Classic Album No. 9 – Dire Straits – (Dire Straits, 1978)

In 1978 when punk was in its heyday, disco fever was in full flight, and new wave synthesiser-based bands were gearing up, Dire Straits released their debut album. On it was the song Sultans of Swing, which became a top 10 hit, and has since become a classic. Mark Knopfler and his band (John Illsley on bass, David Knopfler on  rhythm guitar, and Pick Withers on drums) came out with gritty, bluesy, rock sound that reflected the darker mood of the country at the time.

While the shows Mark Knopfler’s ability on the guitar, I can’t help but think that some of what is on here is improvised during the recording. It’s probably not, but having that feel to it adds an extra dimension to the sound, with all of those ‘spare’ notes tacked on to the songs. Illsley and Withers provide a tight, fantastic rhythm section, and rhythm is what this album is about. This might not be their best-selling album, but it sure is, in my view, the best.

The album is a collection of well-written songs that begins with Down to the Waterline a song about teenage liaisons in Newcastle, followed by the laid back Water of Love.  The third song on the album is Setting Me Up which is one of the best. It is three minutes of upbeat, foot-tapping rhythm and show cases both guitar players. David Knopfler really shows how good a rhythm guitarist he is on this album. Six-Blade Knife is a dark song that slows the pace down with folky/bluesy feel, before Southbound Again (another of my favourites) raises the pace with all the intensity of a clackety-clack train ride.

Sultans of Swing starts side two (at least it did in the days of LP records!) and I don’t think that there is much I can say about this song that hasn’t already been said. It’s a classic song in anybody’s language. Then comes In the Gallery, a story about a sculpture overlooked in life and feted after death. Knopfler chews out the words with a sort of suppressed rage at the injustice of it all.

The final two songs, Wild West End and Lions take me back to the London that I used to visit in the 80s. It was probably not that much different to the 70s (all those who disagree, feel free to – I don’t mind). There is a texture to these songs that reflects a young man in a big city, watching the world, watching the girls, living a frugal life with time to watch and see the world as it is, pick up the little details. These two songs take me down memory lane.

And that’s it. A great debut album from a band with a lasting sound. Enjoy it at the link below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FV_WE6RPR9M

Classic Albums No. 8 – Cold Chisel (Cold Chisel)

Can you get a more quintessentially Aussie band than Cold Chisel? I don’t think so. Who are Cold Chisel? I hear some of you ask. And that in itself is a sad question. Cold Chisel did not make the same the impression overseas as some other bands, yet they were, and still are, a great rock / blues band that surfaced in the mid-seventies based in Sydney. They took pub rock and made into stadium rock. I don’t know why they didn’t conquer the world, but they have a collection songs that stand the test of time. The main songwriter is Don Walker (who wrote all of the songs on the album, except Juliet which he wrote with Jimmy Barnes. Don Walker plays keyboards. Jimmy Barnes is the lead vocalist, Ian Moss sang lead vocals too and plays guitar, Phil Small – Bass, and until recently the late Steve Prestwich (who also wrote his fair share of songs) played drums. There’s affair bit of Saxophone and Harmonica on here too. They are still playing and remain one of Australia’s favourite bands.

Cold Chisel was their debut album, released in 1978. Some prefer Breakfast at Sweethearts or East as the best Chisel album, but for me this ticks all the boxes (I’m a sucker for the raw debut album). The opening track Juliet is a hard rocking song that introduces Jimmy Barnes’ voice Then comes, perhaps one of the most iconic Aussie songs of the 70s – Khe Sanh – it uses keyboards as the major instrument. This is a story about Vietnam veterans and their struggles once they returned. It has been sometimes referred to as the Australian National Anthem. I can clearly remember it providing the background to my first attempt at horizontal bungee in a Sydney pub in 1993. This song was banned from radio for a while due to the lyrics – thankfully we have all moved on from those sorts of decisions.

Home and Broken Hearted follows – more gritty rock. Like Juliet this has the raw edge to it that characterises many songs on debut albums. One Long Day and Rosaline (both sung by Ian Moss rather than Jimmy Barnes)take on a more bluesy feel, adding depth to the album, distinguishing it from many one- dimensional rock albums, as well as showing Don Walker’s song-writing ability. He must be one of the premier Australian songwriters of the last 40 years in my opinion.

Northbound and Daskarzine are both blues-rock that mix great guitar work with the trademark keyboards and Barnes’ gritty voice. Then Just How Many Times finishes of the album with its laid back blues, showing how Jimmy Barnes can also slow it down for the blues.

The sequencing on this album also works really well. Juliet sets the mood, and then the songs vary in intensity, taking the listener up and down, before finishing with the reflective Just How Many Times easing the listener out. I wholeheartedly recommend that those who don’t know Cold Chisel, but like this album chase up their other albums. This album is the complete package, and an incredibly mature collection of songs that indicated that this band were here to stay.

 

You can listen to the full album here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzH7pVGgYbQ

Classic Albums No. 7 – Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols

We travel back to 1977 for this one, and anybody who doesn’t know this album must have been living under a rock. What can I say about the Sex Pistols that hasn’t already been said? Not much. When you talk about influential albums, this is one of the best examples. Some say that the Pistols weren’t the first punk band, or that others were better, but stuff them. The Sex Pistols put together an album that stands the test of time. They successfully fused punk with radio friendly songs and had a charismatic and in your face frontman. Perhaps the Ramones came close (I really like their music), but there is nothing they produced that resonated so hugely. Punk was an underculture until the Pistols hit the scene and took it into the mainstream.

Never Mind the Bollocks starts with the sound of marching boots, steady drums, and some strong chords, before the real song starts with the guitar riff and the line ‘Cheap holidays in other people’s misery’. Johnny Rotten’s voice has a wailing, sneering arrogance. The tone of the album has been well and truly set as Holidays in the Sun cranks along. Next comes Bodies, an in-your-face song about abortion, followed by one of my favourites – No Feelings. My favourite line in the whole album is in this song. Who can go past I’m in love with myself, my beautiful self. The satire of many of the songs, it’s comment on society, and many others, can get lost in debates about the musical genres etc, but is to gloss over the thought that went into them.

Other highlights on this album are the classics God Save the Queen & Anarchy in the UK, and of course Pretty Vacant (this along, with No Feelings, is my favourite songs). Pretty Vacant is just an awesome pop song (more comment and satire in this one).

A scan of the rest of this completely solid album (Liar, Problems, Seventeen, Submission, New York, E.M.I.) reveals good quality punk songs, excellent musicianship, and an uncompromising approach.

Steve Jones is a perfect guitarist for the band, he also played bass on all but two songs (Sid Vicious played on Bodies and Glen Matlock on Anarchy in the UK), and Paul Cook’s drumming drives the whole machine. As I said earlier, Johnny Rotten’s voice wails over the top of this, which is what stiches it all together.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Records took the risk with the Sex Pistols when other majors were not interested, probably seeing the band as too controversial (a fact not lost on the band  – see last track E.M.I) and more power to him for doing that. He knew what he was doing. This is a defining and influential album, the sound of a generation of dissatisfied youth. It had energy, it had anger, and it had balls. They don’t make albums like this anymore. Pity.

Full album here. When you listen to it, turn it up LOUD! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bucVwI0RfEg

Classic Albums No. 6 – Non Zero Sumness (Planet Funk)

A bit of a change of style for this classic album. Sometime in 2004 I was searching through the bargain bin at the now sadly defunct Purple Ear record shop, when I came across this album on sale for the grand total of 5 dollars. I bought it on the strength of Chase the Sun and Who Said, both big hits. What an amazing and delightful surprise it was. Those two tracks are club / pop classics that need little introduction, suffice to say that they really rock. Planet Funk are an Italian band that really know how to write kick-ass melodies with great dance rhythms. And not only that, they have a great ear for guest vocalists.

Non Zero Sumness starts with Where is the Max – an instrumental with a steady trance-like beat. (It was later included as One Step Closer with vocals by Jim Kerr from Simple Minds). Then comes Chase the Sun, sung by Auli Kokko. What follows is Sally Doherty (one of my favourite singers as you all know – at least you do if you’ve followed my Classic Singer series) singing All Man’s Land. Her voice makes me go weak at the knees, it’s so perfect on this song. Then come two club songs sung by Dan Black – The Switch and Inside All the People. They are great pieces of pop, mixtures of dance, pop, and are all class. Sally Doherty is back with Under the Rain – love this one too, and I have it on good authority that she wrote the melody and lyrics for this one – kudos to Planet Funk for getting her in on this awesome track.

Then Dan Black returns to sing on Parrafin. He has a distinct voice (he also sang on Who Said) which contrasts nicely with that of Sally Doherty. Piano Piano is perhaps the weakest track on the album but is a nice instrumental, which is followed by Tightrope, a song that features yet another vocalist, Raiz. This track has a great building intro that is almost a bit hip-hop, but morphs into a pop / club track. Then comes Who Said, and the the final track, The Waltz,  another wonderfully hypnotic song with Sally Doherty. There is a hidden extra track, Rosa Blu which is a sort of drum and bass instrumental – a very relaxing way to end the album. And that’s another thing about this album – it is really well sequenced, taking the listener on a journey of relaxation and elation. Top marks for this, one of my favourite albums. In my opinion it is Planet Funk’s best, but if you like it, the more recent The Great Shake is also worthwhile listening to.

You can (and should) listen to it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3P6YJZImYY&list=PL5E3C70E8690A96B7

George

Classic Albums No.5 – A Tonic For the Troops (The Boomtown Rats)

A Tonic For the Troops by the Boomtown Rats is my next classic album. Released in 1978 as the punk era was incorporating itself into the mainstream pop culture. The Boomtown Rats has released their first album the previous year and had some minor success, with great single Looking After No 1, but it was this album that launched them into the big time.  Sometimes maligned as being a sort quasi-punk band, the Rats were nothing like this – they were a pop group who wrote great melodies with intelligent lyrics and used the full range of instruments. They were accomplished  musicians.

The album starts – tick tock tick tock tick tock – with Like Clockwork  with a slightly off-not guitar with some fast drumming before Bob Geldof’s vocals come in. This is an ideal opener because it promises lots to come. What comes next is Blind Date, an energetic song that blends a rolling drumbeat with some Rolling Stone-esqe  guitar riffs. The bass guitar moves the song  along and the use of Harmonica just adds a nice touch.

Next comes one of my favourites – (I Never Loved) Eva Braun a satirical take on Hitler’s mistress. This, in my opinion, is a masterpiece of pop. It’s changes of pace, laid back verses and accelerated chorus with the dependable guitar melody and good use of keyboards (a feature of the Rats), along with whistling (yes whistling) and drums at the end just make this a magnificent song.

Living In an Island shows a touch of reggae influence, while Don’t Believe What You Read has a punk influenced vibe all through it, showing how the Rats incorporated all sorts of styles into their songs.
The first song on side two is She’s So Modern, which reached No 12 in the UK charts. This is a delightfully punk-influenced pop song that must get you up to dance, a cacophony of sound that blends perfectly into something  fabulous.

I thought Me and Howard Hughes was not the strongest song on the album, but as it follows such a strong song as Modern Girl I think I might be being a bit harsh. It has a nice melody and motors along as it describes a recluse. Can’t Stop brings a frenetic pace to the album with Geldof’s near hysterical voice adding to the out-of-control vibe (unfortunately I couldn’t find a link to this one).  A Tonic For the Troops finishes off with (Watch Out For) The Normal People  which is a dig at conformity in the suburbs, but is, for me, is great pop song, and the iconic Rat Trap, the Boomtown Rat’s first No 1.

There’s not much I can say about Rat Trap that hasn’t already been said. It’s a story about a Saturday Night in Dublin. These of keyboards, saxaphone , the slow intro, and the build up to a rip-roaring end. But more than that, this is a story, a comment on boredom in the city, a lack of hope, generational chains keeping people down. This is what a pop song should be.

Anyhow, I couldn’t find a link to a full album on youtube, so I have included links to the as many songs as I could below. So long for now.

George

Like Clockwork – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtDhMScCkcQ

Blind Date – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7pblzUnr6E

(I Never Loved ) Eva Braun – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQUu1HTRPYA

Living In An Island – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7twG_BXZn0w&list=PLA67E032B0269F2A3

Don’t Believe What You Read – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfREM2iVfug

She’s So Modern – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZH2fknRMLE

Me and Howard Hughes – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TdPRjcG8As

Can’t Stop  – no link that I could find

(Watch Out For) The Normal People –  as 11:23 on this one of the Peel Sessions http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVQpxcQbD8E

Rat Trap – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJ02zCMoxCo

Classic Albums 4 – Rick’s Road (Texas)

So, we’re onto Classic Album No. 4 – Ricks Road by Texas. This didn’t seem to get the same traction as some of their later albums but, in my view, it is jam-packed full of quality. There is a bluesy vibe that gives this album a soulful feel. This, combined with the great pop overtones, makes for an evolution from the previous album, Mother’s Heaven. Sharleen Spiteri’s voice is as smooth as honey and blends with Ally McErlaine’s guitar and Johnny McElhone’s bass to perfect harmony.

The album begins with So Called Friend, an upbeat pop number that gets the listener into the mood and then comes Fade Away, which has a hard-edged guitar riff and a thumping rhythm. This is where I think I can hear that blues influence, with a great heavy bass part from McElhone to drive the song along. Listen To Me is one of the highlights for me – a melodic, soulful song that shows Spiteri’s voice off at its best.  Next comes You Owe It All To Me –  the intro is a classic with great keyboards and the kicking first lines ‘I never thought they’d be a time, when all you’d wanna do is fight’. There is angst in Spiteri’s voice and the use of flat notes / minor chords and heavy echoing keyboards just adds to the mood.

Beautiful Angel carries on with the mood, albeit with a bit more of an upbeat feel only to be slowed down by So In Love With You – another angsty song that has soaring vocals and a chorus that makes great use of subtle guitar chords.  From the opening notes of You Got To Take A Little Time you know it’s going to be an uplifting song, the harmonica gives it a hint of the deep south. It’s a foot-tapping ride that makes me smile. Then they hit you with the sultry I Wanna Go To Heaven – a reversal in the vibe, a guitar-based blues track that takes you back to the general blues vibe of the album. I love the use of keyboards on this track – not used hugely, but really effectively.

As the  album gets towards the last third, Hear Me Now raises the tempo again. This is a pop song with another guitar solo (there a few on this album!). The end of this song suddenly slows down, which is a great bit of work for the sequencing of this album, because the following songs are back to the slower tempo.  Fearing These Days and I’ve Been Missing You. The second of these is one of my favourite tracks on Rick’s Road with its hypnotic, steady rhythm (almost like a horse trotting along), great guitar and keyboard work, and wonderful singing. Finally there is Winter’s End – a perfect way to finish off. The gentle sadness in this song winds the listener down – Sharleen Spiteri sings “It’ll never be the same again” – and for me it wasn’t. This is far and away my favourite Texas album. The blues feel, the quality of musicianship, the attention to the melody, and a voice that is to die for, make Ricks Road just awesome. I can’t believe I didn’t include Sharleen Spiteri in my series of Classic singers, but she’ll definitely been in the next round.

That’s all for now. The link to Rick’s Road is below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5x2gh8PqRY

Classic Albums No. 3 – White Noise (Gary Numan)

The 3rd of my Classic albums is a live one! I set my rules specifying no compilations, but as this is a live album of a tour I think that I’m okay. And it’s my series, so I can break the rules if I want! So – number 3 is White Noise, by Gary Numan – a record of his Beserker tour. Good live albums are hard to come by, but Gary Numan is one of those rare artists whose live recordings are much better than his studio albums, – of course this is only my opinion (and I have 3 of those albums!).

I bought White Noise in 1985 when it came out and I can remember putting on the cassette as I settled down to do some homework (well I was only 16). Right from the moody instrumental intro to Beserker I was hooked. The man knows how to be dramatic with his music. You know there is something about to happen and you just have wait to find out what comes next. I didn’t get any work done, then again I rarely did, but this was different. It was like being at the concert.

There are 17 tracks plus the intro, so I won’t go into all of them, but it is an excellent live album that shows Gary Numan’s ability. My Dying Machine  thumps out an relentless beat with Cedric Sharpley on drums pushing the song along with the rhythm of a steam engine. This is a precursor to industrial rock. Then there is the hint of early 80s jazzfunk  with saxophone and funky rhythms on This Prison Moon and This is New Love. There is the middle-eastern tinged violin on Cold Warning and the ever present synthesiser on I Die: You Die. The bass guitar on Remind Me To Smile also has the funk sound to it. And all the while Gary Numan’s distinctive voice is pushed along by that industrial strength drumming and the backing vocals of Karen Taylor. Songs such as Cars and Down in the Park keep the pace up with dark edge. The album finished with Are Friends Electric which is really the pinnacle of the performance as the crowd joins in.

This album, like all good live albums, has high quality musicianship. It can’t be successful without that. John Webb, RRussell Bell, Chris Payne, Andy  Coughlan, and Karen Taylor do great work. And this album shows why Gary Numan was the first person to really succeed with synthesiser –based music. His early life in the punk era meant that guitars were used to good effect, the drumming was real – not synthesised, and he took in other influences. Some songs are really stripped back, some more complex, but they all work; they all get the feet tapping. He is an adaptive artist that knows how to meld it all together with great stage presence. It works best live – White Noise is a classic live album. There is drama in this album, changes of pace. It’s dark, it’s moody, and it’s magnificent.

You can listen to it here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63ULqxnQprQ&list=PLDF3ACE8470A66C77

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