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Old 10-03-2011, 11:59 AM   #331 (permalink)
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Tapestry --- Carole King --- 1971 (Ode)


One of the mega-albums of the early seventies, a huge hit and a massive success for singer/songwriter Carole King, “Tapestry” was in fact her debut album, which makes it all the more remarkable that there were five hit singles from it, four of which reached number one! Since its release, to date, “Tapestry” has sold over 25 million copies. Not bad for a first effort!

Carole King had of course written songs for other artistes, and many had hits with her songs, like Aretha Franklin, who made “(You make me feel like) a natural woman” something of a signature tune for herself, and of course James Taylor, who scored a massive hit and enduring success with “You've got a friend”. But this is Carole's album: she writes or co-writes every track, and what she doesn't write on her own she contributes the music to, as in two tracks where the lyric is supplied by Toni Stern. On three others she shares songwriting duties with ex-husband Gerry Goffin.

The album opens with “I feel the earth move”, a pacy, upbeat song about love, which has been covered by many artistes down the years, the most recent I recall being Martika. The style of the album from the off is quite laid-back, almost jazzy, folky in places, but it's by no means an album of ballads. “So far away” is one though, a wistful, almost pleading song asking why people don't stay together. It's a simple piano-driven song, with King's voice as simple and yet as distinctive as that of the late Karen Carpenter, singing as if she's been doing this all her life.

“It's too late” is one of the standout tracks on the album, a disarmingly uptempo song whose subject matter is far from fun, the bitter realisation that a breakup is unavoidable, as Carole sings ”Stayed in bed all mornin' just to pass the time/ There's somethin' wrong here, there can be no denyin'/ One of is changin', or maybe we just stopped tryin'”. It's carried on bouncy piano with some nice acoustic guitar, and was one of the many hits from the album. It's also one of the few Carole did not write, lyric duty falling to the aforementioned Toni Stern, music by Carole.

A great fusion of pop and folk modes, “Tapestry” was in fact the biggest-selling album by a solo artiste until Michael Jackson came along with “Thriller”, and smashed all records. Not bad though: that was 1982, so she kept the top spot for eleven years. The album features some names which were to go on to be rather huge, including Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Russ Kunkel and a young Danny Kortchmar. Another piano ballad, with country flavour and a touch of gospel, “Home again” keeps the quality high with some lovely piano from Carole, and a simple melody and theme.

“Beautiful” is a much more uptempo, happy song, with a “smile and the world smiles with you” idea, with an almost carnival ending, while “Way over yonder” fuses blues and gospel perfectly in a touching little ballad that's almost a hymn in disguise, with some supersmooth sax work. There's just nothing that can, or needs, to be said about the next track. A huge, massive hit for James Taylor, as well as others, I think everyone knows “You've got a friend.” It's followed by “Where you lead”, a sort of mid-paced rocker with some great keyboards and a soul chorus line. It's the second track on the album written by Toni Stern, though interestingly there's a line in it which very closely mirrors one in “You've got a friend”... The song would be seen nowadays as sounding like the words of a submissive, subservient woman, with lines like ”Where you lead I will follow” and ”If you wanna live in New York City/ Honey you know I will”, but come on, this was 1971!

Another hit next, already a big success for the Shirelles in the sixties, again everyone knows “Will you love me tomorrow?” and yes, Carole King wrote it, along with Gerry Goffin. Her own version is a much slower, laid-back and piano-led version than the bubblegum pop of the original release, and so much the better for taking its time, with excellent and powerful backing vocals from James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. Another collaboration with Goffin, “Smackwater Jack” was also a hit, although of the singles taken from the album, this is one I have never heard prior or since, but it's a bluesy bopper, with a great piano line and striding guitars. Honky tonk! Without question the most fun track on the album.

The title track is a nice little ballad played on piano and guitar, almost the testament of a much older woman, with an interesting little parable within its lyric, and the album closes on another by-now famous song, that one that made Aretha so famous, “(You make me feel like) A natural woman” ends this incredible debut on a high, with a powerful, anthemic love song with gospel overtones.

Carole King is one of those people who a lot of music fans will not know, or even know of, but the chances are that her music has touched almost everyone, whether it's through TV or film soundtracks, hits for other artistes, or her own music. Like the title of the album says, it's all part of the one wonderful interwoven tapestry. Now approaching seventy years of age, Carole is still busily recording, and doesn't look likely to slow down for some time. It's rather fitting, then, that our week of seventies album reviews kicks off with such a classic, iconic and timeless offering from a woman who has had more impact upon the music scene over her forty-year career than just about anyone else I can think of.

TRACKLISTING

1. I feel the earth move
2. So far away
3. It's too late
4. Home again
5. Beautiful
6. Way over yonder
7. You've got a friend
8. Where you lead
9. Will you love me tomorrow?
10. Smackwater Jack
11. Tapestry
12. (You make me feel like) A natural woman
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Old 10-04-2011, 08:14 AM   #332 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Tuesday, October 4 2011
Epica, Epica, bloody Epica! Seriously, doesn't the random-o-meter know that choosing the same band over and over is not random? I think this is about the fourth time we've had a track from this band, and here they are again, this time from their album “Design your universe”, this is “Martyr of the free world”.

Martyr of the free world --- Epica --- from "Design your universe" on Nuclear Blast


A somewhat heavier and more straight-ahead rock song than previous tracks we've featured from Epica, this is a pretty powerful song, with thunderous drumming and great guitar, but on the minus side they do tend to use that bloody “death growling”, even though it's only in backing. Interesting use of choral vocals too, making up a fairly complex track really.
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Old 10-04-2011, 09:52 AM   #333 (permalink)
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Black Rose : a rock legend --- Thin Lizzy --- 1979 (Vertigo)


Right on the very cusp of the seventies, one of Lizzy's most successful albums, and yet Black Rose is usually eclipsed by the likes of “Jailbreak” and “Renegade”, even though it charted higher than either. It also features the “classic” Lizzy lineup of Phil Lynott, Gary Moore, Brian Downey and Scott Gorham, and gave birth to some pretty big hit singles for the band. But it's on the songs that weren't released as singles that this album really shines, as we shall see.

It kicks off right away with one of Lizzy's top hits, “Do anything you want to do”, with the utterly distinctive twin guitar sound of Gorham and Moore, one of the most tuneful guitarist pairings of that era. Lynott is in fine form as he dispenses his advice: “People that despise you/ Will analyse and criticise you/ They'll scandalise and tell lies / Until they realise you/ Are somebody they should have apologised to/ Don't let these people compromise you.” It's a simple song, an empowerment song with a great beat, and excellent rumbling, echoey drumming from Brian Downey.

It leads into “Toughest street in town”, continuing Lizzy's typical rejoicing in their “street” roots, of being ordinary guys, as Lynott sings of the typical goings-on that could be attributed to any street in Dublin, London or indeed any other town where people are disaffected and bored. Opening with a great soaring guitar riff, the song has some great backing vocals from Moore and Gorham, and of course the obligatory guitar solo from Gary Moore, ripping right through the heart of the track. Lynott rails against street crime as he snarls ”It's just another black spot/ Where far too many people have died/ It's just another graveyard/ And there's not too many people left alive!”

“S&M” is much funkier, with a lowdown bass opening, but in fairness it's a little hard to take seriously, especially the faked cries of “Ouch!” which even betray a grin behind them. Decent guitar solo, but overall I think a weak track. Nothing of the sort about the next one, another big hit for Lizzy, “Waiting for an alibi” has everything a hit single could want: melody, hook, great vocals and a blistering solo, with a chorus that sticks in your head like Superglue. From the opening growling bass to the soaraway guitar lead it's a winner, kind of revisited years later on the “Thunder and lightning” album, another song of gambling and losing. Great backing vocals again, very important.

Everything goes all pop then for the ballad on the album, Lynott's sugary-sweet tribute to his newborn daughter, Sarah. Helped along by Moore, Lynott crafted a song which although it's by far the most lightweight thing Thin Lizzy have ever done, still retains the classic trademarks, the guitar sound, Lynott's distinctive singing, even a Gary Moore solo. But there's no doubt "Sarah" is commercial fodder, and indeed when released as a single, did very well. Hey, at least it's not “Kathleen”!

“Got to give it up” is one of only two tracks on which Scott Gorham contributes, which begins with an almost acapella vocal by Lynott, sweet blues guitar by Moore leading the track in before it becomes another hard-edged rocker with the story of another addiction, this time that of dependence on alcohol. It retains something of the basic melody of “Jailbreak”, and one would have to wonder whether it was autobiographical, considering Lynott's problems with drink.

Although Lynott writes, or co-writes every song on the album, “Get out of here” is the only one on which he pulls in an outside influence, this being Ultravox's Midge Ure, who would of course go on to be a successful artist in his own right, and one of the leading lights of the Live Aid movement in the mid-eighties. It's a good rocker, though it is hard to see Ure's influence on it, as it doesn't sound that much different to any of the other Lizzy tracks. “With love” is a Lynott solo effort, not as might be expected a ballad, but another rockin' tune with a hard guitar edge delivered by Gorham, its melody very closely approximating at times his big solo hit “Dear Miss Lonely Hearts”, which he would not pen for another year, though perhaps he already had the basic tune in his head.

The album closes on the title track, suffixed with the Irish translation, so that the complete title becomes “Roisin Dubh (Black Rose): A rock legend” --- the Irish part is pronounced “Row-sheen duv” – and is split into four sections, running to a total of just over seven minutes. It's quite unique, being in fact four traditional songs strung together, each forming a part of the song. Part I is “Shenendoah”, a rollicking, rocking intro to the song, where Lynott uses the tales of Irish mythology like Cuchulainn and Maeve and interweaves them into the narrative of the traditional song, before part II comes in on the familiar air of “Will ye go, lassie, go?” performed by Gary Moore with great technical expertise and an obvious respect for the original song, even throwing in an Irish reel for good measure.

Part III is “Danny boy”, churned out with mad enthusiasm by Gary Moore, with the final part being “The mason's apron”, bringing the piece to a rocking, pulsating close, and indeed finishing a fine album off in fine style.

“Black Rose” serves to show just how versatile Thin Lizzy could be at their very best, and this is as close as it gets. It's not suprising the album did so well, and is so highly regarded among Lizzy fans and critics alike. It's also bittersweet, as there would be only three more Lizzy albums before the tragic death of Phil Lynott as 1986 began. If there was a pinnacle to be reached, I believe Thin Lizzy achieved it with “Black Rose”.

TRACKLISTING

1. Do anything you want to
2. Toughest street in town
3. S&M
4. Waiting for an alibi
5. Sarah
6. Got to give it up
7. Get out of here
8. With love
9. Roisin Dubh (Black Rose): A rock legend

Suggested further listening: "Renegade”, “Jailbreak”, “Bad reputation”, “Thunder and lightning”
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Old 10-04-2011, 10:39 AM   #334 (permalink)
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Time for some real weird sh1t, man, from the weirdest of weird times, the seventies! One guy who made his name during that time was Japanese electronic music pioneer Isao Tomita, usually just known as Tomita. Kind of a Japanese Vangelis I guess, but judge for yourself. This is from his 1974 debut album called “Snowflakes are dancing”, and it's a little piece called “Arabesque No. 1”.


Then we have seventies folk supremo Gordon Lightfoot, with a hit single from his 1978 album “Endless wire”, this is “Daylight Katy”.


Can't have a seventies selection without my elder sister's pop idol at the time, Gilbert O'Sullivan! This is from 1970, and it's a clever and quite biting in ways song called “Nothing rhymed”.


Everybody by now knows Tony Christie's 70s hit “Is this the way to Amarillo”, due to its re-release and popularity a few years back, but did you know that the single prior to that, 1971's “I did what I did for Maria”, charted higher than its better-known cousin?


And to finish up, a song I thought I'd never hear again, but thanks to YouTube here it is. From 1975, Peter Shelley and a song that coloured much of my teenage years, “Love me, love my dog”.
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Old 10-04-2011, 10:42 AM   #335 (permalink)
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Today the worm remembers a great man and a great song, from 1977, the late Gerry Rafferty with the all-time classic “Baker Street”.
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Old 10-05-2011, 07:43 AM   #336 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Wednesday, October 5 2011
I guess it's inevitable that some of the RTOTDs are going to be repeats of tracks from albums I've already reviewed, though my music collection is large enough that they should form the minority. Here, however today, is another one. Blackfoot, from their 1981 album “Marauder”, and it's the opening track.

Good morning --- Blackfoot --- from "Marauder" on Atco


A great opener to the album, “Good morning” is a rocking, rollicking powerstormer that just rattles along at breakneck speed, faster than a desperado outrunning the posse! Probably not the sort of song you want to wake you up, but hey, you wouldn't sleep through it!
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Old 10-05-2011, 08:13 AM   #337 (permalink)
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Well, if you're going to cover a song, at least make sure your version stands out from the original! That was certainly the case when Ken Boothe covered the big Bread hit “Everything I own”, and scored a huge hit with it in 1974. Rearranging the love song for a reggae beat and speeding it up slightly, and also adjusting the lyric to "anything I own" rather than "everything" --- for what reason I don't know --- Boothe's version actually outperformed Bread's original by getting to the number one slot, whereas the original had only made it just below the top thirty when released two years previous. Boothe also managed, through the reggae treatment, to introduce the song to the Caribbean and West Indies music scene, where it was played regularly on the radio there.

I personally don't think he did a bad job with it (certainly better than Boy George, who essentially just copied his version, speeding it up a little), but I'm a Gates fan and I prefer the original, with its wistful, melancholy and bittersweet tale of love lost and regret for things passed. At any rate, here as usual are the two versions, so you can decide which sounds better to you.

Oh, and yes, I do realise that the previous “Run for cover” also featured a David Gates/Bread composition: pure coincidence, I assure you...
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Old 10-05-2011, 09:06 AM   #338 (permalink)
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Spanish train and other stories --- Chris de Burgh --- 1975 (A&M)


My favourite and without doubt the best of Chris de Burgh's early albums (see my review of “Crusader” for a rant and diatribe on his later material), “Spanish Train”, as it is generally known, is a great album, but it does suffer from a few duff tracks. Only his second album, it broke him wide open commercially, spawning the massive hit and perennial Christmas tune, “A spaceman came travelling”, as well as the uproarious “Patricia the stripper”. And just like that, Chris was a household name, and could do no wrong.

But it's the opener, and title track, that truly shows de Burgh at his very best. A slow-paced tune with more than a little Spanish guitar, castanets and violins, it's the tale of the Devil trying to take souls and God fighting him, and the Spanish train in the title is the train that will ferry the dead to Hell, in an update of the Greek myth of Charon, boatman of the River Styx. It's a powerful song, mostly sung almost in a murmur by de Burgh, except for the chorus, where he gets quite animated. It's a real storyteller's song, and a complete triumph on every level.

“Lonely sky” comes in as probably the second-best track on the album (no prizes for guessing the standout!), a mournful, piano-driven song of loss and longing, with some lovely choral touches. At times it sounds like there's mandolin in there as well, but I don't see it credited on the album. Nevertheless, some lovely orchestral arrangements on a fine song. “This song for you” shows, for me, a slight dip in quality next, with its First World War theme, accordion and piano driven and sounding very twenties, the sort of song that might be sung at one of those godawful “knees-up”s that the English are/were so fond of (we call it a sing-song, but I still hate them).

To give Chris de Burgh credit, he writes every song on the album himself, and also plays guitar as well as piano on two tracks, this being one of them, and he knows how to write a good song, as evidenced by the two opening tracks, but personally I hate “Patricia the stripper”, which maintains the 1920s theme with a very vaudeville/Oscar Wilde-type narrative in the lyric, which is, not surprisingly, about a girl who strips for a living. It was a big hit, and is one of the songs he always performs live --- or performed, I'm not sure if he does live appearances anymore --- but it just never hit a chord with me.

Of course, the next track is known to just about everyone (and quite possibly hated by some, in the same way that Slades “Merry Christmas everybody” can be), as one of the overplayed songs you hear on the radio and TV at Christmas: in fact, expect to hear some Djs spin it anytime soon --- only eighty shopping days left, you know! To be fair, it's a great song, if a little simplistic, with its tale of the alien who comes to Earth and promises to return again in 2000 years. Its infectious chorus is hard to resist, and the verses are sung with quiet reverence by Chris, with fairly minimal instrumentation, the band really only kicking in fully at the chorus. Trust me, if you haven't heard “A spaceman came travelling” before, you soon will. As mentioned, it was the song that gave de Burgh his first worldwide hit, and set him on the path to international stardom.

As so often happens with albums, there is a “tipping point”, and for me this is it on “Spanish train”. The next few songs are okay, but nothing special, certainly nothing like the calibre of the previous tracks. “I'm going home” is a pleasant ditty, recounting the joy at returning from foreign parts, and is probably one of the faster tracks on the album, with some nice keys and the odd jerky guitar solo (!), while “The painter” is a stark tale of suspicion, betrayal and revenge, played out against a very minimal melody, and an almost spoken vocal, closer to poetry than song, until the chorus when it becomes a sort of jazzy/boogie tune. De Burgh is at his most manic on this song, almost spitting out the lines as he grins like a lunatic, promising ”I swear I'll take care/ Of that painter!" A good sax line helps the melody along with almost New Orleans jazz and be-bop.

Things slow down then for “Old friend”, an introspective little song about friendship and memories, carried mostly on de Burgh's acoustic guitar. The song gathers a little more speed near the end, becoming a shade like previous track “This song for you”, and ends on a jaunty acoustic line, with nice backing vocals.

The album ends strongly, as it begun, with two tracks to close it. The first being the excellent mediaeval fairy tale “The tower”, another acoustic offering about a man who imprisons a woman in his castle but cannot secure her love. The rhythm of the song is almost lyrical poetry, and it's a lovely song, handled with clear and precise vocals from Chris. The finale comes with “Just another poor boy”, a thinly-disguised story of a Jesus figure and the woman who falls in love with him. It's powerful, emotional, evocative and impressive, with the end lines ringing in the ears long after the song has faded away: ”Accusing him of spreading lies and hate/ His public meetings were a danger to the State/ Some soldier said 'Who was he, anyway?”” Simple, powerful, and in many ways a chilling end to an album which begins with a battle between God and the Devil, and ends with the return of the Saviour.

As I say, “Spanish train” is not flawless. It suffers from some poor tracks, especially near the end, but the sheer quality of the better tracks bolster up the weaker ones, and it's the likes of the title track, “Lonely sky”, “The tower” and “Just another poor boy” that you're left with remembrances of. Oh yeah, and that spaceman!

After this album, Chris de Burgh went from strength to strength, becoming a bona fide pop star, not only in his native Ireland, but all over the world. He became known for deep, thoughtful love songs as well as powerful statements in song, and successful album followed successful album. Up until that fateful day when he composed that thrice-accursed “Lady in red”, and became forevermore extricated with that song. After that, a large percentage of the public could only ever see him as “the guy who wrote that song”, and though his album sales didn't suffer, I believe his artistic integrity did, and for me, he was never again the man he had been in the seventies and eighties.

“Spanish train” is something of a time capsule, an artist of unparalleled talent caught at the very cusp of his creative flair and genius, as he reached for, and achieved, the fame he so richly deserved.

TRACKLISTING

1. Spanish train
2. Lonely sky
3. This song for you
4. Patricia the stripper
5. A spaceman came travelling
6. I'm going home
7. The painter
8. Old friend
9. The tower
10. Just another poor boy

Suggested further listening: "Crusader”, “Eastern wind”, “The getaway”, “At the end of a perfect day”, “Man on the line”
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Old 10-05-2011, 09:10 AM   #339 (permalink)
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Hey, the worm ain't vain (what's to be vain about when you're only a few inches long and can't even stand up?) but he likes this seventies classic from Carly Simon, ostensibly written about Warren Beatty, but no-one is really sure.
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Old 10-06-2011, 11:00 AM   #340 (permalink)
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One of the top disco/pop bands of the seventies and early eighties, the worm fondly remembers Errol Brown's Hot Chocolate, and one of their big hits. From 1978, this is “Every 1's a winner”. Cool, man!
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