Nightman Listens To – Bob Dylan – Rough And Rowdy Ways (2020 Series)!

Rough and Rowdy Ways: Amazon.co.uk: Music

Greetings, Glancers! <Large audible and visible sigh>. Bob Dylan. He’s a legend. One of the greats. A songwriter second to none. An icon. An inventor and re-inventor. His albums appear on every Best Of list you’ve ever read. So they tell me. Listen, I’m all for maturing as a fan of music and as a person – it’s one of the main reasons why I have this blog and continue these Albums Series – but as we’ve seen, sometimes your personal preferences simply trump what is supposedly good for you. It’s just like being healthy – I bought myself some ripe fruit to snack on during the day but here I am typing this and entire an entire 472 gram Ms Molly’s Trifle from Tesco. What’s good for you isn’t always good.

I have known of Bob Dylan all my life. As a Guns ‘n’ Roses fan from an early age, I loved their version of Knockin On Heaven’s Door and assumed the guy who wrote it must be a genius. I love Jimi’s All Along The Watchtower. And that’s the thing I struggle with when it comes to Dylan – he’s one of those artists who is maybe better served as a writer and staying away from the mic? Far from me to criticize a vocalist when my own sound like a goose slithering through the inside of an elephant’s trunk – but if I’m happy to criticize my own singing then I’m going to be picky about everyone else too. Dylan’s vocals are simply horrendous. Maybe over time you become accustomed to them, I don’t know. I certainly haven’t, though admittedly I’ve never given him much of a chance. In my ongoing quest to listen to every album ever recorded, Bob Dylan’s work will come up again and again but as much as a fan I am of folk music and of singer songwriters and of lyrics, I tend to pass his albums over because of how much I can’t stand his voice. But today I’ll be listening to his latest album for the first time and who knows – maybe now that he’s a hundred and eighty six years old, some of the mucus and pig fat oriented nature of his warbling will have been replaced by the dusky husk of a throat more attuned to the ravages of time and instead sound like an old and ragged yacht hewn from the most decrepit oak, moaning as it capsizes under the weight of its alcoholic crew. Now there’s a metaphor for ya.

Am I being shallow? Naïve? Puerile, dismissive, idiotic? Obviously there is more to music than vocals. Obviously. But when you’re a singer songwriter, vocals are at least 50% of what you are – the clue’s in the title. My problems with Dylan are not purely skin, or voice, deep. He has a handful of songs I’ve enjoyed and every so often one of his lyrics will ring true on a personal level. I’m going to say something now which is likely completely incorrect but, and again I’m speaking from an extremely ill-informed position given the number of songs I’ve heard from him, most of the songs and lyrics I’ve heard from him are simply moderately elevated love songs. You say there’s more to music than vocals? There are more things to write about than love. I know he gets political and I know he’s done protest stuff. Maybe that’s more my level, maybe those songs and lyrics will spark something inside me. Most of what I’ve heard is simply better written Celine Dion that I care equally nul for. But for everyone out there frothing in anger at my ranting or giggling from your highest of high horses – I’ll be the first to admit when I’m wrong and will happily slap my own chops if and when an artist’s quality clicks for me. I would much rather have music I love in my life than music I don’t, and that’s why I’m here.

As always, I begin by saying what I know about the album. In this case, it’s absolutely nothing beyond its name and the recording artist. The album artwork strikes me as deliberately retro. It seems like some 1950s swinging shindig based on the outfits and asses on display. It’s all quite faceless, to the extent that the dude on the right (who is staring into either a jukebox lit by Heaven’s golden shimmers, or some Tabernacle-esque fridge freezer unit) has seemingly suffered an unfortune bout of head-loss. The sparse room doesn’t suggest much in the way of rough and/or rowdy antics – but maybe showing up to your local juke dive in an ill-fitting skirt was enough to raise the eyebrows and middle wickets of those in attendance. Simpler time, simpler folk. You may have noticed I’m stalling. Fine, lets get on with it.

I usually start these posts with the positives. Before I do, at risk of repeating myself let me just restate that the vocals are not my cup of tea. Given I don’t drink tea, they’re not my hot chocolate either. I was correct in my assumption that the vocals would be more weary and gruff, and thankfully less nasal. Sounds a bit like Joni Mitchell after 300 cigs and covid. I’m never going to come around on the guy’s singing and if you struggle with vocals while listening to an artist, you’re probably never going to like listening to them. There’s less urgency here, and while he sounds like he’s the drunk propping up the furthest end of the bar spouting wisdom to anyone who will listen, he still sounds potent and virile. More like a sage imparting truths but knowing it’s going to fall on deaf ears. I could get through individual songs if I were to listen to this in the future, but listening to the entire album again in a single sitting would be a stretch for me.

We do get off to a promising start. I Contain Multitudes is rather lovely – relaxed, swirling Country guitars and a gentle vibe. I Contain Multitudes seems like a response and a slap in the face to my proclamation that he only writes love songs. You should aware that I’m being tongue in cheek for entertainment purposes, just in case you hadn’t picked that up. There are some great lines in here, but there are some absolute clangers too – you can’t win ’em all. False Prophet is a rough Blues song with a nifty heavy edge and solid riff straight from the 1930s. It’s fair to say Dylan has spent his career aping the African American Blues men he looked up to – it seems with age he’s finally able to sound like them. I think it’s impossible to write an authentic Blues song today. The genre is too long in the tooth, too limited, meaning we’d seen everything it had to offer by 1960. As limited as the Blues genre has always been (given the fact that it’s basically a hundred years old or more) there isn’t much that anyone can add to it. The only way to make a Blues song work today is to make it a pastiche. There are plenty of people plying their trade today by playing the Blues, but they are mostly writing to serve a specific target niche audience – either existing connoisseurs of the Blues, or guitar fans. Blues’ greatest strength was always that it was a framework to build upon, leading to a hundred offshoots and much of the best music of the 20th Century.

 There’s a variety in these opening songs which I wasn’t expecting, but which sadly does not continue through the rest of the album. Beyond the vocals, that’s my main fault with the album – it quickly devolves into a series of Blues standards I’ve heard a hundred times before. Even within False Prophet we fall back into clichés and tropes from a musical perspective. If we’re calling this a Blues album that’s perhaps not a valid criticism, but I’ve always had an issue with a full album of straight Blues and I prefer the genre in small, vicious bursts. At least when the music and the vocals become parody and boring we have the lyrics to fall back on.

It is unsurprisingly the lyrics which stand out for me. Each song has a frame, a topic, yet each is peppered with asides and insights ranging from hilarious to razor sharp, and more often than not there are multiple references to Literature, Cinema, music, real life people etc. It’s truly a shame there aren’t more minds like Dylan in music today, or even some with a fraction of his fire, wit, and intelligence to breathe life into their songs. As is often the case with songwriters who overload their lyrics, it should be stressed just how difficult it is to build a coherent song and an interesting and catchy melody around the words. Today’s pop, or Popular Music as a whole, relies on simplicity – too many words are simply too difficult for most people to remember, and too many words either lead to convoluted rhythms and off-kilter melodies which don’t appeal to the masses, or overly simple beats and repetition which is the trap Dylan falls into. While much of the music works as a one off, and while genres like Rap are purpose built to allow for effusive wordy lyrics and repetitive music, managing to craft something which strikes the balance between music and semantics is challenging, and a challenge Dylan only partially succeeds with here.

I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You is almost a musical retread of the opening track, albeit one with more romance and sway, Black Rider attempts a more haunting approach but gives way to forgettable minimalism, while any number of other tracks are rehashed Blues rockers. The highlights for me are when there are slight twists or variances in the sound – Mother Of Muses is another sweet song with melodies to match, but infrequent surprising chord changes, while Key West introduces some different instruments and pushes Dylan’s vocals to offer some heightened emotion. Key West, as long as it is, has probably become my favourite on the album though I would probably enjoy it more if it were half the length. Murder Most Foul is the obvious centrepiece and has the vibe of an old dude strumming his guitar while perched on a rocking chair at sunset at the edge and end of the world.

The laid back 9 minuter Key West leads thematically and tonally into Murder Most Foul perfectly, thought having too such long tracks back to back at the closure of an album I struggled with was enough to push me over the edge first time around. Taking breathers between chunks of the album is definitely the approach for someone like me who isn’t a fan. Depending on your level of fandom, Murder Most Foul is going to feel either like an intimate one to one session with your favourite poet, or a visit to your senile grandfather’s a stale living room on Christmas Day as he regales you with memories of fabricated events. I imagine this may be seen as a crowning achievement by Dylan’s diehard followers, but after the fourth minute of my first listen I was begging for it to end, to change somehow, a different lilt to his delivery, some variance in the music. But it goes on in exactly the same pattern for another twelve minutes. The lyrics are less like a Burroughs-esque series of insightful hallucinations, and more like a list of names, popular phrases, events, and references deliberately selected for no other reason than to rhyme and to spruce up the bird’s eye view of the USA which pervades the whole album. It’s less a sign of relief when it ends than a sigh of regret that I didn’t turn it off after four minutes.

My opinion of it has since increased with subsequent listens and with reading the lyrics. It’s an effective re-account of the last 60 odd years of American history. The little subtle musical touches come though with more effort on the listeners behalf – the strings doing their own thing, the scattered piano, the comparisons and in-jokes in the lyrics with references which will fly over the heads of most who are not musically or historically inclined, but work wonderfully for those of us who can catch even 50% of them. We cover music and the new bands and waves of the 60s, juxtaposed with the violent event of November 63, 80s horror movies, the Civil Rights movement, and any number of other popular phrases and moments in time. It’s a song I can listen to on its own, for its own merits rather than at the end of a long album, and even with that I do struggle getting through the entire running time. The music simply doesn’t change enough and as much as I appreciate the lyrics I’d love to see some smart arse do a Prog version of this to actually spice up the music and give the words a proper home.

I understand I’ve been quite negative with this post, but I should close with the key positive I took from the whole experience; Dylan is still here. While I’ve never been a fan, and probably never will, that’s fine. He’s not for me, but for all of the people he is for, for the millions still around who do love him or are yet to discover him – the dude is still going when many many others have fallen to the ravages of time, health, lack of staying power, or lack of talent. I’m positive that those the album was written for will hold it dear, as they should. For me, it’s always cool to see people with genuine talent (regardless of how I enjoy or feel about that talent) and real experience still making music today. We know that music as a Business is catered to, by, and for the young, and that the entire spectrum of successful popular music today is extremely narrow – so I admire those who can sustain an audience and success over such a ridiculous stretch of time. While there are countless thousands of musicians out there today who have been performing since before I was born, an almost insignificant fraction of those are known or are successful to any respectable degree versus the plethora of new, recent, short term, and up and coming acts who come and go with the wind. Dylan has been doing it long before I existed, and his songs and his words will be here for hundreds of years to come, assuming we haven’t fucked up the planet beyond repair before then.

Album Score

I’m loath to continue doing this score business, but I suppose I’ve started so have to keep it up.

Sales: 3. As I always mention, I’m not really sure how to gauge this one anymore. It went Silver in the UK, which is okay, but elsewhere data isn’t forthcoming or strong. What are Dylan’s sales usually like? I imagine this spiked for a couple of weeks at release, then tanked. 2 or 3 on this one, lets give him the benefit of the doubt.

Chart: 4. We know the album at least peaked at Number 1 in various Countries, including the UK and US, and he even managed his first Number 1 single, somehow. 

Critical: 5. The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. When the dude finally bites the dust and people can do a retrospective of his entire body of work, I’m not sure if this will still be seen in as favourable a light, but for now you based on the current influx of Year End top spots and glowing praise, you can’t really go lower than a 5.

Originality: 2. Maybe there’s some original stuff in here for Dylan – I didn’t hear any Grime or Dubstep, but maybe he does enough differently from what he has done before. To my ears it’s a very simple Blues, Folk, Americana infused album with little or no originality beyond the lyrics, though it’s tougher to call lyrics original just because no-one has used a particular turn of phrase before. 

Influence: 2. I don’t see this influencing anyone, at least not in the same way as his early work undoubtedly influenced others and will continue to. 

Musical Ability: 3. A few guest stars, but for the most part there isn’t a lot of complexity on display or much opportunity for the musicians to show off their ability. 2 or 3 here, max.

Lyrics: 5. It’s not flawless, but nothing is. I don’t many albums in the 2020 list are going to get a 5 in this category, but Dylan’s wordsmithery, use of language and wit, and storytelling have enough lyrical flourish to put most other songwriters to shame.

Melody: 3. Not great – there are a couple of songs with a hook or two which I have found myself humming after I’ve stopped listening, but I suspect that is more to do with the sheer length and repetitive nature of the melody rather than the quality. Again, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt, but this is a weak 3. More likely a 2, definitely never getting a 4.

Emotion: 3. I would argue that most of the emotion people feel from this album is more down to what it represents than the genuine content – it’s probably one of the last, if not the very last, albums from a man who has been doing it for 60 years. The music and lyrics at least in part reflect this. But I found it a mostly bland affair. At this point he’s hardly trying to convert any new fans so I’ll split the difference and go with a 3. 6

Lastibility: 3. Purely because it’ a Dylan album, you know people will be talking about this for years and decades to come; it’s not some flavour of the month pop album, it’s a release by one of the most important artists of the 20th Century. I don’t think it will have the staying power of his most famous releases in terms of what people reach for when they want a bit of Bob, but it’s not going away. 3 or 4 here. 

Vocals: 2. I could easily go a 1 here, and he really wants me to go that low with his insistence on making songs longer than they need to be, but the timbre of his voice has improved with age, removing much of the nasal quality with grouchy gravel. Still, it’s not the sort of vocal I’d ever choose to listen to. 

Coherence: 4. It all holds together – you know what each song is going to sound like and feel like, and all of the music and lyrics are trenched in American folk and blues.

Mood: 3. The mood is held together by the coherence, but slips for me because of the lack of emotion I felt. 

Production: 3. A crisp and clear no-nonsense Production. The vocals are front and centre in the mix, though everything feels balanced. I would have preferred more expansion and invention with the instrumentation – not that it’s needed for an album like this, but it would have made the whole more interesting.

Effort: 4. It feels effortless and I don’t think the musicians or anyone else involved put in, or needed to put in, more effort than was required. Then again, there’s the pressure to put out a good Dylan album, and what may be the last Dylan album, so I’m sure everyone did their best without pushing their creativity. Dylan himself, given his age, probably put in the most effort and clearly spent a lot of time pondering over the lyrics and overall ideas for each song.

Relationship: 2. Depending on how you few this category – how do you personally relate to it, or how do you think most people will relate to it – will dictate your score. Personally I didn’t relate to it much at all – there is too much distance created by the stuff I didn’t enjoy – and while I can empathise with the thing, I didn’t care for it. Fans will go high on this score because they have a higher chance of relating to the guy they love, but first time listeners or people like me who are not fussed either way will likely not get a lot out of it from this category. 

Genre Relation: 4. I can’t exactly criticize the album for being a generic Blues album, then give it a crap score in this category. When it plays the Blues it feels like the Blues, when it goes Folk, it feels Folk. It’s not the best of either world, but you know what it is. Of course you could argue that when someone has been going for as long as Dylan has they essentially become a Genre all of their own, in which case yous should ask how it relates to his other work. 

Authenticity: 4. It feels personal, it feels real. It doesn’t feel like a product manufactured for the masses and it doesn’t feel like he’s done it purely for his fans. At this point he can do whatever the hell he wants, and he has, 

Personal: 2. I don’t think there’s enough I liked here to go with a 3. Maybe that will change with time, but I doubt it. We know fans will go a 5 here, unless they’re particularly strict and the individual songs were not to their taste, but I can’t see a fan going less than a 4. A 1 would be harsh even for me, because I appreciate the effort and talent involved. But he’s not  an artist I’ll be able to enjoy, unless someone else is performing his songs.

Miscellaneous: 3. The album cover isn’t the most exciting, ripped straight from a hundred 50s and 60s album artwork like some shoddy easy rock compilation. You have to suspect this might be his last album which does offer some interesting side notes, and he did pull together some notable guest stars. Nothing exciting, but enough to get a 2 or a 3. 

Total: 64/100

That’s actually an interesting score. I enjoyed Biffy Clyro’s album more than this, but this gets a better score (by a single point). Does that mean the system works? Hopefully it shows that any bias is decreased. Let us know in the comments what you think of Rough And Rowdy Ways!

Classic Rock Band Tier – Ranking Classic Rock Bands

Greetings, Glancers. It seems like this tier malarkey is all the rage these days, and every blogger, vlogger, and their embittered uncle is thrusting their own flaccid list into the unexpected orifices of subscribers. Not one to be out-thrust, this post will be my own grading of a list of bands. Before I get to that, I should point out that I only found out about this nonsense via my watching of Become The Night – a Youtube channel run by a musician and metal fan called Mike. If you’re into reaction videos, metal, prog, insightful and entertaining rants on the current state of popular music, then it’s one of the more eloquent and knowledgeable channels out there, while remaining fun to watch.

Mike seems to have used a site called tiermaker which allows you to create your own lists and categories, and drag and drop items into each, before sharing on Facebook or wherever. That link above takes you to the same list Mike uses in his video. In my post I’m going to go through the same artists, but give my ranking on each. It’s partly a response to Mike’s video, partly because I’m curious to see where I would rank each act, and partly because I couldn’t think of anything more interesting to write about today. I should talk a little at the outset about where Mike and I differ. Obviously, obviously, each person is different, with our own tastes, preferences, baggage and all of that will greatly determine how we rank anything, no matter how objective we try to be. If we’re being 100% objective, there would be no point in doing the list because one ranking would be the official ranking. Mike is big into production when it comes to music – listen to any of his song reaction videos, any of his videos really, and he’ll harp on about production quite a lot – the mix, the tone, the tools – he knows a hell of a lot more about it than I ever will and that’s mainly because I simply don’t weigh production as highly as he does in terms of making a song. I’m being slightly tongue in cheek, and admittedly naive because obviously Production is one of the most important aspects of recording music. It’s just that for me, it lies a hell of a long way behind talent, melody, emotion, and lyrics.

Lyrics and emotion are two points where I differ from Mike, and maybe from a lot of other fans. Where Production for me roughly falls into three large categories – crap, okay, and good, Mike has a highly trained ear for the slightest flaw (perceived or otherwise) in a recording and mix – I don’t. My ear is much more attuned to emotion – I can easily tell if something is false or disingenuous, much more so than your typical listener and (without getting too wanky) I have a finely tuned degree of empathy when hearing and feeling any song. In Mike’s own (near enough) words, he doesn’t give a shit about lyrics and considers music and the playing of instruments as the most important element in creating a song.

He’s wrong of course, and is not accurately defining the difference between music and song, at least as both have existed since the start of the 20th Century. Sure a song doesn’t have to have lyrics to be considered a song, but most do, while a song usually needs (but not always) music before being called a song. Ignoring lyrics is essentially ignoring half of a song. It’s one of the prime examples of how music and listeners and artists have been dumbed down over time, to the point that most people ignore lyrics unless they’re deliberately provocative or ridiculously inane. Otherwise intelligent people have been taught to ignore words in songs, because words in songs have lost all meaning. If music is to become intelligent again and move away from its current mass-market, junk food approach, then lyrics need to be part of that equation. As always, I’m writing this off the cuff and chucking generalizations around – I’m aware that lyrics have been silly for most 20th and 21st Century popular music, but even The Beatles grew from childish declarations of love to often near God tier poetry. In Epic Poetry, lyrics told the stories with a cast of hundreds, sung to music which has been lost over time while the words remains. Popular music began showcasing more intelligent lyrics in the mid-sixties, but since it there have been more troughs than peaks in the art form, with the best lyrics tending to come from either cult acts or those with a small following. Various sub-genres of rap obviously focus heavily on words, perhaps moreso than the music. From a Business perspective, lyrics don’t sell, music does. It’s a little frustrating then when he berates modern acts (correctly) for being vain, reductive, and repetitive in terms of music and lyrics, but then completely dismisses the lyrics of some of the best songwriters in history. It’s partly because his favourite acts are shitty lyricists anyway (Dream Theater anyone?) It’s fine though, he mainly defines songs in terms of music while I define songs in terms of the whole package which comprises a song – a piece of music usually designed to be sung.

Enough bullshit for now, lets look at how his tier looked at the end – if you’re curious it’s probably best to watch his video first (plus you’ll probably find it more entertaining than this).

mike

That’s not the easiest to see, so here’s a more clear list:

S: Led Zeppelin. Pink Floyd. Steely Dan. Queen. The Beatles

A: Cream. Creedence Clearwater Revival. David Bowie. Elton John. The Rolling Stones

B: ACDC. Aerosmith. Billy Joel. Deep Purple. Jimi Hendrix. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Rush

C: The Who. Fleetwood Mac. Black Sabbath

D: The Eagles. Grateful Dead. Bob Dylan

F: The Doors

Naturally, posting a list like this to a large audience on the internet is going to lead to all manner of angry frothing and gesturing. How dare someone else have an opinion, especially one that is so different from mine! Mike has a much larger audience than I do, so I imagine he’s got a lot of hate over some of these choices. Because people are precious of the things they love, and because people are dicks. I disagree with some of his choices, as I will show in my own ranking, but I understand that he is who he is and I’m not here to change his mind. Or anyone else’s. As always, leave a comment here and share your own ranking and reasoning. But there’s no sense in arguing because this is almost entirely subjective and based on our own shit. If we try to be objective, then we have to fall back on tangible metrics such as sales, chart history, longevity, influence, followed up by less tangible stuff like musicianship, lyrics, originality. I’m not sure who even came up with this list of artists, or how they define each tier – I think there are too many tiers and I would replace a few of these acts with ones I deem much more suitable, but I’ll cover these ones anyway.

So lets follow Mike’s ranking from the bottom. The Doors – it was pretty obvious from the outset that Mike would stick The Doors here. He’s not a lyrics guy, and perhaps more than any other act on this list The Doors relied more on lyrics and atmosphere than music. Being a lyrics and atmosphere guy, I rank The Doors much higher. The band were also massively influential (maybe more in terms of redefining what a front man can be) in terms of lyricism and songwriting, they’re undoubtedly one of the most iconic acts of all time, and of course they sold and charted a bunch and are still spoken of highly today. I love a lot of The Doors songs and for a while they were one of my favourite bands. I fully admit that a lot of their catalogue is a little iffy – I credit that to the use of keyboards more than anything else. I agree that Morrison doesn’t have the greatest voice from any technical standpoint, but it continues to moisten panties in every generation which is more than I can say for most vocalists. As much as I like The Doors, there’s really only a handful of songs which I can say I both love and which had an impact on a wider scale. For example, Love Streets is probably my favourite song by The Doors, but it’s not one you ever hear people talking about it. Ray Manzarek was a beast on the keys, it’s just that the sound now feels dated and cheesy. Densmore – a decent enough drummer, nothing special. Krieger had some great riffs and solos and as a band they all experimented and stretched the boundaries of popular music – something Mike claims to pine for.

Next up, The Eagles. In what is going to be a recurring theme for this post, I’ll have to take a step back and state that I’m not American. In my part of the world and in the time that I grew up in, no-one gave a shit about The Eagles. They made Hotel California and… that’s it? I know they were a massively successful band but I think most of that success was internal to the USA. For whatever reason they never crossed the shores to me. They’re a band whose back catalogue I have wanted to get into, and I’ll probably get to them in the future on this blog, but for now they are looking like an F. The same will go for The Grateful Dead, except they don’t even have Hotel California. Bob Dylan, I’ve never been a huge fan of and in most cases the songs he’s written that I have liked, have been performed by other artists whose versions I much prefer. Again, he’s someone I know I need to listen to and will. Known for his lyrics, I’m hoping those will have something I can enjoy and distract me from his voice. Either way, I probably wouldn’t include Dylan on this list at all.

The Who haven’t been given enough credit by Mike, presumably because he hasn’t heard enough by them (admitting again that many of the bands I will rank low will be because I haven’t heard a lot of their stuff). The Who are arguably the most energetic rock band of all time – Mike mentions that ACDC are ranked higher for him because he appreciates their energy even if he doesn’t like many of their songs. The Who knock ACDC out of the park in terms of energy. Keith Moon is unquestionably one of the great drummers, Roger Daltry’s voice can strip paint and lull a heart-attack victim to sleep, while Pete Townsend is at the forefront of progressive music. Of course Townsend would class his stuff as Rock Operas rather than concept or progressive albums, but they fall under the same wider umbrella of telling a larger story with linking themes and songs. The band is rarely mentioned as pioneers, but I think they influenced both metal and punk as well as rock overall. Admittedly they don’t have as many hits as some bands here, but their sales and longevity speak for themselves. Great lyrics too.

Fleetwood Mac is a band I should love but I haven’t bothered going from album to album yet. I do love quite a lot of their songs so I can only assume there will be others I’d like, and they crossed more successfully than other bands that bridge between rock and pop. Black Sabbath, as Mike points out, are probably the first metal band. At least in terms of what we think of as Metal today. We all know Ozzy isn’t the most appealing of vocalists nowadays, but back then he could belt it out and that’s what it was all about – being loud, being aggressive, and being in your face. Tony Iommi is probably second only to Jimmy Page in creating memorable guitar riffs. While the band quickly ran out of steam, their first few albums remain essential parts of metal. They’re far from my favourite band, but I appreciate what they did, the ground they broke, the fans they awakened. I take them more as a greatest hits band – a few songs from each album would make one single great album, leaving the majority of stuff I pass over.

The B and A tiers are where I will change most stuff around. Starting with ACDC. I’ve never been a fan – I think they’re the prime example of pop music under the guise of rock. I feel the same way towards ACDC as I do towards hair metal – sure ACDC is more authentic, but it’s marginal. ACDC is just a better Status Quo. They’re the Nickleback of the 70s and 80s. I just can’t take them seriously, with their lyrics like a bad Carry On movie or a thirteen year old boy’s idea of sex. Sure they have some memorable riffs and the odd decent song, and they’ve sold more albums than is humanly possible… doesn’t mean they’re any good. I’ve never liked any of their singers either – ever skinned a fox? While it’s still alive? Neither have I, but that’s what I think Brian and Bon sound like. Only their sales keep them from being lower.

Aerosmith I used to like when I was a kid. They had a couple of decent albums in the late 70s, then again in the early 90s. I can’t say too many of their songs have really stayed with me over time – while I like them, they’ve fallen away while songs from other bands have kept afloat. Mostly a fringe band for me, I don’t have anything bad to say, but I don’t have any massive positives either, beyond liking (not loving) a lot of their songs. Billy Joel is an artist who, until a few years ago, I had no idea had sold so many records. This must come down to not being American again. As an outsider I knew Uptown Girl, and that one about not starting fires, and that was about it. Yet he is somehow one of the biggest selling artists of all time? How did I not know this? Is it like Garth Brooks syndrome and it’s only idiots buying multiple copies of his stuff? Actually, let me check Wikipedia to see if I know any of his other stuff – there must be songs I know that I wasn’t aware were by him. Nope. There are songs there which I have probably heard, but don’t recognise from name only. He’s another I’ll have to delve into on the blog. For the purposes of this post though, he’ll be going low.

Deep Purple was always a dad rock band to me, even when I was a kid. There was another kid on my street when I was growing up, and his dad loved Deep Purple. They were always playing when I was in his house. Incidentally, it was in that house that I first watched (most of) John Carpenter’s The Thing. Another example of a movie being put on and then us sneaking in unattended. Anyway, it took me a while to actually listen to Deep Purple for my own purposes, and in truth I still haven’t heard most of their stuff. I know their biggest songs, but little beyond that. Jimi Hendrix on the other hand I know fairly well. There’s no doubting Hendrix’s skill as a guitarist and there are quite a few songs I like. The problem is there are very few songs of his I truly love. He broke ground as a front man – ground which remains to this day largely, and sadly untouched in rock and metal. As a vocalist though he was quite limited, but I think it’s his style of singing which gets on my nerve more than his actual voice – a languid funk which never changes from song to song. Hendrix’s songs also come almost entirely from within the psychedelic period and are therefore of their time much more than many other artists here. If he’d been alive longer I have no doubt he would have branched into other territory and made stuff I liked more.

Lynyrd Skynrd. Another quintessential US band and therefore another band I don’t really give a shit about. Mike’s a Southern guy so I can understand him liking this lot. For me, there’s Free Bird and nothing else. Rush is a band people have been telling me to listen to for so long that I’ve given up caring. Maybe I’ll listen one day. The few songs I’ve heard have had elements I’ve liked. But they’ve also had Geddy Lee. I have little doubt I would like Rush if I took them time to listen to their stuff properly – I just haven’t done that, or been given the impetus to do so. Into A and Cream – nope. They didn’t last nearly long enough or sell nearly enough or chart highly enough to be in this tier. Sure, they were influential, but mainly in setting up acts a few months later who were much more influential and much better. Creedence Clearwater Revival – I used to think they were a made up band, like Spinal Tap. Then I found out they were real. I still didn’t care. Another band for Southern US guys trapped in time – a poor man’s, no, a destitute man’s Led Zep. Honestly, I only know a handful of their songs – their covers I don’t care for, Proud Mary annoys the nips off me, but I quite like Bad Moon Rising. 

Man, I should have made a video for this instead of typing. But that would take more effort. Bowie next – if you follow my blog you’ll have seen me going through the Bowie albums – I’m up to number 86 or something by now. I think it’s clear by now that Bowie is someone I appreciate and respect more than I actually like. He does have some songs I love, I have found some songs I’ve liked. I’m not a fan of his vocals or delivery, and too much of his stuff is in the glam genre which I like as much as I like Country music (not at all). But credit to changing the game, to always trying something new stylistically, and for pushing boundaries. Elton John I probably wouldn’t include on the list at all – he hasn’t been rock since the early 70s, and even then it was touch and go. I can’t think of a single Elton John song I love, and there are very few I like. I haven’t listened to a single album by him so there could be a treasure trove of stuff out there, but I’m very aware of all of his singles.

The Rolling Stones are wildly hit and miss for me. I can’t remember if I’ve posted it yet or not, but I am starting to go through their albums again. I’ve listened to all of their albums up until the mid 70s before, but they didn’t make an impact on me. 10 years later I’m doing it again to see if my opinion has changed. Just that short bluesy stuff doesn’t do a lot for me personally, and they had so many covers and almost covers in their early days that it’s a slog to get through. Jagger is a great front man without being a great singer, and the rest of the band are just okay. But they’ve sold so much and they’re still headlining, and some people genuinely prefer them to The Beatles. Led Zep – you know my feelings – I think they’re the greatest classic rock band of all time. Pink Floyd – immense in all the tangible categories, great lyrics and emotion too. I like patches of their early and later stuff, but it’s that run from Dark Side to The Wall which cements them – four flawless albums. Steely Dan – I haven’t posted it yet, but I have already listened to and written about one of their albums (A Royal Scam I believe) and as far as I know that’s the only stuff by them I’ve heard. I need to know more to adequately comment, but based on that single album they’re not top tier. Queen are as big as they’ve ever been and their songs have already proven to stand the test of time. The Beatles I probably wouldn’t have included here, but they were the turning point so it’s fine. Either way you cut it, they’re top tier anything. Lets take a look at my ranking:

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A little different then. And because it’s not very clear, and because I don’t like the categories, I’m going to rejig it a little below:

A: Led Zeppelin. Pink Floyd. The Beatles

B: Queen. The Who. The Rolling Stones. David Bowie. The Doors.

C: ACDC. Aerosmith. Deep Purple. Jimi Hendrix. Fleetwood Mac. Black Sabbath

D: Cream. Elton John. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Rush. Billy Joel.

E: The Eagles. Grateful Dead. Bob Dylan. Steely Dan. Creedence Clearwater Revival.

That looks better. Or worse. Who knows. If it was me, and because I am me it most likely is, I would have replaced Elton with Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles with Alice Cooper, Steely Dan with Thin Lizzy or Motorhead, Billy Joel with Santana, The Grateful Dead with The Kinks.

Right, I’m done with this. Think differently? Chuck in a comment. Want me to do more reaction type posts to Youtubers or lists or other nonsense? Tell me to. Want me to listen to any songs by any of the artists I’ve ranked low above? Let me know and I will. Adios for now!

 

Chart Music Through The Years – 1963

Yes! Back thanks to an almost universal lack of demand, I stretch back the scalp of time and feast upon the mushy innards of the past – in this instance I return to the UK music charts. If you’re interested, you can read my original post here – https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/the-uk-top-40/

‘I wish it was the sixties, I wish we could be happy, I wish, I wish, I wish that something would happen’. But what did happen in 1963, Mr Spindly Yorke? Things, that’s what! These things – In Asia, there were troubling rumblings in Vietnam, Japan saw it’s first Anime show hit the screens; in Europe Lamborghini was born, James Bond made his first official movie, and Hindley and Brady began terrorizing the Moors, while in the US the Civil Rights movement saw important moments amidst violence and riots with Martin Luther King telling us he had a dream, and JFK being assassinated.

In music, the world was about to be shocked into rock and roll goodness by four lads from Liverpool as The Beatles released their first singles and album, leading to a massive influx of British bands. The Rolling Stones were signed, Patsy Cline died, and both The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan released their second albums. The music industry was still dominated by old school jazz and country artists, each covering and re-recording each others’ songs, but that was all due to change thanks to the British Invasion and numerous cultural shifts across the globe. The times they were a changing. What of October’s Top 10 singles? Read on, my young Padawan.

1. Brian Poole And The Tremeloes: Do You Love Me

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If it was good for Jazz and Country, then why not R’n’B? British Invasion bands were in such demand at this time that most of them supplemented their own material with covers of recent hits, this one being a fairly a standard attempt. It’s energetic and fast, but all of these covers begin to merge into one after a while.

2. Crystals: Then He Kissed Me

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I’ve never heard of the group or the song from the title, but that opening riff sounds familiar. It sounds quite dated, but has a Supremes feel too. Ahh yeah, this was in Goodfellas, that’s where I recognise it from. It’s a nice enough song but pretty twee and non-eventful.

3. The Beatles: She Loves You

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One of my favourites by The Beatles (I don’t think I’ve done a Favourite Beatles Songs post yet, get on that…). Glorious from start to finish, melodies, the howls, the guitar echoing the ‘yeah yeah yeah’ sound, perfect.

4. Roy Orbison: Blue Bayou

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As a guitar player you’d think I’d know more Roy Orbinson songs, but I really don’t. I didn’t recognise the title of this one either, and from the opening verse I don’t think I’ve heard it. It’s a nice enough ballad, not too sure about the backing vocals, but I do like the shift in Roy’s vocals from deep to high.

5. Adam Faith: The First Time

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I was expecting another slow, soft ballad, but this has some thumping percussion and growled vocals. It definitely has a rougher edge which presumably was influenced by The Beatles etc. An okay song, again nothing that is going to become lodged in my memory.

6. Trini Lopez: If I Had A Hammer

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Hmm. Fast, getting something familiar from it. Wait, I thought Trini was a woman. It’s another light, catchy song. A little repetitive, but fun throughout. Seems to be some sort of protest song from the snippets of lyrics I’m picking up.

7. Gerry And The Pacemakers: You’ll Never Walk Alone

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Well, obviously I know this one. As a Liverpool FC fan, we sing this song at every game. This is still my favourite version. It’s a wonderful anthem, regardless of its sporting ties, with great message and powerful melodies to really punch the emotion skywards. And of course any swelling of strings gets top votes from me.

8. The Shadows: Shindig

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As a guitar player, you’d think I’d know more songs by The Shadows, but I don’t. This is good stuff, great guitars, good beat, but isn’t it a bit odd to have an instrumental song in the top 10 – in the 60s at least? Sure with Dance music being all the rage these days, and with pop music being nonsense, words are pretty much an afterthought.

9. Tommy Roe: Everybody

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Another foot stomper with prominent guitar and drums. I don’t believe I know this one either. Pretty catchy again, more oohing, something which has appeared on quite a few of these songs so far. Not bad.

10. Shirley Bassey: I Who Have Nothing

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A dramatic intro, with a little bit of Leone Western to it, though a few years before his big hits. Booming voice. Silence. Haunting string backing. Very nice, though this particular recording I’m listening too is of dire quality. Beast of a voice for those loud moments. There isn’t a lot to the song, and the actual vocal melodies aren’t memorable, but it’s Bassey so you know she’s going to blast it out.

So then, 1963? What do these 10 songs tell us about the year as a whole? We know Beatlemania was on the rise, and as such we have a number of Scouse written or influenced tracks, along with other British artists. We can tell it is a transitional period as many of the songs here are still hanging on to what had come before while trying their damndest to compete with the fresh young upstarts coming from the Mersey. That seems reasonable as The Beatles scored the biggest selling single of the year with She Loves You and a bunch of their other songs and songs which were influenced by them became hits while you still had traditional ballads, Swing, and Country songs stinking up da place. From a quality perspective, are these 10 songs indicative of 1963? Basically, yes – The Beatles released their first two albums which ushered in the aforementioned wave of imitators – with new bands being signed up left, wrong, and centre, and with already established artists covering their hits and trying their hand at the new sound. For an alternative Top 10 songs of 1963, have a gander at these boyos.

  1. The Beatles: From Me To You
  2. The Beach Boys: Surfin’ USA
  3. The Rolling Stones: I Wanna Be Your Man
  4. Johnny Cash: Ring Of Fire
  5. Louie Louie: Kingsmen
  6. Cliff Richard And The Shadows: Summer Holiday
  7. The Miracles: You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me
  8. Boots Randolph: Yakety Sax
  9. Bob Dylan: A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall
  10. The Beatles: It Won’t Be Long

Yes, I know I cheated there with multiple Beatle entries, but what are you gonna do? My list isn’t too different from the actual Top 10 so there is plenty of good music for you to experience if you haven’t already, though as most are established hits I expect 99% of readers will know these songs inside out. As always, let us know what your musical memories of 1963 are by sharing in the comments. Which artists or songs have I missed? Do any of the tracks featured here have a special meaning for you? Let us know below!