Posted in Album Reviews

The Rolling Stones – Hot Rocks 1964-71 (1971)

When looking for a Rolling Stones greatest hits compilation, there are no shortage of choices as the band seems to release one every few years.  When the GRRR! compilation came out in 2012, it was easy to scoff at the name, the gorilla picture on the cover and that it was yet another compilation release from the legendary band.  However, looking back at the track listing, picking up one of the many deluxe versions was probably the one to get.  With those being harder to come by these days, we had to go back and look at what else is available.  We picked up the recently released, and terribly named, Honk compilation for hits after 1971.  For the years preceding that, we also purchased the music collection staple and the band’s bestselling album, Hot Rocks 1964-71

The first disc starts off with a few older tracks including “Time Is On My Side”.  With a stop at the first major Mick Jagger/Keith Richards classic, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, the disc really gets going with 1965’s “Get Off Of My Cloud”.  When we reviewed the boxset for Suede’s self-titled debut, we noted the track “Sleeping Pills” about housewives killing time and disappearing into their own minds. Possible inspiration may have come from “Mother’s Little Helper” with Jagger pleading – “doctor please, some more of these” as Mom’s just try to make it through the day. 

With the technicolour 60s in full bloom, the nihilist anthem “Paint It Black” is a staggering look into the abyss.  “I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes/I have to turn my head until my darkness grows”.  A track like “Under My Thumb” would not get made today due to the overtly sexist lyrics of keeping a girl in her place.  Having said that, it’s hard to resist Bill Wyman’s fuzz bass line and Brian Jones’ marimba that I’m sure was a standout in dance clubs throughout the 60s. The anthemic singalong ballad, “Ruby Tuesday” follows before the effervescent “Let’s Spend the Night Together” closes out the first disc.

With respect to “…Satisfaction”, the guitar riff of 1968’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is right up there.  The violence strewn “Street Fighting Man” still packs a punch. Nicky Hopkins’ piano and Jones’ sitar in the chorus adds a frenzy before both drop away in the verse to let Richards and drummer Charlie Watts hold a steady groove. “Sympathy for The Devil” keeps all its menace intact before the disc focuses on the Let It Bleed tracks including opener “Gimme Shelter” that sounds like a bomb going off while ushering out the sixties.

Where the album slips slightly is by including the nearly nine-minute live version of “Midnight Rambler” from the Get Yer Ya Ya’s album that came out a year earlier. It might make more sense on the album as the first track on side four but on CD it takes away from some of the momentum that has been in full force for nearly an hour.  The choir that opens “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is heavenly before the album closes with rock radio staples “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses”.

Of all the Stones compilations, Hot Rocks remains a firm favourite that has never gone out of fashion. The run of songs from middle of disc 1 to middle of disc 2 is extraordinary.  The only nitpicking would be to swap out a couple of tracks and include “She’s A Rainbow” which seems to grow in stature every passing year.  Even with a few minor quibbles, it’s hard to go wrong with the best rock music ever created.

10/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Lana Del Rey – Norman F*****g Rockwell! (2019)

Since we started following her career with the release of “Video Games”, Lana Del Rey has had her fair share of detractors. What people can’t say is that this artist is not putting in the work, Norman Fucking Rockwell! Is her sixth(!) studio album since 2010.  Released over a year ago, the first sounds most listeners heard from Rockwell was the nearly ten-minute single “Venice Bitch”.  It narrowly missed our top ten favourite tracks of 2018, the long song never drags and includes the lyrical earworm “bang bang kiss kiss”.  Released at the same time, “Mariners Apartment Complex” is one of the best here, commenting on helping a friend in their time of need with Del Rey relating “you lose your way, just take my hand”.

Many tracks here reference California including one named for the state that references Lennon/Ono that your personal war is over if you want it to be.  “Fuck I Love You” was the last track written for the album that says California is just a state of mind, your problems don’t leave you just because you’ve moved.  “The Next Best American Record” sounds the most like classic Del Rey and recalls the aforementioned “Video Games” in her lyrical inflections. “The Greatest” is a track that Amy Winehouse could have sung.  A classic sounding song with modern lyrics – “I’m wasted… the culture is lit and I had a ball”

Master producer Jack Antonoff co-produces many of the tracks with her but it’s Lana Del Rey that’s the master as she carries many songs with minimal accompaniment, some with just a spare piano and her voice. A few tracks in the middle could easily have been sung by any decent pop singer but songs like “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It” could only be done by Del Rey. Featuring several of her best songs, this may be her strongest set of music to date.

8.5/10

Posted in Album Reviews

The Beatles – Abbey Road (2CD Anniversary Edition) (2019)

The Beatles along with Giles Martin (and Sam Okell), continue their 50th Anniversary releases with iconic Abbey Road having issued Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles (aka The White Album) in recent years.  As with those releases, we have forgone the $130 CDN super deluxe edition and put our hard-earned money down on the 2-disc collection that has the remixed version on disc 1 and outtakes on disc 2.

The first side of Abbey Road veers from darker blues of the John Lennon tracks and harder rock songs to some of their most celebrated pop songs. Album opener “Come Together” is best remembered for its psychedelic lyrics about “ju ju eyeballs” and “got to be good looking cause he’s so hard to see”.  The eight minute “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” mostly repeats the title of the song with a few added lyrics in mantra like fashion with various shades of affection and guitar effect. 

McCartney takes over and shreds his vocals on “Oh! Darling” but also offers the much maligned “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”.  Similar to the charming “When I’m 64” from Sgt Pepper’s, this is a bridge too far with what Lennon called Macca’s “Granny music”.  Ringo Starr’s solo composition “Octopus’s Garden” is a fine slice of childlike whimsey.  “No one there to tell us what to do” is sure to appeal to the youngest of Beatles fans and a reason why they are beloved by both the young and the old.

The two big highlights come from George Harrison.  “Something” is a traditional love song wrapped up in dreamy psychedelia.  Harrison pleads “You’re asking me will my love grow, I don’t know, I don’t know” over a nice bit of Ringo drumming. Side two starts with “Here Comes the Sun”, a song that floats in on a cloud after the heaviness of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”

The next several tracks up the ante on Abbey Road.  The palette cleanser of “Because” leads into “You Never Give Me Your Money”, the song that opens the medley of eight tracks all strung together.  Starting with just McCartney with his piano it goes into a bit of old timey piano. “Sun King” is awash in a sunlit haze whereas “Mean Mr. Mustard” is more upbeat and introduces us to raucous garage rocker “Polythene Pam”. “She said she’s always been a dancer” is a lyrical highlight of “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” before McCartney belts out the chorus to “Golden Slumbers” that magically spins on a dime to the thundering drums of “Carry That Weight”.  “The End” rocks out with a guitar line later lifted by The Beastie Boys but also offers the classic line “the love you take is equal to the love you make” before a few moments of silence…. Then the lite ditty “Her Majesty” appears and secretly gets into your head for days.

As a whole, the first half of Abbey Road is very good rock record with a few ebbs and flows.  What lifts it to greatness is the suite of songs on side two that don’t really sound like they should go together but are strung together so magnificently that it sounds like they were born as one. It’s hard to have hands type fast enough while exhilarating “The End” plays. 

Unlike the anniversary editions for Sgt Pepper’s and The Beatles, the outtakes on Abbey Road don’t feel as essential. The drums and a big fat bass are pushed to the forefront on “Here Comes the Sun” and there is a rawer vocal on “Come Together”.  The studio demo of “Something” with a prominent piano and more ragged vocal is really interesting but the outtake of “Octopus’s Garden” falls apart in under two minutes. There is simply no need to hear “Maxwell Silver Hammer” or “She’s So Heavy” in outtake form.  An instrumental version of “Because” is pleasant but the outtakes of the suite of songs that make Abbey Road great just don’t live up anywhere near to the final product. 

Abbey Road  – 10/10

Abbey Road Outtakes – 7/10

Posted in Album Reviews, Singles Going Steady

Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)

Our Bob Dylan journey continues as we work through The Complete Album Collection Vol. 1.  Here we arrive at his first classic disc, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.  Released in May of 1963, a year after the self titled debut, it sees Dylan make a startling leap forward as he moves from mostly covers to mostly originals including several of his most important songs.  I did own this album before buying the box set but had never given it more than a few scattered listens throughout the years.

The first three songs alone seal the greatness of this album.  “Blowin’ in the Wind” takes the tune of “No More Auction Blocks” and creates one of the greatest folk songs ever written.  One that seems like it has been around forever, not just since The Beatles were singing “Love Me Do”. “Girl From the North Country” is influenced by old folk tune “Scarborough Fair” and is a lovely track of looking back on an old love, perhaps a high school sweatheart from back in Minnesota.  “Masters of War” is laser focused on the politicians in charge of pulling the war strings.  The anger at those who send kids off to war comes through in several scathing lines –  “come you masters of war… you that hide behind desks…I just want you to know, I can see through your masks”

Recognized by music scholars as one of his most complex, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is episodic in nature.  Upon hearing it performed at the Gaslight Café, singer Peter Blankfield commented that “every line kept building and bursting”.  It’s hard not to stop what you’re doing while this plays and just listen. Still powerful 50+ years later. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” speaks of the loves that pass through one’s life for a short but intense time then disappear. “I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul” ….but that’s alright, it was good, now it’s time to move on. 

The first half of the album hits harder but the second half does have a few understated gems. “Oxford Town” is a short two minute track about James Meredith being the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi in 1962.  “Corinna, Corinna” is refreshing after the much longer “Talking World War III Blues”.  A traditional song with a few Robert Johnson lyrics thrown in. All the other songs leading up to this just feature Dylan so it takes a few seconds to realize there are drums and a band playing behind his impressive harmonica work. Based on a Leadbelly song, “I Shall Be Free” adds a bit of levity at the end of an album that addresses many serious topics that were at the forefront of 60’s culture.

The cover photo of Dylan walking down a street in the West Village with then girlfriend Suze Rotolo is iconic and one of the best album covers of all time.  Still ranking high in most lists of the greatest albums of all time, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan has not diminished at all. While not perfect, Dylan’s first classic album containing several towering songs is one that should be in all serious music collections.

10/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Liz Phair – Girly Sound To Guyville (2018)

I’m not sure of the exact timeline but I have a distinct memory of buying The Juliana Hatfield Three’s Become What You Are disc on the same day I bought Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville.  Released in 1993, the debut album from Liz Phair, is an all-time classic indie rock record.  25 years later, Matador Records brought out an anniversary edition that added two extra discs that compromised much of the Girly Sound tapes. 

All these years later, the power of the original album is still intact.  “Fuck and Run” and “Divorce Song” still cut straight to the bone and are devastating in their emotional directness.  While those tracks are wise beyond their years, “Help Me Mary” sees a mid-twenties Phair pleading for help with lousy roommates. “Flower” saw Phair talk about sex in a way that had many indie rock males aroused while they listened in their bedrooms with the lights off.  “Stratford-On-Guy” still disorients and sounds like an updated version of Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight”. 

Much was made at the time of Exile being Phair’s response to The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street.  Perhaps a bit of hyperbole but for the first minute on “Johnny Sunshine”, Phair’s crunching guitar drives straight through rock’s heart. In 1994 Phair performed “Never Said” on the old David Letterman show and it felt like a major win for indie rock fans everywhere, like one of our own was making it. There is no praise that is too high for Exile in Guyville, this is one of the best rock albums of the 1990s and of any decade.   10/10

The rest of this three disc collection is music from the Girly Sound era that appeared on three cassettes in 1991.  Years later Phair told Rolling Stone magazine that these demos act like a library that she has gone back to throughout her career.  Many of these songs appear not only on Exile but also on the next two albums – 1994’s Whip-smart and 1998’s Whitechocolatespaceegg.

With just an electric guitar as accompaniment, some of the tracks like the aforementioned “Divorce Song” and “Johnny Sunshine” lack the power of the versions that would later appear. The bizarre first track, “White Babies”, a song about black market babies is a highlight.  “Dead Shark” and “One Less Thing” are also standouts.  Where things pick-up is when the tracks move to the GirlsGirlsGirls tape. “Hello Sailor” and “Wild Thing” that incorporates part of the famous Turtles track is ultra lo-fi coolness. The version of “Fuck and Run” that appears here with “Ant in Alaska” sound more professional and serious, like Phair knew she was writing really great stuff. 9/10

The second disc offers up more of the same.  These tracks would have been extraordinary to have heard in the early 90s as the tapes got passed around from music fan to fan. Third disc highlights include “Miss Mary Mack” and “Gigolo” which almost sounds like a lost melody from The Beach Boys. Later career single “Polyester Bride” appears in a slower seven-minute version whereas the original “Whipsmart” is a mature take on raising children. 9/10

Listening to it almost 30 years later, it’s interesting to hear the demo tracks with fresh ears having listened to the finished versions 1000s of times.  What really comes through is the power in these tracks and the enthusiasm that music fans would have had in 1991 is spot on. It’s an extraordinary batch of songs recorded in a short amount of time and to have it all in one box set is priceless.

Girly Sound to Guyville –  10/10