Greetings, Glancers! It’s back to 1995 now, a year when Grunge was on the wane, Britpop was on the rise, and Bon Jovi were still riding high on the success of Greatest Hits album Crossroads and its two new singles Always and Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night. If those two songs proved that the band had the chops to continue through the turbulent decade, they needed to follow it up with a new album which could really drive that point home. These Days wasn’t as big a smash as the previous album, at least not in the US, but the band’s overseas powers continued and they had another big seller on their hands along with a string of singles. Looking at the track list there’s only three that I definitely recognize, though I assume I’ll probably remember one or two more once I listen. So far in this endeavour, Bon Jovi hasn’t done as good a job as Bryan Adams or Madonna at showing me new unheard gems, so maybe we’ll get one or two this time around.
‘Hey God’ starts with a distant drum. Then a voice. Then a crunching intro, rougher guitars and drums than we’re used to and an ever so slight country line in the mix. The drums step up a beat and the pace quickens for a thumping continuation. The pace and volume eases off for the verse, picking up again for the chorus as Jon belts out the words. I don’t think I’ve heard this one before, but it’s a good start – heavier and without the cheese and plainness which has so far plagued a lot of their album tracks. Though I see videos for this on Youtube, so maybe this was a single I somehow missed upon release. The vocals have a greater edge and don’t sound forced or growled for fashionable purposes. Lyrically it seems like it’s telling a story and the chorus hints at being influenced by the major grunge and alt-rock lyricists of the time. It probably doesn’t need to be over 6 minutes, but it doesn’t feel that long.
‘Something For The Pain’ starts with some sort of broken harpsichord wrangling before the main riff comes in. I do know this one, but don’t recall and particular fondness for it. Listening again now it feels like classic Bon Jovi – verses, bridge, and big chorus all mingling for attention. Te verse melodies are my favourite piece, the bridge feels a little average, but the chorus roars from the stereo and is sure to be another crowd-pleaser, even if it is a simple one. The middle section is a little bit different from what the band does, doesn’t work as well as it could have, but it’s not bad. Two good songs so far, and the two big hitters are up next.
‘This Ain’t A Love Song’ is the first ballad of the album. It opens with a soft touch and proceeds with a swaying last dance tenderness. This song has an absolutely fantastic bridge and the chorus is excellent too. The verses have that chatting over an empty beer glass quality, the lyrics punctuated with regret and nostalgic pain. The strings which come in are too low in the mix to make much of an impact – as much as I love strings I don’t think they are needed here. The song effectively avoids the cheese and is one of the band’s most effective ballads, and for my money one of their better songs.
‘These Days’ starts in somber form, with brilliantly evocative pianos and guitar – one of their best introductions, easily. The lyrics are good too, and once the drums kick in the Springsteen influence is plain to hear. The grunge influence is clear today, at least from the lyrical perspective – the emotion and wisdom therein perfectly suited to Bon Jovi’s musical style. It’s easy to forget that this one is essentially a ballad too once we hear the chorus, it’s a chorus as good as any the band has written and has a habit of taking centre-stage in our memories. I think this is one of their most emotional songs, and subsequently one of their best. Four songs in and this is as good a rock album as you’re ever likely to hear – can the rest of the album possibly live up to the opening?
‘Lie To Me’ start with Twin Peaks synth, always a good thing. More storytelling lyrics. Intelligent use of guitars. Ah yes, I have heard this before (once the ‘yeah yeah yeahs’ started I remembered) but there’s enough here that it feels new to me. It’s another ballad, not as instantly catchy as the two previous songs but the ‘yeah’ hook is great and there are plenty of moments in and around the chorus which lift it above the average. Another good song then.
‘Damned’ starts with more spoken parts. There’s an unusually funky riff for the band, not quite Chili Peppers, but something you wouldn’t expect from the band. Then we even get trumpets in the chorus. It’s a step down from the previous songs, but there is enough sport and fun and invention in this one to stop it feeling dull. There’s a kick-ass solo too, if you’re into that sort of thing. Possibly worth shaving thirty seconds off.
‘My Guitar Lies Bleeding In My Arms’ is one I thought I may have heard before, based on the name. Listening now, I don’t remember anything about it though. It feels like a darker ballad – that grunge influence again – even the guitar tone feels an awful lot like Alice In Chains in places. Nice avoiding of an obvious chorus there – it’s more obvious next time around, but still unusual enough that it doesn’t feel traditional. Heavier guitars come in eventually to give an unexpected oomph, followed by a decent, almost poignant solo. The song continues in this fashion for another couple of minutes, rounding out another strong effort.
‘It’s Hard Letting You Go’ starts with more synth, more ghostly than the Twin Peaks stuff, but with a similar vibe. Is this another ballad? More good vocals, more thought over the lyrics and construction than they have shown on previous albums. It’s certainly slow and littered with sadness which seems genuine, can’t believe I haven’t heard this one before. It feels like it’s retreading a lot of what they covered on Bed Of Roses – to the point that some of the lyrics and their delivery are almost identical, but it’s still another very good song. The momentary string bonuses work well too. I have to say this has been an unexpectedly fantastic album so far, I was genuinely concerned by the lack of recognizable names on the track list before starting, but safe to say this is their best album so far – lets not throw it away on the final few tracks!
‘Hearts Breaking Even’ starts with a mid tempo, mid volume before falling back to ballad levels. The verse is slow and simple, the bridge is pretty great, but the chorus doesn’t quite match the build up. The chorus is fine, but it feels very familiar even though I’m pretty sure I haven’t actually heard this song. Maybe it’s one more slight ballad too many on an album which has shown that it has much better ones. Still, that bridge is good enough to sell the song, and undoubtedly plenty of people will love the chorus. Some funny scratchy vocals near the end.
‘Something To Believe In’ has a stumbling drum intro followed by piano and bass and shouts. Again it all feels so much more well thought out than their previous album tracks. There’s a leisurely maturity to the song, a confidence that suggests the band have been writing at this quality for years when in truth their singles had been vastly superior to their standard album tracks. It’s another terrific song which continues to build upon the early laid foundations – I love songs which continue to build upon the same idea or riff or melody. There’s a bizarre drum and bass freak out in the middle too, another sign that the band were just throwing ideas against the wall to see what would stick, and surprisingly so far most of them have.
‘If That’s What It Takes’ opens in uplifting fashion, guitars bouncing jovially and fading easily to an effective verse. Yet again the songwriting is strong, the melodies run evenly through equally good bridge and chorus. It’s quite difficult writing these posts as I listen for the first time as I keep wanting to simply listen to the songs and not worry about typing random first impressions. Funny effects on the voice and guitars etc. Again the little experiments, the little additions of strings, the subtle things all pay off. No complaints.
‘Diamond Ring’ has slow guitar and bass and a very familiar melody. Where did they rip this off from – it’s on the tip of me tongue. It’s all very nice again, solid vocals and melodies, good acoustic sound and playing, and a fine closing song to an album which more often than not treads into dark places.
Finally! As mentioned in the intro, the other artists I’ve been listening to long term on the blog have fared a little better in their hidden gems with Madonna making a couple (so far) of fully coherent and strong albums. With These Days, out of nowhere Bon Jovi have crafted what is presumably their masterpiece – and they did it without a truly massive hit on the scale of Living On A Prayer or Always. That said, the singles I knew of beforehand are as good as ever but the songs around it are of a consistently high quality – at this point in my run through I didn’t think they were capable of it, especially considering that this is the last album in their classic period. It would be five years before they returned in a new century, and a new millenium with Crush – an album I remember being labelled as a comeback. It seems that label is not accurate as a comeback usually assumes that they previous work was maybe not up to scratch. This however is an album to remind you why you fell in love with the band in the first place and I’m now looking forward to Crush because of it.
What are your thoughts on These Days? Is it one of your favourite albums or have you dismissed it simply because it is Bon Jovi? Let us know in the comments!
Generic Ratings: 1. Crap. 2: Ok. 3: Good. 4: Great
A truly brutal, horrific song which causes revulsion and has an atmosphere which any number of metal bands try their entire careers to generate and almost always fail. We know the state of Richey’s mind at this point, but the band’s creative powers were at their peak so the blending of music, lyrics, visuals, and atmosphere all comes together to make something charred and ugly, and yet, absolutely flawless. The guitars are particularly crushing, Bradfield’s vocals are those of a hundred widows, while Wire’s bass line may be the most sinister ever committed to tape. Lyrically it’s as you would expect – in that it’s nothing like you would ever expect, the chorus simply a cascading list of the names of serial killers. It also closes with one of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded.
Greetings, Glancers. Lets take another trip down memory lane as I listen, for the first time, to another album that somehow passed me by. I’ve you’re a regular reader of these posts, you’ll know that in my youth I was a pretty big Bryan Adams fan. The primary reason for my fandom was that I owned a double cassette featuring Cuts Like A Knife and Reckless, the 3rd and 4th albums by the Canadian superstar. As I’ve listened to those albums countless times, we won’t be covering them here, as the purpose of these posts is me catching up on the albums I never experienced.
By 1987, and after the success of the aforementioned two albums, Adams was riding high critically and commercially. What is notable since the last time we visited Mr Denim is that the songwriting has drastically increased in quality, along with the production values, and the vocals are a hell of a lot stronger and distinct now. This album sought to continue the run of hits, but looking at the track list I only recognise the titles of three songs. I’m not too sure why I never owned this album when I was younger, considering I owned the previous two, and 1991’s follow-up. Nevertheless, I’m eager to hear the seven tracks that I don’t know and see if they are hidden gems or forgettable pap. Lets do this!
‘Heat Of The Night’ – We start with the song I’m most familiar with, another mid-rock song with plenty of hooks that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on either of the previous two albums. For much of the song it doesn’t sound like there will be a chorus, then it jumps out at you without warning. It has a clear 80s rock vibe, but avoids sounding like 80s cheese – no silly references, no silly extra instruments, just stomping rhythms and strong melodies.
‘Into The Fire’ continues the theme of man coming into contact with flammable substances such as boobs, presumably. We start with some odd synth noises, making way for a crash of 80s drums and a nice scream by Adams. This one is sung in a pretty high register, straining the gruff vocals just the way I like it. There’s an 80s Springsteen vibe, the pace is middling, and while the melodies are fine the chorus lacks a strong hook. We do get an interesting middle section and solo though. A decent track that I’m sure I would have enjoyed more had I heard it when I was younger.
‘Victim Of Love’ sounds like our first ballad – big drums, slow pace, drifting vocals, a power ballad rather than a soft one. A nice melding of piano and guitar, well sung, but the chorus is a bit of a non-entity. The vocals get more shouty as the song progress, and the guitars get heavier too, but the song feels like it’s reached the end of its course by the three-minute mark, even though there’s over a minute remaining. The final minute is a loop of the chorus as the music gets more chaotic. An odd one.
‘Another Day’ increases the speed, the first fast paced entry on the album. More pianos, decent lyrics about the tougher side of city life, ok melodies. Nice solo in the middle, a bit of a honky-tonk feeling, followed by a brief break, then looping round for a final verse and chorus. Fin.
‘Native Son’ is the fourth title I remember, I must have passed it over when I first checked the track list. I never really appreciated this one when I was younger, but it’s one of the strongest tracks so far. Another Springsteen vibe, I love the building of the song, the increasing sense of momentum. I’ve no idea why I don’t remember this one as much as others as it’s pretty damn good. It has freedom in its construction, allowing the melodies to be loose and giving the opportunity for more variance in what Adams does with the vocals. The lyrics appear to be about the Native American plight, but I was too busy appreciating the music first time around, so I’d need to listen again. Good solo, the six minutes don’t feel stretched here thanks to the variance and construction already mentioned. I’d gladly consider this a hidden gem as I’ve somehow forgotten it existed.
‘Only The Strong Survive’ is one I have actually heard before, but I don’t remember it. Now, that is even more bizarre given that it was on the soundtrack of Renegades – one of my favourite movies as a kid. I can only assume that I knew this was a Bryan Adams song, but didn’t like it. It’s fast paced, from what I remember of the movie, it doesn’t really fit the movie, but it’s still high energy, good fun, with a singable enough chorus. In the annals of 80s soundtrack hits though, it doesn’t make an impact.
‘Rebel’ feels like another Springsteen track – lyrics about blue-collar workers, gruff vocals blasted out alongside stadium drums and guitars. This one feels familiar, but I can’t say conclusively that I’ve heard it. Some strong melodies dotted here and there, though the chorus isn’t as powerful as it thinks it is. The verses are much stronger and the chorus, while aiming to be anthemic, feels a little flat.
‘Remembrance Day’ is the third track (from my intro) that I remember, another longer song, and another one that I only listened to rarely. I wonder if it now feels better in my old age. Clearly a song about war, I remember this one as more of a ballad than it actually is. It’s more of a straightforward rocker with prominent bass and blasting drums. It’s actually a pretty simple song, and not particularly memorable – the chorus is fine, a decent one to shout out live, but overall it’s a bit too rambling for my liking. I appreciate the dedication, but it isn’t one of the stronger songs of its ilk.
‘Hearts On Fire’ is NOT the song you’re thinking of from Rocky IV– Rocky vs Russia, but it’s an equally serviceable rocker. This one again features big drums, organs, and a nice lead riff. Fortunately the chorus is good on this one, and the verses stand up too. A simple, light-hearted up-tempo song with memorable melodies, it’s one of the better songs on the album.
‘Home Again’ closes the album, and has the most 80s intro of any song on the album yet. It begins with power ballad stylings, all scorching vocals and atmospheric synth and piano – shortly after comes a stadium crushing chorus. This sounds like another hidden gem, and I don’t believe I have heard this one ever before. Good verses, great chorus, and similar to Straight From The Heart and Heaven, but not quite reaching those heights. A good album to what has turned out to be a good album.
So, Adams, manages to make it three strong releases in a row, I knew there was a reason I liked him so much. There aren’t really any duffers here, but there are a few near-duds, and less obvious classics than on the previous two albums. Everything else though ranges from decent to strong, and in Home Again and Native Son I have two tracks I can stick on repeat and absorb into the Nightman memory banks until dementia claims them. By then though, my consciousness can be uploaded to the uber-cloud and it won’t matter. Enjoy!
Hello Glancers! It’s time once again to turn back the clock to that hallowed period of the dying embers of the 20th Century, a time when men stapled poodles to their scalps and shoved rats down their drawers, both for that authentic size-enhanced look. After two extremely forgettable, lackluster albums, it was make or break time for JBJ and the boys. Looking for a more mainstream approach, the boys sought out songwriter Desmond Child and in the space of a few months they had written and recorded the monster they wanted. While I can safely say I have never listened to this album from start to finish in a single sitting, I’m pretty certain I’ve heard every song before, though looking down the track list there’s a few I’m not sure of. Regardless, this is the moment that Bon Jovi made it big, releasing a monumentally successful, and some would say, classic album.
Let It Rock: There’s the big production, and a monstrous metallic noise, followed by a bizarre organ mess, before the song falls into huge, plodding rock song. It’s pure 80s in tones, sound, style, and theme. Looking back at what we know of the album and the more famous songs, this seems like an unusual choice to open the album with. It’s pretty poor, though it does of course have its catchy moments, the musicianship is fine, and while the chorus is stadium-sized as we would expect, it isn’t one anyone is likely to remember, especially given the songs which surround it. Decent guitar solo though.
You Give Love A Bad Name: Well, that’s more like it – an instant classic rock song, complete with sensual growls, big riffs, and an even bigger, shout-it-out chorus. Growing up as a hard rock and metal fan, it’s difficult to avoid Bon Jovi and songs like this, and the topic of conversation when speaking about the band always eventually turns to whether or not a metal fan should ‘like’ the band. I’m not one for such elitism though, and I’ll recognise a good song when I hear it. This rings true for much of the BJ catalogue – their hits are hits for a reason, namely, that they are well-written songs with good playing and memorable melodies. I’m fine with that, although it’s obvious that many of these songs are cheesy and a product of their time. Take out some of the 80s arrangements and styles though, and you’re still left with an essentially great piece of songwriting.
Livin On A Prayer: And so it remains. As mentioned before, it may be cheesy, and it may basically be a pop song covered ain heavy, glossy guitars, and a stadium rawk sensibility, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the most anthemic songs of all time, and one of the best songs of the decade.
Social Disease: Sex noises. Disappointment. 80s blasts with unfortunate brass. Trumpets and guitars do not mix. This is a rather silly song that doesn’t really go anywhere. It tries to be… I don’t know… seedy or something, but it’s more middling garbage. Towards the ends, the pace changes slightly to allow the designated guitar solo, but this is one to ignore.
Wanted Dead Or Alive: Chains. Synth. Cowboys. Guitar. Epic riff. Yay, it’s another classic song. The first of several cowboy ranch rustling songs the band would produce, and probably the best, the sign of quality here is in the masterful build-up, the subtlety, and the creativity which marks it out from the lesser songs on the album. The lyrics show vast improvement over the standard fare, and musically it shows maturity in the songwriting when compared with songs like the previous one. Naturally, it isn’t long before the solo is whipped out and the volume is turned up, but it’s both a well-written, cracking tune, and a guitar player’s dream.
Raise Your Hands: Then the subtlety goes out the window for this slice of Van Halen-esque sleazy cheese. It’s all very silly, but at least it’s energetic and fun, and the chorus is fairly catchy. With a little more thought this could have been another decent anthem, but as it stands it’s a crowd-pleasing peace of fluff which gets steadily more laughable with all the shout-outs to cities and cheering and whistling.
Without Love: Cheese land of the 80s one hit wonder power anthem variety. Actually though, this is a pretty good song. The verses are stronger melodically than the chorus – with a better chorus this could have been much better. Aside from being another pop song smothered by big boys and their big guitars, it’s a fine song. I’d like to hear a more stripped down version of this. I imagine most people will see this one as either entirely forgettable, or an underrated classic.
I’d Die For You: Runaway part 2. Like part 1, it uses the synths to its strengths, creating that wonderfully atmospheric 80s tone. Again the verses are strong here, the pre-chorus is a mess, and the chorus could have been much better. It’s okay, it’s another case of a missed opportunity. With all these songs requiring a little more polish and thought, this could have been a genuinely awesome album, but of course I’m sure the band and the fans are more than pleased, and I don’t think it would have been possible for the album to have sold any more than it did anyway.
Never Say Goodbye: I always had a soft spot for this one, but then I always did like a power anthem when it’s done right. Those fluttery synth noises are entirely unnecessary, and this time it’s the chorus which is stronger melodically, while the verses aren’t too great. The lyrics are fine, typical US romantic nostalgia, the guitar melodies are terrific, and it’s the sort of tear-jerker which men of a certain age and certain disposition may admit to getting a lump in their throat about.
Wild In The Streets: We close with an up-tempo slice of Springsteen-esque cheese. Thankfully, it hits all the right knows, the synth even works, the melodies are memorable, and everything feels even. It’s definitely an energetic song to do the Spac-leg to, and the joy of it overcomes the cheese. Another great solo, and (which I haven’t mentioned yet) Jon’s vocals seem much stronger than on previous releases. A fine finish to an overall fine album.
So, many would say that this is the high point of their career. Sales certain point towards that fact, and it does contain a number of their most famous tracks. However, we all know there are more hits to come, so I’ll be listening to those at some point. As already mentioned, there are a number of undisputed classics here, but a small number of fillers, and small number of middling songs prevent it from being, in my mind, the classic that it could have been. People will continue to listen to the famous ones over and over again for generations to come, far beyond the time when there isn’t even anyone alive who still remembers the 80s (aside from eternal me), while the other tracks will fade away. What do you guys think? Is it an all time classic? Or is it too cheesy to accept?
The White Album sees the Fab Four at their most experimental, their angriest, and some would say their best. A true epic, the band enters further into uncharted territory with sounds unheard, ideas expounded never before, lyrical flourishes and weirdness all put to glorious sound and noise. Unfortunately for an album with so many songs and with so many ideas (not to mention the band chasing the dragon around on some plain just above the rest of our heads) it has many flaws. Some things don’t come off well, there is a lot of nonsense, some duff songs, and plenty of filler. Most fans who don’t see this as their best album agree that if this had been cut down it could have been much better. The good stuff that we do have ranges from classic Harrison ballads to McCartney blues romps and Lennon’s drug fuelled madness. There are plenty of fun moments, plenty of offbeat treats, but the days of the happy mop haired lads is long gone. From here on we are left with more coarse and hard edged guitar tracks as the group began to implode.
`Back In the USSR’ opens the album in a fairly rocking fashion with some ye olde fast piano playing slpiced with the modern sounds of a jet plane. McCartney sings in a clearly more gruff way hinting at the maturity, experimentation, and arguments within the band at the
time. Ringo was absent so the rest of the band took up his duties, not that this is noticeable. The lyrics speak of the excitement and relief of flying back home to be with all the ladies and is a clear homage to The Beach Boys. The Californian interlude is quite authentic.
`Dear Prudence’ fades in gently offering an opposite to what the first song displayed. Lennon’s tribute to Mia Farrow’s sister who joined them India only to stay in her room and meditate most of the time. It builds to a jamming climax accompanied by some nice guitar
before coming down to an acoustic fade out.
`Glass Onion’ returns to the heavier feel while referencing many old Beatles hits. The lyrics are deliberately messy and confusing, full of potential mystery and ideas. Mostly it is Lennon having a laugh at obsessive fans and critics obsessing over every lyric, and a challenge for them to decipher.
`Ob La Di Ob La Da’ is a McCartney ditty, a nonsense but nonetheless catchy pop song. It sounds like the band are having fun, contrary to what was actually happening, but also highlights the experimenting mode they were in when they first came up with it.
`Wild Honey Pie’ is an experimental piece with strange guitars, voices and other noises. Basically it is the group stoned, banging together whatever was close to hand and still managing to make a song out of it.
`The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill’ features a line from Yoko but is more notable for Lennon’s excellent sarcastic lyrics. He sings of a rich American who they knew for a while who happened to go hunting and kill a tiger. Lennon saw him as an upper class mummy’s boy taking an all expenses paid trip to India for some enlightenment that he could then relate to his equally rich friends. The chorus is catchy enough, the song ends in ironic applause and whistling. With a more interesting verse melody it could have been great.
`While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is Harrison’s famous downbeat sounding song about Eastern philosophy, yin yang, everything relating to everything and everyone. It features Clapton on guitar and is usually included in most lists of greatest guitar songs ever. The organs, effects, and Harrison’s vocals combine to create a trippy mood although it was probably intended to sound other worldy.
`Happiness Is a Warm Gun’ is a constantly evolving song with time and tone shifts as well as each part sounding musically distinct. Each part is linked by the gun imagery, and it inspired countless imitators from Halo Of Flies to Bohemian Rhapsody to Paranoid Android. Many of the ideas on the album don’t come off as well as they should have but on this song everything fits.
`Martha My Dear’ is McCartney’s music hall tribute, evoking images of old couple swirling about to gentle piano led songs. The lyrics oppose the feel of the song with thinly veiled insults to past lovers. Many dispute the song’s reference point- McCartney’s dog, his muse, his ex. As with most things it is a mixture of each influence.
`I’m So Tired’ was recorded at 3am, written about Lennon’s insomnia, and has a clear drowsy feel. There is emotional fatigue, the lyrics are angry, and the chorus livens things up.
`Blackbird’ is one of the better songs on the album, harkening back to simpler, more pop times. It is a typical McCartney song, singing of yearning, freedom, with some racial issues thrown in to satisfy the revolutionaries.
`Piggies’ is an interesting Harrison song featuring harpsichord and strings to give a baroque feel- a time noted for wealth and extravagance. This mirrors the lyrics as Harrison sings Orwell style of the rich people as piggies, rolling around in their opulence. Ironic yes given their own wealth, but at this time the group were rejecting all ideas of materialism. Charles Manson felt this was a large influence on his Helter Skelter plan, leading to the deaths of those he felt needed `a damn good
`Rocky Raccoon’ is a folk style McCartney song with Dylan leanings. There is a Cowboy movie style piano and acoustic guitar played over some storybook lyrics. It rounds off the `animal trilogy’.
`Don’t Pass Me By’ is Ringo’s first solo composition. He does his best with the vocals, though the lyrics are as bad as expected and the song has the same rolling down a hill in a shopping trolley rhythm. The strings offer a different feel from the other album tracks but it’s mostly forgettable.
`Why Don’t We Do It in the Road’ sees McCartney at his most metal, shrieking the lyrics in an attempt to match the sounds of Daltrey and Townsend. The lyrics simply speak of him seeing two monkeys at it, inspiring the primal, animal instincts in all of us.
`I Will’ is a rather simple, soft love song from McCartney to Linda. The lyrics call back to the early days when music was more important than the words. The song is catchy enough but lacks anything truly memorable.
`Julia’ closes the first side, Lennon’s only solo Beatles song. Unfortunately it is mostly tuneless as the lyrics are good and he sings and plays well. With a stronger melody this could have been a much better song.
`Birthday’ opens the second side in heavy style, blasting out with one of the most famous guitar riffs. It builds and changes with chugging chords, distorted notes, and swirling effects laden piano. It was a clear attempt to return to a more simple rock’n’roll and blues style and leads nicely into the next song.
`Yer Blues’ continues the heavier, dirtier feel with an almost Zeppelin-esque song. It showcases Lennon’s personal demons, depression, and suicidal thoughts. It’s a song which it is hard not to jump around to, filled with good drum parts and intertwining guitar solos. Performing this song for the Stones Rock n Roll Circus renewed Lennon’s love for playing live after years in the wilderness.
`Mother Nature’s Son’ is a better McCartney ballad inspired as with most of the other songs here by his time with the Maharishi,
except here it pays off well musically. The lyrics are suitably ideal, the melodies gentle and hard to shake.
`Everybody’s Got Something To hide…’ is Lennon’s view of his relationship with Yoko and all the negative feelings towards it. They felt they were in love while everyone else was paranoid and edgy. The song is quite heavy with a loud riff at the end of the chorus. Some have also claimed that it is more about Lennon’s heroin addiction.
`Sexy Sadie’ has the famous piano part which sounds like Karma Police but it’s almost insignificant. It is an average Lennon song with some nice, angry lyrics, some strange effects on the vocals and an up and down rhythm.
`Helter Skelter’ was McCartney’s main attempt to make the heaviest, dirtiest, most rock song out there in a time when The Who and other English R’nB bands were taking noise levels moonwards. To an extent it works, the drums are great, the guitar is pretty loud and riff laden, and McCartney sings at his loudest. The Helter Skelter motion of the song is notable, everything swirls and comes around upon itself. This song was one of the major influences on Manson’s already destructive mind as he believed the lyrics contained veiled messages and calls to war. The song fades in and out a few times at the end to good effect, and proves that McCartney was more than a ballad writer.
`Long Long Long’ is a soft Harrison ballad with good drum and piano parts. The deliberately bad production is annoying though and makes it too difficult to listen to.
`Revolution 1′ may be the most famous, most popular song on the album. It is a traditional Beatles song, filled with melody and ideology, with a few guitar effects and plenty of instruments clanging together brilliantly. The version here differs quite a bit from the single most people know, but all the hallmarks of a great song lie in both.
`Honey Pie’ is another unusual song from McCartney showing his seeming obsession with older styles of music around this time. There is a clear WWII vibe and I can’t help hear it now without thinking of Allo Allo or Wish Me Luck. The lyrics speak of a young English woman who makes it big in Hollywood only for her old lover back home to call her to return.
`Savoy Truffle’ is a good song to listen to while raiding the fridge. It is quite jazzy, with lots of brass and guitars, lots of timing shifts and is one of the more upbeat songs on the album.
`Cry Baby Cry’ is based on a nursery rhyme from Lennon’s youth, features the Harmonium again but isn’t a very exciting or interesting song. The lyrics are fine but the music isn’t particularly inspired. It segues into an unreleased song at the end which really should have been included instead, but can be found on bootlegs.
`Revolution 9′ is probably the most experimental piece the band ever produced, a collage of sounds, words, clips, effects all smashed together to create something monstrous. It still sounds awesome today, but is pretty difficult to listen to more than once. It is like falling into a sewer and being swept naked at a million miles an hour through various viaducts of time, surrounded by sights you don’t want to see, like Terry Wogan playing golf with Jimmy Tarbuck’s leg instead of a nine. Understandably it still splits fans; it’s great.
`Good Night’ is a rather sumptuous ending, almost like a Disney composition. Ringo does very well here, the strings are beautiful and the backing singers give it all a good night lullaby feel. It is deliberately lovely, cheesy, but looking past all that it is a pretty good song, and a great ending.
The White Album was the final great departure for the band. Break ups and bust ups followed and everyone agreed they should go back to their roots to try to hold on to their success. At times it is boring, at times it is brilliant but on previous albums the brilliance overshadowed everything else. Here there are simply too many songs and many tracks either don’t work at all or don’t live up to the expectation. This is still the favourite of many fans, largely because it tries so much, covers so much, is brave and unlike anything else. Full marks for trying, full marks for breaking new ground, but mostly (for The Beatles) average songs.
After a succession of hits from previous albums, being labeled as a spokeswoman for a generation, and becoming fairly famous Joni was in the odd position of having relative creative freedom to record whatever she wanted but feeling the pressure of a celebrity status she didn’t want. Following a number of low points involving broken relationships and putting a child up for adoption it was clear that her next album wasn’t going to be a dainty jaunt through a forest of hippy ideals. The real world was presenting some hard truths for her and for her countrymen, and songs about imagined journeys and pastoral pleasantries did not seem to fit. Ever the honest artist, Joni set about recording her most personal work which would go on to become her most famous, her most loved, and arguably best album.
`All I Want’ in familiar enough fashion with Joni’s unusual guitar style before her voice starts. The first thing to notice is that all her trademarks are here- soaring vocals, interesting and multi melodies, thoughtful, honest lyrics. She weaves a love story about falling for someone and eventually falling apart and searching again. The arrangement is as sparse as most of early songs are, mostly just her and guitar, yet she makes it sound dense and full of depth.
`My Old Man’ opens with the equally familiar piano tone from her previous album and sings again of love. The lyrics are joyful- the sort of song everyone wishes someone would write for them. There is a darker side to the song which permeates the whole album, speaking of how she feels when her loved one is gone- the emptiness and anguish, and of her fear of his absence. These messages are universal and Joni writes and performs them in such a way that they sound utterly personal to each individual listener. Both the verse and minor chorus melodies are among the most beautiful and catchy she has ever written, and the staccato style ending adds a nice twist.
`Little Green’ is among the most sweet songs ever written, by Joni or anyone else. The sad, touching lyrics fit exquisitely with a soft melody and light guitar as Joni sings about the child she gave up for adoption when she was younger. The song is tinged with both sadness and hope, regret and the knowledge that what she did was for the best. She sings for her daughter in the hope she has a happy ending and imagines a better life for her with all the joys a childhood should be full of. She sings both to her daughter and the new parents, but mostly for herself. It is almost like a letter for her daughter to read when she is older, telling of her father, explaining her reasons, and telling her of all the good and bad things she may experience in her life.
`Carey’ is a lighter, more up-tempo song speaking of Joni’s travels through Europe, particularly Crete in the early 70s where she went on a pseudo- hippy trip to escape her growing fame and fortune in America. She sings fondly of meeting a man and having an affair with him which she knew would not last so lives each minute like it was her last. The song is mostly fun with nice lyrics and memorable melodies reminiscent of Big Yellow Taxi.
`Blue’ is the title track and probably the biggest downer on the album, musically at least with its shadowy tone, creeping pianos, and doleful, lonely vocals. She dedicates the song possibly to someone she knew, possibly to an emotion, singing about exploration, wallowing in depression, struggling to get back to `lots of laughs’. The piano intro sets a dark tone, and Joni’s low and lonely vocals add to the shades. Thankfully the song is perfectly timed meaning it doesn’t become over long and downbeat.
`California’ brightens things up with a lighter song speaking of Joni’s love for California and desire to come home after months in the wilderness. Joni fills the song with dreamy lyrics, bright melodies, and high notes ensuring that the listener is lifted. It gives another glimpse of the early 70s to the modern listener, nice to not similarities and differences between the hippy of then and the middle class back-packer of now.
`This Flight Tonight’ continues the more upbeat feel with a highly melodic and quicker guitar based song where Joni sings of her regret of leaving a lover behind. It is probably the least memorable song on the album for me, but remains a great song and I enjoy the mocking `they’re playing’ section.
`River’ and the following song are possibly the two best songs that Joni would write. From the Jingle Bells intro merging into Joni’s heart wrenching vocals are longing lyrics, the intertwining melodies, the moments of high sorrow, love, and regret which we all know all too well, it is emotional song writing at its finest. A great break-up song, a great song to chill you by the fire, a song to turn any listener into a Joni fan.
`A Case Of You’ is lyrically and musically one of Joni’s best songs- melodic, emotional, honest, inventive. One of the best love songs of all time it caters for all types of romantics- the bedroom bohemian, to the school yard gazer, from wife to husband, to first time lovers. The lyrics of course equate love with wine, intoxication, desire with addiction, of everlasting devotion.
`Last Time I Saw Richard’ closes the album in a darker, more downbeat fashion in a mournful, regretful way. The extended piano intro is unusual for the album, the lyrics depicting the last meeting with a lost lover. The lyrics stand out, original yet familiar, imaginative and poetic displaying a certain bitterness, teaching all dreamers a valuable lesson. It is one of the songs I don’t listen to as much as others on the album as it lacks the melodies of other songs, but makes up for it by being possibly the most emotional. Angry, sad, let down Joni lets the song fade out like a candle in a dark café. Blue is album of various musical styles each drenched with a multitude of emotions, the overriding feeling being of the blues. From the agony depicted on the cover to the dark and honest nature of the lyrics you would be forgiven for thinking it is a depressing affair. However there are many wonderful light moments, showing that there are many shades of blue just as there are many shades of life. Like the lyrics of Little Green say, there will be good times mixed with bad and even in the darkest moments on the album there is so much to adore. Rarely does an artist paint so vivid and universal a picture, yet make it personal and entirely her own. From a songwriting perspective each piece is perfect, packed full of ideas, memorable melodies, good playing, and of course the peerless singing we would expect. Possibly the best album of 1971 remains one of the best ever.
This is either the last or penultimate Beatles album depending on how you look at it, but either way it has a sense of loss and ending throughout. The album is almost more famous for the arguments between members which took place on a daily basis culminating in Harrison leaving and coming back. After not touring for years and pursuing various solo projects, as well as the band’s previous album seeming more like a collection of songs from each member, tensions were high. McCartney felt the group should write, record, and tour together to repair affairs and they should make a no frills, no experimentation simple album as they had before. The other 3 like the bare bones approach, but didn’t like the idea of touring and the film crew following them around every second. In the end the movie is more interesting than the album, while the album is a mix of good songs, throwaway bites, and a couple of classics.
`Two of Us’ is a McCartney song which can either be seen as a tribute to himself and Linda, or himself and John. Beginning with the famous Lennon quote it breaks down into a catchy acoustic ditty. The harmonies hark back to the good old days, the guitar is a gentle folk style, the lyrics speak of happier times, freedom, and nostalgia and features a nice bridge section without a chorus. The easy tone and whistling end suggest that everything in the group was fine, contrary to what we know. It is a good first song let down by a few fillers later.
`Dig a Pony’ is Lennon’s nonsense tribute to Yoko full of pointless lyrics culminating in the chorus where he pours his heart out to his soon to be wife. The false start is famous, the verse and chorus melodies are catchy enough, the guitars are good and Lennon sings in a rough fashion. Again it is not the sound the band falling apart, but definitely shows signs of weariness.
`Across The Universe’ may be the best song the Beatles ever recorded, and it is probably my favourite. Beautiful poetic lyrics which fit the sound perfectly, other-wordly guitars, wonderful simple melodies, an effortless meter for the words to float along, and sumptious production. The Eastern influence is stronger here in theme than in music, yet it is full of strange and foreign instruments. This is the song to play to people who do not yet consider themselves fans of The Beatles.
`I Me Mine’ is Harrisons take on both the egotistical problems of the band and his more personal feelings on wealth, personal gains and rejecting all notions of self for the greater good. The song has a bluesy waltz feel with it’s trumpets and guitars, but bursts into a heavy, rocking chorus.
`Dig It’ is a jam of ideas, words thrown in on the spur of the moment, instruments all jangling together- the sort of thing a band does when warming up or severely intoxicated. The version included here isn’t the best, and again it is throwaway filler.
`Let It Be’ is the most famous song on the album, McCartney’s follow up to Yesterday and superior in my opinion. It isn’t as dreary as it’s predecessor and has more emotion. Again the melodies stand out, full of cadences, the piano suits the sound perfectly and the guitar solo stands out; while it is a rather heavy effect for the song it doesn’t grate or sound out of place.
`Maggie Mae’ is a filler piece, a childhood Liverpudlian rhyme based on a modern folk tale about a prostitute. The tune is ok but it’s entirely pointless and should really have been replaced with something better.
`I’ve got a Feeling’ is another McCartney tribute to Linda, a sign that for him at least things were getting better. Of course there were darker truths as John had divorced Cynthia and Yoko had suffered a miscarriage and no-one was really happy within the band. It continues the blues rock feeling and is more hard edged than most of the back catalogue despite aiming to sound light and optimistic.
`One after 909′ is an early Blues attempt by McCartney brought back to fit in with the overall feel of this album. Written around 10 years prior to this release it shows the American influences on the young songwriters, but also exposes the adolescent songwriting. With all their experience since writing it they managed to turn it into a decent tune, adding plenty of extra riffs and instruments to make it a dance favourite.
`The Long and Winding Road’ is the last classic on the album, a wonderful epic from McCartney which is better due to the production. McCartney’s earlier, simpler version is strong but sounds a bit empty after hearing this. Some say it is over produced, but it is nice for the group to have a song such as this which sounds as if it is backed by an entire orchestra. The lyrics were based on the tensions between the band and a hope that they would all get through it.
`For You Blue’ continues the blues influence with the reference to Elmore James and slide guitar. Harrison’s vocals are perhaps too high for him, and I can’t stand the spoken parts. If it had had a few extra guitar parts or an underlying piano part I think I would like this more but for me it is too light.
`Get Back’ closes the album in rocking style, a good song but another one where McCartney’s vocals annoy me. He creates a story about a couple of lovers, the lyrics are fine, the music is suitably bluesy but it just isn’t a personal favourite.
And so the story came to an end, for a while at least; each member’s solo work features many great songs proving that even if the band was no more the spirit would live on. Record companies would continue to churn out re-issues and greatest hits, but it isn’t until the Anthologies, Blue, Red, and Love that fans had anything new to be excited about. Let It Be ends almost as an opposite to Please Please Me, with four older, more tired, more cynical worn out men belting out some great songs with a more weighed down enthusiasm. If you’re only getting into the band now, start at the beginning and work your way through. You’ll be smiling by the end.
If you liked/hated this, feel free to check out my other Beatles reviews in the music section.
For anyone who reads this list I’m sure there will be a mixture of disgust, appreciation, and annoyance. Good, make your own list. I’ve tried to include a few tracks from every album and while Chinese Democracy is still fresh in my mind and hasn’t exactly stood the test of time yet, this is a fairly accurate current list. If I was doing it by importance, or how much I’ve adored the individual songs over my life then there wouldn’t be any CD or TSI tracks here, and additional ones from AFD and UYI. As always, feel free to comment, ridicule, and provide your own favourites.
Just a note on GNR – they were the first band I ever got into, and everything I’ve listened to since then has been because of the impact they had on my early life. They looked so fucking cool, they swore, they fought, they were smart, pissed off, and they could play the most raw, amazing music at break-neck, effortless speed – everything an 8 year old boy could want. Before then my music was limited to Michael Jackson devotion and whatever crap was in the charts, but suddenly I was on my way to a life of hard rock, grunge, metal, and eventually everything else good. Soon I was learning guitar, writing music, djing in metal bars, and having groupies praise me for simply breathing. So thanks GNR, especially for the songs below.
36. You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory (The Spaghetti Incident): A fine dedication to Johnny Thunders and one of few songs worth mentioning on the ill-fated The Spaghetti Incident. Like most of their covers, this is given the G’n’R crunch, and is notable for being one of the few tracks that Duff has lead vocals on. It’s a fairly tame song in comparison with the rest of the punk overhauls elsewhere but one of only a handful you’re likely to return to.
35. Cornshucker (Lies): Ok, this didn’t see an official release, but if you’re a fan you owe it to yourself to hear it at least once, if only to hear the original line-up sounding like they used to, and enjoying it. An incredibly juvenile song, about anal sex, the whole band get in on the act -singing, shouting, so it sounds more like an orgy than a song.
34. Ain’t It Fun (TSI): A seering cover of a little known punk classic, Axl and Hanoi Rocks guest Michael Monroe compete in whispers and growls and conspire to make a self-fulfilling prophecy concerning the near-future of the band.
33. So Fine (Use Your Illusion II): Another Duff tribute to Johnny Thunders, this is as gentle as GNR would ever get, even if they still manage to rock in the chorus. A largely piano-led track, it sounds like an early crossover of Civil War and Knockin On Heaven’s Door taking ideas and cues from both tracks to create a strong standalone.
32. Shadow Of Your Love (Lies): Another unreleased one, Shadow is another breathless early track, filled with fury and that exciting exhuberence which marked the band apart from others on the scene at the time. Axl’s yelp is on full form, the chugging power chords and thunderous drums compete for prime place, and there is a nice bluesy, tipsy solo.
31. Since I Don’t Have You (TSI): Just to top off the weirdness of TSI the first song off the album is a cover of a gentle 50s soother and the video stars Gary Oldman chasing the band around a swimming pool. Imagine Dirty Dancing starring Guns n Roses and you won’t be too far away from understanding the song. It has a charm, but I remember when I first heard it I thought the band were buggered. Turns out they were. Still good though.
30. Dead Horse (Use Your Illusion I): I’ll probably say this a lot on this list, but a number of songs get easily lost under the sheer mass of the UYI albums. Dead Horse is one of those, but it warrants a re-visit thanks to a sneering attitude similar to 80s GNR and it doesn’t suffer from the overblown nature of many other tracks spread over the double disc. Great intro, rockin’ verse and chorus, good stuff.
29. Locomotive (UYI): Probably the forgotten epic of the two UYI albums, this is a hard-rockin, bluesy rambler with a few thousand too many lyrics, and one which does fittingly feel like being both on, and pummelled by a Locomotive. The song builds and repeats itself over the course of over 6 minutes before stumbling brilliantly into one of the most perfect breakdowns you’ll ever hear; the bass and drums fall away to the sound of Axl’s dying wail, and all are replaced by a wonderfully dark piano and lead guitar led piece. Axl comes back in with a single mournful line while the rest of the band eventually re-group and jam for the remaining couple of minutes.
28. Prostitute (Chinese Democracy): Chinese Democracy is definitely a strong one; a misunderstood work of myriad genres and ideas, and unquestionably weaker than the band’s high points. Nevertheless, it’s still Guns N Roses (of a sort) and is a powerful album at times. A love song entitled Prostitute ends the album, and while Axl’s new vocals sound bizarre if listening as a standalone, if listening to the album as a whole you should be well used by now. With dancey drums, a groovy string section, and the albums soaring guitars, this is a great track. A self-mocking lyric (which Axl is so good yet) and a merging of crushing volume and tenderness, as well as a beautiful final 90 seconds mean this is a stong end to the album.
27. This I Love (CD): While many of the heavier songs on CD don’t hit the mark, most of the quieter songs do. This tear-jerker would be cheesy if Axl didn’t sound so earnest and broken. It’s another hair-ripping song of love slipping away, set to Axl’s lonely piano piece, more subtle strings and woodwind than you would expect from the band, and broke up by a bruising guitar section. This I love indeed.
26. Mr Brownstone (Appetite For Destruction): Probably the first song on the list that the more casual fan will recognise, this effortlessly cool depiction of addiction and excess is both brutal and engaging. The problem with music this good is that it’s so easy (sorry (sorry)) to ignore the words/message (if there is one). Like much of AFD this is iconic stuff – the opening moments and the main riff are the stuff of rock legend, Axl struts through the verses and shrieks the choruses like a man possessed, while the rhythm guys keep everything in check.
25. My Michelle (AFD): One of the lesser known tracks from AFD this is another sordid tale of the wrong side of the tracks, with down-and-out characters sctratching and biting their way to the top, or if not the top, their next easy ride or hit. More lyrical brilliance from Rose is mirrored by huge 80s guitars and drums. It’s a groovy cousin to Mr Brownstone.
24. Nice Boys (Lies): A belter, this one is played at a billion miles an hour, with all the hunger and frenzy of a murderer on the run. The lyrics are the usual early Guns stuff, not that you’ll make them out anyway, it highlights the band’s punk roots whilst showcasing their ability to make a dying genre insteresting again.
23. Reckless Life (Lies): Like its partner above, this is a live stormer with an Iron Maiden intro, Aerosmith swagger, and carefree, reckless attitude, all thrusted into our stomachs like a spear from a Rhino. It’s fast, the melodies are saved for the chorus, and Axl is at his blistering best.
22. Knockin On Heaven’s Door (UYI): A wonderful cover of a dreary Dylan classic, this is more touching than any other version, though we could do without the reggae live version please. For a while, GNR were masters of overturning songs and making their covers the definitive version – here the blending of somber verses, triumphant choruses, and big guitars stand proud.
21. Back Off Bitch (UYI): This is one of those songs which is rarely played live, or remembered, but it really could have been a single. Sure, there is the usual misogynist edge, but show me a GNR song which doesn’t have something distasteful, even in their singles. It’s short enough to have been a hit, it’s punchy, has a singalong chorus, although I’m sure there would need to be an unfortunate radio edit. It sounds like a missing track from AFD, and the song was around for a few years before it was released. A quick search on youtube will turn up some early versions from around ’87-88.
20. Madagascar (CD): Long before Chinese Democracy was ever released (and it still feels strange saying it has been) this was the song everyone was talking about. For fans of their more epic stylings, this was supposed to be the follow-up to their biggest and best songs, a new Kashmir, a new November Rain. While it doesn’t hit those heights, it is still a strong song. I only wish it had been recorded when Axl’s voice was at it’s peak, as I’m not sure it suits his new vocals. It starts off with great promise, with those somber trumpets sounding potent and sorrowful. Indeed, I think that introduction is the best moment in the song. Axl adds a great tormented strain to his vocals here, but it sounds a little too rough rather than natural. We weave through the verses and choruses before hitting a breakdown filled with samples and soundbites at 3 minutes, including a reminder of Civil War. This section has some good moments too, and it’s an interesting addition to their catalogue, and here it sounds most like Kashmir with an oriental style string backing and wirey guitars. I think after this section there should have been something new, something to take the song into a different direction for a couple of minutes, but instead we just get the chorus and end. It’s a good song, but after it was built up so much I feel it is missing something to make it truly great.
19. Get In The Ring (UYI): A critic’s favourite this. Axl’s ego goes into overdrive as he imagines, Uwe Boll style, kicking the crap out of all of the enemies of the band inside a wrestling ring – critics, reviewers, haters in general, all those opposed. I have a nostalgic fondness for this one, as it was always good fun to snicker along to it whenit was played in the car with my parents. Sometimes they would turn it off and spark and arguement. It was the first song I heard which contained so much swearing, and even now it takes some beating. Sure it’s puerile and juvenile, but the band did have a point – being a target for all manner of criticism, much of it unwarranted. Luckily, the song is filled with strong melodies and kick-ass music, so you can lookpast all the mother-fuckers and bitchy little asses. There is a strong, bluesy introduction before the song quickens and gets into it’s stride, and similarly the outro is memorable. A solid all round rock monster.
18. Double Talkin Jive (USI)
17. Civil War (UYI)
16. Live And Let Die (UYI)
15. Street Of Dreams (CD)
14. Welcome To The Jungle (AFD)
13. You Could Be Mine (UYI)
12. Catcher In The Rye (CD)
11. Sweet Child O Mine (AFD)
10. Better (CD):
9. Estranged (UYI):
8. Nightrain (AFD):
7. Don’t Cry (UYI):
6. Paradise City (AFD):
5. Coma (UYI):
4. Rocket Queen (AFD):
3. Patience (Lies):
2. November Rain (UYI):
1. Think About You (AFD):
Feel free to ridicule or praise my list, offer some comments, and share your top ten.
Dragonforce: Definitely a love ’em or hate ’em band, Dragonforce nevertheless know how to put on a great live show. Low on set paraphenalia, it’s all about how they translate their studio work onto the stage, and if it’s even possible. Having seen them twice I can answer that with a resounding yes- all that fancy, twiddly guitar wanking that makes teens explode in delight, fury, and jealousy in their bedrooms, they recreate flawlessly on stage. As musicians they can’t be faulted technically, and while the nonsense lyrics about fighting dragons with your brothers while the fire burns are suitably singalong enough to make you forget the silliness of what you’re actually saying. Between songs (first time round) there was a high level of banter between the band, joking, swearing, all the expected entertaining metal stuff. Second time round they were only a support band and it was their new singer’s first show- less joking, a few vocal issues, and a shorter, less impressive show. Still good, but clearly most people have tired of the fact that they aren’t trying anything new.
The Doves: This English band never quite hit the heights that some of their peers reached, at home or State-side. I was a fan of their first two records and quite happy to watch them in early evening Glastonbury. A good set heightened by the atmosphere and some over enthusiastic fans made this a memorable moment, even better as we danced in the light rain to Catch The Sun as the day’s last light faded.
The Darkness: I saw these guys just before they hit the big time. They were already a bit of a joke and a cliche, but there was something oddly refreshing about them. Plus they good play and put a strong melody against some interesting lyrics. The best moment was their high speed version of Street Spirit, completely changing the song into something which no-one thought it could be against the scorching backdrop of a South England morning.
Def Leppard: I grew up in the 80s, I watched MTV, I was a rock/grunge/metal kid. Def Leppard were on my radar and I liked the singles from Hysteria and Pyromania but even at that young age I knew that there was something different between them and Guns and Roses, between them and Nirvana- in other words between the bands that I really loved. Something smelly. Something cheesy. So yeah, as time went on I realised that they weren’t really very good. I saw them because Alice Cooper was semi-supporting them. A lot of the tracks I didn’t know and felt very samey and had that cheesy feeling I remembered. Plus there were a lot of drunk women who seemed to absolutely adore them but chatted amongst themselves during Alice Cooper. And that, my invisible friends, is a crime punishable only by having a litre of iced coke thrown at them from 2 rows behind and kicked down the stairs. Their husbands on the other hand played with their phones throughout both. That punishment is death.
Much has been said about the greatest rock band of all time, and every magazine and music blog worth 50p have given their list of favourite/best/most influential Led Zep songs. My list highlights my personal favourite 30 songs- the songs that carry the most weight for me and while some of them may not be considered the best or most influential, they all kick ass.
31. Hey Hey What Can I Do (Unreleased): Unfortunately for Zep fans there aren’t too many ‘rare’ songs, or at least ones which weren’t a result of jamming, merging, or covering. The band never released any British singles and those songs released in the US had B-sides of other album tracks so a trove of rarities was sadly never built up. When you look at the number of unreleased Beatles tracks and the high quality of some of those, it makes you wish that Zep had a few more hidden gems up their sleeves. Hey Hey is the only track worth mentioning. It could have made an appearance on any of the first 6 albums as it has that slow folk burning with the twist of a rock stomp. Classic bluesy lyrics are soothed by Plant, the song structure is as basic as the band would ever get with chorus following verse as surely as a bad 80s solo album would follow the break up of a great 70s band. Strong melodies, easy playing and some interesting backing vocals make this a highlight.
30. In My Time Of Dying (Physical Graffiti): The biggest of the big Zep songs at over 11 minutes. It isn’t as immediately catchy or memorable as Stairway, Kashmir, or Achilles, but once the main riff kicks in you know that you’re onto a winner. As Zeppelin were known to do, they took a blues standard which was in itself an old religious song, and turned it inside out. Featuring eerie, distant Plant vocals and Page’s supreme slide guitar, the song has a fairly dark tone turning the themes of religion and mortality into something much more grim. The song chops and changes throughout the entire length with some excellent jamming moments, Bonham blasts as powerfully as possible, while Page changes his sounds and guitars as often as possible without become jarring. The structure, while complex, is much more free than the other epics given the feeling that much of this was just improvised on the spot. Of course, the comic ending adds to the improvised nature with the band chatting and coughing rather than ending with a fading chord.
29. Dyer Maker (Houses Of The Holy): An oft-maligned song from an oft-unfairly maligned album, D’yer Maker features exquisite performances from Bonham and Page, while Plant leans between comically emotional to full-blown classic shrieks. A reggae/calypso style song which may have seemed unusual to some of the more die-hard fans, it was yet another sign that the band could take any style and give it the Zep taste. As usual the melodies are wonderful and there are countless moments that you will be whistling hours after hearing. And no, it’s not pronounced Dire Maker.
28. Fool In The Rain (In Through The Out Door): A similar song in many respects to the one above in that it isn’t a typical Zeppelin sounding song and is an attempt to turn a certain style into their own. It has a samba feel and even goes as far as having a carnival like breakdown halfway through with manic drumming and whistles. The band doesn’t get much credit more when they moved out of their many comfort zones, yet this is both a fun and interesting song which nevertheless highlights the extreme talents of all involved as well as their genuine love for listening to and making music.
27. Tea For One (Presence): This is one of the band’s last epics, reaching over 9 minutes and passing through a few differing stages. Opening rather jubilantly it quickly descends into a sombre blues piece at a funeral march pace. Similar in structure, style, and sound to Since I’ve Been Loving You it shows how the band had matured emotionally and explores many of the feelings they had early in their career to see what had changed. Primarily a song about loneliness and homesickness the lyrics cover the pain of an empty room, of time standing still, and of having no-one you love near. It’s a feeling even those of us who haven’t been on long tours or trips away from family or friends are aware of, and it’s one of the great Zep tracks to listen to on the road, though for a different reason to all the other ones.
26. Down By The Seaside (PG): Another unusual song by the band, and probably another unusual one for me to include on my best of list. I love those moments when a band does something that no-one expects and it totally pays off; This is one of those moments. The tremolo effect on the guitar does give that Blackpool/Scarborough/Summer holiday seaside feel, sounding at once like it is being played underwater and like a wurlitzer. This being Zeppelin, it’s not enough being different- they have to add additional twists and so we get a lively, ice cream eating main course split by a heavier, sudden middle section which seems to come from nowhere.
25. Dazed And Confused (I): The original epic saw a young, ambitious band deciding that they were going to break a few boundaries and take things up or down a notch depending on how you look at it. This is as raw and raucous as they come with vicious lyrics about love and cheating, sex and violence, all set to the sound of an apocalypse. Just listen to the way Jones and Page’s collapsing, wailing riffs merges with Bonham’s falling down drum pieces- a perfect blend. Then we get the call and repeat between vocals and guitar and the infamous bowing, demonic sounds followed by a massive breakdown jam where the band unleash some of the most manic playing ever recorded. I wish I’d been around to witness certain reactions of this when it was first released- this band of long-haired youngsters creating an unspeakable noise with abandon whilst looking and sounding posessed- brilliance.
24. Dancing Days (HOTH): Yet another unusual song from the group, this time seemingly featuring their less than enthusiastic but wholly successful take on Disco. It’s more accurate though that this was a take on Indian style songs given what the group have said and through the guitar effects employed. A kick ass riff leads the way although it isn’t one of their most famous. There is a simple structure which helps the melodies be all the more memorable and instant. It’s played at a fairly fast tempo too which is always good.
23. Black Dog (IV): The opener for their seminal 4th album is full of innuendo and powerful playing- Page gives one of best riffs, Bonzo bashes the skins to pieces, and Plant screams to the heavens. Featuring arguably the most famous breakdown in rock history it is understandably a classic of the genre and highlights the band at their most sexual, at their heaviest.
22. Whole Lotta Love (II): The opener then for their second album was a breakthrough of monumental size. Page had found the riff he’d been searching for while Plant had perfected his steaming vocals to give true prowess to the sexually provocative lyrics. Naturally Jones and Bonham let rip on the bones and bass, never highlighted more accurately than when the song was played live. The instrumental/orgasm section on record sounds fine but becomes like a frenzy, a mantra, a tribal chant when played live as each performer blasts away and everyone comes together in harmony for the final moments- ooh-er.
21. Night Flight (PG): A standout from Physical Graffiti but not one that you’ll find on many favorites lists. The lyrics concern a man trying to evade those seeking to enlist him into the military, but it’s the music which keeps this ticking over in your mind. The band sound like they are enjoying themselves and contrasting with the lyrics it sounds like a rare completely happy Zeppelin song. From it’s swirly opening with Bonham’s growing drum pieces the song gets more rawk as it moves along, and once again the band nail down the sound of the song title as the backing effects do sound like a plane taking off.
20. Over The Hills And Far Away (HOTH): From one rare happy song to another, this gentle folk number is sublime in its simplicity yet complex in it’s endearing hidden charms. A soft intro thanks to wonderful stuff from Page and Plant soon gives way to a surprisingly bombastic period. Any time Bonzo comes in with a crash, no matter how soft the song, it becomes a stomping rock piece. This is excellent guitar parts and playing throughout and some of the best melodies from the album.
19. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (I): Of the many songs which Zeppelin turned around and made their own, this is one of best. It is a shining example of a perfectly serviceable song being ripped to shreds and becoming a unique Zeppelin hit. Thanks to the skills of each member of the group and the way each person brings their own talents to the studio it seems like this is the original and that everything that went before was a lie. It is dark, angry, and heavily blues ridden like much of the first album and it has the light and shade, soft and heavy phasing which the band used to such great effect. Like many tracks on the list this is a good one to blast out of your car stereo when passing anyone playing techno or Beyonce- just be sure to give them a good old-fashioned Plant squeal as you go.
18. The Lemon Song (II): A song about sex which sounds like sex. A seductive, sleazy riff clambers all over lyrics about trying to break up with someone whose lovin is too damn good. Zeppelin were known for their sexual antics, a lot of which may have overblown, a lot more which probably remains unspoken, but songs like this only further the legend. It’s a hard rocking blues standard with a lot of tempo changes and blazing solos thrown in to heighten the pleasure. The musicians teeter on the brink of ecstatic collapse while Plant is furious in the throes of orgasmic shrieking. Lovely.
17. What Is And What Should Never Be (II): This is another example of the light and shade dynamic which the band perfected, with quiet verses contrasted with explosive choruses. Both stages are wonderfully realised, but this being Zeppelin, a few extra are inserted- manic blues breakdowns, otherworldly vocal effects, and Bonzo going off on one.
16. The Rain Song (HOTH): Zeppelin rarely created evocative sounds which conjured up specific imagery to match the tone of the song, but Rain Song is prime example of just that. It don’t know if it’s the drip dripping guitar sounds or the overall dreary nature of the vocals which has the biggest influence, but we do get the sense of sitting and staring at the rain when we listen. Throw in some JPJ string noises, a lack of Bonzo, and some excellent smaller guitar parts and the song is one of their best, yet unusual epics. The drums do eventually come in and the song does eventually pick up pace and volume as the dark clouds pass directly overhead, and it is at this point that the song transcends it’s seemingly laid back nature in a bombastic fashion.
15. Communication Breakdown (I): Zeppelin, the original punk band. This ferocious JYD bark proved that the band could throw out a 3 minute hit if they so desired. It’s amongst the most simple song they band ever wrote, one of their fastest too, but every second has a potency that many punk bands sick of the excess of the Seventies failed to match. It is a primal showcase for each member, promoting Bonzo’s power, Plant’s insane range, Jones’s technical perfection, and Page’s wild flair. It’s a good one to play to naysayers not convinced of Zep’s metal or punk cred.
14. Ten Years Gone (PG): A contemplative epic for this huge double album is one of my standout moments. Page is King, weaving together many solemn guitar parts in the introduction which get expanded upon throughout the duration of the song and which Plant strangles every ounce of pain from with his anguished vocals. Naturally Bonzo and Jones are there to keep things thumping and grounded respectively when they threaten to get too sombre or chaotic. Few people outside of the Zep main fan base know this one- a great pity.
13. No Quarter (HOTH): Jones is permanently the unsung hero of Zeppelin, but No Quarter is largely his song, and Houses Of The Holy is in many respects his album. When played live, Jones would often turn the song into a plus 20 minute piece by splicing in classical piano pieces and improvising on the spot. It’s one of the most downbeat, moody Zeppelin songs and showcases their restraint as they refrain from unleashing the usual noise levels they would on most other longer tracks. There are a few parts where (led by Bonzo) the song threatens to explode, but everything is constantly being reigned in. With strange scales and timing employed throughout it is another breakthrough for popular music and opened a lot of doors for a lot of bands.
12. How Many More Times (I): The original jam session-cum-album track, this shows the bands prowess as musicians, but more importantly, just how in tune they were with each other- knowing what each person was going to do next and taking your next step in anticipation. It’s something which usually takes a group years to accomplish, but Zeppelin simply got it straight away, or at least it comes across as such on record. As the final song from the first album you’d hope that it would leave a lasting impression- it does thanks to its free form carelessness, super playing, and surprise surprise, epic riff.
Opening with that smooth riff on bass while Page makes seemingly demonic guitar disasters in the background, Plant yelps from a distance, and Bonzo taps away to get warmed up it all seems very jazz bar. The song quickly explodes as Page unleashes his guitar all over the riff while Plant explores his blues history by tapping into any number of past hits for the lyrics. After a frantic solo, the song slows, Page bows, and Plant becomes the hunter. This all grows with more and more overlapping of guitar sounds and tumbling drums and bass. The Rosie section grooves along and everything begins to build up once again as we head back towards the main part of the song with a few extra riffs thrown in for good measure. The song races along once more to the conclusion, which ends in a flurry of confidence and bragging and noise.
11. Livin Lovin Woman (II): This oft overlooked rocker from II is just a good time all round. It tells the infamous story of a notorious groupie the band encountered on their travels and has some hilarious lyrics befitting the tale. This one was never played live as for some reason Page never liked it, but it always seemed to me that it would have been a live favourite. Starting immediately after Heartbreaker ends on the album, this keeps up the pace of the record with its speedy verses and strong riffs. The song is just full of fun and energy, and has one of Page’s most interesting solos- wavey, almost seeming to go nowhere, it is a wacky piece. It’s a fast, basic piece, but one which I have a special fondness for.
10. Heartbreaker (II): This is one of the most well-known tracks from the second album and remains a staple of rock radio. Huge riff? Check. Bombastic bass and drums? Check. Epic solo? Double check. Heartbreaker is one of the most pure, fantastic, unadulterated, guitar songs in history. It’s another song which all players aspire to playing, although those solos will take devil’s fingers to mimic. The solo begins as an unaccompanied piece at a billion miles an hour before the drums crash in and the solo takes on a less crazy form. The lyrics are typically gritty, lifted from many blues standards and the swagger of the bulk of the song lend an eternal cool.
9. That’s The Way (III). An utterly gorgeous song brightened by hippy sentiment, darkened by the twist on innocence within and the tragic acceptance of things being unchangeable. Plant barely sings throughout the verses, gently reciting the words instead lending a placid ambivalence to proceedings, while Bonzo is completely absent. Page’s lead riffs is airy and folksy enough to catch the ear but also leave space for the flourishes to be all the more powerful. The coda is interesting, complete with tambourine and Jones’s mandolin, floating off over the horizon in a sweet dew of loveliness. The BBC Sessions recording adds a slightly more Country twist as Page slides about the fretboard, while Plant adds comedic pronunciations to certain words.
8. Going To California (IV). Another wistful, largely gentle folk love song from a band mostly famous for destroying eardrums rather than settling nerves. This apparent dedication to Joni Mitchell is another flawless example of how a heavy rock band can make a softer song. Again, the acoustic guitar and mandolin duelling over Page and Jones serves the song well. Not only acting as a hippy statement it also stands as Plant’s description of his feelings moving from a quiet life in England to the craziness of excess, groupies, stardom, war etc in the US. Free from choruses, the song has a loose feel with the words and music rambling along in an endless journey.
7. Tangerine (III). The third mostly soft, mostly acoustic track in my top 10 is Tangerine. I did one of those awful ‘Which blah blah blah are you?’ surveys years ago – Which Led Zep song are you? Apparently I am Tangerine. With more misheard lyrics than you can shake a choirboy at, Tangerine is 3 minutes of genius. A false start, a count in, and then a basic verse/chorus structure followed by a swirling, double-tracked ending is pretty much the whole song, but that would be discounting the wonderful steel pedal guitar, the touching lyrics, the prominent bass, and the weird guitar solo. It’s simple, but with a wealth of feeling and depth of emotion, it is a song which will win over romantics for the rest of time.
6. Kashmir (PG): Possibly the most covered/sampled song the band ever wrote, it is an epic which never fails to stir a crowd into a frenzy of dnacing, moshing, and appreciation when played live. That stomping, scaling riff, balanced to perfection by Bonzo and Jones is eternal -creepy, stormy, evocative, and gives Plant all the freedom he needs to stretch his cords. Plant is at turns, crisp, growling, whining, the strings lend a richness and Eastern otherness, while the lyrics are typically mystical.
5. Thank You (II): Plant’s loving, gorgeous dedication to his wife is one of the all time great underated love songs. The lyrics are at once heartfelt and unashamedly embarassing – everything a dedication of love should be. It was Plant’s first solo writing credit, Page fills in with backing vocals, an endearing progression, and sublime solo, Bonzo slaps away, while Jones gets to show off his great organ work. I love the false ending and swirling return.
4. Since I’ve Been Loving You (III): An absolutely brutal blues metal track with some of the greatest guitar ever recorded, including an extraordinary intro (accompanied by thunderously lazy drums, vacant organ, and an occassional Plant scqwuak) and one of the all time great solos. The entire song is basically 7 minutes of Page wankery, but it’s so powerfully and atmospheric, and it suits the steamy lyrics and Plant’s anguished delivery so well. The high point of an originally ill received third album, this is perfection at its most perfect.
3. Stairway To Heaven (IV): The greatest song ever written isn’t my favourite by the band, but that leading sentiment is one which I struggle to deny. Inspired and inspirational, epic and creative in every sense, beautiful, loud, gentle, with writing and playing so stunning that you wonder how four blokes from England ever created it. I don’t want to gush about it too much, as much better people than me have been doing it since the first time it was played, but it is simply put, one of the greatest achievements in music.
2. Achilles Last Stand (P): The most epic song by a band known for their epic songs, this is one that is largely forgotten and rarely spoken of, unsurprising when you have Kashmir, Since I’ve Been Loving You, and Stairway in your team. Achilles Last Stand is completely overblown in every way, absurdly mystical, and filled with ridiculous musical and lyrical moments – and it’s all the better for it. With massive over-dubbing, multi-layered tracks it is the essence of excess, but taken to such extreme precision that it becomes a frighteningly well-crafted beast with incredible depth – how many plus 10 minute songs can you listen to on repeat and never get tired of? Everyone is on top form, but it’s largely Plant’s stage, breathtaking at every turn. Oh, and that dual drumming and riffage pretty much single handedly created metal as we know it today.
1. All My Love (ITTOD): Most would consider this as one of the worst Led Zep songs, the band jumping the shark, the band at their most cheesy, the band signalling that they were about to depart, but you must remember that those people are idiots. This tearful dedication to Plant’s dead son is haunting, horrible, tragic, and I suspect that most dislike it because of that synth. I’m not sure the song would have worked without the synth, but I’d love to hear a clean piano version, or a plain acoustic version – come on, Tori, get on it. It’s easy to recognize its faults, but with some wonderful lyrics, a painfully touching chorus, and that bizarre synth solo all add up to make this my favourite Led Zep song.
As always, feel free to comment on my list and offer your own favourites.