The Jam – Setting Sons

In the late 1970s, punk rock met the British mod revival with The Jam. No album better encompassed their sound than 1979’s “Setting Sons”. Musically, The Jam combined the energy of the Sex Pistols, the urgency of The Clash, and the rock/R&B power and sensibilities of The Who to create a sound that gave them a sound that was all their own.

Setting Sons was originally released in 1979, but because they never reached the popularity in the US that achieved in Great Britain, I didn’t discover them until 5 years later when an Army buddy turned me on to them. “Setting Sons” was the first record I heard by them and is still my favorite from their catalogue.

I remember “Eton Rifles” sounding distantly familiar when I first heard “Setting Sons” in ’84, so I’m guessing the song received at least some airplay on Detroit radio stations in ’79, but it flew under my radar. Fortunately, that wouldn’t be the case the second time around.

Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

In a 2009 interview, Florence Welch cited Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane as one of her musical heroes, specifically noting the song “White Rabbit” as having changed her life. I knew there was a good reason I love Florence + The Machine’s music so much.

Although decades separate the music both women created, I hear a lot of Grace Slick in Florence Welch. Sure, there are differences. Florence Welch isn’t one to copy; she is too much of a true artist. Still, the vocal stylings of Grace Slick are impossible to not notice in Florence’s voice. The same goes for the independent “f*ck you, we do what we want” attitude of both in regards to their music.

Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane (and Jefferson Starship) has forever been one of my favorite female vocalists. Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine forever will be.

Jools Holland Meets Rock ‘A’ Boogie Billy

Rock-a-billy music with a boogie-woogie twist.

Hillbilly music is old school country music. I’m talking real old school; the earliest and purist form of country music. Picture the 1920s and ’30s, sitting on a front porch in the deep south with your friends; cutting loose and having fun with a fiddle, banjo, a couple other homemade instruments and a jug of homemade moonshine, and you kind of get the idea. Combine that with early 1950’s rock and roll and you have rock-a-billy music.

So what does legendary British pianist (and Brit telly host) Jools Holland know about distinctly American rock-a-billy music? Enough to know that if you add a boogie-woogie swing to it, you’ve got something that’s really unique and really cooks.

I was compelled to buy this record because I knew Jools Holland as one of the founding members of Squeeze, an alternative band from England whom I was really into and who sound…well, nothing like rock-a-billy or boogie-woogie. They are best known for their songs “Tempted” and “Black Coffee in Bed”. From the title of the album, I knew this would be Jool Holland stepping away from Squeeze and doing something different. But it was more than thatmore than that

Japan – Oil On Canvas

I remember the first time I heard the band Japan. They were like so many classic rock artists I admired yet they were like nothing I had ever heard before. The Bowie, Roxy Music, Brian Ferry and The Talking Heads, were all in there at some measure, as were a few other bands that are best described as trend setters, not followers. But it was the combination of those influences that made Japan so unique. Japan was musical artistry in every sense of the word.

Still, I always wondered, was their sound all studio wizardry or could they actually pull their songs off live. I never had a chance to see Japan in concert but that question was still answered when I ran across a copy of “Oil on Canvas”, the only live album Japan released during their short recording career, from 1978 to 1981.

Fortunately, “Oil on Canvas” was a double LP, because a single record would not have been enough. As a matter of fact, Japan’s live performances here are so good. two records still leave me wanting more. The band absolutely nails the feeling of their studio recordings yet at the same time breathes new life into the songs, mixing them up and changing just enough to let you know they have no intention of performing a studio carbon copy.

The history of rock has always been filled with somebody’s favorite artist that didn’t make it for one reason or another. Its future will forever hold the same. Though the sounds and styles of these bands may differ drastically, one factor is always a constant: they are always true artists. I think Japan knew this when they released their only live record. That’s why they chose a name for it that alluded to true artistry; a name alluding to one of the most classical forms of artistic expression.

Oil on Canvas.

Genesis – Three Sides Live

Whenever I listen to “Three Sides Live”, I cant help but wonder why Genesis chose that as the album’s name, since it was only partially relevant.

When it was released in the United States in 1982, “Three Sides Live” seemed a perfectly descriptive name. It was a double album, so there were four sides – three sides were recorded live and one was studio recorded B-sides and songs from an earlier EP.  So…”Three Sides Live”…Yeah, I get it.

The thing is, when Genesis released “Three Sides Live” at the same time in their native England (as well as in the rest of the U.K. and Europe) the five studio songs on side four were replaced by three more live songs, so all four sides on the record were from live performances. I can’t help but wonder if everyone on the other side of the pond went “‘Three Sides Live’…Yeah…I don’t get it.”

I have both versions of “Three Sides Live”, but only the U.S. version on vinyl.  My U.K. version is on CD, which makes the title even more irrelevant since there aren’t even three sides, let alone three sides live. Either way, both versions have some great music on the fourth side.

 

The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour

This marks the 200th post to my blog. I feel a need to make it about an exceptional album.

In 1967 color TV was a big deal. So were The Beatles. What better combination could there have been then, than to make a colour movie for the telly featuring their music and, of course starring the fab four themselves?

The hour-long programme had to be originally broadcast in black and white when the BBC first aired it on boxing day (the day after Christmas in the U.K.). However, it aired again in colour a couple of weeks later.

Although the album soundtrack to the film was well received, the movie itself – a story of a bus trip across England and the bizarre events that occur on it – was not. Probably because the film had a psychedelic feel to it that was not appreciated by elder viewer. Opinion of the movie changed as time passed and both are now considered classics.

The album came in a gatefold cover that included a 24 page full color book with scenes from the movie. Because of the original packaging, “Magical Mystery Tour” is an album that could never be presented effectively when released decades later on the smaller CD format.

One of the things I find interesting about the Magical Mystery Tour album packaging is that the album the cover uses the American spelling of color when referring to the book inside, but the book itself uses the British spelling of colour when referencing the movie.

Wishbone Ash – New England

Wishbone Ash is a British rock band that formed in the early ’70s and used dual lead guitars that many would bands would try to emulate, but few could equal. Wishbone Ash’s seventh album, “New England” saw them move somewhat away from the strong progressive rock sound they had in their beginning towards a more blues and contemporary sound. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any impressive musicianship on “New England”. By this time Wishbone Ash had become more concise with their songwriting. They were able to fuse a wider array of styles together in the span of one album than they ever did before while still including some impressive dual lead jamming. This helped make “New England” one of Wishbone Ash’s most diversified albums ever and my favorite by them.

Wishbone Ash chose the name “New England” for their seventh album because they had recently moved to that area of the United States to avoid the high tax rates in Great Britain. The tax rate could go as high as 95 percent if you grossed enough income in a year. Many bands simply could not afford to pay their taxes and relocated themselves and their assets to other countries they had lower tax rates.  most didn’t advertise that they were tax exiles. Apparently, Wishbone Ash wasn’t one of them.

Savoy Brown – Street Corner Talking

British bands in the 70s loved to emulate the sound of American Southern blues. If ever there was a British band that sounded like an American southern rock band, it was Savoy Brown, especially on their seventh album, Street Corner Talking. So much so in fact, that for the longest time, I had no idea they were British.

Savoy Brown saw significant changes in the band’s lineup on “Street Corner Talking”. In between this and their previous album, three of the remaining original band members left and formed the band Foghat. This left lead guitarist Kim Simmonds as the only remaining original member. This obviously changed the sound of the band noticeably. Whether for the better or for the worse is debatable. The bottom line is,  they still were able to release one of their best albums ever.

“Street Corner Talking” is loaded with Southern Blues grooves, catchy riffs, and just plain and simply great songs. All of the songs on it are originals, written or co-written by Simmonds, with the exception of the closer, “Wang Dang Doodle”, which was written and originally performed by Dixon. 

“Street Corner Talking” is  album that’s easy to track all the way through. As a matter of fact, I find it impossible not to. The opening track, “Tell Mama” is possibly my favorite Savoy Brown song. I still can’t believe it’s not being played by an American southern rock band.