Simon Poulter edits What Would David Bowie Do, so he seemed the right person to have the last word on what has been a momentous day for fans of the Dame.
So the Dame is back, back, BACK. Unexpected and brilliantly unannounced.
On his 66th birthday (a date he appropriately shares with Elvis Presley), out of seemingly nowhere, David Bowie has released Where Are We Now?, a haunting and, to be oxymoronic, joyously melancholic single.
And there’s more: the equally unexpected new album The Next Day, due in March. This amounts to a bounty of riches from Bowie. For an artist who appeared to have withdrawn from public life following heart surgery nine years ago (his last “appearance” was being papped in New York while out buying music magazines in October), this most enigmatic of reappearances has brought delight and wonder to the Bowiedom.
His last live performance – singing the Roger Waters parts of Comfortably Numb on a David Gilmour solo show – was in 2006, and since then it was assumed by many that the Dame had entered gentle retirement. Even news that London’s V&A museum was to be stage a major Bowie exhibition this spring raised speculation that the singer himself was behind its curation, suggesting new activity. His ‘people’ strenuously denied any involvement from or endorsement by Bowie, but given the dates of the exhibition and the release of The Next Day, one can’t help feeling the timing is more than coincidental.
Time will tell. For now, lets savour the moment: Where Are We Now? – produced by Tony Visconti, Bowie’s producer on the legendary Berlin trilogy of Low, Heroes and Lodger – nods to that period with various references to Berlin streets.
A suggested album cover for The Next Day, with the title simply superimposed over the Heroes sleeve, hints at Bowie using these new recordings to reflect.
Where Are We Now? certainly has the air of someone in retrospective contemplation. It’s piano-driven melody with a simple synth bed and and spacy drum track, is tied to somewhat mournful lyrics and an apparent sadness in Bowie’s voice.
The accompanying video is equally downbeat, featuring Bowie’s face attached to a puppet, with the song’s lyrics peppered throughout like an abstract karaoke screen, while suitably dour images of Berlin pass through.
Plenty will assume that this is Bowie’s most strident gesture yet of bowing out, just as Bob Dylan’s Tempest was meant to be his signal to the world that it was all over (based on the loose conjecture that The Tempest was thought to be Shakespeare’s swansong as a playwright). But Bowie is, and always has been, an enigmatic actor, and his moments of Greta Garbo moments of withdrawal have been numerous. But then, as his official spokesman said today in a statement, “Throwing shadows and avoiding the industry treadmill is very David Bowie.” Quite true.
He hasn’t performed live since 2006 and has rarely been seen in public since then. His last studio album came out 10 years ago, and there has been an air of reflection in a lot of his most recent work, “most recent” not fully reflecting how long it has been since we’ve had anything new to devour. The beautiful Survive, taken off his final EMI album, Hours is a perfect example of a reflective Bowie, rather than the more provactive and even upbeat Bowie of yore.
Last year Bowie was reportedly approached to play a part in the London Olympics opening ceremony, but turned the opportunity down (to be replaced by a projected montage that served only to remind . The assumption was made that, following his Reality tour in 2003, and the heart bypass that truncated that, the Dame had walked – not trounced – quietly off into the Manhattan sunset.
However, first thing this morning, Bowie’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts had other ideas: “CHECK OUT WWW.DAVIDBOWIE.COM NOW!” trumpeted @DavidBowieReal. “Think we’re in for a big surprise…” If you’ve not already stumbled upon it, you need to check out http://www.davidbowie.com/ for a very well kept secret right now. This really is turning out to be quite some birthday!”.
Few have disagreed. Indeed, some have become quite emotional at the news. Where Are We Now? may not be a classic Bowie song, but it is certainly classic Bowie.
“I’m so insanely excited,” tweeted Caitlin Moran. “It’s like hearing King Arthur’s voice from the cave.”Even Duncan Jones, Bowie’s film maker son, commented on Twitter: “Would be lovely if all of you could spread the word about da’s new album. First in ten years, and its a good ‘un!”
2012 was a year of major anniversaries, in particular celebrating 1962 as a year of cultural epochs – debuts for The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and James Bond amongst them. With the surprise appearance of new material from David Bowie, it’s quite possible that we have a lot to look forward to in 2013, with the emphasis on “forward”, even if with a tinge of nostalgia about it.
So Happy Birthday, David. And thanks for the present. It really is just what we’ve always wanted.
Personally I think it was all downhill for David Bowie after his 1966 mod-pop masterpiece Can’t Help Thinking About Me, but I do know that a few people rate Hunky Dory, Ziggy and that weird one with the New Romantics on it, and it is his birthday so I won’t moan about his later output. Instead but put your prejudices to one side for a mo as we try and convince you that there are some songs in the Bowie canon that you may never had heard of that are worthy of a spin. I refer, of course, to his self-titled 1967 debut LP on Deram.
Now all but the privileged few will have heard the Bromley boy’s debut LP, largely because rock snobs have for decades written it off as a Anthony Newley pastiche. The fact that its preceding single, The Laughing Gnome, featured guest vocals from what sounds like Cilla Black quaffing helium didn’t help matters either.
Nevertheless, David Bowie (the album) is a place I visit regularly, mostly to play Maid of Bond Street, a genuinely tender little ditty that stays in your heads for days. The album also boasts one of his best ever singles, Love you Til Tuesday, which we adore for its juddering downward bass line, chirpy strings and genius pay off line about stretching it to Wednesday. Few other artists have tapped into the frailty of human relationships in such a sympathetic way. Rubber Band with its Salvation Army style shuffle is a wonderful evocation of Olde England – Ray Davies spends most evenings wishing he’d written it – while Bowie’s pleading vocal on Sell Me A Coat is among the most dramatic and poignant of his long career.
Sadly for Bowie, the album proved to be a one-off and within a few years he’d traded the subtle witticism of his early stuff for the fun, but rather obvious Mick Ronson powered glam rock riffs. And while he did knock out of a few good tunes later in his career, Heroes, Boys Keep Swinging and Oh You Pretty Things (Peter Noone version obviously), in my opinion little compares to this album, his early Pye 45s and of course the non-album cut The London Boys. Not just a brilliant evocation of swinging Soho from 1967, but also a tune that lent its name to one of the ’80s top notch disco bands. It doesn’t get much better than that.
And here is Can’t Help Thinking About Me – his best song ever
Ziggy Stardust. The Thin White Duke. David Robert Jones. Whatever you call him, David Bowie, the chameleon of pop, is back!
Celebrating today his 66th birthday, the enigmatic icon marked the occasion with the release of a new single ‘Where Are We Now’ and news of a new album called ‘The Next Day’ touching down in March.
You can listen to ‘Where Are We Now?’ by hitting up the YouTube video above, a melancholic track that recalls cuts from Bowie’s 1999 album ‘hours…’.
With ‘The Next Day’ set to be Bowie’s 26th studio album, there are reams of goodies for the uninitiated to dive into ahead of the new albums release. And while even the casual music lover could probably hum along to ‘Heroes’ or ‘Life on Mars?’, there are plenty of killer Bowie tracks that have fallen through the cracks over the years and are often overlooked.
Here are Brandish’s top 5 Bowie gems that you might have forgotten!
John, I’m Only Dancing
A raunchy blues stomper that’s often covered, John I’m Only Dancing’s androgynous, homo-erotic undertones and searing guitars would later go on to influence the likes of Suede and Placebo.
Speed of Life
Here’s how you properly kick off a comeback. Marking the start of Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” as the first track on ‘Low’, it’s a swirling electronic instrumental with more killer riffs than you can shake a MOOG synth at. Here’s a rare live performance of the song from a 1978 gig in Dallas Texas, with Bowie looking particularly sharp.
The opening track on the classic album ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’, Bowie’s apocalyptic vision starts quietly before erupting into a maelstrom of sound, setting the tone for Bowie’s most beloved record. Theatrical and wild, it hints at the closing of the Ziggy Stardust chapter that saw Bowie’s popularity at its peak.
Bowie’s best love song, Absolute Beginners soundtracked the movie of the same name. A lush track telling a tale of young love, listen how Bowie’s voice just soars for the chorus.
Though a single on ‘Let’s Dance’, arguably Bowie’s most popular later-day album, ‘Modern Love’ always plays second fiddle to the album’s titular track and ‘China Girl’ when it comes to radio play. That’s a travesty – ‘Modern Love’ is far and away the best song Bowie ever laid down during his Americana/white-boy soul phase of the mid-80’s. Read either as an attempt to turn his back on one night stands or the junk of his drug addictions, it’s Bowie at his dancey, desperate best.
It is difficult to contain my excitement this morning. Just as I had (along with most other people) assumed Bowie was enjoying retirement counting his royalties from last summer’s playing of Heroes, up he pops with a new single and an album promised. Called Where Are We Now, and produced by Tony Visconti, the new single sounds quite melancholy – a bit like Thursday’s Child and Survive from the excellent 1999 Hours album.
His voice also sounds a little shakier, but then he is 66 I guess. The single contains lots of references to the period when he lived in Berlin in the 1970s where he recorded Low and the weird video features a cut-out of his head sitting next to a woman some people assume to be Bjork – though I’m not sure. I think it’s a good single with a catchy chorus though not a massive departure from what he’s done before.
But that’s not all. Promised on March 11 is a new album called The Next Day which is bound to be massive, considering Bowie has been absent from the music scene, living as a virtual recluse if the media is to believed, for the last 10 years or so. I can’t wait. You can get full details of downloads for the single and a link to the video on Vimeo on David’s official website, David Bowie.com.
The other day I wrote a list of the ten Premiership players you would most want to have a beer with. If he were still playing today you can bet Ugo Ehiogu would be on very high on that list. As was unveiled on the Danny Baker Show on BBC Five Live on Saturday the former, Villa, Middlesbrough and Rangers defender isn’t your average footballer.
After finishing his playing career, Ehiogu has spent much of his time working for a music label he co-owns Dirty Hit Limited, and the bands on the label might surprise you. In keeping with a guy whose favourite band is apparently The Arctic Monkeys Dirty Hit has a really pukka roster of indie bands several of whom could well make their mark big time in 2013.
The band that caught my ear are The Fossil Collective whose very English take on Americana – think also The Leisure Society – has already delivered two absolute gems in On and On and Let It Go. There’s a whiff of Radiohead in the Leeds band too in the days when Thom Yorke and his crew still knew how to knock out a pop tune or two. Check them out on Spotify here or see the video above.
Ehiogu also has a few excellent anecdotes too. Asked by Baker if he spoke to players during games about things other than football he said that he found Ian Wright very chatty. The Arsenal man would apparently tell defenders how great they were, and Ugo said that while he was mulling over the compliment Wrighty would have shot away into space waiting for the ball from an Arsenal midfielder. Crafty.
Finally, with apologies to Celtic fans, here is Ugo’s best ever footballing moment. Genius!
A few weeks ago I wrote a list of the most under rated British bands of the 90s as nominated by some charming musicians, bloggers and chancers that I hang about with on social media sites. It got huge traffic, so, not wishing to change a winning formula, I asked the same group to come up with the most under rated bands of the 80s, and here’s the list.
Obviously the key here is defining the phrase ‘under rated’. There are some 80s bands; Felt, The Soft Boys and Gang Of Four spring to mind, who didn’t trouble the charts a great deal in their prime but thanks to being championed by more recent bands are now heralded as makers of some of the finest music of that decade. So we didn’t include them. I also added a few bands who were huge at the time, but these days never seem to be played on the radio or mentioned at all.
In a totally serendipitous way as I was putting the list together Steve Lamacq on BBC 6 Music decided to make the first two weeks of the year ‘lost 80s bands’ week, playing some completely forgotten tunes like Westworld’s Sonic Boom Boy. So Steve, how about playing a few of these?
Thanks then to everyone who added their twopennyworth.
And can someone please release the lost album recorded by the number one band. Ta. Any we have missed in the comments please. If you do your own list shout and I’ll post a link here too.
There’s a selection of tracks on the Spotify play list below
When was the last time you heard Bauhaus on the radio? Odd really because for a few years in the early 80s you couldn't escape their Bowie-inflected gothy art pop. Still, their big pop single, She's In Parties, sounds terrific today, and even if I can't bring myself to do the weird shoulder shrugging dance that accompanied Bela Lugosi's Dead it still sounds kind of fun. Their version of Ziggy is still pants though. Pete Murphy went on to bigger and better things - well that tape ad at least - but you can re-live his dark mumblings on Spotify
Haim have topped the BBC Sound of 2013 list, lining up the Californian power-pop trio for a stellar year.
The list (now in its eleventh year), aims to showcase the top bands and artists to keep an eye out for in the year ahead, with previous winners including Adele, Jessie J and Brandish favourite Michael Kiwanuka.
Haim, comprised of three sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim have been championed for their fusion of ’70s rock and ’80s synth pop, drawing influence from the likes of Fleetwood Mac, The Bangles and The Go-Go’s.
Beginning life as a covers band, the sisters have now supported acts such as Florence and The Machine and Mumford and Sons off the back of their Forever EP and recent single Don’t Save Me.
213 experts and critics compile the list, with eligible artists not having scored a UK top 20 single or album before 11 November 2012.
The top five list for 2013 is rounded out by London R&B duo AlunaGeorge in second, New York-based rapper Angel Haze in third, Birmingham soul singer Laura Mvula in fourth and Glasgow electro-pop outfit Chvrches in fifth.
George Martin, as you all know, was the master producer whose wizardry in Abbey Road Studio Two helped The Beatles create some of the finest music ever recorded.
However it is a little know thing that Martin, whose birthday it is today, recorded a gem or two of his own. The most amazing piece is this little tune Theme One.
The apocryphal tale that surrounds the recording of this mini masterpiece is that when The Beatles completed ‘A Day in the Life’ on the Sgt Pepper album, he kept the orchestra in the studio and recorded this to put the time they had been paid for to good use. In some way it starts where Day In The Life leaves off with that amazing cacophony of sound.
The track is familiar to aging Brit rockers as Tommy Vance used it as the theme tune for the Radio One’s Friday Night rock Show in the 70s and 80s. It also turned up on The Sound Gallery 2 easy listening compilation in the mid 90s.
The track also appears on Martin’s “By George! – George Martin & His Orchestra Play” which dates from 1968, though I must admit I have never ever seen a copy.
Got an MP3 player? Chances are you don’t use it a great deal as it has been kind of superseded by the Swiss Army Knife of gadgets – the smartphone. With Spotify on mobile devices as well as the seamless integration of iTunes on the iPhone, there doesn’t really appear to be much of a need for standalone MP3 players.
And their decline has been confirmed by figures today from research organisation Mintel which says that sales of MP3 players have fallen by nearly a fifth to £381 million this year compared to 2011. Mintel predicts that sales will halve again by 2017 and virtually disappear within five years.
Samuel Gee, a technology analyst at Mintel, told The Telegraph that the decline in MP3 sales is “unlikely to reverse”.
“It is impossible to talk about the current PMP market without extensive reference to smartphones. The devices have directly contributed to the sharp decline in the value of PMP sales.”
He added that MP3 players are being “steadily outshone” by increasingly affordable new technologies, like smartphones.
I am guessing here, but it would seem that the one MP3 player that still sells well is the iPod nano which maintains a significant share of young women and pre-teens.
One music format which appears to be making a very real comeback is vinyl records. In a wonderful article in The Guardian John Harris put the case for vinyl records and highlights their recent rise in popularity.
We await conclusive British figures for 2012, but last year there was a quantum leap in sales of new vinyl albums, which were 44% up on the figures for 2010. Anecdotal evidence suggests the consumers responsible are not just hard-bitten types – men, usually – of a certain age, but much younger people. And the phenomenon extends across the industrialised world: the same pattern is evident in the UK, the US, Australia, Germany – and even cash-strapped Spain.
Harris makes the point that digital music leaves us in a state of twitchy impatience – hands hovering over the mouse which will move us to the next track. This obviously isn’t the case with vinyl records.
We’ll look at the demise of CD and whether that is a good or bad thing, later in the week. In the meantime I am off to give the above record a spin.
If Macca fronting Nirvana wasn’t quite your thing then maybe you’ll like this more. Apple is now offering almost all of The Beatles albums on iTunes at a reduced price of £7.99 each. The offer is apparently for a limited period only, so if you do fancy adding a bit more of the Fabs to your life you’ll need to move pronto. The albums are also around the same price on CD at Amazon and probably a lot cheaper on vinyl at a charity shop near you.
But which one to buy? Beatles fans are split between between the pop art perfection of Revolver and vaudevillian psych of Seargent Pepper as to which is their finest moment ( I go with the Pepper).
Assuming that you already have those two – plus The White Album, Abbey Road a singles collection or two what should come next.
Here then are six of the band’s most under-rated albums. The number one might even contain the best music they ever recorded.
Of all the Fabs early albums this is the one to own. The others are at times inconsistent whereas Hard Day's Night delivers track after track of prime Merseybeat genius. It also contains some of the band's best ever ballads in And I Love Her and If I Fell and in I Should Have Known Better and Things We Said Today two perfect pop tunes.
Britain’s Daily Mail, a newspaper you can regard with varying degrees of editorial pointlessness, surmised in June that Keith Richards – the Human Riff, the Human Lab, and a dozen other nicknames reflecting both guitar prowess and indestructibility – was now so broken, so ravaged by arthritic hands and addled memory that he was finding it hard to perform.
Almost in unison, a section of the paper’s permanently seething readership waded in with a barrage of reaction, some berating Keef for even being alive, others suggesting the Rolling Stones had ended their relevance a long time before and should now just give up.
This may go some way to explain why, when the band announced their four 50th anniversary shows, a nuclear mushroom cloud appeared above Middle England as concerned representatives of the Mail’s readership turned apoplectic at news Richards, Jagger, Watts and Wood – with a combined age of 273 – were to roll once more.
Well, today we can make that 274, as Richards chalks up his 69th birthday. It’s an unlikely milestone, even he’ll admit. This apparent freak of nature, who only gave up hard drugs eight years ago, has, for the best part of adulthood, tested human pharmaceutical endurance to its limits while seeing so many contemporaries succumb to rock’s lethal distractions. He is at a loss to explain how he has survived and others didn’t. Perhaps he should just say “pleased to meet you – hope you guessed my name”.
The brilliant autobiography
Much of Richards’ homespun philosophy can be found in his brilliant book Life. A stupendously refreshingly read, Life tells Keef’s story with well managed honesty and little obvious attempt at embellishment, either of the hard truths or the apocryphal tales. It is an engagingly rich story of a boy emerging from London’s bombsite-ridden suburbs to embrace the music of America’s impoverished south, turning such an unlikely affection into the spiritual heart of the most famous – some maintain greatest – rock and roll band of the last 50 years.
That’s an accolade that welcomes challenge: bands have come and bands have gone. “Every generation throws another hero up the pop charts”, sang Paul Simon, and the Stones have faced plenty of competition. They’ve also faced plenty of challenges of their own, not least of which the sibling fractures between Richards and Jagger that have seen them fight, tussle and, seemingly, fall apart irreparably on regular occasions.
Something, however, has always brought them back together again. Richards has always maintained that he and Jagger share a true brotherly love, a bond that occasionally breaks. In his words, Richards has, though, tended to paint Jagger as the more nefarious Glimmer Twin, the posher of the two middle-class Dartford boys, the Stone with the business sense and, now, the knighthood.
Richards, on the other hand, has frequently played up his image as the Stones’ pirate captain, the rock’and’roll rogue: unpredictable and possibly dangerous, like John Belushi’s character Bluto in Animal House, but beneath it all, fundamentally a good guy.
For a while – particularly in the wake of John Lennon’s murder – Richards regularly carried either a knife or a gun, or both. He’s not the Stone to be messed with by any order. Just go to YouTube and find the memorable clip from their 1981 tour, when Keith sees a fan jump on stage and starts charging towards him and Jagger (who deftly takes a swerve), removes his Telecaster by the neck and hacks the fan to the ground before strapping the guitar back on to continue playing. “The cat was in my space,” said Richards, matter-of-factly, “so I chopped the mother down”. That’s why you’ve got to love Keith. Liam Gallagher may have looked like he could do something like that, but you suspect only Keith Richards would.
Immersing myself in Richardsville
Over the last few months I have been immersed in the Rolling Stones. Whatever commercial voodoo they performed around their 50th anniversary has clearly worked. I’ve bought their book and visited the Somerset House exhibition of the book’s photographs; I’ve acquired Blu-ray Discs and DVDs of them in concert in the 70s, 80s and 90s, of them jamming with their great hero Muddy Waters, in the brilliant Stones In Exile documentary, and setting new records on the Bigger Bang tour. And I’ve spent a frustrating 30 minutes attempting to blow what’s left of my life savings on a ticket to one of – any of – their London and New Jersey shows. Somewhere there is a bulldozer with a tongue logo on it shovelling cash into four or five large piles.
While this accumulation will be due in part to Sir Mick Jagger’s assumed stewardship of Rolling Stones Inc. (actually, a Dutch-registered public limited company called Promotone BV which holds its annual company meetings in the curious-to-say-the-least location of Amsterdam), the company’s Chief Riff Officer and CEO Jagger’s fellow Wentworth Primary School, Dartford, alumnus, Richards, might be comfortable with his rewards, but remains at his happiest strumming a blues in an open D tuning.
These last few weeks, the more Stones material I’ve been exposed to, the more I’ve come to appreciate their music, especially its subtlety. That is not a word you associate with the Stones, who’ve often been regarded by music snobs as a Premier League Status Quo for the chugging, thumbs-in-belt-loops-ahoy boogie of Honky Tonk Woman, or the cringeworthy street patois of Miss You, and it’s equally abhorrent disco beat.
But then listen carefully to Sympathy For The Devil, Paint It Black or Gimme Shelter, or some of the live standards like Monkey Man or Tumbling Dice or Midnight Rambler, along with lesser known gems hidden away on their 26-odd studio albums. Why, even more recent fare like Love Is Strong and Doom And Gloom – knocked out in a Paris studio over a couple of days – still deliver the goods as far as Rolling Stones songs go.
You could say that for half their careers, the Rolling Stones have faced calls to quit on the grounds that they’re too old. Keith Richards, at 69, may be today a more avuncular version of his former self, with his clean living and throaty, bronchial laugh (not to mention his parodic turn as Captain Jack Sparrow’s father in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise – with Johnny Depp happy to admit Sparrow was based on Richards), but he and his ageing band have endured.
That endurance has come from tampering little with the brand: The Beatles started out as rock and rollers before discovering psychedelia and inventing progressive rock; The Who applied a rock edge to Tamla Motown; Led Zeppelin deconstructed and then reconstructed the blues; but the Stones are and have always been the Coca-Cola of rock.
Sure, like Coke (Classic anyone?) they’ve taken a few ill-advised diversions, but today the Stones remain, pretty much, the same thing enjoyed by each generation that has come across them. Snobs blame this absence of variety on a fairly limited musical spectrum, but much of this is down to Keith. It is, mostly, his songs and riffs that have dictated the Rolling Stones musically.
Richards might have willingly – and at times, to his patent regret – left the running of the band to Jagger, but the spirit of the Stones, the heart and soul of the Stones belongs to him. It was Keith, not Brian Jones who found the triangulation point between the Mississippi Delta, Chicago and London. It was Jagger who then took the concoction and turned it into something more exotic, more 5th Avenue than Dartford High Street, like Levi-Strauss turning workwear into the most enduring fashion item of modern history.
But that’s why we love Keith. If he has pretensions and delusions of grandeur, he keeps them well hidden. He has amassed a fortune, and his properties display copious evidence of his wealth, but unlike the apparent airs and graces of his writing partner, Richards doesn’t overplay the finer things in his life.
To see him on stage today, earnestly toiling away on his collection of Telecasters and other luthiered exotica, is to see a master craftsman at work. He may never be a virtuoso in the manner of a Clapton, a Beck or a Page, but I don’t think he particularly cares. And nor should you. Happy Birthday Keith.
You’ve bought the singles, bought the album, bought the concert ticket, bought the T-shirt, bought your bus ticket home and now you’re being asked to buy it all over again as a live album of the show you’ve only just returned from. And, yes, you will buy it.
If you were at Newark’s Prudential Center this week, I’m sure, soon, there will be a live CD/DVD/Blu-ray Disc package of this or one of the three other gigs in the Rolling Stones’ run of 50th anniversary shows – two in London, two in New Jersey.
Over their fifty years as a band, they’ve released no less than 22 live performance albums. Such is their relentless self-merchandising under tireless CEO Mick Jagger (eight of the 22 albums are archive releases, brought out since the Stones’ last full tour), that you wouldn’t bet against a 23rd.
Stones live albums have, generally, caught the band in their natural musical habitat and, if you’re prepared to work your way through the 22, you come notice just how much they have evolved, even if you hold some deep-seated prejudice about the band from London’s suburbs who adopted the Chicago blues and went on to become easily the greatest rock and roll band in the world.
You should, then, start with the apostrophe-abusing Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, released in September 1970 (and re-released in 2010 as highly recommended 40th anniversary box set) captured the band in two shows in New York and Baltimore just as they were in the midst of, arguably, their most creative period, with Let It Bleed already recorded and Sticky Fingers about to go into production.
It captures a band in subtle transformation from boisterous, God-help-us-if-your-daughter-brought-them-home British beat and blues merchants into louche, 70s rock monsters.
The Beatles were, it appeared, on the way out, and new, heavier rivals like Humble Pie and Led Zeppelin were emerging from the 60s. Woodstock, Monterey and Isle Of Wight had set the bar for rock performances for the next few years, as had Jimi Hendrix, who died just three weeks after the Stones released Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! to acclaim, with critics hailing it the best live album ever.
Fast forward to 1978 and The Rolling Stones: Some Girls Live, which was released last year along with the repackaging of Some Girls, and you get the full-on Stones in the 1970s, Keith Richards now clearly out of it on whatever laboratory he was living from, Ron Wood enjoying life as the ‘new’ Stone.
Musically, though, the ‘weaving’ of Richards and Wood’s guitar is already starting to become more evident on Some Girls Live. Critics have suggested that the junkie Richards became a lazier guitarist, contributing rudimentary riffs to live performances while the more accomplished soloist Wood made all the effort. Not so: on Some Girls Live you can hear a distinct new Rolling Stones emerge, with Charlie Watts – solid to this day – at the back, Bill Wyman’s often under-rated bass playing holding it together strongly, Richards and Wood over the top of it all with their guitar fabric, and Jagger out front, camping it up for England like Andy Pandy.
Fast forward again to 2004 and the Live Licks album, recorded on their 40th anniversary greatest hits tour and you have the corporate Stones, a polished, sports stadium band who, like some giant human jukebox, pick and choose their set lists on a night-to-night basis and can command guest appearances from Sheryl Crow (on Honky Tonk Woman) and Solomon Burke on their cover of his song, Everybody Needs Somebody To Love.
There may, inevitably, be some dross in the Stones’ 22 live albums, but there are some gems too. But 22 live albums in 50 years: compare that to their great rivals, The Beatles, who barely lasted four years after their first hit record before they gave up touring altogether. The only evidence that The Beatles ever played live at all are the clips of news footage of performances drowned out by pre-pubescent screaming, or the somewhat tired and strained vibe of their 1969 Savile Row rooftop performance. If only someone had only recorded them at Hamburg’s Star Club in 1960, or at the Cavern on their triumphant return to Liverpool two years later.
The case for the Live album
The live album has been one of the music industry’s most contested products, regarded as either cynical plundering of the over-benevolent punter’s bread, man, or pointless filler between studio albums. As the Rolling Stones have frequently demonstrated, the live album has – and continues to be – fittingly reflective of their supreme stagecraft.
Paul Weller, for example, can be similarly compared, having been responsible for some brilliant in-concert releases over the years, from music press front cover flexidiscs (I still own – somewhere – a Style Council EP from Sounds featuring a blistering version of Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up) to numerous plugged and unplugged sets on his own. And I haven’t felt short changed or ripped off by any of them.
While it is true that some live releases are little more than greatest hits collections with added theatrical ambiance, many are deservedly landmark records in their own right. Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison relaunched his career, capturing a raw and emotional performance in front of inmates at California’s Folsom penitentiary, and coming on the back of the legendary country singer’s struggle with drugs.
With this context, a song like Cocaine Blues becomes more than just ironic, and when you hear a tannoy in the background ordering an inmate to report in somewhere, you have a live album as thrillingly unpolished as possible.
Simon & Garfunkel’s Concert In Central Park was another landmark, mostly for the fact it brought the warring duo back together again. The concert wasn’t so much meant to be a reunion as a benefit show for New York’s Central Park itself.
Despite being in the midst of some of Manhattan’s wealthiest real estate, the park was in a state of disrepair. So, apparently, the idea of half a million people traipsing through it for a pop concert seemed to be the answer… Concert In Central Park could be seen as a live greatest hits album of Simon & Garfunkel, which is includes some of their own solo material. It’s rough-round-the-edges (Garfunkel is said to have been unhappy with his vocals), but it superbly reminds you what made them folk-rock’s superstars.
Rough-round-the-edges, on the other hand, is what you want from The Who. Their Live At Leeds album, with its brown paper cover art, epitomises The Who live throughout their entire career – what you see (and hear) is what you get.
A loud – even on an album – run through their late ’60s ‘standard’ set, with hard core performances of Young Man Blues, Substitute, Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues, and a 14-minute assault on My Generation, it has been hailed as the best live rock album ever, but that’s always going to a subjective viewpoint.
There are, obviously plenty of live albums to remind us that some acts are no more exciting live as they were in the studio, which will thankfully explain the absence of One Direction Live From The Budokan in your record collections any time soon.
Gems you may have missed
Other live releases early on in careers, however, give fascinating insight in greatness to come. David Bowie’s Live In Santa Monica ’72 is possibly the greatest example.
It had been available for many years as a bootleg, but in being released as a limited edition CD four years ago, Bowie fans finally had their hands on an official version of a performance by the Dame in the midst of his Ziggy Stardust persona, with guitarist Mick Ronson at his absolute best, with the pair (and the other Spiders) romping through Rock’N’Roll Suicide, Life on Mars, Queen Bitch, John, I’m Only Dancing, The Jean Genie and Suffragette City, the latter presenting punk a full two years before anyone in New York had the idea of getting grungy with rock and roll.
Some live albums have built reputations as notable as many of the greatest studio albums. Frampton Comes Alive! has probably become more famous than any other album in the canon of Pete Frampton, the former Bromley schoolmate of David Bowie and Humble Pie founder.
Released in 1976 it provide to be another contradiction to the era of punk. While, elsewhere, some of Frampton’s own contemporaries were spitting their way through the punk explosion (he’s only a two years older than Joe Strummer…), here was this frizzy blond-haired pretty boy producing one of the biggest-selling albums of the 1970s, a live double album to boot, and one containing extended guitar solos.
Today, Comes Alive! comes across as somewhat pedestrian, the result of endless spins of the album’s Show Me The Way, Baby I Love Your Way and Do You Feel Like I Do America’s myriad classic rock radio stations. But there was a time when virtually every record collection featured that blue-spined double disc package with its distinct full-frame cover shot of Frampton looming out.
Another live album of genuine note is Seconds Out by Genesis. Recorded during their 1976 and 1977 tours for their A Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering records, it presented a band in transition.
After Peter Gabriel left in 1975, and Phil Collins stepped forward to become their new lead singer, the band started shifting towards more accessible material. Genesis were still telling stories, rather than performing pop songs (their first ‘love song’, Follow You, Follow Me wouldn’t appear for another year), but Collins had clearly replaced Gabriel’s somewhat aloof theatricality with his own impish, stage school-based cheeky-chappiness, which you can on the likes of Robbery, Assault And Battery and what was, then, their only hit single to date, I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe).
Seconds Out is a brilliant live album for its production quality. Plenty of bands have regarded live albums as well-intentioned ‘gifts’ for their hard-core fans, a souvenir of a memorable night, an acclaimed tour or simply a must-have for the collection with extended jams and unreleased cover versions capturing the band in their pomp and prime. Others have regarded them as official mitigations of bootleg recordings. Seconds Out is, even today, a live album I love for its authentic capture of the acoustic atmosphere of a big gig – the crowd’s roar as a band breaks into its opening number, and complicated and intricate songs that fill up the entire soundstage of your home stereo system to the extent you easily replicate the experience of being there at home. Without the beer-sticky floor of course.
But as album sales dwindle (and, perversely mainstream bands make more money these days from live shows), there is a proportionate decline in live album releases too, presumably because there are marketing people advising that “core demographics” no longer go in for them.
It remains, so it would seem, for the old guard to keep the live album flame lit. Like Led Zeppelin. For a band that didn’t really go in for releasing anything other than studio albums in their prime, they have been relatively prolific since their demise, with the awful The Song Remains The Same and How The West Was Won, not to mention Page and Plant’s No Quarter ‘unplugged’ entry. By old, I mean either those old enough to have been on the original Woodstock or Monterey line-ups, or those who wished they’d been old enough to be there.
Led Zeppellin weren’t at either Woodstock or Monterey, but then it’s arguable that by the time they took hold, they’d have been too big for either festival.
It is ironic that the Zepp have released more live material since they folded than was ever available during their career, with the recently-released multi-format Celebration Day capturing their one-off 2007 show at London’s 02 arena in honour of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun.
It was, by all accounts of those who were there, a memorable show. But memorable for what? Probably seeing Page, Plant and Jones together again, with John Bonham’s son Jason providing uncannily similar chops to his late dad on drums.
Is it a classic Zeppelin show? Probably not, but this is where the fan’s compromise comes to effect: you know it won’t be quite like Led Zep were at one of their legendary Los Angeles gigs in the early 1970s, at a time when they were the ultimate rock bad boys on the road, but Celebration Day still goes to demonstrate why Jimmy Page has been one of the greatest rock guitarists since he was a teenage session player from Epsom, Surrey, playing on songs by Lulu, Marianne Faithful and, believe it or not, the Rolling Stones and The Who.
This year’s London 2012 Olympics, with its opening and closing ceremonies, perhaps suggested that the big stadium filling acts are in decline. Bruce Springsteen, U2 and their protégés Coldplay are amongst the few truly ‘big’ stadium bands left for whom you might want to buy a live album afterwards. Coldplay are certainly making the most of their elongated greatest hits show at the London 2012 Paralympics closing ceremony, by releasing Mylo Xyloto Live 2012, which captures the junior pomp rockers in their most arena-packing filling, U2 crown-usurping majesty.
The golden age of live albums was, however, without doubt the late 60s into the early 1980s. Hardly anyone who played Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore in San Francisco, or its sibling Fillmore East in New York during the 70s failed to release a live album on the back of such shows. The Fillmore East’s unique acoustics even made for a more pristine recording that captured the hall’s legendary ambience.
And thus, between the two venues, there is an enormous list of live releases from the likes of Henrix, The Grateful Dead, Steve Miller, Otis Redding, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Frank Zappa, The Doors, Cream (and other Clapton vehicles), The Byrds, Carlos Santana, The Allman Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Pink Floyd. Indeed, there was a time when if you hadn’t released an album with at least one of the Fillmore venues in the title, you really weren’t anything.
Today, do we need them? The live album harks back to an era before everyone carried a recording studio around in their pockets, as they do today. Live albums were meant to prevent bootleggers sneaking shoebox-sized cassette recorders into gigs and making off with second-rate bootlegs.
Today, however, the concert experience is a gymnastic exercise in craning through a sea of smartphones recording shaky but high(ish) definition clips for YouTube and posterity. And often, by the time you’ve caught the bus home, much of the show you’ve just seen will have already been posted online, with reasonably good quality picture and sound.
The only thing you don’t get on a professionally recorded live album is the noise of people next to the iPhone owner, yakking on about their recurring flare-up of cystitis, or arguing about whose round it is…
Article originally appeared here. Stones pic from PA
For well over a decade now Nirvana fans trawling through websites like Amazon have probably gasped with excitement as they saw previously unknown (to them at least) albums by their heroes with titles like All Of Us and The Story of Simon Simopath.
For as they were about to find out, before Kurt and the chaps pinched a Pixies riff or two and delivered a pair of noisy grunge pop platters, they made a few rather wonderful whimsical British pop sike albums.
They may only have been in nappies at the time, but the baroque, heavily orchestrated pop albums Nirvana left in their wake would easily dwarf their later grungier efforts. Interestingly Kurt, who had chosen the splendid nom de plume of Patrick Campbell Lyons, had affected a nasally but quite appealing singing style. Meanwhile Dave Grohl had also taken a very imaginative pseudonym of Alex Spyropoulos, and perfected the art of playing all manner of obscure instruments. As every Foo Fighters fan knows – he was wasted on the drums.
Nirvana mark one even played a few shows in the hipper London venues of the time and hung out with pop royalty like The Kinks, who would sadly not influence their later work at all, and of course future front man Paul McCartney.
Perhaps Nirvana’s finest hour then is All Of Us, a brilliant hotch potch of silky, psychedelic pop songs that stay in your head for days. It also features their first hits too in Rainbow Chaser, a heavily phased track with the most delicate of tunes, and arguably their best ever song Tiny Goddess, a Left Banke style lilt that would later be covered admirably by French folk ice queen Francoise Hardy (see below for video of her singing the song in Italian).
Other highlights include the title track of sorts, The Touchables (All Of Us), the theme from the movie of the same name which features an unforgettable rabble-rousing chorus.
Sadly, having delivered their wonderfully chirpy soft pop masterpiece Kurt and Dave hit their wilderness years (primary school) which would see them suffer pain and angst – feelings all too familiar to anyone unfortunate enough to have heard their In Utero album (just kidding grunge fans!).
Ironically I was fortunate enough to meet the real Patrick Campbell Lyons a few months before his namesake band released Nevermind. He told me that he was thinking of suing the other Nirvana for pinching his name. ‘Don’t waste your money!’ I told him. ‘That dodgy old American punk band will never amount to anything.’ Spot on there wasn’t it?
Like everyone I am sad to hear of the death of Ravi Shankar this morning. The Indian sitar player, who was arguably the first World Music (as we understand it now) star, wowed them at the Woodstock Festival, was chummy with The Beatles and much of pop’s aristocracy, and did much to popularise Indian arts and music at a time when few Western ears ears and eyes had experienced it.
From a pop fan’s perspective though it wasn’t so much Ravi’s own music that changed the world, but the way in which the young turks who heard him and tried to emulate him had a seismic influence on the development of contemporary pop. The key moment in the history of the sitar was when The Byrds’ guitar player Roger McGuinn introduced the George Harrison to Shankar’s sitar music at a party in in 1965. As legend has it both men were tripping on LSD at the time and McGuinn believes the experience inspired Harrison to travel to India where they met Shankar and took sitar lessons from him.
Harrison first played the sitar on Norwegian Wood on The Beatles Rubber Soul album. After that it was open season on the instrument with every young guitarist in both the US or UK either aspiring to play the sitar or more likely using Vox wah wah pedals to make their guitar sound like a sitar.
Here then are five great pop moments that wouldn’t exist had it not been for Ravi Shankar
1 The Byrds – Eight Miles High
Allegedly inspired by a jaunt to London, but quite often held up as an LSD trip set to music, Eight Miles High was an attempt to marry the Shankar sound (using guitars) with the free 60s jazz of John Coltrane, all wrapped up in a killer pop song. There is a pretty strong case that this was first psychedelic single ever coming as it did in late 1965 a good six months their rivals began to experiment with the new musical sound.
2 Traffic – Paper Sun
One of the best ever psychedelic singles – this was debut from the super group of sorts Traffic which featured a very young Stevie Winwood on vocals. Few would ever manage to combine soul-esque beats with a sitar driven psych tune in quite the same way.
3 The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black
Never slow to copy from The Beatles the Stones added a sitar to this classic 1966 single, which was perhaps their first and best brush with psychedelia (though Citadel on Their Satanic Majesties album and Jumping Jack Flash’s B side Child Of The Moon run it close). Brian Jones was a huge fan of the sitar and it lead to him explore the unique sounds of many other eastern instruments.
4 Genesis – I Know What I Like
Genesis were one of the few bands to use the sitar in the 70os. Here it is used to very good effect on their classic 1973 single I Know What I Like – a kind of psych song that was recorded five years too late
5 Lord Sitar – I Can see For Miles
During 1967 many record companies issued cash in albums featuring sitar versions of the day’s hits. Many were terrible. The album from Lord Sitar though was inspired and this sitar-driven, dance floor friendly version of The Who’s I Can See For Miles was a big indie club staple in the 1990.
Early one May morning in 1965, Keith Richards woke up in his St. John’s Wood flat with a three-note riff in his head. He grabbed a cassette recorder and an acoustic guitar and quickly committed the riff to tape before going back to sleep. Or so he thought.
“Thank God for that little Philips cassette player,” Richards recalled in his autobiography, Life. He knew he’d put a brand new tape in the night before, but on inspection, saw that the tape was at its end. “Then I pushed rewind and there was [I Can't Get No] Satisfaction,” and, he explains, 45 minutes of snoring.
“It was just a rough idea,” Richards remembered, “the bare bones of the song, and it didn’t have that noise.” That noise being the demonic Gibson fuzzbox-fed sequence of notes that would become the Rolling Stones’ signature song.
Mick Jagger recalls that his Glimmer Twin’s original sounded more country on the original acoustic guitar-played tape. “It didn’t sound like rock. But [Keith] didn’t really like it, he thought it was a joke… He really didn’t think it was single material, and we all said ‘You’re off your head.’ Which he was, of course.”
Richards’ dissatisfaction with Satisfaction was that he felt the riff should, in fact, have been performed by horns rather than a guitar. Two months after a horns-free Satisfaction was recorded for posterity – and acclaim as one of the greatest pop songs ever – Georgia-born soul and blues singer Otis Redding walked into Stax Studios in Memphis to record, over the weekend of July 9, 1965 his third album, Otis Blue.
Amongst the songs – and at the suggestion of Booker T & The MGs guitarist Steve Cropper – Redding took a stab at Satisfaction. Richards’ guitar riff was replaced by a more upbeat brass fusillade by Wayne Jackson and the Memphis Horns. The song, dreamed up thousands of miles away in a North-West London apartment, was finally recorded as Keith Richards had imagined it.
With a collection of Redding originals like Respect and I’ve Been Loving You Too Long and covers like Satisfaction, Sam Cooke’s Change Gonna Come, Solomon Burke’s Down in the Valley, and B.B. King’s Rock Me Baby, Otis Blue established Redding as the undisputed King of Soul.
It was, however, a throne he would continue to occupy for just two more years before – until December 10, 1967 – 45 years ago this week – when he tragically joined Buddy Holly, Jim Reeves, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens in a tragic line-up of early pop stars to die in plane crashes.
Redding’s Beechcraft Twin Beech plane – which he often co-piloted – was a symbol of his rapidly acquired business acumen.
Unlike many of his blues and R’n'B contemporaries, who invariably had found themselves ripped off contractually and perpetually touring to pay off divorces and paternity suits, Redding had, by the time he died at just 26, built a portfolio of good investments, such as the plane and his beloved ‘Big-O’ ranch in Round Oak, Georgia.
Born in the small Georgia town of Dawson (Pop. 5500) on September 9, 1941, the Redding family moved to the ‘big’ city of Macon, 100 miles away. At school, Otis discovered a talent for music, repeatedly entering a local talent show, winning its five-dollar prize 15 times before being barred from entering the contest further.
By the age of 21, Redding had become a member of a local Macon band, Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers. When they landed a recording session at Stax Records in Memphis, the tall, striking Redding managed to secure a solo recording for himself – which produced the ballad These Arms of Mine.
Like the hits that followed – Try A Little Tenderness, My Girl, Mr Pitiful and I Can’t Turn You Loose (later adopted by The Blues Brothers) – These Arms of Mine instantly captured Redding’s strength: a formidable voice, seeped in the South’s gospel, blues and even country music, that was both hopelessly romantic and rebelliously sexual at the same time.
Satisfaction and Otis Blue catapulted Redding into another level of superstardom, notably a black performer challenging the pop charts at a time of continued segregation in America.
As the ’60s progressed – in all meanings of the word – so did Redding’s career as he established his leadership of the soul movement, leading packaged tours of Stax artists throughout North America and Europe, touring along with protogées like Eddie Floyd, Carla Thomas and Arthur Conley.
Redding made worshippers out of young British blues performers, like Eric Burdon of The Animals who became a close friend, and Pete Townshend of The Who, whose ‘maximum R’n'B’ maxim fitted perfectly with the sweaty soul that the elegant Redding had crafted in Memphis and exported across the northern hemisphere. Another disciple was schoolboy Peter Gabriel who, in 1967, travelled up from his outrageously exclusive public school, Charterhouse in deepest Surrey, to see Redding play in London.
“I was extremely lucky, when I was 17 years old, to go and see Otis Redding perform at the Ram Jam Club in Brixton,” Gabriel told ABC’s Nightline in 2010. “When he came on, it was like the sun coming out. It was just this amazing voice, totally in command, great band, great grooves and passion that permeated everything.” 19 years later, Gabriel repaid the impact Redding had had on him by releasing Sledgehammer, an unexpurgated tribute that even included Wayne Jackson and the Memphis Horns on the track.
When The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, on June 1, 1967, barely five years had lapsed since them recording the sugary I Wanna Hold Your Hand. And yet here they were with an opus of free-thinking psychedelia, that opened up and expanded people’s minds in a way few recordings had done before. Otis Redding listened to it constantly as he took temporary accomodation on a houseboat on the other side of the San Francisco Bay in the hippy commune of Sausalito while playing a week’s residency at the Fillmore West. Inspired by Sgt. Pepper and the body of water between him and San Francisco, he wrote his own signature song, (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.
Compared with the energetic oomph of much of his other songs, Dock Of The Bay was a gentle, simple song, musically and lyrically. A strummed guitar motif, which seemed to copy the gentle lapping of the cold bay’s water against the houseboat, was married to the down-home story of Otis’s life so far – “I left my home in Georgia, Headed for the ‘Frisco bay”. It became his biggest hit. And the last song he ever recorded.
On the night of Sunday, December 10, 1967, while at the pinnacle of his career, Otis Redding’s Beechcraft crashed into a lake in Madison, Wisconsin, while attempting to land at the nearby municipal airport. The crash killed Redding and four members of the Bar-Kays, his backing band. He was just 26-years-old and left behind his wife, Zelma and their three children Dexter, Carla and Otis III.
“The irony of Otis Redding was his personal ambition to fill the gap left in the soul world by the shooting in 1964 of Sam Cooke,” wrote Soul Music Monthly magazine in a tribute published soon after Redding’s death. “In an all-too-short career he achieved that ambition — and achieved it so decisively that in the last four years no one has filled the even larger gap left by his own death.”
“His loss was all the greater because he was the man who turned soul from a minority interest in Britain into a major explosion,” SMM added.
There have been plenty of soul singers since – singers cut from the same southern traditions, white singers like Janis Joplin who have channeled the same vocal passion. But not even contemporaries like Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Eddie Floyd, Isaac Hayes, Ike and Tina Turner, Al Green, Marvin Gaye or Sly Stone came close to the lethal cocktail that Otis Redding perfected for the five short years of his career.
“His death was a loss to the whole world,” said Steve Cropper at the time, reflecting the sentiment of the entire ‘Memphis Brotherhood’. “Nobody will ever know what he had in store for them. He was just starting to get into something. He was starting to get out of hard rhythm and blues. He went beyond that. He was hitting everybody all over the world.”
Redding’s influence found its way far and wide: Peter Gabriel may have been hiding it while performing Supper’s Ready in Genesis, but as a former drummer stimulated by ‘groove’, there was a frustrated soul boy fighting to get out of that prog rock titan. You could say much the same about Robert Plant – a blues singer performing heavy rock – he, too, was channeling the boy from Macon, Georgia.
Otis Redding may have been a soul performer, but the southern blues were within him. The irony, however, of him covering the Rolling Stones’ most famous song is that he helped turn them into an even bigger R’n'B band, still going 45 years after that fateful night in 1967.