Nightman Listens To: The Rolling Stones – The Rolling Stones

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This could be a slog. Similar to my Beach Boys post, I’m going to go through all of the studio albums – no compilations or live albums etc. That still leaves 30 albums, of which I’ve already heard… less than 10? Like I mentioned in my announcement post, I started going through Rolling Stones albums many years ago but found them too samey and with not enough standout tracks. Listening to them alongside The Beatles I found myself going back to The Beatles more and more and eventually giving up on The Stones. Maybe I didn’t give them a fair chance. From a blues rock perspective, they paled in comparison to Zeppelin, and from a songwriting stance The Beatles were just more enjoyable in every way. Still, you gots to listen to these things to know, so I may as well go back to the start.

This debut album came out in 1964 and like most of the other bands at the time consisted of a bunch of covers. It took The Stones longer to get the most out of their songwriting partnership, so many of their early albums had lots of covers, and that’s going to be part of the slog for me. I’m more interested in the original compositions once they come along.

Route 66: You won’t enamour yourself to me by having hand claps in your first song. Standard US Blues rock, played by a British white guy who at this point had probably never been to any of the places mentioned. It’s played with a youthful intensity and energy, but without much edge. Jagger’s vocals have a persona of their own, if not completely unique.

I Just Want To Make Love To You: The Etta James version takes some beating, so instead The Rolling Stones go for a breakneck pace. Musically it is very scaled back and simple. Those handclaps are back though they are mostly drowned out by the frenzy. Good harmonica and Jagger gives it all in a manic vocal performance, all in all a furious cover.

Honest I Do: A much slower song in standard blues timing and with simple blues riffs, punctuated by slightly more unusual jangling pieces. When you think of the Blues, it’s something like this that you think of. It’s mostly boring, all told.

Mona: Craig Mclachlan anyone? I suppose the echoing guitar was innovative at the time. As with most of these songs, there are so many covers of each one that it’s not the easiest job to find a favourite or one which sticks out. There’s no need for this one to be three and a half minutes long since it is so repetitive and would likely be served better shaving 30 or 60 seconds off.

Now I’ve Got A Witness: This speeds things up again. Standard blues scales and rhythm again, piano led this time, but the band are still giving their all. I think there’s something too laconic about most of the Stones songs which have always kept me from being a full blown fan. That and probably growing up in the 80s and 90s with rock music which felt much more vibrant and full blown and complex meant that I didn’t have as much affinity for the more stripped back stuff.

Little By Little: A harmonica intro leads to more standard blues stuff. It’s still played with energy but there’s only so many times you can hear the same riffs and scales before you get bored. The solo is good, the handclaps aren’t… I would have loved this at the time but all these decades on music has progressed so much for this to sound almost redundant. Using The Beatles comparison again, their songs from the same time just had that bit more creativity and something special. None of these songs are bad by any stretch, just even though they are new (ish) to me they feel like I’ve heard them a hundred times.

I’m A King Bee: Back to the slow Blues again. There’s a simple recipe – set your blues rhythm, select any random noun or subject, and write barely hidden simple euphemisms about love and sex and you’re done. It was fine in the 20s, 30s etc, but once we reach the 60s  with white guys adding their touches it doesn’t work as well. The repetition makes it feel more like mind-numbing dance music than soulful rock. That’s a huge part of the problem I always had with ACDC too.

Carol: And now we’re back to the faster blues. No difference in playing style or rhythm or anything really here. Still good as a standalone, or if you’re into that sort of thing, but an album full of it gets boring quickly.

Tell Me: Now this instantly feels different, and lo and behold when I check it turns out this is the first Jagger/Richards composition on the album. It doesn’t feel connected to The Blues in anyway and in more like a soft rock ballad or simple love song. It’s not quite the same style as what other British Invasion bands were writing – it has its own quality and is easily my favourite song on the album. I can’t say how much I actually like it, it’s probably made better by the fact that it’s so different from every other song so far. It’s sweet and simple and has a great chorus.

Can I Get A Witness: This song is almost always fun, this version is no different. As a standalone it will work great but surrounded by all the other similar songs it’s too much.

You Can Make It If You Try: The slower songs don’t even work as well as what I mentioned for the previous track. At least the faster ones have that effervescence, these ones sound too tired even if Jagger is spicing up the vocals.

Walking The Dog: More of a strutting rhythm. More annoying hand claps. Again.. pick your noun or subject and away you go. Even in 64 it sounds cliched, though I imagine the band brought this style to a much larger audience.

Pretty much what I remembered and what I was expecting – typical blues songs played well, but with not enough of a voice to make them stand out from any other version. The one original piece is good, the covers themselves are good, but there’s only so many of them I can take. I don’t have much to add – it’s not lackluster, it just seems that way, and there’s probably only one song I’d pick to listen to again. When I have my pick of cover artists and the originals, there’s nothing here to make me pick a Stones version over anything else.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Rolling Stones!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Tell Me

Nightman Listens To – Roxette – Crash! Boom! Bang!

Greetings, Glancers! We’re back with another selection of choice pop rock cuts from one of Sweden’s finest exports, Roxette. Fans of the band who happen to be following this series may have noticed that I’ve skipped Tourism. Why? Well, it’s basically a live album, although it does have a few new songs never before heard on any of their studio albums. Maybe I’ll cover those at some point, maybe not. What I am doing is listening to their fifth album, one which I know I’ve heard many times but which I can only honestly recall four songs from, at least by looking at the track listing. The album came out in 1995, so by that point I was mostly past caring about them but wouldn’t moan too much if my brother was in control of the car stereo. It’s another long album – fifteen songs topping an hour – so this could take a while. Enjoy!

Harley’s And Indians: I won’t go as far as saying it’s experimental, but it does have a different sound than what we’re used to from the band. If anything it sounds like some of Bon Jovi’s more cowboy inspired hits. The central guitar riff is fairly fat, on the heavy sit of country rock, yet the melodies are pure Roxette. Per takes lead on the vocals with Marie only chiming in slightly in places. There are some dubious insensitive lyrics in there but I’m not sure if they are there for satirical or comedy value. The chorus repeats a few times more than is necessary, we have a suitable harmonica ending, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Crash! Boom! Bang!: I knew I’d heard this one before, but couldn’t for the life of me remember what it sounded like until I hit play today. Here’s a weird one – whenever I get a big sudden swoosh of nostalgia when listening to Roxette, it always, always takes me back to me getting dressed in the changing rooms of my local swimming pool. WTF’s that about? Anyway, this came flooding back, and I remember singing this one quite a bit – you know me and my ballads. It’s not quite a top tier ballad by their own standards, but it’s still good. It has a dark tone throughout, lyrically and musically, I appreciate the string interlude in the middle, Marie blasts the vocals with a yearning quality, and there’s a slight hint of mystery and reticence.

Fireworks: This was a single but I don’t have any memory of it, despite the funky intro. Actually, the chorus sounds vaguely familiar but that could be just because it’s similar to something else. Per takes the lead again in the verses, not quite rapping his way along, while the chorus sees Marie taking over and the song adopting a style closer to pop. There’s a dreamy, slow, section in the middle where the band sing ‘they’re coming to get you now’…. who? Fireworks?

Run To You: This is one I remembered just from the name, even if my memory of exactly how it sounded has been clouded by time. It’s a soft rock pop song with some mid-nineties production stuff going on. The melodies are strong enough to cut through anything which could date it, we have plenty of strings again though here they seem unnecessary. Minor key verses, happy choruses… it’s a simple, sweet song.

Sleeping In My Car: Here’s another weird one for you – I can remember the first time I heard this one. it was in the car again, it was played on the radio, and we were driving around the roundabout near our local shopping centre (mall). This is obviously the big single from the album. I think we knew the song was coming up and we were anticipating (me less so) how the band would sound, if they still had the goods, or if they had lost it. I think all of us were fairly impressed. It had abandoned the 80s sound of their previous hits and was now completely 90s, but it was still clearly Roxette. The guitars and melodies were front and centre, and it had a chorus which instantly hooked you. It’s still good now, far from amazing, but good.

Vulnerable: This is the last song from my initial look down the tracklist that I remembered. I do remember thinking this one was more suited to a boyband, which was usually a way teenage me used to say a song was crap. I know I still kind of liked it anyway. It is very nineties hearing it now, but as always I like the strings. Would Marie have been a better choice for the main vocal here? It’s fine, it’s too simpering and whimpering for my liking, even as a ballad, but it’s not terrible.

The First Girl On The Moon: I just had a giggle to myself because the intro to this almost, almost sounds like The Everlasting by the Manic Street Preachers. This one was a surprise because I have no memory of it but actually enjoyed it. It’s a slow one, starts off acoustic, a quaint story, Marie leading the vocals. Some piano comes in for the pre-chorus, actually there isn’t really a chorus so to speak. Just to further the weird Manics comparison, there’s an ‘ooh aah’ vocal piece in the middle. It’s barely three minutes long so feels like one you could play plenty of times and not get bored. Great production on this one.

Place Your Love: This starts off acoustic too, but with Per on main vocals. For the chorus we get the harmonies that made the band famous, though it’s not the best chorus. Was this influenced by Oasis? It feels like it was, however unlikely that sounds. The whole building of tambourine and organ feels like Oasis. It’s simple too. The chorus improves as the song progresses, with wider harmonies and increased backing instrumentation.

I Love The Sound Of Crashing Guitars: You know a band has jumped the shark when they begin writing songs about their own instruments or dinosaurs or something. We can forgive Roxette for such matters… they’ve always been kind of quirky like that. The lyrics are mostly nonsense, the music isn’t anything special, but the melodies and production keep things from being too embarrassing.

What’s She Like: It’s another I don’t remember, even though it seems like one I should – it’s typically the emotive power ballads that stick in my mind – for whatever reason those seemed to capture my imagination as a kid. This is in the style of Things Will Never Be The Same or It Must Have Been Love, but doesn’t quite reach the peaks of fist pumping or teeth gnashing or cheese as those. Melodically and tonally it’s very similar, it starts out quietly and builds gradually. The only thing which feels out of place is the middle eight which takes the song out of minor key territory almost seeming like a different song entirely.

Do You Wanna Go The Whole Way: Always. As a great man once said, there’s no sense in going off half-cocked. Unfortunately this one isn’t overly inspired, though it does start out in a promising manner with lots of strings. The lead riff is kind of catchy and interesting, the lyrics are unintentionally funny – to me at least, but melodically it’s a little too plain to stand out. There’s a slower, trippy section in the middle which tries to changes things up, but I think it hurts the song and isn’t needed.

Lies: This is a weird one, starting off with a fat, fast riff, losing pace with a dull verse, then merging into a garage tinged pre-chorus, before a cheesy pop chorus. It feels like a bunch of ideas for different songs slapped together to make a whole when they didn’t know what else to do, but it’s not terrible.

I’m Sorry: This one feels like a holdover from the 80s, with leading synths and melodies not dissimilar to other hits. I generally don’t like percussion led songs, unless the percussion is something extraordinary – this one doesn’t have much in the way of instrumentation in the verses, and the choruses are even a bit light. The melodies aren’t strong enough to save it, but again it’s brevity means I can’t complain too much.

Love Is All: A long one. Matron. Roxette aren’t known for their long songs, so I’m not sure what this will be like. It begins in classic epic style, with a slow, quiet, drawn out instrumental intro. Marie’s vocals come in, very angelic, repeating a soft hymnal. My immediate sense, even if it isn’t a true comparison, is of a psychedelic Beatles song. The lead vocal melody is simple but sweet, so it doesn’t get annoying even though it’s repeated. Repetition is the name of the game here, with the same few melodies growing and building and being modified slightly – Per takes over vocals at one point for example, while the backing instruments change frequently. It’s a mantra without enough significant variation to stop it becoming monotonous. There’s a change close to the three minute mark as we get some organ and guitar before the mantra continues. It seems like the song is going to fade out after four minutes, but then it soars back in again in Hey Jude style for a celebratory two minute coda – it seems like this was custom built for a set closer.

Go To Sleep: A ballad to finish. It avoids being cheesy and it doesn’t have the big chorus that you would expect. I wouldn’t go so far as saying the last two songs are experimental, but you ca tell that the band were playing with new sounds and techniques. This is another sweet and plaintive song which reminds me of quite a few mid nineties ballads – the ones which avoided going fully for the heartstrings but were content to meander in dreamlike sorrow or joy.

I think a couple of songs could have been trimmed from this – there are quite a few in the middle and second half which, while not bad, end up being to the detriment of the album as a whole. It’s a long listen in a single sitting so it would’t be long before you are drawn to pulling out your favourites and focusing on those instead. The album ends strongly, with two good songs – keep those, the singles, and a few others and you’d have a good album. It’s fine as it is but doesn’t have enough great songs to truly recommend it as a package. Regardless, if you’re a Roxette fan there is a surplus of material here to get your teeth into.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of this one!

Nightman Listens To – Talking Heads – Speaking In Tongues (Top 1000 Albums Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! Lets keep this run of first time listens going. I say first time listens, but I have a feeling I’ve heard this before, or most of it. Or at the very least it has been on in the background or people have tried to make me enjoy it and failed. It could be this album or it could be another by Talking Heads. In many ways I should like Talking Heads, as they have inspired bands I do like and people say they have a similar sense of humour and lyrical style as I have/had. The songs I’ve heard have never been more then meh for me, and most less than that. I don’t like the vocals and I don’t like the sub Shakin’ Stevens stage presence.

What Do I Know About Talking Heads: Led by David Byrne, I always thought they were English when I was younger, only later finding out they were American. They merged punk and pop and New Wave 80s stuff and always felt like an offshoot of New Order to me. I’ve never heard anything by them which sounded like punk, whatever people made me listen to was always dancey or quirky or poppy. I know most critics and serious music fans like them, so I’m in the minority. Or I just haven’t been converted yet – we’ll see.

What Do I Know About Speaking In Tongues: Nothing concrete. I know it reviewed well and I have heard the name. I may have heard some songs from it or the whole album in passing, but if I don’t remember it it didn’t make an impact. Looking at the track-list – no bells a-ringing, my first thought is ‘how dare you have only 9 songs – only metal bands can have 9 songs on an album’.

Burning Down The House: Hello? Right, there’s the music. I had an inkling this was going to be this. I’ve gone on record before saying that the Tom Jones version of this is one of my least favourite songs of all time. Musically I like this a little more, but vocally it’s horrendous. The music is all blippy blappy moonman stuff and that prevents the main melody from grating as much as the cover does. It doesn’t become repetitive, like the cover, as the music differs enough from one moment to the next but it’s still not something I’d need to hear again.

Making Flippy Floppy: Moonman fade in. Terrible beats and worse vocals. Now this one is repetitive. It sounds like a bad Prince song. At least the bass and instrumentation are sometimes interesting, but it sounds very dated. There’s a whole tonne of lyrics but from one I can pick up without studying, it sounds like random nonsense. Some sort of snaking solo in the middle, sounds nice but the drums ruin it. Nothing hear to make me want to listen again. I assume a lot of people will like to dance to this, and the lyrics give the appearance of intelligence so it’s okay for people who don’t like generic dance music to get into it. Could have a minute shaved off and not lose anything.

Girlfriend Is Better: Listen – the whole 80s synthesized drums thing has always been a problem for me. I’ve never liked it, and I still don’t. That funky staccato guitar is almost identical in every song so far. The vocals are never going to be for me. A lot of the other musical stuff going on is okay, but the songs themselves and the lead melodies don’t deserve the pieces that I do enjoy. In other words, the songs are crap but there are little pieces int he background which should have been cut and paste into a better song. Once again, if I was off my face and dancing this would be fine, but then someone’s vomit hitting the bowl is enough to make me dance when I’m off my face. Haven’t the time or patience to study the lyrics but they seem the most interesting part. In summary – bits I like, but not enough.

Slippery People: The drums are better in this so far. More blips and blaps. The the same guitar. Then the same vocals. I can’t really say ask to replace the vocals and guitar, and in most cases the drums, because then it would be a completely different band apart from the one everyone else seems to love. Backing vocals spice things up a bit, but unfortunate the whole thing is so monotone. That’s always one of the issues I had with a lot of punk – the lack of vocal melody – but at least it was backed up by sheer force or emotion. This has plenty of groovy backing musical parts which are nice – probably my favourite song so far but that’s hardly saying a lot. I guess I’m interested in what sort of person really loves this. Plenty of people in the comments on Youtube are proclaiming each song as the best ever (standard for any video), but I can’t see your standard punk person getting it. Post-punk yeah, but post-punk rarely works for me, people who like pop and dance stuff I would guess this is too strange for them. For me, it’s both not strange enough, lacks emotion, lacks melody, and it’s too repetitive.

I Get Wild/Wild Gravity: Here come the bad drum sounds. Same guitar, but with echo effects. Sounds like something from a Karate Kid knock-off. I’d appreciate this more if I could see it freaking more people out. I love weird for the sake of weird, but it only works for me when it’s either a complete failure or no-one cares. When it tries to hard to be offbeat and ends up sounding just like everything else, but with a slight twist, then it doesn’t work for me. I think that’s part of the issue with this band and me. It’s commercially weird. It’s not buck nuts. That and the repetition and ‘fake’ nature of the music kills it for me. And the melodies just pass over me like they’re not there.

Swamp: Actually, I’m thankful this is only nine songs. This intro reminds me of one of Rod Stewart’s 80s songs. You know, that one where he’s walking towards the camera with his sleeves up. That’s probably all of them, but anyway. Different vocals and different guitar this time. Still no melodies worth mentioning. It’s funny how all the Youtube comments on these songs are like a secret club It’s funny how those comments are more interesting than the songs. Hand clap drums are the spawn of Putin. The vocals remind me somewhat of Bowie – there’s a range but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. For me, I qualify again. You like them, good for you, but they’re not for me. I like my vocals to be ripped from the guts of Hell.

Moon Rocks: Reggae start? Hope not, because that shit rarely flies with me. Why is every song 5.45? Is that intentional? It’s certainly funky, but I don’t think the vocals fit. The music keeps being more interesting than the melodies. The jangled guitars are back. Nice bass going on. Some sort of moonman interlude. Messing in the studio. Making noise from nothing. This one is so overtly funky that it’s hard to not get down. Probably the best one so far, benefits from the occasional melodic turn. Is there enough for me to care?

Pull Up The Roots: More hand clap beats. Come on – how did know one hear this and immediately think it was a terrible idea? Here come the vocals, all over the place again. Better melody for chorus. More Youtube comments saying how ‘normal’ people won’t get it. That’s just what I’ve been saying. It’s not weird or unusual. If you’re enjoying it and blasting it from your car, it isn’t weird enough, it’s 100% normal. It’s not the vocal style of most bands, but that doesn’t mean normal people don’t get it as much as it means it’s not good. And many many vocalists from the era adopted this style – not sure if this was first but Bowie was at it long before this was released. The best thing I can say is that it is funky or you can dance to it. I rarely consider a song’s ability to make you want to dance as a compliment. A better compliment would be that something like this would never chart today, because everything is so bland – credit for not being bland, but I’d never consider it weird.

This Must Be The Place: It’s just… it sounds so weak. I know I’m a metal and rock fan and am used to songs existing solely to blow my head off, but that’s not all I listen to. I listen to plenty of gentle music in traditionally softer genres, but even those feel more vibrant and energetic than this – not weak. Maybe it’s the artificiality of it. I don’t know. It sounds like standard middle of the road pop to me. Maybe because it’s my first and only listen, but this song just blends in with the others and doesn’t stand out. I know it’s different and even has a different approach, but at this point in the album that central vibe is a plague. Criticism at its best, folks!

What Did I Learn: When people say punk I still immediately think of angry young people screaming over three minute guitar based songs, but there’s more to it. I’ve always known that, but I think this and a lot of other stuff got erroneously labelled punk too. It’s entirely something else, but if people have deemed it punk or post then fine. This was exactly the album and style and sound I anticipated it would be, and my feelings about the band haven’t changed. It’s a sound I don’t enjoy, though I can see why some people do. I don’t understand why it’s held in such high esteem even though I should be the target audience. To me it’s too weak, it’s not weird enough, it’s not as adventurous as it either thinks or as it once was, and the monotonous looping of it all keeps me at arm’s distance.

Do I Think It Should Be In The Top 1000 Albums Of All Time: My opinion is an easy no. To me it sounds like every other Talking Heads work I’ve ever heard and sounds a hell of a lot like many other 80s bands. That sound is so ingrained that it could be a one-hit wonder act or an established artist or Talking Heads – too similar. Of course I’m aware I’m missing most of the nuances which come with dedicated listens and familiarity, but these posts are all about first time, one time listens. I can’t say how influential this was over any other Talking Heads album but Wikipedia tells me this is their fifth so I can only assume their earlier stuff was more influential? There’s not enough I’ve enjoyed here to spur me on to investigate further, but if you’re a fan fill me in in the comments. As is increasingly the case with these albums, I feel like I should apologise for not liking it and if any fans are reading this they’re probably frothing at the beak at how fucking stupid I am for not getting it. You like it? Great. Not for me. Did I say that already? It’s better than most modern chart stuff, I’ll give it some credit.

Colin Larkin’s Ranking: 965/1000

Let us know in the comments what you think of Speaking In Tongues!

Nightman Listens To – David Bowie – Tonight!

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Greetings, Glancers! We’re back in Bowieville today with an album I know absolutely nothing about. Most of the Bowie albums, even though I had not previously listened to them, I was at least aware of their name or their popularity or success. This one I don’t recall ever hearing of, so my first assumption is that it was not well received. Lets check the tracklist… oh. Is this a cover album? It seems like at least half of the songs are covers… that usually means a quick rush job to capitalize on success and keep things ticking over while you plan your actual next album. Right, all signs point towards this not being great, but I hope I’m wrong.

Loving The Alien: Well, this certainly starts out with an 80s vibe – that dreadful 80s drum sound is here in full force, but the overall 80s vibe isn’t too cheesy, instead hitting the right nostalgic chord with me. The vocals… I’m not sure yet whether they are okay are annoying…. bit of both really. Great bridge between verse and chorus. It’s just a tad odd, not enough to put most people off, but just odd enough for people to mutter ‘wtf is this’ to themselves while still liking it. I haven’t, or can’t pay attention to the lyrics here… seems to be something about religion? A good guitar solo/off kilter string section in the middle, leads to a longer instrumental section which is mostly a repetition of the main melody along with strings. Then a guitar solo. Just an extended jam to close. This was perfectly fine – not amazing, not bad, interesting.

Don’t Look Down: Neon drenched steamy US detective show. With added reggae. I’m not a fan of the whole white boy reggae thing. I don’t think I’ve heard the original. It’s slow. Pretty one-note, doesn’t change much from minute to minute. Nothing wrong, but I wouldn’t choose to listen to it again.

God Only Knows: Hmm, well it’s different enough from the original. Very deep vocals, made into more of a drone than what The Beach Boys did. I like the string parts and the stutters. Added horns.

Tonight: You know it’s the 80s when people duet with Tina Turner. More reggae, so not to my tastes. I would enjoy this song much more if they didn’t go for that style, as it’s quite sweet and soothing. I think I’ve heard the original, but can’t remember it at the moment.

Neighbourhood Threat: So, it’s A View To A Kill. Man, this reeks of a lost 80s power rock classic. Again, I’ve probably heard the original, but can’t recall it. Still, this is my favourite on the album since the opener.

Blue Jean: There is a consistent sound and tone throughout the album, I’ll give it that. And even with all the 80s stuff, it never becomes too 80s.

Tumble And Twirl: This one is a little bit reggae, a little disco, and a little 80s rock. Too many horns for my liking. Turns into a bit of a dancing bonanza. Goes on a bit.

I Keep Forgettin: This isn’t overly different from the original, retaining a streamlined old fashioned rock and roll feel. Definitely feels like a bit of random B material.

Dancing With The Big Boys: With all the Iggy covers it only seems fitting to close on a song which features him. Drums feel like the opening to another Bond song. Guitar kind of follows that line of thought. Too many trumps for my liking, as is the case many many times. This comes across as just another average, forgettable rock song.

So, a consistently 80s sounding record without falling into the usual trappings of 80’s guff. It still sounds like a Bowie album, even if a lot of the songs are covers, and unlike many of the other stars of the 70s who struggled to keep up with the new decade. I’d likely only listen to two of the songs again, and the rest is miscellaneous take it or leave it stuff. Not good, not bad, very indifferent. At least it wasn’t an embarrassment, but it’s not one I’ll remember. Let us know your thoughts on Tonight in the comments!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Loving The Alien. Neighbourhood Threat.

Nightman Listens To: The Beach Boys – Surfin Safari!

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Greetings, Glancers! Glutton for punishment as I am, it’s time to undertake another massive undertaking by listening to all thirty (count ’em) studio albums by The Beach Boys. Unless I become their biggest fan, this journey isn’t going to cover EPs, Live albums, or compilations. As alluded to in my announcement post, I’ve known The Beach Boys for as long as I can remember. Their songs are everywhere and eternal. I remember one of my last days in P7, my teacher decided to just let us mess about all day while he played Beach Boys songs, and he would occasionally quiz us on the band, presumably to mock us young’uns and our love for the Nirvana and the Rave. I knew quite a few of the songs, so he was impressed.

We start, in a shocking twist, with their first album from way back in 1962. When I first started listening to The Beatles, I never realised that The Beach Boys actually got their first records out before The Fab Four. I’ve no idea if any of these early albums are any good, but that’s what I’m here to find out. In terms of the band’s history and how they developed as a band, I don’t know all that much. I know they started out with the three Wilson brothers and two others, I know they started out as a surfer band and eventually experimented more though I don’t know how their sound changed. I know Pet Sounds is considered their best, I know Brian Wilson went a bit wrong for a while… but that’s about it. I know most of their singles and I’ve probably heard other album tracks. There’s a couple I recognise here, but lets just get on with it.

Surfin’ Safari‘ opens the album and pretty quickly gives away that familiar sound you think of when someone mentions the band – harmonies, warmth, guitar tone, clambering bass. I guess the first thing to say is that the production is a little flat – you can tell this was a first album, and you can tell it was made before the significant advances which would come over the next five years. The backing vocals are deeper than what I would expect – maybe the US wasn’t quite prepared for singers who weren’t big burly men in suites or cowboys with low down croons. The lyrics are mostly nonsense, various rhymes about surfing. Even here, the first song on their first album, the band have captured the ability to write a catchy melody – while the vocals leave something to be desired at times, and the playing is fine, it’s those melodies and harmonies which catch the attention.

County Fair’ opens with a similar rhythm and pace. The lead vocals are still a little off, but this one is quirkier due to the entertaining spoken word parts which come off as charming rather than corny. The lyrics are stronger here, actually telling a simple story with clear language instead of the random surf repetitions of the first song. Melodically, very similar to the first.

Ten Little Indians‘ seems misjudged to the modern listener. I guess we can forgive it because it was a less enlightened time. It’s based on the nursery rhyme – adding contemporary music to old poems and rhymes is something I don’t mind, but it rarely works. This song is as simple as they come, and again it’s almost the same rhythm and melodies as the others. Still enjoyable.

Chug A Lug‘ opens in a very similar fashion to I Get Around. It’s funny that the band are name-checking themselves and it’s not very serious. It’s still flat production wise but very catchy. It has a nifty organ and guitar solo piece, but then it’s hurt by a hand-clapping section – always a no for me.

Little Girl‘ has more of a 1950s vibe. That’s because this is a cover. I don’t think I’m familiar with any other version. It breaks up the familiar rhythm and melody style of the album, while retaining the Beach Boys sound. It goes without saying that all these songs are very short.

409‘ starts with some engine revving. I’m assuming a 409 is a car or a road or something. I wouldn’t go as far as comparing The Beach Boys with chavs, but liking cars is something both have in common. US Muscle Cars or Hot Rods or whatever they’re talking about are more interesting to me than what the British chav raves about. But yeah, I don’t care about cars. The giddy up giddy up stuff is funny enough, but it gets repetitive quickly. Luckily it’s short so doesn’t get annoying.

Surfin‘ starts with the deeper vocals again, before bringing in the lighter harmonies and leads. It’s another which has either nonsense or simple lyrics about surfing. All I know about surfing is from Big Wednesday and Baywatch. And that 80s Popeye spin off with his kids.

Head You Win-Tales I Lose‘ goes for a different direction – a percussive intro. The familiar stuff joins quickly and it’s the same uppy downy melodies as most of the other songs, with the same rhythm. With these songs alone you could write your own authentic Beach Boys song by this point and no-one would know any better. I like the chorus – the high vocal/deep vocal accompanied by the double guitar chords.

Summertime Blues‘ is another cover, obviously. It’s mostly similar to the original, though with added sweetness and harmonies. A bit too soft for my tastes compared to the original.

‘Cuckoo Clock‘ is another which reminds me of 50s rock, that swaying between minor and major. Good cuckoos, but the verse vocals aren’t great. More silly lyrics, but it is still pulled off with an innocence or charm or some nameless quality. Good that the style is slightly different from most of the other songs, again retaining the core song.

Moon Dawg‘ has a drum intro which reminded me, of all things, of Mastodon. I’ve no idea what a Moon Dawg is – Sixties slang or some such. I’m going to take it literally and imagine it is a dog made out of Moon chunks, its eyes as craters and its tongue a barren airless void. This is gonna be an instrumental, is it? Well, we have some ahhs and oohs and barks. I’ve said it before, but unless an instrumental is a masterpiece I probably won’t care for it. This isn’t a masterpiece.

The Shift‘ closes the album and returns to the standard rhythm and melody. It sounds a bit pervy, lyrically. Not much to say about it – there’s a solo in there which isn’t all that different from the others on the album, it moves swiftly, it’s not as catchy as others.

That’s kind of what I expected from a Beach Boys albums – short catchy songs with that trademark sound. It’s lacking in big hits, it doesn’t vary much, but it retains a summery feeling and is easy listening. Nothing challenging here, but good signs from a band just starting out and new to the musical world. I wouldn’t lift anything off this onto my personal playlist, but I wouldn’t be averse to hearing any of it again.

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

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: N/A

Nightman Listens To – The Style Council – Our Favourite Shop (Top 1000 Series)!

When I started writing this series of Listens To! posts, my idea was to:

A: Listen to the tonnes of albums I have acquired over the years that I hadn’t bothered to actually listen to yet and give my thoughts as I listened for the first time.

B: Catch up on those artists that I was aware of/liked certain songs by, but whose albums I had never listened to in their entirety.

C: Potentially get some new favourites based off what I heard or by recommendations from my billions of readers.

D: Because there are a tonne of albums which always appear on best of lists which I have never heard.

As a musician, music fan, and human with working ears, I feel that I should give these a go. To get some focus, I decided to go to 2000 Edition of ‘Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums’ because it looks fairly comprehensive (and there are a few extra sections listing top 100 albums by genre which cover selections left out of the main 1000 which I will also try to cover).

When I started writing this series of Listens To! posts, my idea was to:

A: Listen to the tonnes of albums I have acquired over the years that I hadn’t bothered to actually listen to yet and give my thoughts as I listened for the first time.

B: Catch up on those artists that I was aware of/liked certain songs by, but whose albums I had never listened to in their entirety.

C: Potentially get some new favourites based off what I heard or by recommendations from my billions of readers.

D: Because there are a tonne of albums which always appear on best of lists which I have never heard.

As a musician, music fan, and human with working ears, I feel that I should give these a go. To get some focus, I decided to go to 2000 Edition of ‘Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums’ because it looks fairly comprehensive (and there are a few extra sections listing top 100 albums by genre which cover selections left out of the main 1000 which I will also try to cover).

When I started writing this series of Listens To! posts, my idea was to:

A: Listen to the tonnes of albums I have acquired over the years that I hadn’t bothered to actually listen to yet and give my thoughts as I listened for the first time.

B: Catch up on those artists that I was aware of/liked certain songs by, but whose albums I had never listened to in their entirety.

C: Potentially get some new favourites based off what I heard or by recommendations from my billions of readers.

D: Because there are a tonne of albums which always appear on best of lists which I have never heard.

As a musician, music fan, and human with working ears, I feel that I should give these a go. To get some focus, I decided to go to 2000 Edition of ‘Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums’ because it looks fairly comprehensive (and there are a few extra sections listing top 100 albums by genre which cover selections left out of the main 1000 which I will also try to cover).

When I started writing this series of Listens To! posts, my idea was to:

A: Listen to the tonnes of albums I have acquired over the years that I hadn’t bothered to actually listen to yet and give my thoughts as I listened for the first time.

B: Catch up on those artists that I was aware of/liked certain songs by, but whose albums I had never listened to in their entirety.

C: Potentially get some new favourites based off what I heard or by recommendations from my billions of readers.

D: Because there are a tonne of albums which always appear on best of lists which I have never heard.

As a musician, music fan, and human with working ears, I feel that I should give these a go. To get some focus, I decided to go to 2000 Edition of ‘Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums’ because it looks fairly comprehensive (and there are a few extra sections listing top 100 albums by genre which cover selections left out of the main 1000 which I will also try to cover).

When

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Greetings, Glancers! Once more it’s time for me to broaden my horizons by listening to one of the greatest albums of all time. It’s fair to say that I haven’t been overwhelmed in my journey thus far – while there have been good moments, great moments, most of what I have listened to hasn’t been my cup of tea. Add to that fact the other fact that I hate tea. And coffee. Someone needs to ban that shit.

What Do I Know About The Style Council: Absolutely nothing. Although, something way back in the darkest recesses of my mind a little voice is squeaking ‘aren’t they one of those ‘orrible ska bands’. And oh crap, yeah, that does sound familiar. I have a vision of a pack of douches in hats playing ‘orrible ska. I really hope I’m wrong about this, because if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s ska. I’ve definitely heard the name, but I can’t connect the dots.

What Do I Know About Our Favourite Shop: They say never judge a book by its cover. When it comes to people, in many cases that metaphor is apt. When it comes to books, in most cases the metaphor is shit – if you don’t like the cover, you probably won’t like the book. When it comes to music, I find that if a band has a name, or if an album has a name that rubs me the wrong way, then nine times out of ten I won’t like said band or album. Having said all of that, this is a terrible name, or at least it’s one which does rub me the wrong way. Couple that with my ska concern, and not one part of any of this sounds promising. Oh God.

Homebreakers: Well, the second I visited youtube to listen to this, the game was up as I recognised Paul Weller. So that’s where I know the name from, suddenly it all fits. For the most part I like Paul Weller, in my limited listening of his work with The Jam, though sometimes he does veer awfully close to some of the ska punk bands…. Anyway… this opens with some Tube Station stuff. It’s a decent intro which suddenly becomes worrying when the brass comes in – brass equals Ska. I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I can count on a very few fingers the songs where brass is added that I’ve enjoyed. This is all quite funky, though it does feel very 80s. It’s certainly jazz infused, what with the horns and backing vocals – not a huge fan of the main vocal work or the melodies, but I could get used to the melding of styles.

All Gone Away: This for some reason reminds me of The Beautiful South – another of my most hated things. On the flip side it also reminds me stylistically and lyrically of Joni Mitchell, which is a much better thing. This is very… cute? I won’t go so far as calling it twee, but it’s nice, less depth than the first song musically, but I prefer the vocals and melodies. It could be the satirical intro to some twisted sitcom.

Come To Milton Keynes: I’d rather not. More organ, again which screams ska. There’s something lazy and sunny about the songs so far which keeps making me think of cheesy sitcoms or Caribbean beaches. The rhythm of the songs so far is very similar to each other which makes the vocals feel samey. There’s a nice middle section here to break things up, but I already know if this rhythm doesn’t change up in future songs I’ll get irritated before long. Now an unnecessary, but thankfully brief spoken part.

Internationalists: Great drum bombast gives way to funky guitar and stupid horns. A more hectic pace. Nifty guitar work in the middle. This is marginally more to my tastes. Still very 80s.

A Stones Throw Away: This starts wonderfully – give strings a chance to shine and I’ll be in love. This sounds familiar, actually – both reminding me of The Smiths, The Beatles, and making me question if I’ve heard it before. I am noticing the subtle and less subtle political lyrics. Great vocals this time, and the melodies blend with the strings. This was bloody fantastic.

The Stand Up Comic’s Instructions: They’re not going to, are they? Is that Lenny Henry? Yes. Talking, near rapping over some funky jazzy wank. Mostly this reminds me of The Wall. More political stuff. I’m surprised a bunch of idiots haven’t commented here calling this lefty PC Commie cuck agendist leftist crap. Yeah, idiots.

Boy Who Cried Wolf: This feels unusually sexy. A more straightforward pop song, and while I haven’t paid attention to the lyrics this time it sounds more like a love song of sorts. I can see the influence of this in a lot of later R’n’B. Mostly very nice.

A Man Of Great Promise: Church bells always depress me or put me on edge. A bunch of these songs make me think of another 80s band, but I can’t quite place it. Musically this is lovely again, not quite enough to make me seek it out again, but good enough for me to recommend it and not mind hearing it more. Lyrically it sounds like a dedication… I assume Paul’s not singing about himself.

Down In The Seine: Come on, I know I’ve heard this somewhere. I have no clue where, but this is definitely familiar. I’m still getting vibes of all the aforementioned bands. Now French vocals, now accordion. Good stuff again, the album getting stronger after a stumbling start.

The Lodgers: Ah, nice vocal intro. Breaks away into more 80s Floyd funk. Good lyrics, great rhythm, I like the vocals, the melodies. I could do without the organ.I’m even getting a Michael Jackson vibe here. I’d like to say this is superb, but purely personal preference holds me back from saying it. But it is very good. Thank God it’s not what I thought.

Luck: I don’t feel this one as much, though admittedly I was reading something about some Instagram bin-lid going on a racist rant about Martin Luther King while listening. This is quite poppy, what with all the vocal waverings going on. It’s fine, summery. This time it reminds me of both Phil Collins and Cartoone.

With Everything To Lose: Another merging the male and female vocals. Reminds me of Spanish holidays. That rhythm is back. This one’s just okay for me, not as strong as the ones I’ve called out as enjoying.

Our Favourite Shop: That sounds like one of the instruments I used to select on my dad’s old keyboard – like the keyboard version of a bass guitar. Still, it’s funky, there’s some funky organ, some sort of cowbell, piano, and… is this all an instrumental? You probably know my feelings on instrumentals – they have to be truly exceptional or exceedingly hooky to get me listening more than a few times. This is neither, but it ain’t ‘alf bad, guv. Pretty ballsy to name your album after an instrumental track, I guess.

Walls Come Tumbling Down!: I feel like this would have worked better if it had properly merged with the song before. Bowie vocals. Lady vocals too. Full disclosure. It’s a few weeks between listening to this song and listening to the previous tracks and this feels very similar to one I’ve already heard. Nevertheless, I like it well enough and wouldn’t switch channel or song if it came on. Can’t say I’d go searching for it though.

What Did I Learn: That The Style Council is not a Ska band and features Paul Weller. That I liked it more than I thought I would. That judging a book by its cover, or a band by their name is perfectly acceptable – as long as you have a few other facts to help.

Does It Deserve To Be In The Top 1000 Albums Of All Time: I liked it more often than not, but that’s not nearly enough for me to say it deserves a spot. I can tell at a high level it had an influence on later groups, but those groups would tend to be ones I don’t like or listen to much. I can’t give any good reason why it shouldn’t be included, so I fall on a maybe for this one.

Colin Larkin’s Ranking: 706/1000

Let us know in the comments what you thought of The Style Council’s ‘Our Favourite Shop’ and if it’s in your list of favourites!

Nightman Listens To Bon Jovi – Have A Nice Day

Have_a_Nice_Day_Bon_Jovi_album

Greetings, Glancers! We’re back with another slice of MOR tunes courtesy of those mulleted 80s minstrels Bon Jovi. Last time around we checked out Bounce, and since that album the band released two curios – This Left Feels Right which was basically updated versions of classics, and that one about millions of fans which was a boxset of some sort. Have A Nice Day was their ninth studio album, and their first of original music in three years. I’ve heard the title track on this one but beyond that I don’t recognise any of the other songs listed below. Maybe listening with refresh my memories.

Have A Nice Day: This has always been a straight-forwards, no nonsense rocker with an inspirational set of lyrics with just enough rebellion to bridge the gap between chart sensibility and those looking for something just a touch harder. It’s a step down from It’s My Life but for most people probably not noticeably so. You should know the score with their hits now – big chorus that forces you to shout along.

I Want To Be Loved: This opens like a very specific Bryan Adams song but soon transforms into what feels like an under the radar Bon Jovi hit. It’s very middle of the road and commercial but it continues the inspirational theme – not giving up, always fighting and all that. The verses aren’t the most adventurous but they do build nicely and allow the two part chorus to be the focal point. It’s another good chorus but the song as a whole never reaches that top gear to tip it into their upper echelon songs.

Welcome To Wherever You Are: A soft intro, so assuming we’re in ballad territory. This one has a video, so assuming it was a single. Nice enough verses, again with a focus on the self – don’t be hard on yourself, you’ll be okay, you’re in control, chin up etc. It’s another B grade Bon Jovi song – good, probably feels better to me than it actually is because it hasn’t been over-exposed, but not any chance of it being promoted to the A grade status.

Who Says You Can’t Go Home: Bon Jovi have always been a band about lifting your spirits up – musically, lyrically, and making you feel good, but this is four songs on the trot which are specifically about those very ideas. This one has a very nineties video which adds a nice touch of nostalgia for me. It sounds very much like a song I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s so damn happy that I don’t care. I believe I have heard this one before and while it’s most likely a B Grade for them, it’s fresh enough, charming enough for me to allow it to sneak in to their A Grade. A nice surprise and good to see that they can still make music at this point in their careers that I would gladly hear again.

Last Man Standing: Faster, heavier, and with a different atmosphere that the previous tracks. I would have preferred the verses to have a little more of the oomph of the intro, but by and large the atmosphere and energy is continued. The chorus is a marginal let down for me – as a standalone chorus it is fine, but as a chorus to follow that intro and verse, it doesn’t feel as impactful. Still, this is five decent songs so far that I don’t have anything truly negative to bring up.

Bells Of Freedom: I realise that the album has had, not on the nose patriotism, but a definite sense of the spirit of the USA thanks to the inspirational sounds and themes. I haven’t clicked play on this yet, but I expect this one to be more up front with a name like that. It actually opens with a bell, then acoustics and vocals fade in. The verse is good but the chorus feels an awful lot like This Ain’t A Love Song. It isn’t exactly on the nose, but the lyrics do evoke all of the traditional apple pie USA stuff without explicitly calling them out. With a better chorus this could have squeezed into the upper tier Bon Jovi stuff, but it doesn’t quite get there and is more lower B tier for me and the fact that it is dragged out pushes it more towards average.

Wildflower: A brief intro suggests another softer ballad. Piano and drum led verses are a little different and the chorus doesn’t get much heavier. It adds some dynamics thanks to some strings and guitars and it all fits together coherently. I like the melodies throughout, Jon tries a little too hard to add unnecessary vocal tics, but on the whole it’s another decent song.

Last Cigarette: Five songs to go and I’m not sure they can maintain this momentum. Hopefully they can, but the album runs the risk of becoming too samey. This starts with single chords and vocals, followed up by an edgier drum and vocal piece, and then straight into an upbeat chorus – it all works. The rest of the song follows this format with some additional energy sprinkled on top. The guitars haven’t been at the forefront in this album, with only a couple of basic solos not really worth mentioning so far – there’s one here too. The band goes for a strange childlike choir section after the solo, unusual for them, but they pull it off before closing out with another chorus.

I Am: Instantly with the atmosphere. This is quite funny to me because it sounds very close to a British band you won’t have heard of but which I love, called Haven. Not the vocals, but that intro and some of the melodies are scarily close to a couple of their songs. This is more like the Bon Jovi stuff I enjoy – understated yet powerful at the same time. I’ve no idea how well known or popular this song is but it’s another one I wasn’t aware of which I think goes well with their best hits. The lyrics are once again concerned with the self, with positivity, encouragement.

Complicated: Gets straight down to business. The verse is quite similar to the opening track as well as It’s My Life and the verse feels too by the numbers. The band landed on the word ‘complicated’ and built a simple chorus around it, making sure it rhymed and scanned okay but with little imagination. As a radio rock song it does the job, but it lacks any of the adventure of their hits. When a band has been going for a while, you can tell the songs which didn’t take a lot of care in construction from those which did.

Novocaine: A breathless, wordy verse kicks things off, slowly builds to a decent drawling chorus. Standard drug/love metaphor lyrics. I like how there are very few breaks in the vocals between sections. I like this – not sure how many more times I’d want to hear it though. A strange whispering, talking section closes it out.

Story Of My Life: Closing with a ballad it seems. Piano intro. Are they going to go full piano or – no, there’s the explosion. It’s a booming end, with jubilant melodies and the same care-free energy which has symbolized their career. No complaints about this one, though I think the chorus could have been more emotive. A good end to a good album.

A very consistent album without a single weak link. There isn’t a standout track for me – a couple of quite good ones, a couple of weaker ones that it’s clear not a lot of effort or thought was put into, and the rest are better than average without quite hitting the heights. As I mentioned throughout, the whole thing is designed to be uplifting, comforting, and very easy to get along with – sing and dance easily. As much as I like to make fun of the band – I give them more credit than most – but to be this far into their career and still making worthwhile songs while retaining what made them popular in the first place, gives a warm sense of security. I have many favourite bands who burned out after a couple of albums, so for the big Bon Jovi fans out there it must be wonderful to hear the band still putting out stuff which they should love. I believe this will be the last album I’ve definitely heard tracks off, and while I’m not sure if it was their last big hit, every other album they’ve released since will be almost 100% unfamiliar to me.

Let us know what you think of Have A Nice Day in the comments!

Nightman’s Favourite Songs Of All Time: California Dreamin’ – The Mamas And The Papas

California Dreamin‘ is a song that, up until recently, I wouldn’t have considered one of my favourite songs. Not because I never liked it, just because I never much thought about it. Typically when I talk about my favourite songs, they are the ones that have somehow shaped my life or my musical taste or are by one of my all time favourite artists. In this instance none of those statements fit. So why is it featured in this series? Like some song posts to come in the future, it’s simply because the some is so fucking good I can’t ignore it. I’ve been listening to it more and more in the last year and pining for someone to start a new pop movement where the songs are as strong as this. The song has always been there in my life, not because I purposefully put it on or had an album with it but more simply because it was released a good eighteen years before I was born and was so popular that it continued to be played on radio stations and in movies and shows as I was growing up.

That seems like a good place to start – the song was released in 1965 and over the next couple of years became one of the seminal counter-culture hits. It’s one of those songs which makes me yearn for the USA – as many problems as it has always had, sometimes something comes along which makes you want to be a US citizen living and breathing and existing in the same world that the song talks about. It was a hit single in the States and made the Top 40 in The UK, before a re-release in the late 90s saw it finally crack the Top 10. It’s one of those songs which is predominantly 60s but yet endures in each new generation both in its original form and thanks to copious cover versions. While The Mamas And The Papas version is the best, cover versions include Sia, The Beach Boys, America, and Nancy Sinatra have all had a turn yet it was some dodgy German techno thing which garnered the song its first Number 1 placement.

At barely over 150 seconds long, the song is a perfect example of how to do a pop single with no fluff. Perhaps more important, it’s a perfect example of how to do harmonies – in my mind it’s one of the two best examples of this type of harmony ever written, the other being Help! The song even has a lazy pace and a fake-out psychedelic intro in its short running time. That intro strikes me, quite clearly, as the band having no idea how to start the song and getting to the main melody in a smooth way, so instead they just said ‘fuck it’ and cobbled together a few seconds of bizarre psych guitar before blasting straight in. Those melodies? Forget about it. A few seconds in and I’m hooked forever.

Lyrically, it’s the writer yearning for the warmth of California while in a colder part of the country. I’ve never been to California, but the song paints such an idyllic vision of the place that it make it sound like paradise – coupled with the hundreds of movies and shows I watched growing up set in California, hell even the name California has a mythic quality to someone from the dreary, grey, bomb-drenched shores of Ulster. Hearing this song as a kid made me think of long sunny evenings, beaches which stretched as far as they eye could see, and carefree living – feeling which still pervades now even with the cynical mind of a grown-up.

I’ve probably mentioned it countless times on this blog, but the three main elements for me in any song are melody, lyrics, and emotion. This song ticks all three boxes – while I don’t think the band here showcase amazing technical skills or vocals, the lyrics are evocative, the melodies like glue, and it’s all wrapped up in an authentic package. Get those three right, and all of the other important components of music should follow naturally. Get those three right, and even if the other components don’t work, I’ll probably still love your song. Check out my Nightman Scoring System(c) posts for more information on how I break down songs into twenty different components. For now though, click on one of the links throughout this post and enjoy some nostalgic, sun-drenched, melancholic pop.

Let us know in the comments what you think of California Dreamin’ and if there are any other Mamas And Papas songs you think I’d enjoy!

Nightman’s Favourite Songs Of All Time – A Case Of You – Joni Mitchell

Greetings, Glancers! You have been warned. But now it’s too late to turn back, and before you start whacking that back button and trying to get out let me tell you that if you do, there will be an unholy stain on your favourite rug next time you look. You’re stuck with me. Deal with it.

I came around to Joni Mitchell quite late. Late teens. I knew some of her songs when I was a cub – namely Big Yellow Taxi and The Circle Game. One of my best friends was a massive fan and he was living and working in a (basically) psych hospital/home and I would come and stay with him sometimes and get up to all sorts of shenanigans. He essentially had a personnel living quarters/ward to himself which reminded me of the army barracks I used to… well, that’s another story. It had the same feeling – long corridors, common rooms, dimly lit kitchen areas, hefty double doors and fire escapes, and bedrooms which seemed like minor improvements on prison cells. To have all this to yourself was like living in your own castle so naturally we would stay up till dawn watching DVDs, playing guitar, getting drunk, and messing around the halls on the various pieces of cleaning and physical training equipment. I have fond memories of walking around the building at 4.00 am while Fleetwood Mac was blaring through the speakers, before going outside as the sun was coming up and talking to some random ‘inmate’ who happened to be having a smoke (the whole complex was split into different areas from the violent criminally insane section which had its own guards and walls, to the more harmless dementia and addict patients, and many were free to roam as they pleased as far as I could tell).

Back to Joni – my friend would stick on Joni albums and they would be perfect for background chill music, but I’ve never been the sort of person who can ‘tolerate’ music as background sounds. What I mean by that is, if a song is on, I can’t help but listen to it. I focus on it, I zoom in on the instruments and the lyrics and the writing and end up engaging with it more than whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. Having a similar taste in music to me anyway, and frequently introducing each other to new bands, I latched on to Joni pretty quickly. With songs like A Case Of You – how can you not? It remains one of the most sweet, most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.

My wife hates it – she doesn’t do high pitched voices and she can’t listen to anything by Joni without cringing. I get it, even in her most commercial songs, I understand why some people won’t like her voice. She hits some incredibly high notes and at times comes close to being shrill, but by contrast that’s what I love in a vocalist. I like a voice to be strained until breaking point – I don’t usually do smooth vocals, listening to someone like Michael Buble is like having an apple pushed into my ear. The thing that is easy to miss when you dislike her voice is just how perfectly controlled it is – remember this song is little more than her vocal and her Dulcimer, but she performs it like a duet, her voice as the lead instrument and the guitar as a backup. Fans will know that she does this on a lot of her albums, but I think she does it best on her first three or four albums. Those little ascending scale runs she does, the personality on certain inflections, the incredible resilient vibrato, it all lends a unique power and quality that I don’t think any other vocalist has ever matched. Joni has always had that power of commanding a song with a vocal performance meaning that her version of whatever song it is invariably sounds the best.

Which brings me to cover versions. According to Wikipedia, the song has had over 300 official cover recordings. I haven’t heard many of those, and the only one which jumps out at me is the one by Tori Amos – another artist who was frequently played during those debauched nights in the halls – but the likes of Prince, KD Lang, and Michelle Branch have covered it too, and a brief search in Youtube will yield hundreds of results by budding and wannabee singers, songwriters, pop stars all bringing their own voice and personality to it. The song has appeared in multiple movies and TV shows over the decades. It’s a song which has clearly spoken on a deeply personal level to millions of people since it’s debut in 1971 on Blue. What is it then which has made it so universally loved for so long? That’s one of the key questions of music, or art as a whole – how and why something endures. At its most simple, it is because the song resonates emotionally, and love and loss are human facets which have always been and will always be.

At a deeper level, that voice is at once haunting, sweet, reminds of what has been seen as a more ideal time, and somehow captures the listener in their own personal point in time. For whatever reason, people find this song exactly when they need to and years later upon hearing the song it transports you back to those days – as exemplified in my writing above. It’s the inherently catchy melody – a simple chorus switched up by the vocals each time, and it’s the timeless writing. You can mash up the song anyway you like, add a bunch of other instruments, soup it up in the studio, but you can’t really strip it down any further than how it is in its original, purest form. It’s like a newborn in its perfection – sure some people are going to be put off by it and not know what to do when handed it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s perfect. The lyrics are poetic without being obtuse, and universal without being cliche ridden – the truest sign of a great songwriter who can relate feelings we’ve all felt in ways and with words we all understand, but which are entirely personal to the person who wrote them.

Between Joni’s soaring highs and James Taylor’s heartbreaking acoustic, the sparse arrangement doesn’t require any embellishing. I love songs which throw everything at the wall and succeed, and I equally love songs which strut up to a stool on a stage, sit down, and just start playing with utmost confidence saying ‘here I am, you’re going to love me’ like A Case Of You does. There isn’t a single millisecond of bullshit in the entire thing, and it lays the performer and the listener bare. Even as simple and sparse as the song is, it still throws in surprises such as the Canadian National Anthem interlude and the interchange between childlike pain and fear and Godly falsetto. The song may not be the most instrumentally complex in the world, but its difficulty comes in playing it without breaking down – it’s a song you can’t restrain your feelings from, those feelings are transported into you fingers and your voice, and it’s very easy to collapse under the emotional weight of it all.

With all of this praise and with its enduring popularity, you would expect the song to have been a hit. The song was never released as a single, its popularity coming from the acclaim and success of the album Blue which went Platinum in the US and double Platinum in the UK. Each new generation of listeners and artists finds the album and finds this song among its many classics, and they share it far and wide, and so the song continues to connect and find new ears and hearts. Have you heard it? If not, there’s no better time like the present. Click any of the links I’ve popped in throughout this post – they all take you to the same album version video on Youtube and if you like what you hear, I highly recommend you buy Blue from wherever you can get it. It’s one of my favourite albums of all time and features a tonne of songs just as beautiful and powerful as A Case Of You. If you don’t like it… you are a very odd person.

Let us know in the comments what you think of A Case Of You!

Nightman’s Favourite Songs Of All Time

Greetings, Glancers! It’s that time once again when I drop trou’, squat, and squeeze out a fresh, steaming new category into a spreading puddle on the floor. I’ve done my favourite films by year, you’ve seen me listing my favourite songs by particular artists, you’ve been dismayed by my virgin adventures through the greatest albums of all time, and you’ve glimpsed briefly before disgustedly closing my personal blog posts where I talk about myself.

There’s a lot of negativity out there and this blog has its fair share of cynicism and annoyance – what can I say; that’s me. But this is going to act as a counter to all of that guff. These are going to be my purely positive, gushing posts about my favourite songs of all time. Unlike my list posts, and unlike my neverending Manic Street Preachers posts, I’m going to try to give a little of the factual information around the song, its commercial success, its culture significance, and why it means so much to me. I’m aware that there are a number of artists I regularly post about – my Madonna, Bowie, Bon Jovi posts etc, my Manics posts, along with any number of album reviews, but in these posts I’m going to try to hit a wider array of artists. In that vein, many of these songs may be little known, many will be one-hit wonders, many will come from artists you won’t expect me to comment on, and hopefully you’ll get a little more insight into me, and maybe find some new songs to love. I was going to go random – post whatever – then I was going to do it alphabetically by artist, before finally settling on alphabetically by song name.

Isn’t that exciting? Are you excited? You should be. All that’s left for me it to pull up my gunks, wash my hands, and get to work.