Prince’s fifth album, 1999, was released in 1982 and was the first to have the band The Revolution play on it. For many mainstream rock fans, this would be the first time they came across Prince and his brand of rock/funk/pop/soul. A one-night stand is detailed on his first top ten hit, “Little Red Corvette”. The sleek rocker has a great female vocal from Lisa Coleman whose brief vocal adds texture to the “ride it to the ground” lyric. While the original release of single “1999” stalled high in the charts, the ubiquitous new year’s eve track is one of Prince’s, and pop music’s, most popular songs. The infectious party anthem sees a shared vocal between Prince and other members of The Revolution who sing of bombs and destruction over the punchy drum track.
Upbeat third single “Delirious” has a squiggly keyboard line before the darker and harder beat of “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” appears. The original album was a double vinyl release which allowed Prince to stretch out on funk tracks such as “D.M.S.R.”, the crisp beat of “Automatic”, and rock guitar of “Lady Cab Driver”. For fans of pop music, the album 1999 is front loaded with the hits coming fast and furious. However, for those wanting to explore further, the funk workouts at the end of the disc all ride a fabulous groove that rarely outstay their welcome.
The second disc on this release features various promo mixes and B-sides. Your love of it will depend on how much you want to listen to several versions of the album tracks with only minor differences from the originals. It is a bonus to have the 7” versions of “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” that immediately jump into the track vs. the album versions. Of the three B-sides, the soulful “How Come U Don’t Love Me Anymore” from the “1999” single is the pick.
The sixth studio album from David Bowie, Aladdin Sane, was released in the spring of 1973. The iconic lightning bolt album cover has been recreated countless times by fans and other artists, it also possibly more famous than a lot of the music contained within. Having to follow-up two classic albums, Bowie wrote much of this album, a pun of “a lad insane”, in the US and has been referenced as “Ziggy (Stardust) goes to America”. A bit more rushed with a glam rock stomp, the music of Aladdin Sane has a nostalgic yet futuristic feel, especially on second single and #3 UK single “Drive-In Saturday Night”.
The album can certainly rock – “Watch That Man” has horns and piano aplenty as Bowie recalls a night on the tiles in a stream of consciousness like lyrics. Mick Woodsmansey’s drums add jungle beat behind Mick Ronson’s opening guitar lick on “Panic In Detroit”. “Cracked Actor” is a violent, dangerous song of an actor meeting up with a prostitute as Bowie sings, “crack, baby, crack/show me you’re real”. Mike Garson’s piano adds a barroom feel to the cover of The Rolling Stone’s “Let’s Spend the Night Together” before the most famous song here, “The Jean Genie”, adds another flash of glam rock with a blinder of a chorus.
The harder hits can steal some of the thunder but it’s the slower tracks that really settle in. The title track asks, “who will love Aladdin Sane?” on a song about bright young things being sent out to war. While the “The Jean Genie” is a belter, the closing track “Lady Grinning Soul” is a stunner. The atmospheric track may sound a bit like blur to 90s listeners. It’s an incredible song once again built around Mike Garson’s piano that sounds classy and mysterious at the same time. Aladdin Sane would continue to see Bowie’s star rise with a set of songs that make it essential listening for fans of 70s rock and roll.
As with many attempted recordings in the last few years, the pandemic tripped up the artist’s original intentions. Belle and Sebastian had originally planned to record in Los Angeles but instead recorded in their hometown of Glasgow for the first time in 20 years. “Young and Stupid” compactly captures some of the classic B and S sound with a nostalgic sounding tune while “Come On Home” is jaunty with an added organ. Several tracks such as “Prophets on Hold” add synths with more of a dance beat and here, band leader Stuart Murdoch sings “…and I close my eyes, to see you again”.
Stevie Jackson takes over the vocals for the country ballad “Deathbed of my Dreams” and charmer Sarah Martin sings the synth driven “Reclaim the Night”. A number of tracks on A Bit of Previous get wrapped up in religion like “Working Boy in New York City” where “everybody gets an even shot at making heaven”. Where it lacks is the clever Belle and Sebastian turn of phrase and memorable characters of past classic songs. While A Bit of Previous won’t reach essential status, Stuart Murdoch and mates are “heir(s) apparent to the scene” who can still knock out a fine record 25+ years on.
Released mere months after his last album, Bringing It All Back Home, 1965 saw Bob Dylan issue one of his seminal albums in Highway 61 Revisited. Though the album is not chock-a-block with Dylan hits, it is widely regarded as one of the greatest records ever made. Recording took place in two blocks with the first being in mid June and the second in late July. In between recordings is the infamous electric set that took place at that year’s Newport Folk Festival which was a signal of what was to come.
Recording with a band on virtually every track for the first time in his career, Hwy 61 often has the feeling of a great band swinging behind Dylan with their heads down while he presents his vignettes. With six verses in six minutes, “Tombstone Blues” is a sped up number where “mama’s in the factory, she ain’t got no shoes”. The mysterious and atmospheric “Ballad of a Thin Man” questions that, “something is happening here/but ya don’t know what it is/do you, Mr. Jones?”
With the accompanying band, organ and piano play a key role on several tracks. “Queen Jane Approximately” has great piano/organ lines courtesy of Al Kooper and Paul Griffin. While Hwy 61 references the road that travels from his old home in Minnesota through to New Orleans, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” first line, “When you’re lost in the rain in Jarez” shows we’re not in Duluth anymore. The album is bookended by two epic tracks, the last being “Desolation Road”. The eleven minute song is the only one delivered here acoustically and touches on historical figures of Einstein and Cinderella among a cavalcade of others.
The most famous song on the album is the first track, “Like a Rolling Stone”. Introduced by it’s instantly recognizable drum shot from Bobby Gregg. The song is also musically notable for it’s improvised organ riff courtesy of Al Kooper. The celebratory chorus sees Dylan ask several times, “How does it feel?”. It’s a song that is near impossible not to get swept away in. By 1965, Bob Dylan had already released a couple classic albums but in Highway 61 Revisited, he released an album that blasted him past rock and roll luminaries who had to quickly accelerate just to keep up.
Reaching for something bigger for their eighth album, Beach House released a double album of 18 songs back in February. Once Twice Melody is separated into four chapters – Pink Funeral, New Romance, Masquerade, & Modern Love Stories – each named for a song in the section. It’s not unusual for the duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally to release this many tracks, in 2015 they released the albums Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars less than two months apart. However, a double album is a different beast all together.
The first chapter, Pink Funeral, is one of the album’s best. The title track arrives in a swirl of synths with a soft drum beat appears that sounds like it’s played beneath a pillow. Strings appear when Legrand delivers the “no matter where you go” line. Throughout the album, many tracks differ in how Legrand uses her voice. A more serious, determined voice brings a harder edge to third single “Superstar” whereas her voice takes a more ethereal, floating quality on “Through Me”.
Slightly weaker in quality, The New Romance chapter is highlighted by the seven minute opus “Over and Over”. Driven by a simple beat, the song drifts along but adds brighter synths and a shimmering chorus. Masquerade contains two of the albums best tracks. Acoustic guitars are prominent on “Sunset” as Legrand reminds us that “just one key ties everything”. A sun dappled vibe features on “Only You Know” with a echoe-y chant of “Don’t….Blink…”
Once Twice Melody closes with the Modern Love Stories set of tracks. A basic Casio keyboard beat powers excellent second single “Hurts to Love”. The uplifting song tells listeners that “If it hurts to love/you better do it anyway”. More darker and tension filled is album closer, “Modern Love Stories”. The track has a mature electronic sound that reminds of Pet Shop Boys where “The end is the beginning/beginning to an ending”.
With this many tracks, the Beach House sound both expands and contracts. Like most double albums a few tracks could have been left on the cutting room floor however, the band sets that floor very high. On Once Twice Melody, Beach House have created an expansive album that envelops the listener into a more dreamy and sumptuous world.