After School Session (1957) by Chuck Berry

Categories: 1957 and Music.

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. Read More

RIP Chuck Berry

Categories: 2017, Music, and RIP.

With guitar-based rock music decidedly out of fashion it is possible – probable? – that many people don’t understand how important Chuck Berry was to the music of the second half of the 20th century. But just because the electric guitar isn’t currently popular doesn’t mean it wasn’t the central vehicle for musical expression of the last 60 years, as it was: from the 1950s till very recently, if you wanted to form a band, someone in your band had to learn how to play guitar. That is because of Chuck Berry. Read More

Here’s Little Richard (1957)

Categories: 1957 and Music.

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 Elvis) 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 Read More

Electric Warrior (1971) by T Rex

Categories: 1971 and Music.

I understand why this was such a big deal and why people continue to celebrate it: at the very apex of complicated, weird rock music, Bolan went out and put out 11 straight-ahead, catchy rock signs performed by a band with two guitars, bass and drums, with an image that was pretty unique. It made a big impression on a lot of people. As a record, I think it holds up pretty well – Bolan is a decent songwriter with a really strong knack for melody. I am not one who loves supposedly “disposable” music, but I don’t particularly find Read More

The Shadows (1961)

Categories: 1961 and Music.

The debut album by Cliff Richard’s backing band is a relatively solid selection of instrumentals and pre-British Invasion rock and roll. It’s easy to see why this was a big deal to a bunch of young, aspiring British guitarists. It’s much less of a big deal to someone listening to it 55 years later, as it sounds quaint, to put it mildly. Listening to a pre-British Invasion record like this it’s easier to understand why The Beatles were such a big deal in 1962-3. The energy of American rock and roll hadn’t quite made it across the pond yet. But Read More

Animalisms (1966) by The Animals

Categories: 1966 and Music.

I’m pretty sure this music seemed quite rough, ragged and hard to British audiences in 1966. And I guess I should try to keep that in mind, but it’s hard. Because, of course, it wasn’t particularly grittier than its inspirations. I mean, this is mostly a covers record and there are better versions of these songs, and there were better versions of these songs in existence in 1966 (though they may not have been available in the UK or in many places in the US). So I am having more than my usual trouble imagining what it would have been Read More

Rocks (1976) by Aerosmith

Categories: 1976 and Music.

The first time through this, I didn’t like it as much as Toys in the Attic. Aside from the opening track, there are fewer hits and the songs sounded weaker on the whole. But this is a dirty, perhaps deliberately poorly sounding record. (Listen to the piano on the last track – that piano sounds terrible). At a time when most rock bands were still trying to sound as perfect as possible in studio, and over-rehearsing the shit out of everything, here is a band that sounds messy, unpolished and raw, despite the commercial success of the last record. It’s Read More

Elvis Presley (1956)

Categories: 1956 and Music.

It’s hard for us now, 60 years later, to understand what a big deal this record was and listening to it doesn’t necessarily help, because it doesn’t sound great (at least the mono version sure doesn’t) and it doesn’t sound anywhere near as dynamic as it must have then. One huge surprise is the lack of Presley’s early hits. I had always been led to believe that albums in the ’50s were nearly exclusively singles compilations with a little bit of a filler to trick the public into believing they’re buying new material. But, even though this might have happened Read More

The Kink Kontroversy (1965) by The Kinks

Categories: 1965 and Music.

The Kinks’ first few albums are apparently not worth listening to. I certainly haven’t. But what I hear about them is that they were very much a singles band and that their album tracks were really weak. This record is supposed to be where that changed. But it’s kind of hard to hear it. Davies is one of England’s great popular songwriters, but he sure wasn’t there yet in 1965. These songs are all fine, but they’re hardly stellar. There’s only a few that really resonate with me, and only because I’m consciously looking for proof of Davies’ talent. It’s Read More

The Buddy Holly Collection (1993)

Categories: 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1993, and Music.

At the time of its release, this was, apparently, the closest thing a to “complete” edition of Holly’s work as existed. (So I have read.) So that alone makes it pretty good. Holly managed to bridge the gap between rock and roll and rockabilly on the one hand and respectable pop music on the other better than perhaps any other performer of his era. He brought a more sensitive side to rock and roll lyrics (befitting his spectacles, I guess) that was hugely influential – his influence on John Lennon in particular is immense – and wrote a number of Read More

Emotional Rescue (1980) by the Rolling Stones

Categories: 1980 and Music.

I don’t know what to do with my first impressions.I’ve learned to distrust them. I give every album I review a minimum of three listens in order to defeat my initial prejudice. I adopted this approach, I think, because I wanted to be fair, but also because sometimes my initial impression did not jive with a review I read or a recommendation I received. And it’s served me well, mostly. I would have never become a prog rock fan without the method, and that means I probably wouldn’t have found my way to jazz and much of the other esoteric Read More

The Secondman’s Middle Stand (2004) by Mike Watt

Categories: 2004 and Music.

Watt’s second album is an interesting thing: a guitarless trio playing what I guess you could call post-hardcore rock and roll with lyrics that often seem almost country. I’m not sure if that description sums it up. Idiosyncratic might do a better job. The musicianship is excellent – this is Watt after all, perhaps the best bass player to emerge from the various American punk scenes of the ’80s – and the arrangements are consistently interesting. The songs aren’t the most compelling despite, or perhaps because of, their idiosyncratic nature. It’s certainly a unique beast. 7/10 Read More

RIP Ray Collins

Categories: Music and RIP.

Ray Collins died on Christmas eve. Because he was Ray Collins, I didn’t find out about it for four days. Collins was Zappa’s earliest lead vocalist in the Mothers of Invention – that is, when Zappa himself wasn’t singing – which was actually initially Collins’ band under another name. He also provided backing vocals to these early Mothers albums and numerous other Zappa projects (allmusic lists around 30 credits). He contributed some rhythm guitar and percussion as well to the early Mothers albums, when they were still an actual band, and not just whatever Zappa was doing that day. I was Read More

The Chess Box (1990) by Bo Diddley

Categories: 1990 and Music.

This gives a better summary of his career with Chess than His Best. As a result it is a better display of his rather astounding diversity (for a first wave rock and roller). The problem is twofold: For one thing his diversity has its downside, as much of the music omitted from His Best is way too similar to the novelty “Say Man”. The other problem is that, like so many other originators of rock and roll, Diddley ignored Bob Dylan. So there is really no lyrical progress from “Bo Diddley” to “Bo Diddley 1969”. Though this is a great Read More

His Best (1997, MCA) by Bo Diddley

Categories: 1997 and Music.

Along time ago R&B was actually something called rhythm and blues. This CD, which collects many of Diddley’s singles and b-sides from 1955 to 1966. His earliest music of 1955 – now his most iconic – lacks the country of Elvis and Carl Perkins, the gospel of Elvis and Little Richard, the manic intensity of the Killer, and the complete package and polish of Chuck Berry; Diddley is rawer and definitely on the rhythm side of R and B (except for “I’m a Man”, which is so blues Muddy stole it). But this music still made a huge impact on Read More

My Aim is True by Elvis Costello (Columbia 1977)

Categories: 1977 and Music.

It’s unfortunate I guess that early Costello is constantly connected with punk, if only because of his lyrics (which are rather more biting than most ’70s pop rock lyrics). The music is decidedly not punk: it’s pure pub rock; one of the most overrated underground movements in rock music history I say. But that’s not really to slight Costello; he was probably the best thing to happen to pub rock. He moved on and so I guess the world forgets. I don’t know. Anyway, I generally like his songs but the aesthetic is not great: it’s a little herky jerky Read More

I, Flathead by Ry Cooder (Nonesuch 2008)

Categories: 2008 and Music.

I find this the least effective of Cooder’s new narrative-based records, perhaps because it was the most hastily put together. Something about it just doesn’t connect the way the previous two did. I still think it’s impressive he’s taken this whole thing upon himself and he’s certainly made himself one of the most interesting people in roots music by doing so, but something here doesn’t work. Probably the car thing. 7/10 Read More

Vintage Violence by John Cale (1970 Columbia)

Categories: 1970 and Music.

I like Cale. I think he is often a great lyricist (except on Slow Dazzle, where he is lazy) and I think he was certainly the most musically interesting member of the Velvets. But he is not a great songwriter. He lacks a bit of an ear for melody. The only record of his that I really notice any strong melodies is 1919 (which has become my favourite of his) and even then it took me forever to get into that. I have this problem on everything I hear by him, he just doesn’t write compelling songs to back up Read More