Nightman Listens To – These Days – Bon Jovi

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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!

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Archives Of Pain

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.

Misheard Lyrics: 1. Kill Yeltsin, Hussain.

2. Not punish us with champagne.

Actual Lyrics: 1. Kill Yeltsin, who’s saying?

2. Not punish less, rise the pain.

Archives Of Pain: 4/Great

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Nightman Listens To – Bryan Adams – Into The Fire

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!

Nightman Listens To – Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet

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 in 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 anywere. 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 rustlings 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 stong 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?

I am not ryte
Doing the Spac-leg

 

The Beatles – The White Album

The White Album

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
whacking’.

`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.

Blue – Joni Mitchell

Blue

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.

Let It Be – The Beatles

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.

Hippies

If you liked/hated this, feel free to check out my other Beatles reviews in the music section.