A list of reviews I wrote about music released in 1957.
1. Here’s Little Richard (10/10)
Little Richard’s debut makes Elvis’ records of the previous year look tame in comparison. Some of this is me listening to the remaster – I must have not listened to remasters of Elvi -) but most of it just comes down to Little Richard himself. Though Elvis was far more adventurous in the music he covered – including multiple styles on his records well before that was a normal thing to do – even the rock and roll songs on those records feel reigned in compared to this stuff. Richard is just wild. Some of that is his singing but a lot of it is the pace as well, which is nearly quite fast for R&B. (Even the ballads are played fast.)
Just great stuff. You don’t need a guitar to make rock and roll.
2. Chuck Berry: After School Session (10/10)
Though it contains Berry’s patented guitar playing, which cemented the electric guitar in rock music for the rest of the century, and it contains a few of his early classics, it’s easy to view Berry’s debut as the least revolutionary of the debut albums from the first wave of rock and roll stars. Because, though there is plenty of rock and roll here, there’s also a lot of blues. In fact, Berry’s debut is far more rooted in the blues than the debuts of his contemporaries and this gives it a feel of being somewhat more conservative, 60 years later.
I think I’m probably wrong about that, as Berry’s particular version of rock and roll became the standard by which the genre was judged by. But though that aspect of it was indeed revolutionary, it’s the other tracks that sound to me a little more conservative than we’d expect and that’s why I feel like maybe – just maybe – it’s not quite the equal of its peers.
Still an absolute classic.
3. Thelonius Monk: Monk’s Music (10/10)
I prefer these larger band recordings to the live Quartet performance at Carnegie Hall, as there’s a little more… variety I guess would be the best way of putting it. Coltrane sounds better here because you can compare him to this contemporaries and listen as he destroys them… not that it was a competition.
There is some pretty ridiculous music within, my favourite of which is probably their version of “Well You Needn’t” which blows my mind, especially Monk’s performance.
4. Charles Mingus: The Clown (10/10)
A great selection of prime Mingus finished off by a fascinating spoken word piece. Read the review of The Clown.
5. Miles Davis: ‘Round About Midnight (10/10)
Convention has it that this is a hard bop landmark, but I still hear a fair amount of cool on the record. That’s just nitpicking I guess; but I just find it odd that people discuss this in terms of one genre not the other.
In terms of the hard bop, it’s easy to see why, in retrospect, this has become a classic. (It wasn’t exactly widely loved at the time of its released.) The cool that is on here isn’t exactly mind-blowing, but I guess it’s the idea that even the cool here has more emphasis on rhythm than most cool.
The title track is one of the highlights of ’50s jazz. I actually haven’t heard Thelonius Monk’s original, but I have a hard time imagining it can top this.
John Coltrane isn’t always a standout here. It’s pretty obvious to me that he either
- wasn’t quite where he would be for the famous quintet recordings of ’56 (this was recorded in ’55)
- or was using too much heroin at this point.
I don’t know which. It’s not that he’s bad, it’s just that he’s not exactly super identifiable as Trane. He sounds like a few other tenors at this point.
Red Garland is pretty good though.
Despite some reservations I have about the influence of this – I think it has been perhaps overstated – the music is top not and it’s hard to ignore the title track as one of the standout performances by a Mile Davis group, ever.
6. John Coltrane: Blue Train (9/10)
Unfortunately it will be a while before I get around to review this.
7. Miles Davis: Miles Ahead (9/10)
Same for this one.
8. Thelonius Monk Quartet with John ColtraneAt Carnegie Hall (9/10)
I would have given my left nut to attend this concert, especially for $2!
This is fine stuff though I must say I like their studio performances a wee bit more. It’s great to hear a gig where you can see where Coltrane was headed maybe a little more than when he was working with Davis (that’s no criticism of Davis). It’s a bit of a match made in heaven, whereas when he was with Davis there was a distinct contrast in styles (which worked well as well).
I guess that’s all I have to say really.
9. Dizzy Gillespie at Newport (9/10)
There is something in me that wants to see this as some kind of newish generation response to Ellington at Newport the year before but I guess that’s me just trying to impose some narrative on this.
I wasn’t expecting to like this, as I am not a huge fan of ’50s big band arrangements that aren’t by Mingus (at least so far).
But this is great stuff: Gillespie is awesome and his band does an excellent job of amazing you with their playing but also joking around, even though the music is pretty conventional, albeit a lot more Afro-Cuban than I was expecting. I don’t love mainstream jazz, necessarily, but when it’s this enthusiastic it’s kind of hard not to. There’s a strong sense of humour and a general joie de vie which is missing from so much of this music.
Oh yeah, and it’s an all-star cast.
10. The Chirping Crickets (8/10)
Holly’s debut album pairs some of his early songs with some (but hardly anywhere near all) of the music he had been recording. Holly didn’t write most of the songs (at least officially…), but it still goes a long way to establishing Holly was one of the most unique voices in early rock and roll, combining his strong guitar playing with unique voice (with an excellent and under-appreciated range).
The one thing that is hard to take, and has dated badly, is the incredibly “white” backing vocals of the Picks. They’re brutal.
11. Miles Davis: Bags’ Groove (8/10)
This is a little scattershot.
It is very high quality cool jazz and bop but it feels a little thrown together. This is, I guess, because Jackson and Monk only appear on one track and Rollins only on the others. It’s a slightly different – but noticeably different – vibe from the two different bands, and though that’s nitpicky of me, I feel like much other music from this period has a higher level of consistency, if only because of more coherence in the recording selection.
This is not to say that this music is bad, it is very good cool jazz, but it’s still just cool jazz and bop, and for me a whole album worth of the Davis-Jackson-Monk combination would have been slightly preferable to the Davis-Rollins-Silver combination that fills out the album.
12. Dizzy Gillespie: Birks Works (8/10)
I recently listened to this band’s performance at Newport and was underwhelmed. It just goes to show you the power of mood. I guess just wasn’t in the mood and I imagined the Newport show as some kind of semi-modernist response to Ellington’s Newport show of the year before. I think I was over-thinking.
13. Johnny Cash With His Hot and Guitar (8/10)
A bit of a surprise, given how his career went. Read the review.
14. Elvis Presley: Loving You Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (7/10)
Elvis’s third album, which functions in part as the soundtrack to his first major film, is fraught with the same issues as his second record, it feels like an attempt to capitalize on Elvis’ stardom while pleasing as many people as possible.
There there is some great early rock and roll here – on “Mean Woman Blues” for example – but some of it is tamer than it could be. It is also heavier on the ballads, ballads which were written specifically for the film, and specifically to appeal to an audience that wasn’t into rock and rock. There’s also a cover of “Blueberry Hill” because, apparently, they figured it should work for Elvis too.
15. Elvis’ Christmas Album (7/10)
Well, there are worse Christmas albums. Read the review.
16. Charles Mingus, Hampton Hawes, Danny Richmond : Trio aka Mingus Three (6/10)
Fine. Just Fine. Read the review of Mingus Three.
17. Pierre Mercure: Divertissement (6/10)
Mercure’s Divertissement is much like Alexander Brott’s piece for string quartet, which I heard on the same disc. I like both of them. They are my kind of music. But it remains obvious to me why Gould is the most celebrated Canadian figure in “high art” music. The Canadian composers of the 20th century that I have heard never really broke ground in a way that their most famous American counterparts (Carter for example) did.
1. The Cricketts: “That’ll Be the Day” b/w “I’m Looking for Someone to Love” (10/10)
Holly’s breakout hit combines rockabilly with hints of doowop to create a sound all his own, one that manages to straddle the various emerging genres and make the supposedly dangerous music more accessible.
The b-side is a less compelling version of the same, but still, this is one of the great early singles in rock music history.
2. Buddy Holly: “Peggy Sue” b/w “Everyday” (9/10)
“Peggy Sue” is such a dumb, simple song. But it’s so damn insistent, and the arrangement is inventive enough – like when Holly messes with his usual singing voice – that you don’t care. But what’s stunning is that the b-side, which features a celeste (a celeste!!!) is equally strong. This may be the first “double a-side” in history.
3. Buddy Holly: “Words of Love” (9/10)
Holly’s second single of 1957 (the first under his own name), has a rather jangly guitar riff that practically presages folk rock. The percussion in the background is relatively exotic too.
4. BB King: “I Wonder”(9/10)
is one of those deep slow blues which so suggest soul. (I mean, it kind of is.) It’s got a swooning horn section as a backing.
5. Wanda Jackson: “Cool Love” / “Did You Miss Me?” (9/10)
The A-Side ” is classic rockabilly though again dated by those hilarious backing vocals. It was later reused as a B-side so it must not have performed as well as expected. The B-Side is another soulful rockabilly ballad that shows off her voice as good as anything in the collection. But those backing vocals…
6. B.B. King: “Troubles, Troubles, Troubles” (8/10)
Begins with a really contemporary sounding horn section for its time. The tone is solid and there’s a cool jazz trumpet in the background, which feels novel.
7. Buddy Holly: “I’m Gonna Love You Too” b/w “Listen to Me” (8/10)
The a-side is about as “Buddy Holly” as it gets. It combines his unique vocal tics with typical early lyrics for him. The b-side feels a little like a “Words of Love” re-write though.
8. Wanda Jackson: “Fujiyama Mama” / “No Wedding Bells for Joe” (8/10)
The A-Side is one of those bizarre American pop songs that makes reference to another country in a way that sounds only ignorant (and, to some, likely racist). Given the history with the Bomb, the choice feels even worse. But the music is pretty energetic rockabilly. The B-Side is one of those classic country portraits of lost love. This single would be better without the awful lyrics on the A-side.
9. Buddy Holly: “Rock Around with Ollie Vee” b/w “That’ll Be the Day” (7/10)
Holly’s third single of the year is much more standard rock and roll – it sounds a little too much like Carl Perkins, except for Holly’s hiccup – and the crassness of the marketers is exposed by the b-side being Holly’s hit of only a few months earlier. Holly didn’t write the a-side.
10. Wanda Jackson: “Let Me Explain” / “Don’a Wan’a” (7/10)
The A-Side is extremely soulful compared to a lot of other rockabilly of the era (it’s a ballad) but, like so much “White” rock music back then, it is backed by hilariously unsoulful traditional backing vocals, which dates it rather horribly. The B-side is an attempt to write some kind of Latin or Mexican number and it’s the worst thing of hers I’ve ever heard.
Bo Diddley: “Hey! Bo Diddley” / “Mona” (??/10)
Compilations, archival releases and new performances of old music.
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (10/10)
Whether or not Davis and co. actually invented Cool Jazz during 1949-50 is debatable. But this band was the first band to make Cool Jazz popular and it drastically altered jazz for the rest of the century, arguably.