still something missing that perhaps makes this an imbalance of gain and loss. The backing is done with a prominent guitar strumming throughout the song, with a backing vocal coming in for the chorus, that although could be seen as a continuation of things used with CSNY, could also be seen as a call from a wide majority, more than simply from a singular entity.
2. After The Gold Rush *****
This to me and to many others is an expression of some of the environmental effects that modern society has caused, with 'mother nature on the run' from modern industrial society, with a rapidly growing population and slowly dwindling resources, something that has become even more critical today. The song is split into three verses, each dealing respectively with the past, present and future respectively, trying to show how things have changed from the obvious return to the children mentioned in the first verse going from laughing to crying, but despite these rather obvious messages and ideas, the song comes across quite well. The middle verse though does appear to be quite cut off from the others, taking on a far more personal tone, with the singer referenced rather than a wider picture, perhaps detailing some of the inwardly looking aspects that had appeared, forcing many to abandon a connection to nature. The instrumentation helps in a way to provide the progression, with Neil Young backed by a piano for the verses, and a horn solo coming in between the verses, to perhaps indicate the passage of time.
3. Only Love Can Break Your Heart *****
After the less personal song coming before this, we return to more relationship struggles. The song itself, at least initially, appears to be directed at the female in this relationship (or non-relationship), indicating that in a sense both are lonely and in need of a connection with someone else. And this idea becomes clear further in the second verse, where we are introduced to a friend trapped inside a dream, probably a part of the singer trapped in the back of his mind, unable to fully express himself. But it is really the chorus that provides any clear idea as to the main idea and theme of the song, perhaps being that he fears entering a relationship for fear of it breaking his heart, thus it becomes easier to avoid it and never have to feel that pain.
4. Southern Man *****
After the mainly acoustic pieces coming before this, we come to a song with a bit of bite, prompting the writing of Sweet Home Alabama, a retort due to this song and Alabama on Neil Young's next album Harvest. This put plainly is a decry towards the racist attitudes, past and present, of Alabama, asking them to pay them back for the damage and emotional harm that they have caused, in splitting and segregating members of society. The Southern Man in the song could perhaps be seen as a stereotype pointing towards a wider problem, or simply a call to all southern men, but then this is simply a minor point, and the message is pretty much the same. The song itself is dominated by a driving electric guitar, coming in with a couple of solos between verses, perhaps to provide some backing to the lyrics by indicating distortion of social equality. This though is still a great song even if the message behind is not fully grasped, as the driving guitar and continuous backing from the piano provides a near apocalyptic piece of music that gets the meaning across without the lyrics needing to be said.
5. Till The Morning Comes ****
After the longest song on the album, we get this short track that for me acts a bridge between Southern Man and Oh, Lonesome Me, which are worlds apart in terms of style and idea. It is a nice little track though, with a quiet piano part opening the track before being joined by the drums and vocals, and then evolving further on this on -line song that in terms of a film soundtrack would act as a connecting piece between the main source of plot.
6. Oh. Lonesome Me *****
For a cover, this is a brilliant track, taking the upbeat country song to more of a lamenting track punctuated by a harmonica part deftly played by Young. In terms of continuity, I guess this could be seen as a return to the ideas of Only Love Can Break Your Heart, with the singer going further within himself. If this can be seen as a continuation of pervious tracks, then in this instance the girl in question has moved on and has become far more independent, moving away from the singer to meet new people. And even though he is aware of the goings on, he remains away from the fun and locks himself in the past, looking back at a relationship that has either failed or never came about. But beyond this, this for me is one of the big highlights on the album, showcasing Neil Young's ability as a singer and musician, with the playing perfect for this track. And with the backing vocals coming in for the brief chorus line, we get a feeling of an almost angelic or ethereal sound, casting him as the centre of our attention and emotions.
7. Don't Let It Bring You Down *****
Neil Young once said of this song that it starts off quite low and then fizzes out altogether later on, but in a sense that is merely a piece of self mockery, as this is a great song, that has many sides. It can be seen as a reason to be cheerful for your own situation when others have it so much worse, or it can be seen as a song about trying to fix faults and problems that seem far from solvable. The chorus, alluding to 'castles burning (or turning)", perhaps indicates a sense of the indestructible showing frailty, and of course all of this can be related back to personal issues within or without a relationship. But then the chorus continues by looking for a positive in someone else that can help you escape this chasm of lose and loneliness, a major theme on this album. The instrumentation on this song is similar to many of the others, with the piano and drums acting as the dominated pieces, providing both focus and perhaps security, or simply perhaps providing a great laid back feel to the song, but still retaining a part of the dark downtown sound.
8. Birds *****
This song is very much the post-relationship piece, as with many songs leaving without regret and anger, simply wanting the best for the other, in this case looking to try and make them find someone who really cares for them, not quite It Ain't Me Babe, but along a similar line. Again though, with the idea of flying away, we are reintroduced to moving on and transitions in life, when we break away from past connections and people and look to start new ones, indicating that this is very much a young man's album. The remorseful vocal from Neil Young here though does really make this song, and provides what can only be described as sadness and regret at a loss.
9. When You Dance You Can Really Love *****
Continuing with distant and removed relationships, we have another song that despite going with a more rock based instrumentation, with the electric guitar and driving drum and piano parts, describes a love for someone that still is not close. The arrangement may indicate that, and although that may be a false pretence, the singer, continues to want to say something but never gets round to it, at least not in this song. But this track is mainly about breaking up some of the slower more acoustic/piano pieces for a slightly faster upbeat track that allows us to slip from one genre to another with ease.
10. I Believe In You *****
This for me is the conclusion of what can be seen as a drawn out love affair, with the singer constantly pursuing the girl in question, and here we come to a point where she is said to have made herself love him. But with the slow backing and vocals, we get the sense that this a relationship near its end so soon, with the singer looking to try and convince both of them that perhaps this can work whilst still knowingly talking about its faults. And perhaps the main thing that we can take from the chorus is that this is a man that has perhaps become to safe in his own self-desires that once he has succeeded in gaining them, the wait seems somehow slightly wasted, as it has not occurred in the fashion that he would have liked.
11. Cripple Creek Ferry *****
If there was one song on this album that should have closed it, it would be this, with the piano and drum intro, saying we are now at the end of the line, it is hard to properly put across but I see this as perhaps the best finishing track in terms of its suitability, as it is just perfect. Although it only runs for about a minute and a half, this is perfect, as a goodbye, as at our journey's end, we can't expect to have anymore, we have reached the conclusion of the main 'story' of the album and now let's turn our attentions elsewhere. The song is dominated by a simple piano and drum beat that continues throughout, allowing a degree of calm to end the proceedings. The lyrics are simple enough and act simply as a diversion to help us move on, they mean little (or do they?) simply describing a short scene on the Cripple Creek Ferry, but it is still the perfect final track, nothing more , nothing less.
When listening to this album initially, after listening to its follow-up Harvest, I was not entirely convinced as to its strength, but after a few plays, I got it, and the songs began to click. This is an album, not a group of songs, as previously stated, making it harder for the newcomer to get into, but by far the more rewarding for fans and those willing to approach it with patience and an open mind. This is one of Neil Young's best albums, although he has so many, and I am glad to have this album in my collection, easily a great purchase. And although it is not quite as commercial as Harvest, it has songs that go beyond some of the pieces on there, and provide perhaps a clearer picture of who Neil Young is. They are both great albums and both have there positives, and maybe even some negatives (maybe), but if you own Harvest, which I would recommend for first-time Neil Young buyers, then this should be one of your first stops afterwards.
Together Through Life marks the 33rd studio album release by Bob Dylan, and his third this decade, coming after what many see as one of his best trilogies of albums. First released to mixed reviews, with some raving about and others pushing it away as simply mediocre material, but then it still gave him a Number One album in both the US and UK, making him again the oldest man to reach the top of the album charts. And at the age of sixty-seven years old (when it was recorded and released), this is no mean feat with the charts dominated by far younger musicians, although this is not as strong on the album charts, as singles have again become more dominate with the advent of online music sales.
The album again returns to his blues roots, taking on many lines from older blues tracks and folk songs such as "If you ever go to Houston, you better walk right" from Midnight Special. But then this has always been part of the blues, with even early artists taking on lines, or guitar parts for their original songs, and long may it remain, as it provides a sense of history and depth that many other genres lack. The album itself was inspired after Dylan was asked to write a song for the film My Own Love Song, which turned up as 'Life Is Hard', prompting him into the studio experience to record a new album, Together Through Life.
The album itself is made up of songs mainly co-written by Dylan and Robert Hunter, whose previous combination for 'Ugliest Girl In The World' and 'Silvio' left something to be desired. But their partnership here seems to be of greater significance producing some great tracks, which came as a surprise to many fans, who were afraid of a return of some of the earlier outings, which would have prompted a sharp decline in quality after his last few albums. And in terms of his other recent releases, this has been compared most to 'Love And Theft', which was made up of mainly blues inspired tracks, but in a sense it takes some of the facets of 'Modern Times' also, with the larger arrangements and style of instrumentation. But then I love both of these albums, although many fans see 'Modern Times' as a far weaker outing (fools), and this evolution of style in the new millennium really does show what an enduring and great artist Bob Dylan is.
The main themes on the album have often been seen as a combination of love songs and credit crunch tracks, but in response to the latter, I understand that from Dylan's background in terms of politics, this would seem appropriate. But I would disagree, as this is built up as a blues record, with the CD coming with an early 1900s vinyl style front, and in the blues, living in a depression hit era is hugely prevalent due to the time frame for the major early blues artists, and this is simply a continuation and expression of that in a modern style. His is simply renewing old ideas and making them his own, and the results may indicate perhaps some political ideas, with Dylan originally saying that he felt the change Obama could bring was needed. But he as a person has turned his back on that and I as such would not view some of the tracks in the way some critics have seen them, they should know better.
1. Beyond Here Lies Nothin' 3:50
2. Life Is Hard 3:39
3. My Wife's Home Town 4:15
4. If You Ever Go To Houston 5:48
5. Forgetful Heart 3:42
6. Jolene 3:50
7. This Dream Of You 5:54
8. Shake Shake Mama 3:37
9. I Feel A Change Comin' On 5:25
10. It's All Good 5:27
Total Run Time 45:33
1. Beyond Here Lies Nothin' *****
The album opens to great accord, with this song that got some air play on a BBC Radio 2, among others. The song is more of a gypsy band song, incorporating an accordion, which plays a huge part in the instrumentation of the album, moving us from highs to lows and filling a few gaps in the vocals. But this here is really a ragged run through of a basic blues lyric, with Dylan producing some great vocals, which many would instantly pass on, but it needs a few listens and an open mind for true appreciation of this incredibly skilful vocalist. And he is, as he can produce some great emphasise on lines that matter and produce some great emotive pieces, which is clear on this song that deals with the fruitlessness of moving on from what I assume to be a relationship that has broken apart.
2. Life Is Hard *****
Life Is Hard then brings down the mood a bit, but remains with a similar idea, and produces a great song that slowly ambles down the street as we discover and relate to the hardships of life, and the loss of a love that has since passed. The backing here is dominated by a jangling guitar that rattles throughout the track to give it a lament-like feel, with Dylan trying to pick himself up as he remembers the past and fears the future. I would connect this song to some extent to the likes of 'Ain't Talkin'', which deals with the same ideas and has a similar feel, as if Dylan is simply walking down an empty street thinking to himself.
3. My Wife's Home Town *****
We then return to a track that does feel a bit more bluesy, with a lyrics that simply builds to 'Hell's my wife's hometown', which doesn't really do justice to the simmering track that Dylan pointed out as a nod to someone he knows. This track though, as many have pointed out, does perhaps show some of the enjoyment he has for recording and his music, with his little chuckle at the end of the track that makes for a fine finish. The lyrics itself though is simply an expression of some of the pressures of marriage and dealing with women, a them that is perhaps the dominate one on the album, as most of the love songs of Dylan's recent albums do tend to deal with loss and separation, rather than joy. Although this is perhaps understandable considering some of the marriages and relationships that he has had in his life. As with many blues-based tracks, this is full of great one liners, that help to move the song along at a great pace and provide a degree of discord that adds to the overall feel.
4. If You Ever Go To Houston *****
This is a slightly different song, which seems to amble round a number of subjects from women to life in general, as Dylan goes off in search of his girl. The backing on this is similar to some of the other tracks, allowing the Dylan vocal to come to the front, and the instruments simply moving with him and filling in some of the breaks. The main feel and idea that I get from this album though, is a sense of movement away from the past and into the future, which is evident in both the music and the lyrics, as we move away from past loves and past experiences. This song is a good example of that, as Dylan appears to try and turn away from some of his past relations and take on new found friends and horizons, whether this is indicative of his true feelings I am unsure, but that is how I see this album. But something similar can be seen on his other recent albums, as he was able to get away from some of his weaker albums and come in strong, looking to avenues that were both new and old, whilst still evolving and changing his own sound as the years passed.
5. Forgetful Heart *****
I see this as one of the great highlights on the album, notably for its opening, with the rattling symbols and opening guitar part that permeates in and out of the main track itself. But this is more of Dylan song of old, but with his modern stylings and vocals, which gives it a degree of history and knowledge, with Dylan acting as the old sage warning others not to make some of the mistakes in love that he has made. As you may have guessed from the title of the song, this deals with Dylan trying to force himself to forget someone, urging his heart to try and move on to try and find a new love, but he still lives with the pain. This is another song that is filled with great one liners and verses that show why he is seen as having a great revival in form.
6. Jolene ****
This song for me sticks to a similar style that has worked on the others, but I am not as convinced by the lyrics, which does seem to be a bit more of a lapse and falls into a few traps and lines that Dylan can usually avoid. But it is not a bad track in all honesty and does help to split up the two great tracks that surround it, and in many cases an album needs a weak track or two to help the better songs shine and to break up some of the good tracks. But as I have said, for many this would be a classic, but on this album, it sits as one of the weaker songs.
7. This Dream Of You *****
This is seen by may fans as a Dylan classic, up there with his best tracks, and I would agree to an extent, as the lyrics are great moving from the subtle to the beautiful, but then for me the backing, with the violins and other instruments, needs a slight rework, but that still hardly detracts from this great track that really does grow on you the more you listen to it. The instrumentation does expand further, but sticks to much the same low-key style, which is suitable for the lyrics and the vocals which emote a sense of failure and fallibility, as the world conspires against the singer. It is again though a love song that deals with lose and how he copes with that, still perhaps stuck in the past, but perhaps wanting to move away from it.
8. Shake Shake Mama *****
After the rather morose This Dream Of You, we get this great fast paced blues track, with some of the best instrumentation on the album, which helps to build on the dynamic vocals that go from the deep and powerful to the light and happy. It is a song that simply deals with a love that is living and strong, which is somewhat of a change in the tone of some of the other tracks, but makes for a fine counterbalance, that I would rate on any Bob Dylan album. There is little else to say about this great track, that is again filled with some great one liners that mix together perfectly to produce a song of such strength, that it makes for an incredible pairing with the next track.
9. I Feel A Change Comin' On *****
Leaving one of the best tracks on the album near to the end of the album, allows the listener to be further bowled over by his lyrical and vocal ability that he has changed and developed over almost fifty years. This is a great song that is probably the inspiration for many seeing this as a credit crunch album, as it has a similar title to that of Obama and co, but don't be deceived as it is more of a love and life song, a personal song that couldn't care less for politics. The backing again here is top-class, as with the majority of the songs, and this is perhaps due to the sheer quality of his backing band, but it is so well arranged and so dynamic that it really develops this track into the classic that it is. If I had to take one track from this album, then it would be this one, although many fans would disagree, but I still believe that the sheer quality of the lyrics and the instrumentation makes this the biggest highlight on this great album. It is a song that says, 'I don't care about anyone else', this is a song about a love that is beyond the rest of the world, and even though he may lack what others have as he claims, he still feels the richer, which may sound cheesy, but here it never even comes near that.
10. It's All Good ****
After the lyrical delights of the previous track, we come to this song that much in the same vein as Jolene in terms of style is a good track but not one of the best on the album, with less great one liners and continuity. But despite this it is an interesting end to the album, providing another side of life than that which has been shown so far, dealing more with some of the darker things in life, although done in quite an upbeat way that provides a bit of a class that helps to provide a degree of unheard dissonance that I quite like.
Overall, this album can be seen as the fourth outing in what was seen as the modern Dylan trilogy, taking in Time Out Of Mind, "Love And Theft" and Modern Times, and while this is a different album in terms of style, it is still a continuation of the blues rediscovery he seems to have had in recent times. And for any fan this is great, as many see his as at his best when he is doing blues tracks as with Highway 61 Revisited and the like, and with his changing styles and genres, a degree of consistency is nice, as he is able to explore different facets to one genre, enabling him to provide the Dylan touch that makes him the musical legend that he truly is. And although this album will not be to everyone's tastes, I would urge anyone with even a passing interest in some of his modern material to give this a try. And even once you have done that, I would try and listen to it a few times, as I only really fully understood this album after a few listens, although this is the case with so many classics.
I am in all truth, no great fan of rock critics, many of whom either rely upon flattering their own ego to produce a piece of musical criticism that usually falls into simply stating faults and then adding a couple of lines relating to positives. This though can also be reversed, with the positives given and the negatives pushed under the rug, and yet even though I do admit that I would do much the same in many cases, the review that Rolling Stone Magazine, (previously) one of the most respected rock magazines around, gave for Harvest by Neil Young seems to me more self-indulgence than criticism. The rock critic who rated this review panned this album on far too many levels, when it is now, rightly, seen as a brilliant piece of rock history and now sitting as No.78 on the Rolling Stone Magazine 500 Greatest Albums, retribution if there was any.
The album itself though was Neil Young's fourth solo release, coming after his highly regarded After The Gold Rush, a great album in its own right, but differing somewhat in its style to this. It managed to reach number one in the charts, on its way to becoming the best selling album of 1972, and it is perhaps because of this success that many critics fail to fully give credit to the album. And in many ways this success was a result of the more commercial sound and style, with the hit single Heart Of Gold an indication of this, although success is often warranted and in this case I believe it is justified.
The songs on the album focus for the most part on more folk-rock stylings, with a couple of tracks dominated by the orchestral sound of the London Symphony Orchestra and another couple more electric guitar driven. But the highlights on the album are really the more folk, acoustic numbers that bring Neil Young to a level that becomes far more personal and inviting, bringing in the audience and allowing them to become more involved within the songs, allied equally with the personal lyrics eloquently sung by Young. It is an album of highs, with only minor lows, but even then there are still positives, and that is what makes a great album.
He is often compared with Bob Dylan for his lyrical prowess and some the stark similarities in their music, but from this album some of those ideas are proved, whilst many are removed. For me this record at some points becomes disjointed in its change of style from the orchestral to the back-to-basics guitar songs, but in doing so, the record becomes more of an experience and a journey, with the listener not allowed to simply sit back and let it flow through you, forcing them to really listen to the tracks and the lyrics. And it is the lyrics that shine through, with the great vocal stylings of Neil Young softly billowing them out, they are personal lyrics about life, and it is from vocals that this becomes more evident.
1. Out On The Weekend 4:35
2. Harvest 3:03
3. A Man Needs A Maid 4:00
4. Heart Of Gold 3:05
5. Are You Ready For The Country 3:21
6. Old Man 3:22
7. There's A World 3:00
8. Alabama 4:02
9. The Needle And The Damage Done 2:00
10. Words (Between The Lines Of Age) 6:42
Total Run Time 37:11
1. Out On The Weekend *****
The album opens much as it continues, with a light steel strung guitar playing over the beating of the hypnotising bass drum, it is an album with a backdrop, make no mistake. The song itself is an expression of moving away from simple horizons, looking to gain some place in society, taking yourself from the joyless lonely boy to man with someone to love, with a purpose in his new home and life. It is not so much about new beginnings, as it is about new found recognition, although not necessarily artistic. Neil Young has written many songs about near distant loves, woman not quite in the picture but still in your mind, and this is one of those, with the references to a life untold in greater detail, it is what is left unsaid. The backing behind the vocals and lyrics though do give it a suitable feel, taking on a Nashville edge with a bit of country and folk mixed into a slightly more lyrically complex song than otherwise may have been seen.
2. Harvest *****
The ideas in this song continue in a similar vein to that of Out On The Weekend, with the singer taking the role of the outcast lover, sitting in the shadows, while the girl in question leads a life beyond his. The song itself does feel quite country, with a certain rhythm and backing that adds a greater level of depth to the history and the back story of the song, giving it a sense of time and place, beyond modern living. He takes on the role of the parent, perhaps comparing himself to the girl's mother in the first verse, calming any nerves they have and providing some answer to their desire. Although in a sense this does seem quite out of touch with the idea of love and desire, but it does seem to be more of a selfish love, yet sung in a tone that states otherwise.
3. A Man Needs A Maid *****
This is the first of two songs on the album that take on an orchestral backing for the most part, although this is by far the better, with a lyric and feel that seems far more convincing. At first I was not quite sure about this song, considering it one of the lesser pieces on the album, but after quite a few listens, probably about twenty in the period of three days, I began to see this as one of the big highlights of the album, taking on a life that moves beyond some of the mere formalities of the other songs and taking you to a level that few can reach. The idea behind the song does at first glance appear to be quite anti-feminist, in that the woman he desires can look after his house and him, while he lives a life away from her. But then the song develops and we realise that it is slightly more than that, and we again return to this idea of dependency, when he sees an actress in a film playing a maid, with whom he falls in love. Whether this idea is a simple one I am not sure, but considering the idea of an actress, we again move into the idea of roles that are not our own, in that he wants a life where he is dependant on someone else, which is perhaps not really the role he is destined to hold. For me this is a complex song to quite pin down, but the orchestral backing seems to give it somewhat of an ethereal quality, with the lyrics becoming almost other worldly and falling away from some of the perhaps more obvious ideas, and yet still remaining unfixed. I do know that perhaps my ramblings may be taking some of this too far, but for me this is a great song that I would urge people to listen to a few times to truly grasp the meaning and quality of the song.
4. Heart Of Gold *****
After the haunting beauty of A Man Needs A Maid, we come to perhaps the most famous song on the album, which again returns to the folk feel of the first two tracks, although this time in a greater fanfare. It is a song about the singer's inability to find someone to love, whilst the years slowly roll by, a song about insecurity in yourself. The idea of a Heart Of Gold does conjure up images of someone that is pleasant and caring, giving to those that need it, and this song does in a way capture that, he seeks something that is perhaps unreachable, as I have never met anyone that I would reasonable say were suitable for some of the qualities Neil Young has decreed necessary. But then as a love song about love unfound it is a great track, combining a feeling of loss of inward turmoil in the chorus and harmonica, with a more uplifting sense of joy and freedom in the verses.
5. Are You Ready For The Country *****
The song begins with an almost out of place piano introduction that seems to loss pace before moving into the main song itself, but then this is suited to the style of the song, relating to the slightly haphazard life of the country described in the lyrics. Whether it is a simple jibe at simple country life, or perhaps a reminiscent look at life in a more peaceful way of life, I am unsure, but I would have to lean towards the former. The slightly looping guitar makes this for, giving a sense of instability, and as Young had just bought a ranch, something that returns in the next song, you would assume that it relates to some of the eccentricities of country life and the people that live there.
6. Old Man *****
In a few introductions to this song, check out the version at the BBC, he says that the inspiration for this song came from buying a ranch from a pair of lawyers. And when he went to visit the ranch, he saw an old man that looked after it when the owners weren't there. It is quite a complex song, with subtle hints and ideas expressed in each line, none of which really give a great sense of continuity, more an expression of mind set and the formation of faults in himself. The song itself seems to be directed at the Old Man in question, with the main message being that even though they are separated in years, they are both connected with the same need for love and companionship (probably for a woman). But for me, the line that is the most expressive, is one of the first, "Old man look at my life - twenty four and there's so much more", telling us that even though they are connected, Young still has time to fulfil himself, and even if this is perhaps a snipe at the Old Man, it is an expression of hope for the future. Even if it is related to lost love, it provides a sense of spiralling out of control without a care, whilst still retaining hope for a future that is still unseen and unknown. The instrumentation on the song, which I have up to this point near enough forgotten, is in a similar style to Heart Of Gold, without the harmonica providing a counterpoint for the vocals, which themselves express so much.
7. There's A World ***
This for me is far and away the weakest track on the album, taking on the orchestral backing of A Man Needs A Maid, but to a much greater extent, which is to its detriment. And the backing would be fine if only for some return to form in the lyrics, but they seem to linger too much and go to a place that is removed from much of the album. It has been compared to the stylings of a Moody Blues track in terms of its optimism, which it does seem to have for a world full of nature and life, but this for me is a step too far in the wrong direction. It is bearable, but for me this is the weakest track on the album and does mean that falls away from it perfection thus far.
8. Alabama *****
This track again moves away from the Nashville style and takes on more of a rock tune, with the electric guitar, piano and drums taking us to a more upbeat and in your face track. I quite like this though and it does provide a view onto another side of this album, removing it from some of the lighter tracks and adding some meat to the record. The lyrics do seem to describe an Alabama that has so much hope and potential, but insists on remaining in ruins and disarray with the line "the devil fools with the best laid plans", opening the song to the main idea straight away. I have never been to Alabama, or claim to know a great deal about it, but this song seems to indicate that there is (or was) a great sense of community and hope, but little in terms of progress and results. But the instrumentation is really the key here, taking you to a place that is very much America, in terms of its hope and undying love for the country.
9. The Needle And The Damage Done *****
This song is the only live song here, recorded at UCLA, but you don't realise that for the sound quality until the songs conclusion when we here the rapturous (and rightly so) from the listening crowd. The song itself is a lament about how heroin has destroyed and killed so many great musicians, something stated during the introductions to this song in a few early shows. It was originally written for Danny Whitten, the guitarist in Crazy Horse, who later died because of his addiction, but it really does capture a sense of generalisation, an idea that was hinted at in Live At Massey Hall 1971, where he indicated that heroin was responsible for the fall of many young, up-and-coming musicians. And although the song is short, coming in at just around two minutes, it speaks volumes for the addiction of young men on drugs, and the damage that it causes. It is a song that knows before it has happened, the addict will set, like the "setting sun", it is a lament for something that is definitive. One of the best songs on the album, but I always want it to continue beyond its short life, and expand for the sheer power of the song.
10. Words (Between The Lines Of Age) *****
This has been called an extended guitar workout with The Stray Gators, the band Neil Young worked with for this album, but it is more than that, with the lyrics developing into an extension of some of the tragedy of the previous track and expanding it, I feel, onto youth. The lyrics themselves are completely non-specific, not dealing even with genre, and yet this suits it, giving it a quality that few songs or even song writers can reach, in that the song says far more than the lyrics ever truly put across. The gaps in the vocals, where the guitar comes in is necessary for the lyrics to gain some hold on you, making you think and consider, whilst still providing a near psychedelic instrumentation. This is a song that again does need a few listens for a true appreciation to develop, but I have always felt that that is no bad thing, as it allows you to become more of a part of the song, and in many cases my favourite songs develop in this way, going from mediocre pieces to masterpieces.
Overall, I would recommend this album to anyone, as it is probably one of Neil Young's most commercial albums, although it goes far beyond that, allowing anyone to enjoy, but few to really grasp unless that take some patience with it. It takes on so many shapes, in terms of the instrumentation, from orchestral to full on rock, allowing the user to be taken on a meandering journey that takes on a great deal of personal ideas and beliefs of Young. We are (or at least led to believe that we are) allowed into the mind of Neil Young and some of his insecurities as a person, which produces some great lyrics as it so often does with great song writers, with Blood On The Tracks coming to mind in this instance. There is little more that I can say other than that I would wholly recommend this to anyone, although most so to those that have some belief in the quality of song writing and the ability to form a great song around the lyrics.
The Rolling Stones are often seen as one of the greatest bands ever, being called the 'world's greatest rock 'n' roll band', something that I would quite easily agree with. They are a band that can transcend musical barriers taking on many genres and styles and making them their own through their deft musicianship and song writing ability. Often lambasted by the media, but never truly taken aback by it, they have come back from weak albums to put in some of their best work, and this album is an example of that, released in 1978, coming after a string of three albums that were good without coming into the same bracket as the likes of their late sixties, early seventies material. It is now seen as a highlight of their post-Exile On Main St. material, with a collection of songs that take in rock 'n' roll, country rock and some disco influenced pieces as well.
As a complete package, this is an album that can transcend decades and feels as strong today as it must have sounded at the time, taking you through a musical journey that brings in some of the elements of their earlier work, whilst bringing it to a more contemporary standpoint. And it is perhaps because of this fact that Some Girls is the Rolling Stones' best selling album in the United States, selling over 6 million copies, a feat they couldn't really manage to match in the proceeding years. But despite this, or maybe as a result of this, the album was caught in a few controversial issues, with the cover of the album being the main and most obvious one. The reason for this controversy was the use of celebrity figures on the front and inside, dressed in rather uncompromising outfits, many of whom complained, leading to their removal and replacement with the message, pardon out appearance cover under reconstruction. The other main controversy besides the album sleeve, was a line from the title track Some Girls, relating to the sexual activities of black girls, drawing criticism from many groups and artists, although Jagger later claimed that it was simply a parody of racist attitudes.
The sessions for the album were some of the Rolling Stones most prolific, yielding over fifty tracks, although many would turn up later on Tattoo You and Emotional Rescue in reworked forms. This has led to a number of bootleg releases of some of the songs from the sessions, such as Some Girls Sessions and Some Girls Outtakes, many of which I would recommend for fans of the Rolling Stones or their work at this time. The sheer amount of material may have been a result of Keith Richards desire to return to music again after the problems he was facing after his drugs trial, claiming the situation had forced him to put things into focus. And this is clearest on Before They Make Me Run, a song about some of the problems he had faced in his life, although it does at face value appear quite unapologetic about some of the things he has done.
1. Miss You 4:48
2. When The Whip Comes Down 4:20
3. Imagination 4:38
4. Some Girls 4:36
5. Lies 3:11
6. Far Away Eyes 4:24
7. Respectable 3:06
8. Before They Make Me Run 3:25
9. Beast Of Burden 4:25
10. Shattered 3:47
Total Run Time - 40:45
1. Miss You *****
This version of the song, which runs to about four-and-a-half minutes is about four minutes shorter than the 12'' single version, which although is slightly annoying as it is always nice to get a bit more for your money, does mean that this is more of an hard hitting piece. The song itself is heavily influenced by disco, with a focus on the rhythm section from Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, the bass line from the latter really making the song. The lyrics from the Jagger are as you would expect from the title, talking about Jagger sitting around waiting for some response from a girl, and although these don't inspire a great deal of confidence, the way Jagger delivers them gives it more of an edge. It gives it a run-down feel, walking through the streets on a dark night with the neon flashing around you, and though this is perhaps heavily disco based, the more rock based tinge they give this song makes it a great Rolling Stones track.
2. When The Whip Comes Down *****
The lyrics to this song seem quite strange for such a heterosexual group, notably from Mick Jagger, but this song about a gay man who goes from Los Angeles to New York, where he becomes a garbage collector. The lyrics themselves do seem to indicate that he eventually becomes a male prostitute, but this is never really said explicitly, so I am still unsure. But despite these strange lyrics for the Stones, although I think it is simply a product of American culture, the song is a good one, with a driving guitar and drum line that make this feel like quite an epic track. The song keeps building with the drums as the forefront, driving the band along, peaking at the final chorus with the harmonies and shouts from Jagger.
3. Imagination *****
This is a cover of a song originally done by The Temptations, and was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, and gives the smooth soul track a big reworking, with a stronger vocal part and guitar driven backing. And for me, although I am no great fan of soul music, this is a huge improvement, moving away from the slow drag to more of a rock piece. The harmonies on the chorus though are kept, and they are quite prevalent on this album with Richards and Wood backing Jagger on most songs, which I feel adds to the songs as a whole and gives them more of a group feel.
4. Some Girls *****
Despite this being the title track of the album, it is probably one of the most controversial, describing some of the facets and stereotypes of various women. The song though does begin quite lightly, simply talking about generalised ideas, such as wanting children or jewellery, but it then moves towards the stereotypes, although in parody, of girls from various nations and backgrounds. The backing is again dominated by the guitar and drums, with some slightly smoother guitar, not falling into the harder drawls of some of the songs. It is though a pretty good song, due mainly to the instrumentally backing, which despite being the case for the album, is for particularly evident here, with the group coming together to create a feel that is more in keeping with some of their earlier work.
5. Lies ****
This song is simply the male half of a relationship complaining to the woman about the lies she tells and her cheating, done in a hard rock style, with driving guitar and bass. The Jagger vocal here though is the key, with his own unique style coming through to make this track by coming over the backing to produce something that is more of an instrument itself. It is though probably one of the weakest songs on the album, although it is still a good one, but it does feel less inventive and does seem to drift off a bit near the end.
6. Far Away Eyes *****
This is a tongue-in-cheek country rock track, which I simply love, with the stones simply relaxing back into some simple backing and harmonies for the chorus. The lyrics describe the singer driving through Bakersfield, whilst listening to a gospel radio station. He soon hears of a church advertisement, before remembering that he is late in meeting a girl (with far away eyes), but still finds her sitting, waiting for him. And despite these rather parody strewn lyrics, the song is a classic, with the group coming together to create a slow country track that is one of the reasons I love the Rolling Stones as much as I do, they are able to carry songs like this off.
7. Respectable ****
This song is probably influenced by the punk rock that had come about around the same time, with the uncompromising lyrics and harder driving guitar work. The song though is supposedly related to the group, in terms of who they had become respected in society, and Jagger's response to that image. This does seem possible, although others have claimed that it is in relation to Jagger's then wife, which does appear to be slightly more likely considering the use of a female character in the lyrics. It is though a similar song to Lies, in that it is very much a hard hitting song more focused on the instrumentation.
8. Before They Make Me Run *****
In terms of Keith Richards' songs with the Rolling Stones, this is one of his best, relating to his recent drugs bust and trial, as well as some of his misdemeanours throughout his life. And with the trial looming, you would expect a song that at least leans towards repentance, but that doesn't really show here, with the chorus summing it up, 'I gotta walk, before they make me run'. The song is one of the lighter songs in terms of the backing, moving away from some of the heavier tracks and producing quite an upbeat instrumentation. For me this is one of the highlights of the album and a great track that is often overlooked on lists for some of the Rolling Stones best tracks.
9. Beast Of Burden *****
This is another slow number and again a great track, bringing together a really strong finish for the album along with Shattered. The lyrics themselves relate to simply trying to put the burden on someone else, probably members of the female sex, and trying to show that the singer is perhaps repentant for past shortcomings. This has been included on quite a few of the greatest hits collections for the Rolling Stones and with good reason, as the backing with the drums coming through strongest, combined with the really strong vocal performance by Jagger make this slightly slower track a classic.
10. Shattered *****
To finish off the album, we move to another slightly faster, harder song that really provides a great conclusion to a great album with some great guitar that runs through the whole track. The vocals are again one of the highlights, as they are throughout the album, showing why Mick Jagger is one of the best vocalists around, but they are backed by some nice harmonies from the others who provide a counter balance to the song throughout, which makes for a nice shift in the focus of the song. This song is often seen as an influence of life in New York, and perhaps the punk rock scene, with a change in some of the focus that came before and some of the attitudes that resulted from that lifestyle.
In terms of the entire canon of the Rolling Stones, this is one of the big highlights in their work, sitting as their strongest album release since Exile On Main St. and probably sitting near the top of the best albums. It is very much a album influenced by the times and the styles around, with punk rock seemingly a big influence with the harder driving songs dominating some of the album, but backed with some slower numbers that allows it not to become too repetitive. It is an album that sets out to change perceptions of the group, with the hard hitting sleeve, with the bright colours, use of invented lingerie adverts and drag dressed pictures making it one of the more memorable ones. The Rolling Stones were beginning to fall behind popular culture and had become the older members of an evolving music scene, but this album came out to show that they were not finished yet with strong material still bursting out of them.
In the album catalogue of The Band, Stage Fright is often seen as their third best album behind their two previous releases, and that is a far assessment, but in my opinion it is an album that is so different from their previous records that it is quite a difficult one to judge against their others. As an album, it has to be one of my favourite albums by The Band to listen to, but then I have always enjoyed the more rock based style that they take on here. And this is what makes this album so different to Music From Big Pink and The Band (The Brown Album), as it doesn't contain some of their more folk/roots backing, instead moving into more guitar, piano and drums, which isn't a bad thing, as they are equally as adept at this as they are at the backing used on their previous albums.
The title of the album and some of the lyrics within it, are often seen as alluding to their growing success and popularity, as they began to come to terms with their stardom and fame. And despite the length of the main album itself, coming in at just over thirty-six minutes, it contains some of their most personal and finest songs, with themes ranging from the results of fame to drug use. It is a departure from their other releases, as I have stated, but in a way it was a necessary one, allowing them to move into different territory and try and change for the live environment that they were beginning to develop and improve upon.
The original concept for the album itself was for it to be recorded in front of a small audience, with the songs played consecutively to provide it with a more spontaneous and reactive feel. But this idea was put under intense pressure by the local authorities, with many envisaging the Woodstock area again being overrun with rock fans, leaving the local residents at a loose end, and so they simply recorded the songs in the Woodstock Playhouse in front on no one. In a sense this meant that the project became little more than recording an album in a slightly odd location, but the group said that the feeling produced from playing in an empty concert hall lead to some interesting song writing inspiration.
The tone of the album in comparison to their previous releases is far darker, and many of the features that were previously so prevalent were done away with, with fewer harmonies and a more individual feel, with the instruments and vocals forming layers rather than unity. This helps it on its way to becoming more of a rock & roll album, which for many was a turn off and broke down some of the aspects that made the group what they are, but for me it makes for a great album that proves they are not simply one trick ponies.
1. Strawberry Wine 2:36
2. Sleeping 3:17
3. Time To Kill 3:28
4. Just Another Whistle Stop 3:54
5. All La Glory 3:35
6. The Shape I'm In 4:00
7. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show 3:00
8. Daniel And The Sacred Harp 4:13
9. Stage Fright 3:43
10. Rumour 4:16
11. Daniel And The Sacred Harp [Alternative Take] 5:01
12. Time To Kill [Alternative Mix] 3:26
13. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show [Alternative Mix] 3:05
14. Radio Commercial 1:03
Total Run Time - 48:37
1. Strawberry Wine ****
It is often said that when Richard Manuel sang this, he was high, which is feasible considering his vocals on this track, with a far different tone to that of his previous songs with The Band. And then on top of that, the song itself does carry many references and indications of drugs, with the title itself perhaps the biggest indicator. And this part of rock & roll was one that had caught up with the group, as it did for many in the sixties and seventies, but then this seems to be in contrast to their family men attitude on their other releases. But despite all of this the song is pretty good, with a nice upbeat rhythm and backing, although not a classic for me by any means.
2. Sleeping *****
This song is more of a Band track, with a quiet start and some nice lyrics that build up to a more upbeat and powerful track. The song itself has a sense of being lost or separated from the rest of the world, which again would seem to be an appropriate idea for a group at the height of their powers. The vocals on this track are key and they perfectly blend with the guitar by Robertson that becomes more of a force on this album compared to the previous releases.
3. Time To Kill *****
This continues in a similar fashion, with a more individual vocal that gives this song more of a bar feel, with the group playing to a small audience, as they had intended. The content of the lyrics continues on from Sleeping, with the feeling of separation, done in a rather upbeat fashion that is not sad for the loss of contact, but rather overjoyed with the freedom and success that comes from fame. This song is a bit light on the backing side and many of the instruments simply play subsidiary roles, but with another guitar solo following on from the chorus.
4. Just Another Whistle Stop *****
This for me has to be one of the best songs on the album, with a more complex backing and dynamic feel, going from a straight vocal verse to a heightened chorus, although it is really the level of instrumentation that makes this possible. It is a song about movement and going from place to place, but it also does that in terms of the structure, taking you on a train ride, although for far less expense. This is not a song that would be found on their previous releases, but it sits right at home here, with its more rock & roll based backing and style, the most prominent feature of the album itself.
5. All La Glory *****
This song is very similar to Sleeping, with a low key slow start that builds up for the chorus and the later verses, although not to the same extent. This though I feel makes it the better of the two, with more of a n emotional connection and basis, where the other may simply be a progression of sound, this is a progression of love lost and found. The vocals are nice, but for me lack some of the conviction and feel of earlier records, a point I raised on Strawberry Wine, but then this muted feel helps the song and puts across the lyrics well.
6. The Shape I'm In *****
The next five songs, starting with this, are for me the highlights on the album, taking on a more concert-like feeling, with the more powerful backing and vocal harmony. This song was played at many of their concerts, notably The Last Waltz, taking on a bigger arrangement, although the more subdues affair here is just as good, putting across the battered feel of the lyrics and some of the reasons for that, again success and fame is to blame.
7. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show *****
I love this song, although the mix on the bonus track is probably more of an event, but this song about the various characters involved with The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show, and the show itself. The lyrics are slightly fun and silly, but that helps the backing, which is itself very big and over the top, something that would have been appropriate for the setting that they describe. The brass band in the background give this song a bigger sound, lifting it ahead of some of the other tracks and making it stick in your mind, which is probably one of the reasons I like it as much as I do.
8. Daniel And The Sacred Harp *****
The lyrics of this song fall back towards some of the more biblical, narrative pieces of the previous albums, describing the rise and fall of Daniel as he gains the Sacred Hap, which despite being highly prized by him, leads to his fall from grace. The song is done is such a vocal style that the voice of Daniel is sung by one of the group and the other parts by Manuel. This helps to give the song more of a narrative feel, and helps to split the song up, but it is really the lyrics of the song that make this song what it is. The backing is done in a similar style to The Weight, but with a slightly darker feel, as with the rest of the album, and perhaps indicating the change in the group as they developed and grew in fame.
9. Stage Fright *****
The title track of the album is another classic, with some nice guitar work that creates the backdrop for this song, which is more explicit in the troubles that face them now that they are famous and successful. The boy in the song gains all of his desires and becomes rich and famous, but he soon finds that he is a changed person and is no longer able to live in the way that he wants, losing his freedom. The lyrics themselves though are backed by some great instrumentation, building and falling when needed to give the song a dynamic feel as well as sticking to the song material.
10. The Rumour *****
This drops in pace from the last track, and is again quite explicit in some of its reference to stardom, with the Rumour indicated in the song likely to be a parallel to the trouble with fame as magazines and tabloid papers try and fan the flames of a rumour to excessive proportions. This song though I feel is more of a message to their fans, indicating that Rumours are often simply created and altered beyond that which they really are, and pleading to them that they shouldn't believe everything that they read.
11. Daniel And The Sacred Harp [Alternative Take] *****
After a false start, a feature of many of the alternate takes given on the remastered Capitol albums for The Band, the group go into a take of Daniel And The Sacred Harp that features more harmonies and what I feel to be a louder mix. The vocals themselves aren't quite as polished as the take on the album, but it does offer a slightly different feel to the song, with what I feel to be a bigger sound. The song on the whole though is pretty much the same as the original.
12. Time To Kill [Alternative Mix] *****
This song, as well as the next were apparently made because for some reason two different people took the master tapes home to mix, and these were the results, both slightly bigger in terms of the sound, with a few differences in the focus and dynamic of the song. But for the most part they are the same as the final versions on the main album.
13. The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show [Alternative Mix] *****
This mix though is the one that I prefer, with a larger sound that gives more focus to the backing, one of the main strengths of the original song, with the brass backing notably brought slightly forward in the mix and given more focus. This larger sound helps to give the song that slightly over-the-top and crowded feel, a for me that improves upon the earlier mix, but again the differences are only slight and you would need to know the songs well to hear them, as well as a good set of speakers.
14. Radio Commercial N/A
This is simply the radio commercial that was put out for the album, featuring someone talking over a few of the songs and simply stating the group and the name of the album, before closing with the phrase, "And the Band plays on", a line that I feel is very much suited to the album, showing that they are still here and able to put out a good album in the process.
Overall then, this is an album that features a different feel to both Music From Big Pink and The Band, but in doing so shows that the group are able to provide a more rock-based album and pull it off with great aplomb. I love this album though, and even though it is a different style, they are suited to it, providing one of the best sides of record I have heard in side 2. And although it doesn't feature the same level of bonus tracks as the previous releases, the strength of the material on the album itself is enough to more than warrant the purchase of the album for fans of The Band, or those who like roots/folk rock, as I would still put this in that category, despite the leanings towards the latter part of that tag. Thus, a great album that provides just as many classics and high points as their previous releases.
The Lord Of The Rings and the Hobbit are books that have become ingrained into the very fabric of British culture, with the former being named as the nations favourite book of all time, a feat that I doubt Tolkein would have predicted when he was writing it. But from these books, many things are suggested about the world of Middle Earth, from its histories, to its literature and races, but little can be said within the realms of the fiction itself. The in-depth appendixes at the end of the Lord Of The Rings go some way in describing some of the events, but it is really within The Silmarillion that we gain a greater understanding of how the world that Tolkein created came to be and how its cultures came about.
The book is essentially a history of the creation of Middle Earth, something that I would relate quite closely to something along the lines of Genesis within the Bible, as it describes the creation of the world by the supernatural powers of the Valar and Ainur. And as a religious man himself, Tolkein may have used the Biblical accounts as a basis for his work, whilst also altering them to fit to his designs and go some way into explaining certain facets of his world. For instance, we are introduced to the idea of evil within the world of Ea, the 'world that is', as Melkor, one blessed with the greatest power and knowledge of the Ainur. He rebels against the conformity and bliss of the world that they reside and wants to create something of his own, leading to his disenchantment with the others. He then becomes very much estranged from the rest of the Ainur, and becomes their enemy, destroying and defiling the work and love that they have put into the making of Arda, the world created by Iluvatar, 'father of all'.
The complexities and depths of the story go far beyond this, and I cannot truly begin to explain some of the features and topics of the book, as its language and level of poetic beauty provide the answers that Tolkein fans desire. The book itself is split into five distinct parts, the Ainulindale, which describes the creation and beginnings of the Ainur, the Valaquenta, a description of each of the Valar and some of the Maiar (the lesser of the two), Quenta Silmarillion, which mkes up the majority of the book and describes the saga of the Silmarils, three jewels containing the light of the two trees, Akallabeth, which describes the history of Numenor, and Of The Rings Of Power And The Third Age, which details the creation of the rings until the destruction of the One Ring at the end of the third age. This is but a brief description of each of the sections, and in all the book comprises some 340 pages, with 100 more devoted to genealogies and further information about some of the elements within the book that would not fit anywhere else. This is some work, considering its size and material, dealing with the world of Tolkein from its beginnings to its end in terms of the passing of the rings from Middle Earth and the rise of men, at the detriment to the rest of creation, an idea that I believe is overlooked in story as a whole.
The language of the book itself is not for those who struggle with the written word, or those who can't deal with language from a previous time, as much of the book is written in a very academic way. The writing itself though is not so much old-fashioned, as ideal for the content of the book, in that it is more of an academic history of the world of Tolkein rather than a work of fiction. It is a piece that goes beyond the realms of fantasy and fiction, and tries to force itself as a piece of history, long forgotten in the annals of time. When Peter Jackson decided to make the Lord Of The Rings into a film, he wanted the audience to see it as something of a historical documentary, in that it could be, and in many ways should be, real, as the depth into which he goes is far beyond any other piece of fiction. Tolkein wanted a work that could be expanded upon by others after his death, with Tolkein calling the larger part of his written work a legendarium, which directly related to the tales of the elves, although this has been expanded upon to mean any work relating to Middle Earth. Within this legendarium, The Silmarillion sits as a brief overview of the beginnings and creation of this world, telling of the coming of the elves, men, dwarves and the conflicts that developed within the world with Melkor (Morgoth).
I am in no way a Tolkein expert, as I have only read a small proportion of his work, and in no huge depth, but I do have a great respect for it, and from this my interest have developed, such that a work of this level seems as majestic as anything else. The language hoes beyond anything else I have read, and it makes the book what it is, although I would point out that this may put many people off, as you do need to have an interest in the world to finish this. For me this is not a problem, but I have heard of others simply giving up due to the complexities and nuances of the writing style, although a similar thing could be said of some of The Lord Of The Rings itself, although the fictional element allowed that to take backstage.
But if you are a fan of The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit, both of which I would insist that you read before even attempting this, which includes the Appendixes of the former, as they provide even more material for this, and give you an idea of some of the things that are discussed within this. But as the world that Tolkein created was so vast and so full of history, this work is necessary to understand that, and The Silmarillion helps to fill in some of the blanks left by the original stories and goes some way into explaining some of the events and some of the cultures. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and it has inspired me to return to some of the other works, or to look to new ones. It is a work that should inspire and indulge anyone with an interest in the Lord Of The Rings, taking on a life of its own, as it glides through the world of Middle Earth and explains the conflicts and genuinely human and emotional endeavours that go beyond the basic genre of fictional and fantasy works.
The Jimi Hendrix BBC sessions is a release that builds on the work of the much earlier, Radio One, release encompassing more recordings with improved sound quality. It brings together all of the songs that the group recorded for the BBC, as well as a few alternate takes, which were made to provide the content that got around the limitations on the playing of records during broadcasts, which was limited to seven hours split between both Radio 1and 2. At the time, the playing of records on the radio was seen almost as a discouragement for listeners to go out and purchase them for themselves, as if you could hear them on the radio for free, why go out and pay for them. Luckily though, this meant that the BBC was able to build up a huge archive of spectacular material from some of the biggest groups of the era, with such luminaries as The Beatles, Cream, The Who and of course the Jimi Hendrix Experience among them.
The recording environment that was provided for the group, often small studios designed for orchestral use, meant that they needed to record the songs live in the studio, with only very basic overdubs possible. But from this you get some interesting takes on songs, where they fall halfway between live and studio versions, taking some of the more improvised exciting elements of the former, but with the tight arrangement of the latter. The sessions themselves were a chance for the group to rework their older material, preview new ones or simply provide their own takes on classic tracks by other artists. This mix of music provides this release with a view of the Experience that is often lost on releases that simply rely on material from a certain time or album. The collection itself puts together material from February 1967 to January 1969, although most of the songs were recorded during 1967, when the Jimi Hendrix Experience were still based mainly in England.
The sound quality is sometimes seen as a distraction on this releases, but then considering the environment that they had to record in, more of which is discussed in the 24-page booklet that comes with the CD release, this is to be expected, and with the strength of the material, this can easily be overlooked. Some of the tracks on here for instance can only be found recorded in the studio elsewhere on bootleg release, many of which the common listener will shun or be unable to obtain, such as Driving South, Hoochie Coochie Man, Hound Dog, Hear My Train A Comin', Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window, Radio One, Day Tripper and I Was Made To Love Her, although even some of these can't be found recorded anywhere else.
The album, at least the one I own, is presented in a boxset crystal case, with some nice 'rare' pictures inside the sleeve and throughout the booklet. The booklet itself details certain information about the tracks and some, often amusing, anecdotes about how the tracks were recorded. Also given are details about the engineers and the dates of recording, which are nice for historical value and give you an idea as to where the material fits in with some of his other releases. But for this, you do pay and it is more expensive than other releases, but if you look, it can be bought at a reasonable price, and considering the material, it has got to be worth a slightly more than your run-of-the-mill release.
1. Foxey Lady 3:00
2. Alexis Korner Introduction 0:28
3. Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window 3:32
4. Rhythm And Blues World Serive 0:12
5. (I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man 5:30
6. Travelling With The Experience 0:22
7. Driving South 5:31
8. Fire 2:42
9. Little Miss Love 2:58
10. Introducing The Experience 0:51
11. The Burning Of the Midnight Lamp 3:43
12. Catfish Blues 5:29
13. Stone Free 3:26
14. Love Or Confusion 2:54
15. Hey Joe 4:02
16. Hound Dog 2:43
17. Driving South 4:49
18. Hear My Train A Comin' 5:00
Total Run Time (Disk 1) - 57:12
1. Purple Haze 3:17
2. Killing Floor 2:28
3. Radio One 1:34
4. Wait Until Tomorrow 2:55
5. Day Tripper 3:25
6. Spanish Castle Magic 3:08
7. Jammin' 3:24
8. I Was Made To Love Her 3:05
9. Foxey Lady [Alternate Take] 2:59
10. A Brand New Sound 0:54
11. Hey Joe [Alternate Take] 2:58
12. Manic Depression 3:11
13. Driving South [Alternate Take] 3:22
14. Hear My Train A Comin' [Alternate Take] 5:03
15. A Happening For Lulu 0:20
16. Voodoo Child (Slight Return) 4:09
17. Lulu Introduction 0:23
18. Hey Joe 2:44
19. Sunshine Of Your Love 1:17
Total Run Time (Disk 2) - 50:36
In the following track descriptions, I have decided to exclude the purely introduction or talking pieces, which are shown in Italics, as they simply act as breaks between tracks and add a sense of place to many of the recordings. And as many of the tracks are simply re-recordings of the album versions, I have decided to focus on the tracks that are of greatest interest on the two disks.
1. Foxey Lady *****
This is the track that opened the UK release of Are You Experienced, and the initial guitar riff that opens it is one of the most recognisable and best in rock music, building slowly to a shrill sonic wail. This version of this classic song has a bit more power than the album release, taking on some of the elements of their live performance of it, although shorter, with great changes in dynamics and that slightly shrill, dirty feel that makes this track the classic that it is.
3. Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window *****
Originally a Bob Dylan single, this nice reworking of the song gives more of a focus to the guitar part, as you may guess, but this takes nothing away from it, keeping to much the same pace and style of the original. As Jimi Hendrix was such a fan of Dylan, he knew what he was doing, and provides the best cover of the song I have heard, and this recording sits as a historic document to the work of Hendrix, as it is the only known recording of it by him. The drum work from Mitch Mitchell, as usual, is great and keeps the track driving on, with some nice fills and additions to the original.
5. (I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man *****
This is a classic Rhythm and Blues track, again reworked spectacularly by Hendrix, with some of his best vocals on the release here, building with the backing and providing some of the dynamics and power that make the original the classic that it is. The bass line provided by Noel Redding come into prominence here, providing the backbone of the piece whilst the other two go off into solo mode later in the track.
7. Driving South *****
Driving South is a great instrumental track containing the fast pace that Hendrix loved from his songs, and the change in pace that makes an instrumental track exciting. There are another two recordings of this one the release, but this, the longest of the three, is the best containing some tight arrangements and some great guitar work from Hendrix that this track really focuses on. The whole group though is on top of this, with the drumming consistently brilliant, as well as another great bass line from Noel Redding. Of all of the instrumental tracks that the group did, or Hendrix did with others, this rates right up there with some of the best, with some great wandering guitar work that builds in pace before dipping, and then returning again with renewed vigour to give it a great dynamic feel.
11. The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp *****
This track showcases some of the brilliance of the group in the studio capturing some of the magic of the single recording with low-budget equipment. Of course it is in no way better than the original, but considering that they were reduced to the bare minimum in terms of recording equipment and effects this is a great effort, with the vocals great throughout. The playing itself is very much in keeping with the original, with the slower parts during the verses before the blast of the power trio during the chorus.
12. Catfish Blues *****
At heart, Jimi Hendrix was a blues guitarist and this song really showcases that, with the slower, more subtle, playing during the vocal parts, before he is able to rip into the chorus and finale pieces, where he sets the track to rights. The vocals are again strong, a feature that is one of the highlights of the collection as a whole, with his great guitar playing impacting very little on his voice or his cues. But this track though is all about the guitar which permeates through the song with little sharp notes before it sails into solo mode.
16. Hound Dog ****
This is one track that you can tell was one of the more enjoyable to record, with a basic instrumental backing sat next to blasts of dog impersonations by Mitch and Noel, which make the track more of a joke, and as such lose the musicianship of it, but still makes it a great listening in terms of the fun factor. The lyrics themselves seem often off-the-cuff, altering the original and adding in parts when the barking becomes insistent and the guitar really kicks in.
18. Hear My Train A Comin' *****
If there was one track that I would have liked a completely polished studio rendering, it would have been this (and Valleys Of Neptune), as it was played so often during live performances at such a high level that it deserved. I do own a few studio renderings, this included, and they are great, but one with great sound and fully developed instrumentation would have been a dream. But then, this is still a spectacular track, taking some of the elements that would be seen on Electric Ladyland's Voodoo Chile, with the apparent audience watching them play, and sticking to some of the features heard on some live performances of the track. The track also features little bits of off-hand leaving the studio and Jimi speech, which is a nice way to end the song and disk 1.
2. Killing Floor *****
This is a track that is often featured in some of the Jimi Hendrix Experience's early performances, a great working of this Howling Wolf track. It is fast in both pace and length of track, but this provides some of the excitement that makes this group as exciting today as they must have been when they were first around. The insistent guitar permeates through the track and becomes the centre piece, bellowing into the vocals and beyond them.
3. Radio One *****
This is a brief radio jingle that the group devised for radio one, a nice little track that shows the enjoyment they must have had playing in the studio. The song itself would have made one of the best radio jingles I have ever heard, with some nice rough guitar and hammering drums, which fill in between vocal parts, where the lyrics are simply fun and off-the-wall.
5. Day Tripper *****
This Beatles track is sung by Noel Redding, although the impersonation is so good that many thought John Lennon himself had been on the recordings. The song itself is a far harder rougher version of the original, with some great drum work from Mitch Mitchell that gives the song an extra edge and perhaps improves upon the original. The sonic guitar makes it sound far dirtier and rough than the original giving it an edge that suited the Experience in terms of energy and arrangement, showing there improvisational skills as well as musical ability.
6. Spanish Castle Magic *****
This version is much rougher and harder the original, reminding me more of the release on the Jimi Hendrix Experience Box Set, which features a studio rendition from about 1969. This may of course simply be due to the lack of effects and production that they had available to them, but I have always though that this suited the song far better, giving the slightly surreal lyrics an extra edge. The vocals are strong throughout and are backed up by some nice near-harmonic parts from Redding throughout.
7. Jammin' ****
8. I Was Made To Love Her ******
I have decided to talk about these tracks together as they do flow quite well and are both done with Stevie Wonder filling in on the drums, as he was seen in the corridor waiting to be interviewed and they asked him if he wanted to have a quick jam and this is the result. Although the songs are far from exceptional or perfect, they a historical documents that still hold together well as a nice jam between the two great musicians, with the drumming pretty impressive considering the person behind it. The guitar permeates through both tracks and builds in from the drumming by Wonder. But for me it is in the second track that the two come together, with the guitar toned down and playing a simpler melody line that suits that less flashy drumming on show here.
12. Manic Depression *****
The voice of the introduction suggests that perhaps he was out of his depth in terms of the group, but the track enters and we instantly forget it, as this version of the great track has a more laid back slower feel. The guitar and drums seem forced down a bit and the more melodic and controlled feel gives the song a slightly different edge, and even though the original style probably suited the song material, it is still an interesting listen. The sound does drop slightly compared to some of the other tracks, but then this was recorded on a television broadcast rather than a studio, so I think it is to be expected.
14. Hear My Train A Comin' [Alternate Take] *****
Even though this is simply another take of a song we have already heard on the first disk it is still a great listen in its own right, with a slightly rougher feel to the whole piece, as I assume this was an earlier take. The backing vocals from Noel Redding, as well as the pieces of speech put in throughout the track, feel a bit more reserved, and the basic instrumentation feels a bit rougher again, but this perhaps adds to the excitement of the track, giving it more of a bar room feel, something that I quite like with the group as the instruments become more independent.
16. Voodoo Child (Slight Return) *****
I have always loved the sound of this song live, as it is played here on A Happening For Lulu, especially the introduction with the dirty guitar feel that it can sometimes have, as it does here. This, as well as the next two tracks are the only ones not from 1967, recorded in January 1969, when the group had developed there sound from the rest of the material shown here, with more exciting backing arrangements and challenging material. The vocals themselves here are strong and give this already rough and ready track more feeling and power, with the lyrics done with the instruments rather than the other way around. The bass line here though is some of the best, providing most of the rhythm and tightness of this track, something that is often pushed behind the other two members.
18. Hey Joe *****
19. Sunshine Of Your Love ****
These two tracks blend into one another, almost, as the group were asked to play Hey Joe, one of their bigger hits in the UK, although the group were not to pleased with this idea and just decide to stop in the middle of the song and begin Sunshine Of Your Love in a tribute to the recently split-up Cream. Hey Joe though also features a great long beginning, with some nice heavier guitar work, before kicking into the classic Hey Joe riff, something you can tell that would have made the production start pulling out their hair. But then Hendrix suddenly stops, after giving a rather lack lustre vocal performance, forgetting some of the lyrics, a fact that he sings into the microphone, and tells the audience that he is dedicating the next song to Cream. They then kick into Sunshine of Your Love, a song apparently heavily influenced by Hendrix, before Jimi shouts into the microphone, "We're being taken off the air...", after which they build to a premature finish.
Thus, in terms of fans of Jimi Hendrix, I would urge you to buy this release if you have any interest in the music, as this features some great performances of some of his tracks and many others besides. It is the covers and the non-studio tracks that really make this release though, as they provide something for fans to cherish within their collection. For those who are not huge fans of Jimi Hendrix, or those who don't already own his studio releases, I would say that this is an album to buy once you have heard his main releases, as this compliments and builds on them rather than sitting as a document of the man an the group. The history behind the recordings though does warrant owning this, as does the fabulous presentation and content of the release, with an informative booklet and some nice colour pictures within the booklet and the sleeve. If you own the original Radio One release, I would also urge you to buy this, as it builds on that in terms of the track listing and for me, it sounds far better in terms of the studio tracks, although they still feature a few flaws that can easily be overlooked when considering the material. So if you want to expand your Jimi Hendrix collection from his studio releases, I would put this release beside the likes of South Saturn Delta and Band Of Gypsys, but behind First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, which for me is the next step for anyone with an interest in the music of Jimi Hendrix and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
As an artist, Eric Clapton has done a huge amount to promote early blues musicians, reworking some songs, and simply playing versions that follow them to the note. This is notably obvious on Me & Mr Johnson, his tribute to the work of Robert Johnson, often seen as the king of delta blues, but can be found throughout his catalogue. His ability as a guitarist is well known and it is prominent throughout the album as you might guess, being backed by a strong group of musicians to further add to the intimacy of the performance. And it is this ability that allows him to delve into the blues catalogue and provide covers that almost match the beauty of the originals, although admittedly with a larger instrumental backing in most cases.
The album itself was recorded in a small venue to an equally small audience, whom I assume are big fans of the Eric Clapton, as we here rounds and cheering and clapping between and occasionally during the songs. The songs given here make up the main bulk of the material recorded, except for three other tracks which can be found on other releases, mainly bootleg material. But despite the reduction in the track listing, the album is cohesive, and it is only the seemingly impromptu rendition of Rollin' And Tumblin' that contains a slight pause before it.
As an album it is perhaps one of my favourite, containing great tracks throughout, with classics such as Layla reworked for the acoustic environment, and 10 covers of blues material added in for a release that is perfect for the small scale environment that they were played for. I do own a couple of other Unplugged releases, Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan, but this is probably my favourite, as the musical ability of Eric Clapton and the material chosen is superb, allowing it to stand ahead of the others in sheer overall quality. And considering that you get over an hour of material, the value for money is also excellent, with great tracks throughout, showing why praise and awards were lavished upon it.
1. Signe 3:14
2. Before You Accuse Me 3:44
3. Hey Hey 3:16
4. Tears In Heaven 4:36
5. Lonely Stranger 5:27
6. Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out 3:49
7. Layla 4:46
8. Running On Faith 6:29
9. Walkin' Blues 3:37
10. Alberta 3:42
11. San Francisco Bay Blues 3:23
12. Malted Milk 3:36
13. Old Love 7:53
14. Rollin' And Tumblin' 4:11
Total Run Time 61:43
1. Signe ****
The album opens with an instrumental number, which is introduced by a round of cheering and clapping, as well as the necessary tune up from the band. But once this is over, they launch into this great little number that is both uplifting and still tranquil at the same time, never really building, simply remaining with a sense of joy for the music. This is not only the perfect introduction to such a great guitarist, but is also a great introduction to the album as a whole, providing the framework for the laidback, tripped down show that soon follows.
2. Before You Accuse Me *****
We then some to the first cover track of the show, the likes of which dominate it, taking up more than two-thirds of the tracks, which is no bad thing considering the strength of the songs and the way they are covered. This great track sails through, with clapping provided by the audience throughout, providing you with the environment and allowing you to become more a part of the song. The track is a straight blues number, with the main focus on the guitar and voice, with the majority of the other instrumentation either non-existent or pushed back in the mix. This allows it to retain some of its roots, as if Eric Clapton had written it, making it his own, whilst still staying pretty true to the original.
3. Hey Hey *****
This is a great Bill Bronzy track, which originally featured some spectacular guitar work, and this is retained of the most part here, although I have always preferred the lone guitar versions. The lyrics themselves are not the most creative, but this is a guitarist's track, something that is not lost here, as Clapton plies through with a great imitation of the original. Although I still prefer the original, I feel that this version has its merits, but the guitar work does often feel a bit lax, simply keeping to the same melody and rhythm, where the original version permeates beyond its beginning towards some end.
4. Tears In Heaven *****
This was probably the track on the album that was lavished with the greatest amount of praise, seen as one of the most poignant and beautiful pieces that Clapton had ever written and performed, and I would be entitled to agree with that as it is truly a work of beauty. The song is about his son, who had recently died at the age of five, and the emotion that he must have felt from that event comes through in this performance, giving you a sense of the grief he must have carried with him ever since. It draws you back from some of the blues tracks and takes on a life of its own, going beyond the vocal work on the others and providing undoubtedly one of the main highlights on the album.
5. Lonely Stranger *****
The last track started some of the larger backing and this continues it, with some nice keyboard and drum work from his backing band. This and the next track I feel are very much related, keeping to similar subject matter, losing everything and turning or being turned from the world that they grew to know. Whether this idea had any significance for Eric Clapton, I am unsure, but I do know that this is a great track that builds on from the energy and emotion of the previous track and plays on the emotions of the audience yet further. We are also introduced to the backing singers, who become more prevalent later on, but add a slightly haunting background part that for me really adds to this already great track.
6. Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out *****
This is a slightly more upbeat song in terms of the arrangement, with more of a focus on the keyboard, adding a nice jaunty backing to the vocals from this great track. The lyrics as previously mentioned relate to the fall of a previously well off man, making his so-called friends leave him, with the draw of money and power one of the strongest images in today's society, brought home even more by the current collapse of the banking system. This track along with pretty much all of the others, really showcase Clapton as the vocalist, as he is a good singer, putting strength and emotion into his performances, making him suited to blues material that he delivers here perfectly.
7. Layla *****
This is one of Clapton's most well known songs, and it is slightly reworked here for the acoustic setting, but still carries the same strength and quality that the electric version does, if not more so. This is a great love song, taking on a life beyond many slightly sappier ones, which fail to capture any great sense of emotion and event that this track always seems to achieve. Again this is a highlight of the album, with some nice guitar riffs and playing throughout that are near reminiscent of his electric ones on stage.
8. Running On Faith *****
This is one of the longest songs of the album, but despite this, the sheer power and strength of the performance is enough to warrant it, as the dynamics of the track mean that it never drags on, building to the songs conclusion. The lyrics themselves are perfectly done by Eric Clapton, done with such emotional strength and vocal ability that it for me is probably a better version than the original, with the backing vocals again coming into prominence as an eerie whisper on the wind. I have said this many times before, and probably will again, but the guitar work on this track is great and it makes this far better than it may have otherwise have been. The song itself talks about a relationship seems to have failed, but could have hope if there is hope left in it, building on the themes of Layla, something that is done so well on this album.
9. Walkin' Blues *****
From the more anthem-like performance of the last track, we come to this, which is a straight blues track, again cut down to guitar and voice, which Eric Clapton is able to do so well. This is the first of two Robert Johnson songs on the album, an artist that Eric Clapton worshipped as a guitarist and blues artist, which is understandable considering his ability, underlined by the Crossroads rumours. I still prefer the original version by Robert Johnson himself, but this stands as a strong cover, taking on the strength of emotion and guitar ability that makes the original track what it is.
10. Alberta *****
This is a song with a long history behind it, and returns to the band backing of some of the other tracks, which helps it to blend into the next track, the arrangement of which is very similar. This song has been covered by many artists, although many in slightly different forms, but it is a classic blues song in terms of the lyrics, taking many lines that are wrapped into many songs. The song is a blues love song about the woman of the title, removing it from modern love songs, something I am grateful for, as it is far stronger and more suited to the vocal and playing style of Eric Clapton.
11. San Francisco Bay Blues *****
This has also been performed by many artists, but this is one of the best versions I have heard, done in more of a fun way, talking on what I assume to be something similar to a penny whistle. The audience gets heavily involved again with the clapping, expanding the sound of the song, and creating a far more crowded atmosphere, suited to the song, as it is written with a sense of fun, although I have heard arrangements done in a far different style.
12. Malted Milk ****
This is the second of the Robert Johnson tracks and returns to the guitar and voice of the other one, which I am grateful for, as it wouldn't hold the same strength otherwise. This is not my favourite Robert Johnson track, neither is it my favourite on the album, but it is still a great track that showcases the ability of Eric Clapton. The real emotion though comes from the lyrics, a strong feature of the blues, and one of the reasons why I hold the genre in such high esteem, as Eric Clapton himself did. Blues is one of the most versatile genres and it is songs like this that were recorded originally about 70 years ago.
13. Old Love *****
This, the longest song on the album, is the unofficial conclusion to the album, as the next track is more of an off-hand piece thrown in for good measure. But it is a great finish, taking on probably the largest arrangements and backings on the album, well suited to the vocals and lyrics of the song, which fit in perfectly. You can tell that he wrote the track, as he sounds so comfortable within it, going from the built up verse parts to the drop in the chorus as smooth as you like. The vocals on this track as well are some of the best on the album, building to such strength at the songs conclusion, that you are left consumed within it. The song as a whole is so perfect that it is hard to consider that it was done in a small live venue to a select audience, as it feels so well pieced together and makes it one of the best tracks on the album, a true highlight. It is dynamic throughout and leaves you wanting more, which it seems to give you, with the dynamic changes and quiet moments that build to another chorus.
14. Rollin' And Tumblin' ****
As mentioned before, this feels like more of an impromptu track, with more clapping from the audience, and simper guitar and drum backing, paling in comparison to some of the other tracks. But it is no less of a track, as it is a good jaunty number to officially end the album, featuring some nice words from Eric at the end that almost prove my point about the nature of the track. It feels less polished, but that is almost in the songs favour, giving it a freeform feel.
Overall, I can't really lavish this album with enough praise, as it is an album that can speak to anyone whether they like Eric Clapton or not. It gives you a sense of the man as well as the music he loved, the blues, which is the dominant genre of the album, something I am thankful for. If you do doubt the abilities of Eric Clapton then get this album and see if it doesn't prove you wrong, as the diversity of the arrangements and the styles of tracks on offer make for engrossing listening and will leave you wanting more. It is an album for everyone to enjoy, but notably those inclined towards the blues, and I can't really recommend it more.
When you look at the back catalogue of the Rolling Stones, the main things that comes to mind is the sheer diversity of the material and the amount that they managed to produce over the years. But even with this, the run of four albums that the Stones had from Beggars Banquet to Exile On Main Street is one of the strongest in the history of modern music, with each standing as a proud representation of the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world. This though was at the time a return to form from the Rolling Stones, with their previous release, Their Satanic Majesties Request, being seen as trying to move into an area that they just weren't comfortable in. The album returns to the Rhythm and Blues roots of the group and provides some of their strongest songs from that genre, whilst still managing to move beyond set boundaries and create a far more eclectic and expansive sound.
The album was the last to feature Brian Jones, but his input on the album is key and provides some of the best instrumental work on the album, allowing the others to try and go beyond themselves to reach the required sound and feel. Unfortunately though, the album was released at around the same time as The Beatle's White Album, with the cover of the album, initially a bare white piece with writing, sharing many similarities with The White Album, which was released a month previously. This though should not have a huge effect on the audiences of today, as we can enjoy both without much fear of considering any possible similarities between the two. But if we do, we can consider that both were more stripped back and came away from the psychedelic elements of both their previous releases, but then I have always viewed both groups rather differently. The Rolling Stones are more primal, whereas the Beatles had more of the ballad and pop elements, allowing both to be somewhat removed, although only to a certain extent as they are both great bands.
1. Sympathy For The Devil 6:18
2. No Expectations 3:56
3. Dear Doctor 3:22
4. Parachute Woman 2:20
5. Jigsaw Puzzle 6:06
6. Street Fighting Man 3:16
7. Prodigal Son 2:52
8. Stray Cat Blues 4:37
9. Factory Girl 2:09
10. Salt Of The Earth 4:47
Total Run Time 39:43
1. Sympathy For The Devil *****
This song was probably the most controversial of the Rolling Stones career, which for the most part was brought about by the title rather than the lyrics of the song itself, which don't really suggest a great deal to agree with it. The song itself though is the longest on the album and has a nice piano, bass and drum part throughout that helps to create a consistent rhythm and build when necessary. The lyrics talk about situations in history and literature, from the temptation of Christ to the contemporary politics, providing a great deal of allusion that as a listener can allow us to enter into the song far easier with previous knowledge. In terms of opening the album, this does it with flying colours, creating a great starting point from which the listener is hooked, and despite the length of the song, keeps you initiated and held upon the "whoo whoo"s and lyrics that permeate through the final minute of the song.
2. No Expectations *****
The acoustic guitar that opens that track brings the mood down from the height of the previous track, which introduces the slide guitar that for me really makes this blues based track. This song fro me though really shows how well the Rolling Stones could pull off a blues track, with some great Mick Jagger vocals and instrumental backing from a group that really could play it. The lyrics include a few classic blues lines and mentions, notably the use of the train station, and revolve around the end of relationship that seems to be have been broken off by the other end of it, a near integral part of many blues songs. But it is the backing that makes this, with the playing tight and well levelled (at least in the remastered edition I am listening to), which helps to keep the song together.
3. Dear Doctor *****
From the blues, we turn to a more country based song that features a Mick Jagger impersonation of an American country vocal, which would be repeated on other classic tracks, Far Away Eyes being just one example. The acoustic guitars again make up the main backing, with a harmonica playing in the background during the duration of the track. The lyrics talk about the singer preparing for his wedding to a woman that he has no desire to marry, but with the help of his mother he gets dressed. And then as he reaches into his pocket to get the ring, he finds a note, saying she has run away with his brother to his relief.
4. Parachute Woman ****
This is a far shorter track compared to some of the others and is really a short break before the next far longer track. The sound on this song is far larger and goes beyond the acoustic elements of the previous two tracks, allowing the more suggestive lyrics to become less of the focus and more of the sound itself. This along with Factory girl, make up the shorter, probably weaker elements on the album, as they lack any great deal of imagination, but still manage to come across as well suited to the album, breaking up some of the longer, more concentrated pieces.
5. Jigsaw Puzzle *****
This track has always been related to Bob Dylan in terms of the lyrical style, but as a long time Dylan fan, I have never seen any great connection, other than it being slightly more surreal and ambiguous compared to most of the Rolling Stones other songs. But despite this, the surreal elements of the lyrics really make the track, backed up by the dynamic backing of the band and the movement of the song from a quieter opening to a more epic finish, similar in style to Sympathy For The Devil, a track it is often seen as a partner to. The song talks about members of the band and simply seems for some part to be an expression of the groups creative forces and abilities to take on any genre that takes their interest.
6. Street Fighting Man *****
This one of those classic Rolling Stones tracks that everyone knows when they hear the opening guitar part that for me is one of the best track openings I have heard, instantly intriguing you and bringing you into this world and tension and riots, something far too poignant for the events that occurred at the time it was released. The song in truth does sound like a call to arms for the common man to stand up to governing figures and bring about a change in the world, a common message for many songs in the sixties, but one that allowed change to occur. The production of the vocals, which feel doubled up, allow them to become less clear and focus, as if they are caught in a world that has lost its direction, and the rest of the instrumentation falls into this also, creating a large, slightly unfocused sound that makes this track the classic that it is.
7. Prodigal Son *****
We then return to another blues track, this time not written by the group, but instead covered in excellent fashion, with the vocal impersonation done by Mike Jagger perfect for the material. The song, as you might guess is about the story of the prodigal son from the Bible, which despite its obvious Christian leanings does not feel overly religious, as the blues feel of the track help to give it a wider feel that is suited to a greater variety of suggestion. The backing is great with the acoustic guitars strumming throughout to create a blues/country feel that for me makes this one of the strongest tracks on the album. The speaker system that I use also brings about the bass drum, which draws into greater prominence later on in the track when the prodigal son returns, something that I struggle to hear on other less powerful speakers, but interesting nonetheless.
8. Stray Cat Blues *****
This has blues in the title and electric blues as it genre, as this is another great track, which many relate to drugs, but could simply be an expansion of the lyrical ideas started on Jigsaw Puzzle. The lyrics themselves revolve around a woman that seems to be a bit of a masochist, although they also seem to suggest that she is only fifteen years old, but with the great guitar on the this track the lyrics become less of a focal point. But in truth though, this is simply an excuse for a power vocal session from Mick Jagger, who provides some nice almost lazy screaming vocal parts.
9. Factory Girl ****
This is the second and last of the short tracks on the album, which I feel constitute the weakest on the album also, as they do feel almost devoid of some of the creativity that makes the other tracks so good. This is a nice laid back piece nonetheless that fits in well with the rest of the album, which does have a common man feel about, the factory element of the title perhaps emphasising this too much. The instrumentation is built around a nice drum beat and interesting interludes of various instruments, the nature of which I wouldn't be sure of until I had seen a list of them.
10. Salt Of The Earth *****
This the final track sums up some of the feelings and ideas suggested on the album, with the title putting this across well, as it is simply about talking to the common man who works hard for his money. Could this be interpreted as another go at establishment? Perhaps, and then always perhaps not, as this is a far softer song for the most part and only builds up into as gospel feel finish that provides more of an epic finish than a great message. But however you want to interpret the song, it is a great finish, allowing the album to start and finish on a high, which is one of the reasons that I hold this album is such high regard, as it contains some of the best work of the Rolling Stones and is so consistent in its strength and packaging as a whole. Most albums have a few select tracks that make them worth listening to, but great albums have those tracks throughout and this is one of those albums. It is also interesting to note about this track, that it features co-vocals from Keith Richards, a rare occurrence in the earlier albums.
Thus, when I consider this album as a whole, it has to stand as one of my favourites among the work of the Rolling Stones and one of my favourites overall, as it is such a great sounding recording, with diverse songs and consistently strong lyrics and instrumental backing. Most good albums can have glimpses of that, but few can sustain these things without sounding monotonous or else collapse all together. This was a time when the Beatles, Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones were all at their peak, producing records of such high quality and renown in an attempt to match and improve upon their contemporaries. This does get said quite a lot, but it is true and no truer than at this time, but it was the Rolling Stones that outlasted the others, and it was because of albums like this and those proceeding it that resulted in that, they were strong albums with enough room and diversity for them to move on and continue in a similar or completely different vein. The diversity of genre was one of the greatest strengths of the Rolling Stones and this was an album when they were beginning to realise that, producing an album that returned to their roots as well as giving them room for more creative endeavours.
Band On The Run is often seen as the peak of Paul McCartney's post-Beatles recordings, which for the most part I would have to agree with, as I feel that at this point in his already glowing career he still had the drive and creative spark to create great songs. This tended to fall as the years went by, but then for me Paul was always best in a band situation, as he found himself in, to an extent, with the Wings. This I feel allowed him to bounce ideas around and gain a degree of input from other members, allowing him to have a greater focus on his role rather than simply playing every instrument on the record, as he did later on.
Band On The Run was released in 1973, being the third release by Paul McCartney and the Wings, going triple platinum and becoming the best-selling album of 1974 (as it was released December 1973). This huge degree of commercial success was not unfounded, as is the case with many albums, as it plays as one of the strongest pop-based albums that I have heard, with tracks that you can sing along to as well as a few tracks that you simply sit back and listen to in awe. The album was placed at number 418 on the Rolling Stone's Top 500 albums, which I feel may be slightly below its true placing, although simply making the list is achievement enough considering some of the competition.
The album has often been compared to Abbey Road in the way that it plays, with many tracks graduating into each other, and the use of orchestral parts as well as powerful production. For me though, one of the main strengths of the album is the instrumental backing, which is always strong and helps to lift the lyrics and easily recognisable McCartney vocals. The dynamics and the changes that are used help to create an album that becomes more of an event, something that for a more pop orientated album becomes all the more important for it to stick in the memory.
For me though, the title of the album and the track that goes with it are all the more poignant when you consider that Paul McCartney was effectively running away from the world, with the core of the group, Paul, Linda and Denny Laine, left after the departure of the other two members of the Wings. The album was recorded in Nigeria after they had grown tired of the hectic world that they had been within before. This though I feel helps to make the album a bit freer from some of the constraints of larger recording environments where the technology and surrounding area can become overbearing.
1. Band On The Run 5:13
2. Jet 4:08
3. Bluebird 3:24
4. Mrs Vandebilt 4:41
5. Let Me Roll It 4:49
6. Mamunia 4:50
7. No Words 2:38
8. Picasso's Last Words (Drink To Me) 5:52
9. Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five 5:36
10. Helen Wheels 3:47
11. Country Dreamer 3:08
Total Run Time 48:06
The opening track on the album, Band On The Run is in truth split into three parts, with a very mellow opening that is dominated by the use of synthesizers, which for the most part are quite annoying but in this case just manage to draw me in. The lyrics in the opening section are light and feel very much like a McCartney ballad of old, which is how some of this album feels, but with the extra kick and depth of sound that came from his period with the Wings. The proceeding section begins with a sharp build-up from the guitar, which leads to a brief piece that for me is a reflection of why they decided to record in Lagos, as they felt trapped, "If we ever get out of here". And then on queue, this section ends with the introduction of an acoustic guitar riff that leads to the main section of Band On The Run. Within this we have lyrics that for the most part feel very upbeat and perhaps overwrought with joyful imagery but helped by the chorus and the nice drumming in the background that controls most of the piece. For an album opening, this is one of the best I have heard, instantly drawing you in with its dynamic shifts of tempo and style that leaves you wanting more.
But then we have a very orchestrated opening that instantly hits you with its rough bass sounds before firing into the song's title, inspired by McCartney's Labrador puppy, which incidentally is not the first dog that Paul has sung about, with Martha My Dear released on The White Album. This is one of those songs that you can just instantly see being played live, with its powerful backing and simple lyrics that could easily be sung along to, and so it became. This song again features quite a few changes in dynamics, with the verses being quite straight in their vocal presentation compared with that of the harmonics within the chorus.
Bluebird is one of those tracks that most will probably instantly recognise when they hear it, but will probably not realise that they know it from simply reading a track listing. This is probably because even though it is quite a catchy song that hits you softly but quickly, it is almost instantly forgettable, which although doesn't sound too good, is still a feature that perhaps helps it, as it makes it feel fresh however many times you hear it. But the saxophone solo near the end of the song does feel slightly out of place, as if it was tacked on just to add a couple of extra dimensions to the song. The backing vocals of Linda McCartney are also slightly grating, feeling far too forced and could have been done with being completely removed or at the very least replaced with a better take or vocalist.
Despite that backing of Mrs Vandebilt feeling very powerful and suggestive, the vocals feel a bit forced out, falling behind the track and losing their sharpness. But despite that, the lyrics are nice enough, talking about a woman that perhaps had some connection to Paul in real life, although the exact details of which I am unsure. Again though, we have a saxophone part that should have been left out, as it doesn't suit the musical environment, as it almost seems to try and play out the guitar, which for most of the album is the strongest instrument. The chorus as with many of the tracks on the album is dominated by "hooo, ha, hooo"s and other vague vocal creations.
Let It Roll is often viewed as a sister track to I Want You, as it features a dominant guitar part and slightly repetitive lyrical parts, which on I Want You was one of its stronger features as it was able to become more expansive without the use of overdone lyrics. This though is slightly more complex than the three lines used on the aforementioned track, but then most songs are able to top that. The guitar riff, although not the most imaginative in the world gets the job done for the verses and provides some framework and opposition to the McCartney vocals.
This along with the next track, are for me the weakest on the album, this for instance simply feels like a drawn out lyrical exploration that is not particularly successful as they feel underwhelming. This would be fine if the instrumentation was able to sparkle and help to create more of a soundscape and basis for them, which has been done on many tracks by Paul, but is sadly lacking here. I mean the acoustic guitar and bass riff is nice, but they feel far too bare for a track that cries out for a greater degree of sound and instrumentation. The title of the track itself, Mamunia, doesn't really inspire a great deal of confidence, as English songs with foreign titles do tend to be the artist trying to replicate a sound he has heard and liked, but failing to sell it to the audience, as I suspect in this case.
No Words, does from the first few notes suggest quite a good track, but then we fall into a vocal block, as it does seem to almost move towards an eighties feel, which is not that bad, but with the large sound on this track, it seems to struggle to stay together. This song does also seem to fall back into the rest of the album, with similar instrumentation to the rest of the album, which makes it far too forgettable, as it doesn't really possess any great distinguishing features, except that it is the shortest track on the album, for which I am slightly thankful of.
Picasso's Last Words is one of the better tracks on the album, picking up from the slowdown of the previous two tracks, this is far more experimental and seems almost Rolling Stone like in its beginning, although the vocals give it away as a McCartney piece. The chorus and the verses seem to switch between past and present and the subject of the lyrics, but this helps to expand the creative elements of it. Once this has passed though, we enter a piece of buried French dialogue, of which I understand nothing, before returning almost bizarrely to a brief section of Jet. But then if that wasn't enough we turn to a slower version of the chorus, "You know I can't drink anymore". The ambling nature of the track, along with the orchestral parts create an almost surreal sound piece that does far more than most of the tracks on the album in creating an experience, the event that I spoke of at the beginning of the review. And then once we get further into this track, the longest on the album, we get into the "hooo, he, hooo" part of Mrs Vandebilt, which slowly fades out before the final track on the main album itself.
The final track is Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five, the importance of which I am unsure of, as it doesn't seem to refer to any event. This does feel though quite like a disco track, taking on the beat of it and featuring Paul singing "shake it", a line I wouldn't really expect. This track though does go to show how diverse some of the pieces on this album are though, as we have gone from ballads and rock numbers to a disco-esque track. The end of the track though does go beyond this still and turns into almost a surreal universe of its own, featuring what I assume is an Oboe and some more orchestral parts that slowly build and the fade into a five second clip of Band On The Run, an appropriate ending I feel.
The next two tracks were bonuses on the remastered CD release, both originally featuring as two halves of a single. Helen Wheels, the first of the two, the A-side, is the better track and does fit in far better with the sound of the album, featuring a strong guitar basis and rhythm line that continues throughout. This track though was originally featured on the American version of the album, and I feel that it would not have been to its detriment to feature this, as it is a nice rock number that would have helped to break up some of the slower tracks or extend what is actually quite a short album.
Country Dreamer is more reminiscent of Ram, featuring more of a country, folk feel that is stripped back, focusing more on natural elements that was the dominant element on the album. I mean it is quite a good track in its own right, but perhaps not that appropriate for the sound of the album, but as it is only a bonus track, I view it as a separate element and from this it is easy to appreciate it. The lyrics and quite playful and not particularly thought provoking, but ideal for the instrumentation nonetheless, which is what a good track should do.
Overall then, I would have to agree with the many voices claiming this as the best of McCartney's solo releases, as it is pretty consistent throughout, despite featuring a couple of weaker tracks, but these are balanced by some classics. The more experimental side of the album also is one of the better features, which I feel probably helped the lyrical style of McCartney to develop and adapt, bringing it forward from some of the more confining affairs that can be the feature of his work as a solo artist. If you only own one Paul McCartney solo album, then let it be this, as it is a record that breaks down barriers and can be enjoyed by pretty much everyone, especially those who enjoy the later work of the Beatles, which appears to have been an influence of the style of the album as a whole.
Information about the creation and the recording of Abbey Road has been well documented, with the group coming off what they saw as the failure of the Let It Be sessions. From this they decided that with the tensions within the group and the general unrest, most notably from George Harrison, they would try and create one final album that would return to some of the roots of their earlier albums, although this became somewhat subverted throughout the recording process. The story behind the cover is also well known with Paul McCartney walking barefoot and out of sync with the rest of the group, which some claim is an indication of the Paul is dead theory, but was simply Paul losing track of himself and being perhaps just not caring too much about the photo.
The recordings began in April 1969, making it the final album recording by the group, although Let It Be would be released later in 1970, which I am entirely thankful for. This for me makes this album all the more important in terms of the Beatles catalogue, and I would probably place it as my third favourite album, after The White Album and Revolver. The album itself is made up of two parts, the first being the more traditional separate tracks running from Come Together to Because, and then the second constituting a medley of tracks from You Never Give Me Your Money to The End, although Her Majesty does come in at the end as a bonus track. This for me makes it the more interesting listen, as the medley part helps to create a sense of unity and fluidity within the album that was perhaps for some part within Let It Be, which despite containing a lot of strong material, did feel a bit disjointed.
Despite there being only two George Harrison songs on the album, I feel that at this point in the Beatles reign he was becoming a stronger member of the group and his material was reaching a level of quality that some of his earlier songs lacked. This is perhaps most evident in his first solo album All Things Must Pass, which showcased some of the material that he had hanging around after the dissolution of The Beatles. The album though is dominated by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, who take writing credits on fourteen of the seventeen tracks, with the former probably most evident in the vocal department. The dominance of McCartney on the album though is perhaps a reflection of the dominance he is claimed to have tried to push in the studio, a major reason for the unrest, but if this was the case, the strength of the material is not affected. In fact I feel that this separation within the group helped to make it the album it became, perhaps in a similar vein to The White Album, where tensions were also high.
1. Come Together *****
This for me is the best Lennon piece on the album, encompassing a great piece of production that creates a very sinister tone to the song, which although perhaps in contrast to the rest of the album is a great opening track. The lyrics a suitable obscure with lines that perhaps don't make sense when listening closely, but make up for that in sheer suggestion and creativity. The song has a number of builds and falls that make for quite a dynamic track that still remains quite low key and understated, with some great Lennon vocals that fit the lyrics and backing perfectly. The little 'shoot me' bits chucked in around the song can be heard more clearly on the Anthology release, which I would equally suggest for anyone with even a passing interest in the album.
2. Something *****
This is a great Harrison track that features, as with most of his songs of the Beatles era, a nice little guitar line and bass part that for me makes the song. The lyrics are some of his best, and the quiet nature of the song fits in well with the previous track and really does help to differentiate the first half of the album with the second. But for me the best version of this song has to be the Anthology version, which features Harrison alone with his guitar, which for me is how this song should be played, especially the main lift in the track which is done to perfection on there.
3. Maxwell's Silver Hammer ****
This is a fun little track that although not to the standard of the previous tracks in terms of lyrics and power, does stick in your mind. The song features a jaunty rhythm and backing that is dominated by a piano/keyboard part and recurring drum and symbol beat. The hammer sounds during the chorus though for me detract from the track and make it slightly too over the top, but the Anthology version (something I will probably return to many times) does not include this, which for me is to its benefit.
4. Oh! Darling ****
This is a moderate track and coupled with the next track makes for a slightly weaker patch, as this song does feel too repetitive. The dynamics of the song though are good, and although some of you may think that I am coming to this too often, the Anthology version, a more rough and ready version that falls into disarray is a better listen, with greater variety.
5. Octopus's Garden ****
As with most Ringo tracks, Don't Pass Me By not included, this is the weakest piece on the album, making for a dull overly silly piece that doesn't even come within a mile of the better tracks on the album. It has its moments, with some nice guitar work, but the lyrics it can never really achieve much more.
6. I Want You (She's So Heavy) *****
This is a track that many will simply skip, but for me this 7.47 near epic track is a classic, consisting of only three lines, its simplicity is its gift. This in truth is more of an instrumental track dominated by the guitar, which in the end leads to an abrupt end when Lennon decided that the track had gone on long enough. The instrumentation at first seems incessant, changes as they switch to the She's So Heavy part, something that continues throughout and means that no momentum is lost and the song retains its hold on you.
7. Here Comes The Sun *****
This is such a great track and another Harrison classic, with a very light backing and quite happy vocal and lyrics. This feels so fresh even today, and this helps it to slide into this album with ease and still manage to shine. Compared to the previous track, this seems miles apart in terms of style and it is, but both hold their positives, with this sitting not quite as a ballad, as it retains a certain degree of obscurity in the movement of the track and instrumentation, which contains the unusual parts that make a lot of Harrison tracks.
8. Because ****
I have never really liked this track and it is the one that probably lead to many seeing this as over-produced as it feels to fake and lifeless, taking away some of the magic that makes many Beatles tracks and simply looking at odd ways of presenting a lyric. The lyrics themselves are nice enough but don't really rank up there, and perhaps if they did it would improve the track. But then this does really mark the end of the singular tracks and it does act quite well as a transition, as it is very haunting and quiet, but not much else.
9. You Never Give Me Your Money *****
This is the beginning of what is often called the Abbey Road Medley, which runs from tracks nine to sixteen. This track is great with some really nice changes and dynamics going from a slower vocal piece to a slightly more powerful narrative part and back again. This marks the beginning of what I see as the second half of the album and it is a great one to boot.
10. Sun King *****
This is a slight reflection of Here Comes The Sun and holds a few similarities to it, but as a track in its own right it is a nice easy going piece with some more quite vocals and slightly haunting lyrics. In some ways I feel this track sums up what this album is about, a more laid back affair that is simply The Beatles making a great album.
11. Mean Mr Mustard ****
This is the beginning of a more obvious medley that has some nice jaunty backing and slightly surreal narrative lyrics about the eponymous character of the song title. In terms of progression the lyrics help to move into the next song with the mention of his sister Pam, but as seen in the Anthology, this was not always the case.
12. Polythene Pam *****
This is a more rock based number that follows straight on from the previous track and does continue in a similar fashion to the lyrics of the previous track. This is a great central track in the middle of this trio of songs that flows near perfectly together.
13. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window *****
At the business end of this medley within a medley, we have this great track that contains some nice lyrics that although not entirely logical and continuous, do make for a nice track and my favourite of the trio. The Anthology version though I feel is even better, although it is more of a single track in its own right and wouldn't have slide so easily at the end of the medley, as the arrangement changed so much.
14. Golden Slumbers *****
This is the beginning of another trio of tracks that really spill into one. This though is more of an introduction and has some great vocal work by McCartney to help to build you up and prepare you for the finale, which at the time was thought to be the last that would be heard of the Beatles in terms of studio material.
15. Carry That Weight *****
This flows from the next track with a nice drum beat and really builds on the last track by introducing more of an epic feeling song with harmonics and orchestral parts along with a nice guitar part that is really indicative of the rest of the album. Although not on the same lines as Hey Jude, this is close in terms of the structure of the final part of the song.
16. The End *****
For me although this fits in well with the rest of the album and features some really nice guitar and drum work, it is not really indicative of the rest of the band's work and makes for a slightly strange assumed end to The Beatles. This is a really good strong end to a strong album though, and considering what is seen on the Anthology release, this track improved immensely and the last few lines which many see as the overriding message of the Beatles, I won't spoil it, does actually making for quite a good finish.
17. Her Majesty ****
This is a 'hidden' track that was simply a song that was meant for the Mean Mr Mustard to She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, but was found not to suit the piece particularly well. But one of the engineers quite liked the track so he kept it and put it onto the end of the reel for the album and this was the result. It begins with the symbol from Mean Mr Mustard and is simply Paul with his acoustic guitar singing a silly little track about the Queen.
Overall then, this is a great album that should be right up there with everyone's favourite Beatles album as it is one of their best and for me better than the slightly overrated Sgt Pepper's, which although is a great album does not really sit at the peak of the Beatles catalogue. If you want to bolster a Beatles collection then look no further, and for those that want to start one, this would not be my first recommendation, but it wouldn't be a bad one either.
Much has been said of this record in terms of whether or not The Band really wanted to make it, most putting it down as simply a way of getting out of a contract with Capitol, so that The Last Waltz, their grand finale, could be released by Warner Brothers. Thus for most they would assume that this album did not get off to the best of starts and was doomed to linger at the back of their catalogue, and in a sense this is not to far from the truth as it is definitely not their best work, but it still contains a smattering of tracks that I am glad to own a piece of.
The album in truth is made up of a collection of B-sides and outtakes, with a couple of covers and a few new tracks, but this makes for an interesting listen, that far from being entirely cohesive is still a rewarding listen. Even though the lyrics and the instrumentation never reaches the heights of their best works, it still manages to entertain and it feels more upbeat than some of their other albums with a high tempo and short overall time making it a whistle stop tour of The Band's 'final' album.
The album began life in the early autumn of 1976, when Robbie Robertson declared that he could no longer keep up with the group's constant touring, but suggested that the group should go out with a band, a project that would lead to The Last Waltz. This developed and many famous faces cam aboard, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, which lead to it being set down for both a film and album. The Warner Brothers president, Mo Ostin, a friend of Robbie's put up the money for the film but wanted the album to be released on Warner Brothers also, so the group needed to fulfil their contract with Capitol and then move over to Warner Brothers.
This lead to the group looking to tracks they had been chucking around in their studio, Shangri-La, and they looked for a way to cobble these together into a reasonable album. Thus came about Islands, the title of which derives from an instrumental track at the centre of the album first developed by the group three years ago originally titled Dr Medicine Song. For me the highlight is Georgia On My Mind, a track that was originally set out as a hand for Jimmy Carter's bid for presidency in 1976, but the other tracks each have their own positives and negatives.
1. Right As Rain *****
I quite like this as an opening track, as it really does exhibit the sparser instrumentation and vocal style that continues throughout the album. This song, as well as a few others on the album does feel quite distant in terms of looking back on what has been and perhaps not retuning to the future. This track though, as with the rest of the album is so far from some of their earlier work, that it is only the vocals that really tell you who this is, but then at this point it was not so much the identity of the group as simple providing a contract conclusion.
2. Street Walker ****
Again this track to me feels very much trapped in the time in terms of production with the entire instrumentation package, but then many albums of the late seventies and eighties do fall down quite a bit due to the production. This song is about being lost in a world that is beyond you, perhaps something that was probably not too distant from some of the feelings within the group.
3. Let The Night Fall ****
I am not entirely sure why I like this track so much, but the slightly eerie night time feel of it does create an atmosphere and brings the lyrics to a greater conclusion and consistency. The lyrics themselves aren't much to speak of and the tiny organ languishing too far in the background makes this feel a tiny track when the vocals perhaps suggest that it could be otherwise.
4. Ain't That A Lot Of Love ***
This track does just feel so corny and over done in terms of a few areas, with the lyrics and basic structure letting it down. This though is probably what the group meant by not really caring for the result, as this would not pass through on earlier albums, when the focus was greater.
5. Christmas Must Be Tonight ****
Despite being covered in Christian and reflective imagery, this track manages to return from some of the elements shown in the previous track to give quite a nice little track. The vocals here a great and really bring out some of the lyrics which for the most part are not the worst that I have heard and do reflect some of the feelings that are felt and expressed during the Christmas period.
6. Islands ****
The instrumental track that lends its title to the album, this track is quite a nice little piece in its own right, and was described by Robertson as reminiscent of a movie track or something that would adorn a piece of cinema. And you can see that in the laid back, slowly ambling elements of the song, which are really in line with some of the instrumentation of the rest of the album, but still not to the standard that could be found on their earlier albums or in fact in their live performances.
7. The Saga Of Pepote Rouge ****
The title suggests much and could provide some of the beautiful narrative pieces from Music From Big Pink and The Band, but it turns out to be more of a mash of images and strange events. For me this really sums up the drop in lyrical quality that really does make this one of my least favourite albums by The Band.
8. Georgia On My Mind *****
Despite this being a cover, it is for me easily the best track on the album, doing away with some of the poor production and instrumental backing on the other tracks and creating more of a piece of music rather than simply a track. The vocal sails through the piece with an almost anthem-like ambling that very slowly builds to a slight crescendo at its conclusion. This for me does feel very much like a track created outside the bounds of this album, with a more focused arrangement and vocal line that creates a piece of beauty.
9. Knockin' Lost John *****
Following the heights of the previous track, we come to another pretty good piece that despite not reaching the heights of Georgia On My Mind, does still manage to feel like a track done by The Band. The backing seems more dynamic and the use of the vocals with the lyrics creates more of an original piece.
10. Livin' In A Dream ****
This does feel quite a bit like a child's nursery rhyme with a slightly sinister twist, but despite that it does turn out to be quite a nice piece. The drum orientated verses do occasionally grate, but the chorus part is good and helps to provide some degree of balance.
11. Twilight *****
This is the first of the bonus tracks and is a single left of the album, which for me is to the album's detriment, as it is a good piece that has more of a roots feel in terms of the lyrics, which are some of the best on the album. The backing is light and helps to smooth the vocals through the song rather than simply acting as noise behind them.
12. Georgia On My Mind (Alternate Take) *****
This take of the song for me is perhaps even better in parts than the album version with a different vocal style and a slightly different tempo perhaps brought about by it. Even though you can see a few mistakes and parts that should be addressed within it, the lighting backing at the beginning gives it more of a spectral quality that I just like so much. The build up section does fall a bit compared to the final take, but it is still passable and offers an alternative glimpse of the arrangement.
Overall then, this is an album with both ups and downs, although more of the latter in comparison to some of their other albums, but it still manages to hold together and is in parts a good addition to The Band catalogue. But for those of you who haven't previously heard much of their work, I would recommend that you leave this until you have purchased a few of their earlier records, or The Last Waltz if you want to listen to a variety of other artists also. Thus it can't be considered the bets album in the world but neither can it be considered the worst, so if you are a fan of The Band, then I would recommend this as a look at them doing a slightly different style of music than some of their previous works. (***1/2)
For America, 1968 was one of the most turbulent times witnessed since the finish of the World War II, with counterculture growing in force and size, leading the charge against any form of authority or leadership. And it was rock music that was given the charge of railing against the forces, becoming almost another form of protest music, but with psychedelia instead of folk. And then in the same year as Electric Ladyland and The Beatles, comes Music From Big Pink, an album built around roots/folk-rock that was completely against the grain.
For a group that had previously been the backing band for Bob Dylan's infamous 1966 world tour that shocked its audience with its use rock backing for someone who was previously seen as the cover boy for folk music, this was not the expected route. But ultimately the album went on to inspire and influence many groups and albums that would come about in the late sixties and early seventies, and would mark the recreation of a group formally known as Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, with the heading of the eponymous rockabilly legend.
But even though at the time it seemed like a sudden step to take in an environment built for the loud and raucous, the album had developed from the time they spent with Dylan in the house that lends its name to the album title, in what would become the Basement Tapes. These sessions would be documented on the 1975 release The Basement Tapes and on various bootlegs (A Tree with Roots). They themselves provide a glimpse of the fun and development that must have occurred during this time for both Bob Dylan and The Band, but also shows some of the early versions of the songs that would be featured on the final album.
1. Tears Of Rage *****
This track begins with an organ piece that for me really sets the tone for the rest of the album, which itself is for a part dominated by the instrument. The song though is a lament to the loss of a relationship, written by Bob Dylan and sung beautifully here by Richard Manuel. When comparing this to the release on the Basement Tapes, which is sung by Bob Dylan, the style and the melody remain pretty close, but it feels larger here and makes it more of a hard hitting opening track and must have been a shock when first played for contemporary audiences.
2. To Kingdom Come ****
This is a far more upbeat track and despite its rather religious suggestions in the title, feels removed from that despite still possessing some of the lyrics to play into this. The feel of the track and the lyrics though do give the impression that this is a group that has a strong footing in family values and a clean upbringing, an impression shown to be true from the band themselves.
3. In A Station ****
This again changes the pace of the album and is far more of a dreamlike song, with a floating vocal and almost whimsical lyrics, something that would become for me very much connected with the songs of Richard Manuel, contrasting with some of the more rocking numbers written by Robbie Robertson, who would later become the dominant lyricist in the group. The song does help to break up the rhythm and forces you to sit up and take notice rather than simply let the songs be played at you.
4. Caledonia Mission *****
At this point in the album you begin to realise that the guitar, an instrument seen as the dominant piece in a rock band has been forced to the back thus far, and this idea continues throughout with Robertson claiming that after overloading with guitar solos during Dylan's 1966 tour, he wanted an album where the other instruments were given more of a voice, and for that I can am entirely in his debt as it makes it a far more interesting listen that what it otherwise may have been. The track itself is quite dynamic with the chorus building up with what would become the classic Band harmonics with each voice given its own place and not simply forced into a harmony.
5. The Weight *****
Probably the most well-known track by The Band, this track is for me a highlight of the album as it works on so many levels, with the laid back verses and chorus that simply allow you to amble along with them as they take you through this rather odd almost-narrative piece. The simple drum work by Manuel is great as it really drives the track and does set the place for the rest of the instruments, allowing the vocals also to become of greater measure. The only true testament to this track would be for you to listen to it for yourself and it will provide you with an indication of what The Band is truly about.
6. We Can Talk ****
After the laid back pace of The Weight, we return to a more upbeat piece that is dominated by the organ part and really expands the sound and creates more of a soundscape than simply a song. The dynamic element of the song again really helps to lift it and the layers of vocals gives this track The Band stamp.
7. Long Black Veil *****
This cover for me is a great example of the instrumental prowess that is one of the reasons The Band became as influential as they did, as each instrument seems to build up by itself and they turn from singular forms to one single large sound that creates one of the best backings I have heard.
8. Chest Fever *****
The organ opening is similar in style to that of Tears Of Rage, but becomes far more engaging and creates the ideal platform for the build up to this more rock based track. The sound again, as with the whole album, feels so full and can hardly be knocked as it perfectly compliments the layers of vocals and lyrics that helps to pull this album away from some of the other releases of the time.
9. Lonesome Suzie *****
This is a far more low key track that is quite sparse musically in comparison to some of the other tracks, but this does help to break up the larger sound found on some of the other tracks. This does though remind me of the pieces found on The Basement Tapes, as it combines the haunting vocal style with the more back to basics backing that is a major element of the sessions.
10. This Wheel's On Fire *****
The second Dylan track, which for me does build on the version found on The Basement Tapes as the vocals are bolstered by a far better baking and the pace of the track as a result, is more suited to the style of the song. If you want the definitive version of the song look to this, and leave any other covers alone as they pale in comparison to this.
11. I Shall Be Released *****
Another track that has become synonymous with The Band despite it being written by Bob Dylan, this track takes on a mellower style on the album, but would become the more upbeat and powerful track that I prefer after touring and live performances. There are various versions of this track, but my picks would have to be the version done for The Last Waltz, a few of the live performances around the same time, and the acoustic version done for Bob Dylan's second Greatest Hits album.
12. Yazoo Street Scandal *****
This is the first of the bonus tracks on the album, with this being an outtake from the album sessions, which from the backing music is obvious as it doesn't have the same style and feel as some of the other tracks. But despite this I feel that this is a very strong track, and even though it would not have been able to fall straight onto the final album, does stand as a great track in its own right. But for me the best version of this is found on The Basement Tapes.
13. Tears Of Rage (Alternate Take) ****
This take is quite similar to the final version, but does feel not quite there in terms of vocals, as they do waiver at some points, and the instruments do feel a bit hesitant, as if they are still trying to figure the song out.
14. Katie's Been Gone *****
I really like this track although it does slightly play on a simple style and idea as seen on Lonesome Suzie, but this track previously done on The Basement Tapes does have a very upbeat feel that may have helped to break up some of the tracks and provided more of a dynamic, but it is still a great build on the Basement Tapes version.
15. If I Lose *****
I think this is one of the demos done before the album in a small studio, as the quality is slightly lower, but this simple track with light vocals and mainly piano, drums and guitar backing, is a nice little track that provides a nice look at the development of the group and their roots.
16. Long Distance Operator *****
This is another track taken from The Basement Tapes that is very similar to the originally, but is given a bit more meat in terms of instrumentation. This track has a nice simple lyric and is really just a nice little track that is really pushed on by the driving beat and rhythm of the instrumentation.
17. Lonesome Suzie (Alternate Take) *****
I really like this take of the song, as it does feel more upbeat with the piano part and the vocals do feel slightly lifted. For me this is a better version, but would not perhaps be very cohesive in terms of the instrumentation with the rest of the album, but then breaking this is sometimes a good thing.
18. Orange Juice Blues (Blues For Breakfast) ****
This track was first done at The Basement Tapes sessions, and this version features just a barrel piano for backing, which makes for a nice little track that does feel like a demo, but is still a great track in its own right.
19. Key To The Highway *****
The album credits this song to Big Bill Bronzy, who is often seen as the main promoter of the song, but it was first recorded by Charlie Segar. The song itself though is a nice run through of this classic blues track, although the instrumentation removes it from its roots and makes it a far more upbeat track that does work well.
20. Ferdinand The Imposter ****
Another demo of slightly lower quality, but is still a really nice track that features some nice piano and drums again that really help to build the vocal part. This track does feel like a work in progress, but I would have liked to have seen it done to completion.
Overall then, this album is one of the most influential records of the period, turning its back on the style of the time and creating a masterpiece. This introduced The Band in their own right and was the start of a great discography from a great group. The instrumentation can't be put down as it does really control this album with the expanse of it at times overwhelming, becoming more of a statement. This started off a trio of albums by The Band that could be counted among some of the best of all time, which for five guys that just wanted to make great music is a huge achievement. If you want to start a musical affair with The Band, then I cannot think of a better place to start than here, although perhaps their second album would suffice for those that want to hear their most applauded record.
Before I begin the review, I will say that even though I usually give ratings to each song, in this case I will not, as every single track is worthy of five stars, which for me just shows what a truly classic album this is, as few albums can come to that level. Now I have been a long time Dylan fan, and even though this was one of the first albums of his that I bought, I still love to listen to it, it is just spectacular. It is though an emotional record, taking down Dylan's thoughts on his split from Sara and what he is left with, they were together for some years, so it hit him quite hard and dominated many of his songs for a few albums. The tracks themselves go back to a more restrained style for Dylan involving for the most part just him and his guitar (and light drums), recorded quite intimately, which helps to put across the personal side of it, expressing his grief like never before. Ever single song provides a new angle to the divorce, and tells its own story, even the outtakes from the album, and the alternate New York recordings give them new leases of life, and show that with this new outlet for his grief he could produce some spectacular tunes. It is a tale of anguish and sorrow, but more so than many records it takes you inside that, allowing his fans to gain a more personal insight into this usually quite protected man. I don't think looking at the critical analysis of this would be worthwhile, as the majority agree with me, so I will let the songs do the talking.
1. Tangled Up In Blue
A classic, which has gone through a few changes over the years showing the biographical content that it provides. It is not I hesitate to say a straight biographical depiction of the meeting of the two, but is a metaphor for the relationship, full of anguish and the unexpected, taking quite a few turns and mishaps. On the album the first person is used, but when it came to later performances, it took on a new lease of life with a third person style, that allows it to become more story than history. The guitar and drums here perhaps hid some of the anguish of the story, as they are upbeat and sound quite powerful, but the dynamism of them is the main feature, showing the propulsion of the tale as the two are joined.
2. Simple Twist of Fate
A simple incredible song that describes how life can change in an instant, almost as if by chance, as the story again focuses on a man and his tale of loss and loneliness. He is held back by his past deeds and his apprehensive attitude to life, which leads him to lose the one he loves, told in a very sparse style. This very intimate approach heightens the sense of pain in the voice of Dylan as he calls out the final line of the chorus and launches into a harmonica solo. It is not a song with an overstated message, more of a story with no happy ending, just a tale of one man and the world which seems to have betrayed him, a feeling the Dylan likely had at the time.
3. You're A Big Girl Now
A more complex song musically, including a greater level of texture and layering, which helps to show the thick layering of the lyrics themselves, which show love, pain and betrayal at the same time, as he explores the growth of his former wife. It is almost as if he feels that their divorce was necessary to allow her to grow and develop in her own way, or perhaps that was the reason she left, unable to cope with Dylan's life in the spotlight, wanting to break free to gain her own sense of independence. It is a complex song lyrically, with the backing music suggesting a farewell to old times, but some of the interjections by Dylan suggest almost a sense of relief, although he has always been hard to fully read and interpret.
4. Idiot Wind
Another very complex song that took Dylan a few takes to do in the way he wanted, exploring it in a spiteful and mellow style, with many takes found on bootlegs. This version is a spiteful finger pointing song, which questions Sara's motives and actions, asking whether they were truly in their interest. The song tries to make sense of who was to blame for the split, with the majority of the verses putting Sara as the villain, but by the song's conclusion, he suggests that it was their joint fault, both idiots forever to lie forsaken. The lyrics themselves are quite graphic and the building up of the instrumentation back the emotional and powerful vocals provided by Dylan, which come to the fore for the chorus, whilst going in an exploratory nature throughout the verses.
5. You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
This is probably the happiest song on the album, which itself could be considered a straight love song, which in truth it is. But then it is about his lover leaving him and how he will miss them, suggesting that he doesn't want it to end, putting there love into terms found in nature and the flow of life. The lyrics themselves could have come from Planet Waves, which was probably one of his happiest records, coming just before this, but the acoustic and bass guitar backing means that it is less about simple being a love song, moving more towards the personal and emotional sides of it, it transcends the usual and becomes more than it may perhaps suggests.
6. Meet Me in the Morning
This was another song that was developed other a few tries, going through a number of lyrical changes before the final version was found. This song is more about the reactions of the separation, trying to show that the event is more than simply two human beings becoming separate, suggesting almost that the world is caught by it, even the animals reacting to it. The song becomes an emotional struggle to gain a sense of what to do next, as he tries to find his footing when the rug has been pulled from his feet. This is another song that is layered with instrumentation, which to me again suggests perhaps a few layers of meaning and takes a few listens to get a full sense of its true meaning.
7. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
Perhaps the odd one out on the album musically, as it is done in a style that most would relate to the Wild West, the setting for this narrative song, which is so fuelled with metaphor that it becomes a struggle to comprehend even when reading through the lyrics. Essays could be written on this track, which like the other tracks with a fuller instrumentation, have a greater number of meanings and could be read in a number of ways. The story itself is a bout a man, the jack of Hearts coming into a town, where he meets a past love who is due to be married, but in the fit of the moment stabs her fiancé and is hung as a result. It turns out that the Jack of Hearts is only in town to help with the robbery of the bank, and swiftly leaves, making a mess of a scene that began quite serenely. Most people read Dylan as the Jack of Hearts and Rosemary as Sara, but the song also seem to hint that Rosemary may also be Lily, providing her with a duel personality. The very complexity of it is to difficult to even begin examining, but in truth it is another look at the frailties of relationships and how fast time can change the surest things.
8. If You See Her Say Hello
After the musically and lyrically complex previous song, this guitar and vocal performance is a nice change, with a much less confusing lyrical part that obviously expresses his sorrow at the break up and his desire to see her continue on without him. You may think that this goes against some of the other tracks, but when you look at the complexity of some of the pieces, the layers of emotion and different feelings suggested are all part of this. In the song they are separated by distance, but in truth this perhaps just suggests a separation of ideas and emotional separation. He also seems to try and force away those who try and comfort him in his loss, trying to make sense of everything by himself.
9. Shelter from the Storm
Another simple astonishing song that is again so lyrically complex it becomes a tale of mystery in itself. In this though the character that Dylan meets houses him and takes him in when she feigns others, allowing him to gain a sense of belonging and well being after time alone and destroyed by life itself. But they eventually part and he is left to go out into the world alone once more, braving strange cultures and ways of life he has not experienced before. He also suggests more reasons for the break up, saying that he took too much of the relationship for granted, and should have been around for more of it. It is a tale of loss and broken love, with Dylan left confused and alone by this brave new world, where no on else seems to offer him any respite after he lost the comfort of Sara.
10. Buckets of Rain
A pure guitar song, with Dylan expressing his grief simply as buckets of tears, sorrowful and stricken at his new found singleness. This is less of an overly complex piece, and seems to want to simply get it out of his system, expressing his stilled desire for her, and his misery at losing that sense of knowing and connection. Dylan could always write brilliant love songs and this seems to come from that tradition, taking on a love song form and idea for the verses, but the chorus, which is not a major part of the song, acting as the reality of the situation. He wants the past back, but he realises what is lost can't be found and fulfilled.
This is truly one of the purest expressions of emotion for loss and grief that there ahs ever been, taking on a huge amount of emotional layers even in one song. I think I have only begun to scratch the surface of this album and to truly understand and comprehend it, you need to listen to it for youself. It is perhaps one of his most complex albums lyrically, taking on a huge amount of facets and little references, which too fully comprehend it would take years, exploring the metaphors and complex use of pronouns to describe the first person as well as the third. It is always considered one of Bob Dylan's best records, but also as some of the best records ever made, a title that is far from undeserved in this case. Even if you don't like Dylan, this is one album that should be in your collection, or any collection for that matter, as it is simply a masterpiece.
Piano Man is the first album Joel released after his time in piano bars and playing in clubs, which lends itself to the title. This period occurred after the poor showing of his first album, Cold Spring Harbour, an album that was originally released at the wrong speed, thus giving his voice a rather squeaky quality. But even though you will find a few gems on his debut, this can in reality be considered his unofficial debut album, where he begins to come into his own and provides quite a few good tracks. This was his first album to be released on Columbia records after his struggles with his previous contract with Family Records, one of the factors driving him to go into hiding in piano bars. The album consists of a lot of material which could in truth be considered influenced by the Wild West, with a few tracks lending either there music or lyrics to this, notably the Ballad of Billy the Kid. But it is also an album with quite a few undertones of a young man looking for his place in the world and in the music business. Some consider his first attempt at the epic to be Miami 2017, but I would say that Captain Jack off this album is much more of an epic and supersedes it by a few years. Much of the material on the album though never flowered much success, and it was only through Piano Man, now a signature song for Joel, that any true glint of stardom could be seen, but many of the tracks still remain concert favourites, and as such should be heard by any Billy Joel fan to see where it all began.
1. Travelling Prayer ****
This is the first example of a Wild West influence, coming in through the music, which is upbeat and almost march like, as Joel quickly recites the lyrics to this little tune. The song itself is simply a prayer of hope that his lover will be safe when staying away from him, owing itself to that of a love song of sorts, although the music would suggest crosswise. The banjo makes this more of a hoe down track, but it is a statement of intent from the 24 year old, not afraid to cross musical barriers and create this nice opening track.
2. Piano Man *****
One of the big highlights of the album which lends it its name. This song is a biographical account of his feelings from the piano bar he worked in, creating characters that he describes with vivid memory and passion, putting the song into context and bringing the listener along with him. The harmonica interjections are nice and make this feel like a more rounded track, also revealing a Bob Dylan influence, something that becomes more obvious from listening to My Lives. This was the only single on the album and is now considered one of Joel's best loved songs, with almost anyone able to sing along or at least able to recognise the track.
3. Ain't No Crime ****
This is more of a pop song showing a Motown influence with the backing vocalist and the jaunty feel that protrudes it throughout. This is another song that could be seen as a calling of youth, telling people that it is not a crime to be who you are and do want you want to do. It could also be seen as an expression of relationships and a young man's desire to find some meaning in it all. A nice upbeat song that is a mirror image of the last song, contrasting it nicely.
4. You're My Home *****
Another famous song from the album, this love ballad is a beautiful rendition of someone providing him with meaning and reason to go on. Whether this is a personal song is to be seen, but the emotion in his vocals is clear and may suggest as such. The instrumentation is solid and backs the lyrics well, but I sometimes feel that perhaps a sparser backing track may have given this a nicer feel, but it is a nice track regardless and worthy of a place among his greatest hits.
5. The Ballad of Billy the Kid *****
The main western influence on the album is this track about the famous boy thief, "robbing his way from Utah to Oklahoma". This is another nice upbeat track that really makes this album a good listen, comprising some nice narrative lyrics which make this age old story intense and give it a new lease of life. The almost orchestral feel of the track, in no small part down to the chorus, gives it an epic feel, which is a possible tag given that it is 5.45. But this is more about how the same story can be related to today, providing it with a modern comparison today, perhaps something from his years on Long Island.
6. Worst Comes to Worst *****
A very funky track which has some nice wah-wah guitar and an upbeat drum and piano line. This is again about not letting anyone tell you that you are wrong, just letting life go by and enjoying it for what it is. The lyrics themselves are nice and simple but provide a good message, and just really make for a nice upbeat track.
7. Stop in Nevada ****
Another narrative style of track which talks about a woman free of responsibility simple doing what she feels like, taking a stop in Nevada on the way. This has a duel feel, with a low key sound for the verses, but building up for the chorus lines and providing a bit of a punch. The instrumentation is much the same as the rest of the album, but still feels suitable and not overused.
8. If I Only Had the Words to Tell You ****
Another love song of sorts that still contains a suggestion of conflict within the relationship, but with the singer still remaining faithful to his other half. The jaunty piano line gives this an almost epic feeling, trying to build up to a finale as he calls out to the world about his love for the woman, and what he would give to say it in a manner suitable for the strength of it.
9. Somewhere Down the Line *****
A song which does feel as if it is designed to build up to the final track, but is in fact a good song in its own right, again talking about forgetting consequences and fears, and just enjoying where you are and what you are doing. It does though feel quite biographical, with the lyrics done in the first person, giving it an even more important ring and strength.
10. Captain Jack *****
The epic finale to the album, which is still today a fan favourite a concerts, check out the version on Songs in the Attic for a nice version. This is in truth a drugs song, which never really specifically says this, but the suggestion is there, and even though it does use other more vulgar terms, it relies on suggestion to guide the listener. The character from the title appears to be the dealer, which I think Joel hinted at in a couple interviews, claiming he was someone from his neighbourhood when he was young. It though is a good expression of some young people's desire to find a thrill greater than that which they already have, rejecting personal relationships and connections, instead getting high in order to find some meaning in the world. A great epic that should be listened to for its poignant lyrics and bleak expression of the youth of then and perhaps today also.
Overall, this is a solid album that is never really looked upon well by casual fans and critics, but if you give it a chance then I am sure you will enjoy at least some of it. And if you are a fan but still don't own this, then do so, not just for the historic value, but also to show the development of the singer and where some of his classic songs come from. His earlier records all hinted at an expression of youth and dismay at society and many of the songs on this do that idea justice, taking on an occasionally sinister tone, as with the final track, but smoothed over with some more up beat numbers that provide a good listen on this overlooked gem.