Nightman Listens To: The Beach Boys – Surfin’ USA!

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Greetings, Glancers! It’s time to grab a board and hit some gnarly waves, bruh! Cowabunga! Other words! Surfin’ USA was released in 1963, the first of a ridiculous three albums released by the band that year. That’s one thing you notice about the early 60s – these bands had a ridiculous schedule of writing, recording, touring, and most of the biggest bands released each year, sometimes multiple times. Compare that to now, where the biggest to the smaller acts tend to release one album every three years. The good thing about Surfin’ USA is that I recognise the title track – it’s a classic – and I’m looking forwards to more sunny pop. The bad news is that no fewer than five of the twelve tracks are instrumental. In my limited knowledge of the band, it’s their vocal harmonies and melodies which set them apart – none of the instrumentals on the debut sparked me. Maybe they’re good. Time to find out.

Surfin’ USA: Is there any more iconic opening selection of notes in 60s pop than that? Before you even hear the vocals there’s something summery about that guitar tone. Then the vocals, with those harmonies and melodies join in and it’s game over. The lyrics are silly yet perfectly evocative of those idyllic ideas of beaches, sun, freedom, and fun. There’s a great organ solo, a decent guitar solo, and some handy drum moments too. As perfect a slice of pop rock as you’ll ever hear.

Farmer’s Daughter: I don’t believe I know this one. It’s immediately one I’ll want to hear again. I don’t know if the vocals on this one will annoy me over time, but at the moment its newness is a blessing to my ears. It gets straight to the point and doesn’t even reach the two minute mark – back when pop didn’t outstay it’s welcome. There are a few gulps and missed marks in the vocals. Melodies and harmonies good again, not as strong as the first track, but much better than today’s chart muck.

Miserlou: This is of course ‘The Pulp Fiction’ instrumental. This is a less ominous version than the one you know, but retains its Eastern roots more clearly. Honestly I’ve never been a fan of this piece of music – mostly the yells which come in the second half, and now I can’t hear any version of it without hearing that utterly horrific Black Eyed Peas massacre.

Stoked: A Beach Boys original instrumental piece now, as if to say ‘look, we can do it just as good as those guys’ coming right after an existing popular instrumental. It even has it’s own annoying yells. The problem with these types of instrumentals is that I’m always waiting for vocals to come and so they feel like they’re missing something. It’s okay, a decent main riff but basically a twist on one you’ve heard countless times.

Lonely Sea: Wait, is this Radiohead? Well, those long held notes are wonderful. I keep expecting the note to change, but he holds it in a hypnotic way. The doleful harmonies give a sweet and sullen undercurrent. Just when a pseudo-speaking part threatens to ruin things, we return to falsetto and fade out. That was nice.

Shut Down: This sounds like another car song. It’s also sounds like Johnny B Goode. Seems like a middle of the road album track rather than a highlight, but it’s still catchy. Again, at under two minutes it’s not going to annoy anyone.

Noble Surfer: This opens the second half of the album and isn’t much of a departure from the previous track. Funny deeper harmonies here. Interesting keyboard sound in the middle. The chorus is a bit silly – still, under two minutes.

Honky Tonk: It is what is says. I feel like I could be listening to The Stones with this. The guitar tone is changed just enough to bridge the gap between Blues and Beach Boys. Absolutely identical to any Blues song you could write yourself.

Lana: Begins with honky tonk piano, again the band showing how they can do their own versions of things, without actually covering. Very high falsetto now, bordering on off-putting or ridicule. Not much else goes on here.

Surf Jam: Now it’s their own instrumental. This one feels like a definite surfer rock instrumental – if you told someone to write a surfer rock instrumental, this is what would come out the other end 9 times out of 10. Some great guitar on show, not sure about the shouting. As far as short instrumentals go, it’s very good.

Lets Go Trippin‘: I assume this isn’t about drugs. No, it’s another instrumental and not all that different from the previous track – feels more pop oriented while the previous song was more furious.

Finders Keepers: Finally, more vocals. It’s not quite as Summery as I was hoping for, the lyrics are funny enough. The most interesting thing is the timing shift – we get a fast paced verse and chorus section, then it slows down for a brief bridge, before charging up again to the chorus. The song sways smoothly between these different sections giving something different than the norm.

After a fantastic start, the song quickly falls away. The reliance on instrumentals hurts it for me, as I’ve stated again and again, instrumentals almost never excite me unless they’re exceptional. A couple of songs I didn’t know about before which I’ll definitely listen to again, and the rest are middling. No bad songs, but too many fall into the meh category for me, a shame after starting so well.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Surfin’ USA!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Surfin’ USA. Farmer’s Daughter. Lonely Sea.

 

Chart Music Through The Years – 1957

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The Olden Days

As you should no doubt now be aware, my current form did not exist in 1957. That should not suggest that I am ignorant of what was going on in music then, or of the wider world in general. Most of what I know is surface and via the largely fictional works of others and it’s not a period I’m overly invested or interested in. Looking at the 10 offerings below, I’ll be upfront and say I recognise most of the performers more than the actual songs. There are a few songs that I know by name, and of course one which everybody knows. I imagine I’ll recognise a few more once I listen.

What else was befalling man in 1957? Well, close to home the IRA was up to their usual shenanigans and Harold Macmillan became Prime Minister. Elsewhere, Eisenhower began his second reign as US President, The Cat In The Hat was published, The Treaty Of Rome was signed, The Sky At Night was first broadcast, heavy rain causes the death of almost 1000 people in Japan, The Civil Rights Movement continued to gain movement and opposing suppression, and Laika went to space. In Music, Elvis bought Graceland, Doris Day’ Que Sera Sera won an Oscar, The Cavern Club opened in Liverpool, and a couple of lads named John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time. Rock and Roll continued to gain traction, with the likes of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry all having major hits. By all accounts, a good time to be a kid just getting into music it would seem.

  1. Paul Anka: Diana

A very traditional rock ballad intro is bolstered by some languid horn work before Anka’s distinctive vocals drop. Lyrically it seems to be a self-written defense of Paul’s MILF relationship. Anka does these little excited gasps throughout the verses and I like how the notes increase in pitch and urgency as the chorus approaches – I think we all know what that means, especially when you throw in lyrics like ‘hold me close and squeeze me tight’. Spoiler Alert – he’s not talking about hugs. There’s an unexpected little breakdown in the middle where the pace picks up in intensity, giving a sprinkle of depth. I don’t believe I’ve heard this before, in terms of comparison it’s not the most adventurous by today’s standards but it’s light years ahead in terms of melody, emotion, and integrity.

2. Elvis Presley: All Shook Up

This is the one we all know, right? I’ve no idea when or how I heard my first Elvis song given that he was dead before I was born, but his biggest hits (like this) seem to have a knack for finding you and staying with you. It begins innocently enough with gentle guitars but when the vocals start you know you’re in trouble – it’s easy to see how so many young ladies fell for him. It’s very simple – that piano riff from the blues was already thoroughly recycled by this point but is one of the foundations of early rock. It’s shorter than I remember, likely more to do with squeezing as many hits onto a record or the radio as possible, but that helps it to become one of those songs you want to hit play on as soon as it ends.

3. Tab Hunter: Young Love

A quiet piece of guitar eases us in before an overly pleasant voice takes things to a heady saccharine level. It’s very sweet – too sweet for me and ironically as he sings of ‘deep emotion’ I fail to find any trace of such in the vocals. It’s too plain and stale and smooth. It’s harmless and innocent on the surface, but it sounds far too childlike and insipid given the eras which have past since.

4. Pat Boone: Loveletters In The Stand

Most songs which begin with whistling don’t go down well with me. It reeks of country, even with the staccato piano and additional of horns. The vocals are again far too smooth and sleepy for me – you may as well be rapping. Badly. I don’t get any sense of feeling from vocals like this. I’m sure there is emotion, but it is so filtered and watered down that it doesn’t reach me. I understand why it was a hit at the time, but it’s not for me.

5. Guy Mitchell: Singing The Blues

More whistling and this time with added ‘bum de dum’ vocal nonsense. It has a sense of fun at least and the vocals are more interesting. The vocal mix however reminds me of Gary Glitter, which is never a good thing. A fun and bouncy mid-range quality song.

6. Lonnie Donnegan: Gamblin’ Man

Boy howdy, it’s always amazing to me when I actually hear people in reality speak and sing with this accent. It doesn’t seem real. Props for going solo in the intro. It seems funny to me rather than anything else, but then it picks up pace and turns into something else. It’s better but it’s also funnier. Then by the end both the drummer and vocalist are going buck nuts – the fury and fun of the performance are enough to carry it through and we even get a very muddy, lost in the mix guitar solo. Good stuff, even if it does have both feet dipped in Country (even if it’s more jazz and skiffle based) – see this is the sort of Country style music I can enjoy – pissed off their faces and absolutely wrecking everything in sight.

7. Harry Belafonte: Island In The Sun

A lesser known (for me) Belafonte song. See, Belafonte has a similar smooth quality to his vocals as others on the list, but his emotion does come through more. It’s not 100 percent clear, but at least I can feel it. Maybe it’s the inflections, maybe it’s because lyrically it’s not some bullshit simplistic love sentiment. The imagery is potent and genuine too, only someone who cares and understands could write like that.

8. Johnnie Ray: Yes Tonight Josephine

There seems to have been a lot of these vocal tick songs in the 50s – this one opening with ‘yip yip bapiddy boo’ or some balls. Main vocals are fine, backing vocals outside of the ‘yip yip’ stuff are not great. The arrangement is too repetitive and simple and the melodies don’t go out of their way to say anything interesting – the main melody repeats without much variance and it’s not overly strong in the first place. Not bad, just forgettable beyond the ‘yip yip’.

9. Pat Boone: Don’t Forbid Me

Senor Boone returns once more, and this time it’s personal. It’s more smooth, easy listening junk. Like most of the other songs here, it’s straight down the middle, takes a basic an idea and runs with it – that’s not necessarily a criticism but I lose interest quickly if the melody or vocals are plain. This is preferable to his last one. It does have a slight middle section where it looks like the song might shift gears, but it’s momentary.

10. Frankie Vaughn: The Garden Of Eden

A mixture of ballad and soft rock blues rhythms. There’s a horn bombast to close the chorus. Vaughn seems playful on some notes and words, holding the note for longer than he needs to or adding a little waver. I assume this would have caused some controversy at the time due to the lyrics, at least in the US. The drummer has some fun towards the end. This would be mostly boring if not for the little excesses by the drummer, singer, and trumpet guys.

We learn once again that regardless of the year or era, we have some good songs and plenty of crap ones too. We also learn that, no matter what the song, someone on Youtube is going to comment that it’s their favourite, or was their parent’s favourite, or bemoan how the music after ‘their decade’ ended has been crap. Without exception. There are three songs here I’d choose to listen to again, with maybe another couple I wouldn’t be annoyed by – the rest I would dismiss. As we’re still in the 1950s and my knowledge is limited, my alternative list of songs isn’t the most exciting. Not all were strictly written in ’57 either.

  1. Elvis – Jailhouse Rock

2. Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls Of Fire

3. Danny And The Juniors – At The Hop

4. That’ll Be The Day – The Crickets

5. Peggy Sue – Buddy Holly

6. When I Fall In Love – Nat King Cole

7. Wake Up Little Susie – The Everly Brothers

8. Tutti Frutti – Little Richard

9. Rock N Roll Music – Chuck Berry

10. Come Fly With Me – Van Heusen/Cahn

Let us know in the comments if you have any favourites above or elsewhere from 1957!

Nightman Reacts To The Greatest Artists Of All Time (According To Rolling Stone)! Top 20

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Part Four of my reaction to Rolling Stone’s Greatest 100 Musical Acts Of All Time. Click here for part one, part two, and part third. Otherwise….

20. Bo Diddly

Aside from having a hilarious name, Diddly remains one of the great Blues voices and guitarists. Another man whose influence on others outshone his own work, his own work is still out there to discover – and it’s great.

19. Velvet Underground

I’m middling on The Velvet Underground. Influential, all sorts of fucked up, poetic and mischievous, their name has too long been synonymous with a certain culture rather than the music. That’s when you knew you’ve succeeded as an artist but failed as a musician. That’s what society has forced upon the group, not something the group necessarily did themselves, though they certainly set the groundwork. Their music isn’t the sort of thing I listen to often, and in truth I find their songs more enjoyable when covered by others.  Still, they did their thing and did it better than most.

18. Marvin Gaye

Great voice, could write a tune, could deliver a message which was more than simply promoting dancing or fucking. Yet those same songs invariably made you want to dance, fuck, and maybe change the world. I’m not the biggest fan as I do find much of his stuff quite samey, but when he’s good, he’s good.

17. Muddy Waters

Muddy, BB, Bo, all these guys played the same sort of music with their own unique spin, and each one would influence the entirety of Sixties and Seventies rock. Muddy was maybe the first, and the things he did with his voice, guitar, and presence, and the songs he wrote or played would be torn apart, abused, and reconfigured by the likes of Led Zep, The Stones, Hendrix, and anybody else who picked up a guitar in those decades.

16. Sam Cooke

You see a lot of crossover with R’n’B, soul, Gospel, in these rock lists. Sometimes it’s not entirely accurate, sometimes it’s like the publication is trying to lump these other genres in with rock to make them more appealing to people who don’t listen to rock. Listening to Sam Cooke, the musical comparisons to rock aren’t obvious. He was always more of a pop vocalist, too smooth and calming and not raw enough. to truly fall into the rock category. But then, many rock singers don’t have a growl or yell or roughness, but the attitude or the writing. Cooke had sex appeal and some decent tunes, but rock?

15. Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder I’ll give you – a voice of unyielding soul, the energy of his most funk-driven numbers is enough to carry him into rock spheres. Of course he has worked with some of Rock’s finest and has written plenty a rockin’ song himself. He’s going to pop up more on my other series as most of the songs I know by him are the big hitting singles.

14. Led Zeppelin

Maybe the prime example of what a rock band could or should be. Maybe the prime example of taking what had come before and transforming into something else, or taking it to the next level. The Stones, for me, always kept things simple – they took an old school Blues song and played it straight, maybe with a little more venom. Zep would take an old school Blues song, turn it inside out, chew it, swallow it, and vomit it back up along with whatever else they had been absorbing at the time. They were the perfect four piece – one of the great vocalists of all time, maybe the greatest guitarist, probably the best drummer, and easily one of the most talented multi-musicians ever. They good write some of the sexiest, heaviest music on the planet, they could be as soft as a fawning hippy, and they had all of the best stories and legends swirling around them. You’re not a music fan if you don’t get the Led out.

13. Buddy Holly

One of the first white boys of rock, merging his Country and Gospel upbringing with  R’n’B sounds, he cemented rock’s beginnings. With a sizable number of songs and hits before he died at the ridiculously young age of 22, it’s not clear what he could have gone on to achieve or create. It’s true that he was only getting started before he was stopped.

12. The Beach Boys

Well of course. From glossy Beach pop/rock to the more experimental stuff I haven’t heard yet, they have enough hits to make any such list.

11. Bob Marley

I’m not a huge fan of Reggae. I always assumed I would be, and Marley was one of those icons that younger me looked forward to being able to hear when I was young. I find his music, and the whole genre’s very samey. Some stand-out songs. When your the only guy famous for the genre, of course you get a spot on the list.

10. Ray Charles

The other blind dude with a piano.

9. Aretha Franklin

Beast mode vocals activated. You’d be hard pressed to find a more powerful voice anywhere, one capable of stopping you in your tracks thanks to its authority and sensuality. She wrote the odd songs too, and her biggest hits are timeless.

8. Little Richard

I always say ‘Fuck Elvis’ when I hear people saying he did everything first. Little Richard did it better, faster, and sexier than Elvis before there was an Elvis. I don’t know much about the guy but his songs are just ballistic. Reading this self-penned piece is pretty depressing, how he never made any money from his music. The guy did it all, and while I’m sure he has plenty to show for it, it’s true that everyone who came after him took his work and his spotlight, even if they did take his groundwork and build upon it.

7. James Brown

The sweaty sex machine himself. Brown is that rare example of taking Gospel music and heritage and making something good out of it, of making R’n’B music which genuinely rocks. A sublime and tireless performer with vocals to match. I know his biggest and best and each one of those makes you want to jump around just as much as any metal song you can name.

6. Jimi Hendrix

Everyone’s favourite guitarist, he did things no-one else had or could. A showman and a player and a writer, the Hendrix songs sometimes work for me, other times they don’t. Maybe it’s the vocals which keep me from being a full blown fan or maybe it’s that many of the songs have a similar melodic style. The songs aren’t samey, but they can feel that way. I take the handle of songs I love and ignore the rest.

5. Chuck Berry

There’s a line zig-zagging through the 1950s which touches upon a number of artists who had a small number of hits and then circles around the big names – that line probably circles around Chuck Berry several times before shooting off in a thousand directions. There isn’t a single recording person in rock today that the line doesn’t connect to from Chuck. Tracing that line back, those early hits – and quite a few later ones -still rock, that youthful expression crossing every generational gap.

4. The Rolling Stones

As you’ll have seen if you read my other posts – I listened to a bunch of Stones Albums many years ago and dismissed them. I’m listening to them all again now to see if i feel any differently. It’s up in the air, but it looks like they’re more of a ‘I like 1-2 songs from each album band’ for me, though obviously millions of people have adored them and been influenced by them through time.

3. Elvis Presley

I have difficulty really loving someone if they don’t write their own material. They need something special if they don’t – a unique voice or talent elsewhere. Elvis had a unique voice and presence and stardom and aura around him. He could play, he could sing, but out of the massive number of songs he recorded, I only enjoy a relatively small number. Still, it’s Elvis.

2. Bob Dylan

Although I’ve probably heard more, I only feel like I’ve heard less than 10 Bob Dylan originals – his original versions of his own songs. He’s another artist I’ve known my whole life, but more due to other bands and singers covering his stuff. At some point I’m going to have to go through his albums one by one, but I already know I don’t like his vocals – what I’ve heard of them. The nasal quality and the delivery. I do love lyrics though, and almost everyone would rate Dylan as one of the best lyricists in the game. I’m not surprised he’s here – it’s the same with every list, but I don’t know enough to give my personal judgement.

  1. The Beatles

The obvious number one. They did it all, they reinvented themselves and reshaped the musical world numerous times, and left behind maybe the largest body of great songs than any other band has. Never trust anyone who doesn’t like The Beatles or at the very least acknowledge their importance.

Let me know what you think of this Top Twenty, of Rolling Stone’s list as a whole, and of the bands and artists, involved!

 

Nightman’s Favourite Songs Of All Time – Achilles’ Last Stand – Led Zeppelin

Greetings, Glancers! To fans of Led Zeppelin, the band have any number of opuses (opusi?) to point to and enjoy and for detractors and uberpunk fans and idiots, the band have any number of pretentious, overbearing, never-ending twaddle to suffer through. Everybody knows Stairway To Heaven, most people know Kashmir, but very few people outside of the hardcore Zep fans know Achilles Last Stand. It’s their most epic song – a mammoth tome of riffs and rock excess – and it’s a song I had no idea existed until I stumbled upon it as I worked my way through buying the Zep albums in my late teens.

I’ve always been a fan of ‘long songs’. Of course I appreciate the finer points of a skillful, three minute pop song, but I’ve always been driven to pushing the boundaries, to adding just one more instrument or lyric or melody or solo. My mind has always been fond of the epic – I’ve loved long movies for as long as I can remember, I loved when my favourite bands in my childhood pushed a song over the five or six minute mark, and I loved long novel series or stories with plots which spanned thousands of pages and multiple years or generations. I don’t know why this is – maybe it has always inspired me or given me hope in the human race’s capacity for invention and imagination, this need to create something without giving the slightest fuck to its length. If it needs to be a 24 minute song, then that’s what it’s going to be. Achilles Last Stand doesn’t quite hit that mark, but it does go over ten minutes, and it’s ten minutes of pure glory.

Where do you even start with this? The beginning seems like a good place, but then I’d be forced to go through it piece by piece and we’d be here forever. I could cut it up into its different sections – Bonzo’s earth shattering drums, Page’s urgent overlapping riffs and apocalyptic soloing, the rambling long form poetic lyrics, Plant’s return to his finest vocals, and Jonesy never letting up with the thunderous galloping bass. It’s a song that just keeps going on and on and on, yet it constantly engages. It’s just so relentlessly dense that you always find something new to draw on and constantly find yourself falling in love once more with a slight inflection or string bend or slip of the wrist by Bonham. If you’re of the sadist persuasion, it’s like jumping into a huge thistle bush and trying to climb through to the other end, hundreds of prickers jabbing your skin, causing tiny cuts, ripping your clothes, and pulling you back – dense, painful, but you love it.

Most bands might write long or complex songs or a combination of both, but few bands have the balls to actually play them live. Led Zeppelin may have had the biggest balls in the history of rock, and regularly featured this in their concerts – it’s just a shame they wrote it at the end of their career. The balls it takes as a four-piece to play something like this, especially when completely coked off their tits, is a testament to just how in sync the band was. They just don’t have bands like this anymore, and they don’t write songs like this anymore. It is an utterly ridiculous piece of music and we should all feel blessed that it was born. If you haven’t heard it, click one of my links and let your head explode.

Unsurprisingly, there haven’t been many covers of this song. Only those mad bastards Dream Theater had a crack at it as part of a medley, while the Jason Bonham band paid homage – also during a medley. I’m sure some rap dudes have probably sampled pieces of it here and there – it seems like exactly the sort of song that would be ripe for such pillaging. Until one of the young pretenders goes all out and crafts something as epic and powerful as this, they’re never going to be accepted as anywhere near the same level as Led Zep.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Achilles’ Last Stand!

The Nightman Scoring System © Reviews – Help

Remember the Nightman Scoring System ©? My system for reviewing music as fairly as possible, an attempt to remove as much inherent bias as possible? That system where I break up an album into twenty evenly weighted categories so that when you score each one out of five, trying to base the score as much on fact as on opinion, you get a fair total out of 100? It’s the best scoring system in the world and you should use it. So should I in fact, hence this post. Anyway, if you want to read the rules about the system click this link and it will reveal all. There’s one for movies too, at this link. Check them both out – I say with absolutely no hyperbole that it will unquestionably change your life, make you an astonishingly brilliant human being, and also get you the ladies (regardless of your gender or orientation).

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We’ve reached my favourite Beatles album now – click here to check out my original review or read on for the scores.

Sales: 5 (Another smash hit)

Chart: 5 (Another smash hit)

Critical: 5 (Another smash hit)

Originality: 4 (The band experiment on certain songs with string arrangements, newer styles of writing, recording, and genre setting them up nicely for what would come next)

Influence: 5 (Most of the songs here have been covered by several artists, and the style of merging rock and pop so fluidly was latched onto by record companies and artists around the world)

Musical Ability: 4 (The band again sound like they are having fun, Harrison is becoming a terrific lead guitarist and being allowed to roam free, and their growth as a cohesive unit is noticeable)

Lyrics: 4 (Once again the band take standard lyrics and ideas and add new twists to old cliches showing a great amount of intelligence. There are some moments which foreshadow the poetic turns which later songs would take, but which the band were not quite ready to release)

Melody: 5 (Some of the greatest, most famous pop songs in history, thanks largely to the melodies. Memorable choruses, verses, riffs, harmonies all come together for perfection)

Emotion: 4 (The overall tone is a light, happy one, but there are the more downbeat moments such as Yesterday which are some of the first moments where the group truly convey emotion in a meaningful way)

Resilience: 5 ( 50 years on, and an eternity ahead of it)

Vocals: 4 (Some of the strongest vocal displays, great harmonies, even Ringo doesn’t sound half-bad)

Coherence: 4 (The album holds together well, sounding like a whole, possibly because of the relation to the film, but mostly this is tied together by some clear themes and styles)

Mood: 4 (Again the mood switches quickly, but never abruptly, from sugary pop to bitter introspection, and all are crystal clear)

Production: 5 (Sterling work to create a sound which still sounds fresh today)

Effort: 5 (Again, touring, writing, filming were all going on at the same time, so to create such a timeless album is highly impressive)

Relationship: 5 (This time the album feels timeless down to the sheer joy of the songs. It’s difficult not to relate to such infectious melodies)

Genre Relation: 5 (This is effectively the archetypal pop album which pretty much everything since has sprung from)

Authenticity: 5 (When they sound happy it’s genuine, when they sound low you believe them, when they play you know that they enjoy doing it, both for the love of the craft and for pleasing the fans)

Personal: 5 (Possibly my favourite Beatles album, though as with most things there are times when this is changeable)

Miscellaneous: 5 (Once again, touring recording, writing, and making a movie all at the same time in a breathtaking feat of artistic achievement)

Total: 93/100

Take The Nightman Scoring System© Challenge and let me know how you score the album!

Nightman Listens To – Bon Jovi – Lost Highway!

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Greetings, Glancers! Here we are, the first Bon Jovi album that I legit haven’t heard a single song from. Before I listen, I take a quick glance at the song’s Wiki page to get a little flavour for what’s in store. It was released in 2007 – by that point I was long gone from University and well into long term employment, so frivolous acts like Bon Jovi had fallen by the wayside for me. If they weren’t one of my favourite bands, or if they weren’t some new exciting act that I had just discovered, then I wasn’t going to listen to them much. It’s sad how it goes, but go it does. Wiki claims the album is heavily influenced by the Nashville sound, which is another way of saying ‘Yo Nightman, you’re going to absolutely despise this’. There may be collaborations with other artists, the album was a success on Country music charts…. arrgh… let’s just get it out of the way.

Lost Highway: Starts okay, typical Jovi sound. Slight banjo jangling. Oh Lord, here comes the slide guitar. I cannot abide slide guitar. Laughably trite and generic lyrics. Very middle of the road, soft stuff, appeasing the denim wearing, wandering patriot that the US inexplicably loves. The video, incidentally, is horrendous. The bridge doesn’t help, some terrible pronunciation. There’s a certain type of listener who swallows this stuff as if it’s scripture. I’m not that person. No edge, no emotion, just empty notes and not adventurous from a band capable of much better. Middling stuff then.

Summertime: I like songs about Summer. When they work, they’re very evocative. They make me happy, not something you’ll often hear me say. In fairness this one does come close to evoking those thoughts. It’s not quite strong enough and some silly decisions in the arrangement don’t help. The main chord chugging and the central riffs do fine – it’s nothing special, but for a band in their third decade it’s fine.

You Wanna Make A Memory: Different intro than what they usually go for. Vocals and a slight beat. Is that some female backing vocals. I was expecting this one to explode like they often do, but it keeps to a more restrained ballad form. Some slight violins, some piano. Gets marginally louder for the second chorus. I do like how it builds. The main vocal melodies are good and it quickly establishes itself as another traditional second tier Bon Jovi ballad – not up their with Always or Bed Of Roses, but still good.

Whole Lotta Leavin: Thankfully the album hasn’t been too country yet, at least not in the way I was dreading. There’s the quite intro followed by explosion I was talking about. Lyrics once again about that yearning for leaving, for adventure, for love. It’s a gentle foot-tapper to be sure, but by the numbers. More middling fare which should keep the band’s most ardent fans happy, but won’t recruit any listeners to the cause or excite someone like me.

We Got It Going On: Wait, wait, wait. Is this a cover band’s version of Enter Sandman. That’s hilarious. It’s a honky tonk rip off of Enter Sandman mixed with Have A Nice Day or It’s My Life. Like those songs, this has a stomp to it and a catchy chorus meaning you can both sing and dance to it. We get an unfortunate spoken part in the middle, followed by voice box solo. It’s pretty funny, but still middling stuff.

Any Other Day: This opens with a summery vibe too, and a nice guitar tone. Songs like this have a tendency to grab me immediately, so I get disappointed if the rest falls away. The lead riff, well it’s not really a riff, but it’s very nice and suits the verse melodies perfectly. It’s all smooth and likable. A late career goldie for me – the chorus doesn’t go overboard with the anthem but acts as a more joyous extension of the verse. A very nice surprise.

Seat Next To You: The opening riff here is almost the same as the one I mentioned in the previous song, though decidedly more slow and peaceful. More female backing vocals. The Country stuff is there, but thankfully it’s more in the background and doesn’t leave me with a bad taste. So far this is a much stronger ballad, reaching close to those upper tiers. Verses and choruses again – not obnoxious, not amazing, but emotive and mature. Two very good songs in a row – can we continue this trend?

Everybody’s Broken: Well, it begins promisingly enough. I don’t know why they went for that drum sound though. Gentle but good melodies. Decent lyrics. A better drum sound joins in. Decent chorus. The song has a carefree sway. The chugga-chugga-chug guitars in the second verse don’t quite work, but I see what they’re going for. Mutterings of keyboards towards the end. It’s not as good as the previous two songs, but better than the ones before those.

Till We Ain’t Strangers Anymore: This is veering close to the whining strings I can’t stand in Country music. For a few seconds at least. Feels like another decent ballad, not up there with the best, but not far behind. Going in on the full duet in the second verse. It’s LeAnn Rimes. She adds something different, she’s always had a (kind of) distinct voice, and while she’s Country the whole thing doesn’t go as far down that terrible road as I feared.

The Last Night: There hasn’t been that one bombastic, arena rock song on the album yet. This one doesn’t feel like it’s going to get there either, based on the opening. It has a middling pace, a soft rock approach. The verses are catchy enough without getting the claws in, with the chorus following in the same vein. It’s another which will please a certain section of the fans but will leave listeners like me asking for something stronger. It’s fine, a step down from the last few.

One Step Closer: Is this going to be the straight Country song I dreaded? No, the verse wises up. Another ballad then, and more soft rock. It’s getting a little samey now – that happens when you get beyond six albums and don’t really change your sound much from the core. Fans will be happy, there’s nothing much wrong with the song, just at this point it sounds too much like everything else. The chorus is nice enough, and I like some of the additional guitar parts which linger in the background.

I Love This Town: Is this the Country song? It starts badly enough, with hand clap type nonsense. And yet… and yet there’s something fun about it. The band sound like they’re having fun and that materializes through the waves into my veins and that feeling becomes infectious. This sounds like about a hundred different songs – everything from Bon Jovi’s own past masters to, most obviously, Dance The Night Away by The Mavericks. What was very close to being an awful closing track instead becomes a crowd-pleasing mini-anthem of its own. I imagine the band employs this one when playing live, singing about whatever town they’re playing in to the delight of the crowd. It’s strange but it somehow works by virtue of being a lot of fun.

A lackluster, if not poor first half gives way to a much improved second – there are definitely a number of songs I’ll be listening to again and would gladly put on my Bon Jovi playlist. I don’t think any of them will crack the band’s best ten or twenty songs, but they’re not far away. A better album than I was expecting by all accounts, one which thankfully didn’t live up to its Country promises and while it lacks that one great single there are enough good songs to keep loyal fans amused.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Lost Highway!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Any Other Day. Seat Next To You.

Nightman’s Favourite Songs Of All Time – Hechizo – Heroes Del Silencio

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I’ve talked before about how I got into rock and metal music, and how cultural borders have never been a barrier for me. I can’t remember exactly when or how I heard about Heroes Del Silencio, but it must have been around the time they were playing on Monsters Of Rock with Iron Maiden in the mid-90s. Possibly they were mentioned in one of the metal magazines of the olden days due to working with Bob Ezrin or having a look and style similar to The Cult and G’n’R, yet something about the exotic sound of the lyrics drew me in.

I’ve always viewed the Iberian Peninsula as somewhat of a mystical land given that my visits there were my first experiences of a world outside the grey, hate-filled gloom of Ireland. Coupled with my young love for exploration and mythology based in foreign, sun-bleached countries, the music of Greece, Spain, and South America has always bewitched me with its brew of nostalgia, exoticism, and idealism. In any case, I latched on to the few songs I could find by the band – Avalancho, La Herida, and Maldido Duende were heavy, melodic, and made me seem all the more mysterious to the ladies as what sort of skinny white boy from the Northern Irish suburbs new Spanish songs in the 1990s? It didn’t matter that I had no clue what the songs were about or what the words meant – they sounded good and made me look cool, which was no mean feat.

The one which stood out most for me was called Hechizoroughly translated as ‘spell’. The song certainly takes on a mystical quality, all deceptive riffs and rumbling drums, and at one point with my Spanish dictionary in hand I tried my own translation of the lyrics. That’s the sort of thing I used to do as a kid. This all likely happened within the span of a few months but at some point I stopped listening – something else probably came along and the song and the band soon faded away like so many others in my mind. Flashforward to 2017 and a little movie called Veronica was released on Netflix – with many claiming it be on par with The Exorcist or scariest movie of all time or based on the terrifying true story. I’d heard it all before, but as it was Spanish maybe there would be a few interesting twists on the tried and tested formula. Plus, it was directed by Paco Plaza of Rec fame, so it instantly hopped up to near the top of my must-see list. As I began to watch, it all played out familiarly enough, but with a strong lead performance and an air of sadness throughout. That title character, she is always listening to music and watching music videos and… wait a second… I recognise that song. What is that? And it all comes flooding back, my younger days with Heroes and Hechizo.

In many ways Hechizo is the perfect accompanying song to Veronica. Both deal with the supernatural in some form, and both are fast paced and filled with emotional judders. Veronica’s tragic, heroic tale seems to be mirrored in the music written over twenty years earlier and the song, which had never failed to make my hair stand on end, took on a new, even more spine-tingling verve. At its most base, it’s a song which makes me want to run out into a storm and jump around at the flaming ruins of a camp-fire blitzed by lightening, jumping, whirling, and breaking shit. The pace is relentless, the solos are furious yet never let the melody or emotion break down, and Enrique’s vocals are scorching, broken, ferocious, and sexy as fuck. Not to mention the tone of the guitar, which the band uses throughout their discography, is among one of my favourites of any band. As if to put a granite slab to the end of the song and the story of Veronica, the vocals shout there way down form ten in Spanish to the sudden end. All that’s left is to hit play again.

Let us know what you think of Hechizo or Heroes Del Silencio in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – American Life!

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Greeting, Glancers! We head back to my middle year of University – 2003. It seemed like every album was an attack on funny wee George Bush and with such a torrid time we should really have had a new wave of powerful, excellent rock music. We never got that – just an endless success of rubbish ‘The’ bands, and the dying grunts of nu-metal and pop-punk. Bush always seemed to me to be a permanently bewildered moron with the face of teddy bear who just lost his bowl of porridge, but the people get who they vote for.

Wikipedia tells me this was a concept album, so without reading any further I assume that Madonna also got in on the act, especially with a name like that. I’m certain I’ve heard the title track, though I can’t for the life of me think of what it’s like now – and I’ve probably heard a few of the others. I know all too well the evil of Die Another Day – otherwise known as the worst thing ever – so I’m just going to skip on by it if that’s okay with you. Much of this will be new to me, so hold my hand as I dive in.

American Life: No, I don’t think ever heard this. Very electronic, not Ray Of Light style, but much more barren. It’s not bad, so far. Plaintive lyrics. Some obvious auto-tune on the vocals in places, but elsewhere they’re good. I quite like the melodies, and as a whole it’s a pleasing song, but – aw what the hell is this. She goes off on one near the end, has a rap section which sounds exactly as you’d expect from a white person who’s never rapped before. I can only guess that she’s being satirical here with her lyrics during the rap, but it becomes doubly ironic because you know she indulges in half of the stuff she’s being critical of and poking fun at. It’s like, oh I don’t know, like if a hair metal band tried to make fun of a cheesy pop song, I’d be shouting YOU ARE THE EXACT SAME.

Hollywood: So, she’s continuing that satirical tone here, this time poking fun at people wanting to be famous? I get she’s mainly targeting those without talent or those who think it is the single most important thing that anyone can achieve, but yeah… it still doesn’t work when you were one of the exact people. I’m not saying Madonna’s not talented, hell I’ve shown I love enough of her songs to prove otherwise, but there’s absolutely no ignoring the fact that she exploited herself for fame just as much as anyone else and was ruthless in her pursuit of it, possibly preventing people more deserving than her of getting there. Lets give her the benefit of the doubt though and say she’s mocking her younger self and rejecting all of the stuff she used to love, in the hope that today’s youngsters will do the same. The song is okay, a bit weak, a bit repetitive… it’s moderately catchy fluff and absolutely doesn’t need to pass the three minute mark.

I’m So Stupid: A more promising start, with broken up guitars and stuttering mystical vocals. This has a bit more love and imagination chucked at it – all those quirks with stretching notes and messing with time are different from what other mainstream artists were trying now or are attempting now. Is it more interesting, than good? I like it anyway, doesn’t go down the simple dance music route.

Love Profusion: It’s another video where Madonna walks towards the camera. This time it was directed by Luc Besson. This song is pretty cool, no messing around with the melody and the production doesn’t try to upset the rhythm or become master. Everything compliments everything else. It isn’t much more than verse and chorus melody slapped together, but it doesn’t need to be as both main parts are strong and everything else bolsters matters.

Nobody Knows Me: Phat funky beatz. I’d rather we had normal vocals, but there you go. I was hoping for an explosive verse after that intro, but it’s too tame. It’s very singular – one level. The melody and rhythm simply repeats over and over, lyrics are okay, but the repetition is annoying. The background beats and music is ever-changing, but if the main melody stays the same then the impact of everything else is lost. I usually don’t mind when a melody is repeated, as long as everything else builds upwards towards some sort of climax, but this doesn’t really go anywhere and feels like an excuse to experiment aimlessly. As an experiment, it’s not bad. As a song, it’s not great.

Nothing Fails: More stuttering guitars. This is much more to my preferences. When the melody is strong and honest, it doesn’t really matter what else you craft around it. Well, it does, but the core is still good. Depending on what else you add it can become a masterpieces, or merely an okay song. This is pretty good and I’m happy to see that even when she makes an experimental album or something with such heavy production that she still falls back on something sweet and simple. This is another example of the surrounding studio trickery complimenting the main stuff rather than taking over. The refrain section is a nice surprise, with the backing vocals and strings coming in like a choir and reminding of Like A Prayer. 

Intervention: Another guitar intro, followed by another interesting melody, so another potential favourite. Yes, this is quite lovely. Melodies have that touch of tragedy, the surrounding instrumentation isn’t overwhelming, rarely moving from sparse and instead relying on backing vocals and harmonies to fill up the space. That’s two very good songs I wasn’t aware of in a row – cool.

X-Static Process: With a name like that, I can only assume the worst. But no, it opens in a similar vein to the last three – guitars, soft vocals. One minute in and it hasn’t changed at all. Finally a backing vocal comes in and the two pieces interact or argue like a confused mind. The backing track hasn’t really changed at all. There’s a little bit of new stuff just after halfway. It’s another good one, ladies and gents. I don’t like it as much as the last two, because this one really doesn’t want to add any frills, but still another positive surprise.

Mother And Father: Back to a more electronic intro. Strange vocals. Like the fifth song to mention Jesus. Melody is repetitive, but this time it’s annoying. Thankfully this one changes things up by not having just the one melody – the others are better than the main ‘there was a time’ one. A strange song with some highs and some lows – I’d drop the rap parts and the deeper vocal pieces, but credit again for trying something different even if it doesn’t work for me. Even with the dodgy parts, I can see me listening to this again due to the good parts.

Die Another Day: Nope

Easy Ride: Ooh, a lovely intro with all the heart-tugging strings I love. The verse has potential, it’s not something which grabs me immediately but I think it could grow on me. More strings – always helps. We’re finishing with another good one. It’s another brave move for such a famous artist – another sign that she does whatever the fuck she wants, and when she pulls it off the results can often be fantastic. Like I say, this is probably going to a grower for me – I can sense its potential rather than it hitting me with obvious and immediate quality.

An average to less than average start followed up by some gems. There are quite a lot of songs here that I hadn’t heard before which will now be on my playlist, and that’s why I’m here – to grow that personal memory bank of songs to love over and over and leave discussion of artistic merit until I’m more familiar with them. I’m not sure what I expected from the album, but I didn’t have high hopes. Those fears were mostly pushed firmly back under the bed and I’m left with an album which doesn’t have any huge missteps (aside from Die Another Day obviously) and a collection of songs which never drop below average. The weaker ones have merits and while the stronger ones don’t yet reach the heights of my personal favourites, perhaps they will after more listens. I know this should give me confidence going into her next album, but I’m always cautious about these things, always waiting for things to go badly wrong. Hang around for my next Madonna post, and find out with me. For now, leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Easy Ride. X-Static Process. Intervention. Love Profusion. Nothing Fails.

Ranking The Manics Songs – Postcards From A Young Man

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Ten albums – not many bands make it that far these days, and certainly not with the same level of consistent success and quality. And this album is now ten years old and the band is still going. That’s one of the many reasons to love them. This album, described as their ‘last shot at mass communication’, has many moments of pop goodness and embraces some choice and unusual influences (Gospel and Motown) while not relinquishing their central roots. Sadly, this was one of the main instances of the band simply picking the wrong songs to be singles – but luckily there were still three and therefore a bunch of alternatives to ponder over. Here is my ranking:

  1. I Think I’ve Found It
  2. All We Make Is Entertainment
  3. Golden Platitudes
  4. Don’t Be Evil
  5. A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun
  6. Hazelton Avenue
  7. It’s Not War
  8. The Descent
  9. Auto-Intoxication
  10. The Future Has Been Here 4Ever
  11. Postcards From A Young Man
  12. Some Kind Of Nothingness

My main issue with a lot of the B-Sides around this time and till today, is the reliance on uninspired instrumentals and Nicky vocals. I managed to replace one song with a B-Side for my fantasy tracklist:

  1. It’s Not War
  2. Postcards From A Young Man
  3. Broken Up Again
  4. The Descent
  5. Hazelton Avenue
  6. Auto-Intoxication
  7. Golden Platitudes
  8. I Think I’ve Found It
  9. A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun
  10. All We Make Is Entertainment
  11. The Future Has Been Here 4Ever
  12. Don’t Be Evil

I toyed with adding I’m Leaving You For Solitude or Midnight Sun, but they don’t really fit the grandiose nature of the album. This seems like a respectable album. Let us know what your ranking would be!