I have now published my fourteenth and fifteenth books. The Anthropocene Apocalypse and A Passion for Education are both out on Amazon.
I am now turning my attention back to my 537 essential Rock albums. It’s really a vehicle for me to talk about the Rock Music I love and everything else that is of interest to me in connection to it.
I hope you might enjoy it. I guess the 537 will grow into something bigger as I go along and remember other essentials that I just have to include. Who knows?
Whatever happens I will try to put it all together in one form or another into a book.
If there’s anyone you love and think should be in just let me know. Who knows I might agree.
This is Part 5:
41. Bruce Springsteen – the River
Bruce emerged as the saviour of Rock ‘n’ Roll. It was in the doldrums in the 70s and Bruce had a real driving act that was high on energy and showmanship. I love all that but I prefer the quality of lyrics and song-writing that Bruce brought to bear. The River was a brilliant double album. There was a mixture of listenable fast rockers with some great slower ones but the three tracks that made it special for me were ‘Point Blank,’ ‘The River’ and the amazing ‘Independence Day’. They raised it up into another dimension for me. ‘Point Blank’ seemed to sum up to me that feeling that you reached when you realise that life is not going to work out quite the way you idealistically thought it was. The harsh reality intrudes and you get a sense that something is over. We all put our own interpretations and meanings to songs. This one seemed to conjure up that feeling I got when I was twenty two when I realised that my free-wheelin’ days were over. I was going to have to compromise. It felt like something died that day.
‘Independence Day’ was a song I used to play over and over because it summed up all those memories of those days feuding with my parents. They could not understand why I was intent on growing my hair and throwing away my future. They wanted me to have a good happy life. I wanted a good fulfilling life. To them that meant getting qualifications and a good job with enough money to get the things you wanted. To me it meant having fun, sex and friends. I wanted to experience life, do things, meet people, explore ideas and get out there and grabbing it by the balls. I wanted it all. I knew I’d never be happy washing the car, mowing the grass and waving at the neighbours. I was much happier madly rapping with my friends about the universe, music, Kerouac, and the madness of society, war and the machine of society. I wanted my freedom. They despaired. That song hit some of those feelings for me. I loved the word-play.
‘The River’ was also very evocative. It had that same ethereal evocative quality that seemed to sum up that same story. You had your hopes and dreams and they were shattered on the altar of the real world – the society we lived in with all its claustrophobic expectations.
42. Buddy Holly – Buddy Holly Story
What a disaster. Buddy was one of those rare geniuses who had it all. He could play guitar, sing and write incredible songs. He had an ear for a melody. Then a couple of short years and he was gone. It was tragic. We were robbed of decades of brilliance.
The three great losses that give me the greatest heartache are Buddy, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon. There are others, like Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Otis Redding, Kurt Cobain and Jackson C Frank, but I always go back to those three. Jimi was at his creative best and I would have given everything to hear what he would have come up with. John’s death robbed us of any chance of the Beatles getting back together.
All those early Rock ‘n’ Rollers were great but they all seemed to get stuck in a rut that they could not get out of. Their song-writing was all on that one level. Buddy was different. I think he would have fed off the expansion of Rock in the 1960s and done something more adventurous. I would love to have heard him interacting with the Beatles. So sad.
Buddy was the first Rock Star that I got listening to. When I was just ten years old my older friend Clive would play me his Buddy Holly and Adam Faith singles on his old Dansette record player. I was hooked. ‘Peggy Sue’ with that drum-beat was my favourite. I loved all his stuff but this was the first album of Buddy’s that I bought and that young eleven year old me played it to death. I still have it.
Buddy Holly lives!
43. Otis Redding – Otis Blue
Otis was another one-off! An irreplaceable loss!
Soul music for me was that Atlantic Stax label sound that was created by Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Booker T and the rest of the MGs – the Memphis Group. That sound summed up Soul for me with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Joe Tex, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett and Otis. Tamla was too smooth for my tastes and while I liked some of it I preferred it raw and wild. I cannot get my head round some of this modern insipid stuff that goes under the name Soul. For me Soul has that power and intensity that comes straight out of those Gospel roots. It has a seminal raucous energy. If it doesn’t have that it’s not Soul in my book. Otis had so much of it that it roared out of him in every bead of sweat.
During the sixties Soul was not quite part of the Underground scene. That was more about Blues, Progressive, Psychedelia, Folk and Acid Rock. The Underground was into album music with stuff that had a political edge. Soul was more into singles and the charts.
I used to go with Liz to the Soul clubs to dance. That was where it was at. Otis and that Stax sound created a sound that was so full of power and energy that it got your heart and feet pounding.
Otis was brilliant. His voice, energy and performances knocked you into next week. He was also winning over the Underground with his performances. His Monterey act was a tour de force.
Then he was gone.
44. Who – Who’s next
I first heard the Who on ‘Ready Steady Go’ that early sixties Rock TV programme. There wasn’t really much in the way of Rock Music on TV and Radio. The BBC did not value it. It did not fit in with their ethos. We only had a few programmes after the demise of Jack Goode’s 1950s Rock adventures with ‘Oh Boy’ and ‘6 5 Special’; we had ‘Ready Steady Go’, ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ and ‘Juke box jury’. It wasn’t much but we looked forward to it.
‘Ready Steady Go’ was the best. I suppose it was our equivalent of Ed Sullivan except ours was hosted by the exuberant Mod Kathy McGowan and not some old geezer in a suit. It was live, energetic and featured a lot of those early Beat and R&B acts. A lot of bands broke into the scene through those shows.
The Who sounded hard and different with their chunky riffs on ‘I can’t explain’. They caused my ears to prick up and they looked good and different to my fourteen year old self. I loved the power and disdain they brought to proceedings.
The Who featured the best drummer of all time in Keith Moon who was amazing to see live with his pouting mouth and mad flailing hands. Nobody else has really succeeded in making the drums a centre of focus in the act. Keith was a showman par excellence in a band with two other extrovert exhibitionists.
‘Who’s next’ was the best Who album for me. It came out in the heady days of 1971 when the sixties scene had not yet died. We were still buzzing with possibility. We were hopeful of permanent change to society and the music was still vibrant and assertive. ‘Won’t get fooled again’ seemed to sum it up. There was just a hint that things might just be about to fall apart. Within a year the hippie dream was dead and buried. This album is a roaring torrent of the Who in full force at the height of their powers. It seemed far stronger than their more popular Tommy and Quadrophenia. This was raw Who!
45. Traffic – Traffic
Stevie Winwood was the young kid with the powerful Blues voice in the Spencer Davis Group. I think in the latter part of the 1960s he was getting a little jaded with the limitations of Spencer Davis and wanted to get into the Underground Progressive scene and do something different. Traffic were certainly different. By teaming up with Dave Mason, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood Steve turned his talents into producing a more psychedelic experimental sound that was completely different with flute and a range of instruments.
They still did the singles but the strength was in the albums and the live performance. Their sound was really trippy and when played live in full extended jams would groove along into a mesmerising liberating extravaganza.
The first album had the great track Dear Mr Fantasy but I always felt that ‘Feelin’ Alright’ was their best song. Live it was a really hypnotic song spread out over twenty minutes. I don’t think they ever quite captured that magic on the album but none the less the second album ‘Traffic’ had a great range of incredible songs and was one of my favourites. When I was at college I played it over and over. I think it has the edge over ‘Mr Fantasy’.
46. Patti Smith – Easter
Patti Smith was that uncompromising powerhouse who crashed out of New York on the wave of all that Punk energy of the mid-seventies. This was the sound that powered McClaren and the British Punk movement. Patti was full of it.
I particularly loved her ‘Piss Factory’ single and used to play it all the time in the car as I was going to work just to put me in the mood. It’s a shame she never put that on the album. ‘Horses’ came out with its powerful version of ‘Gloria’ that blew the arse off everyone else’s. But it was ‘Easter’ that really grabbed me as an album. The fury of her performance was captured on the album and got straight through to me. It was raw and angry and that is often how I like my Rock to be. It launches straight in with ‘Til Victory’ and storms on through stuff like ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger’, ‘25th Floor’, ‘Privilege’ and ‘Space Monkey’. It was high on rebellion and so was I.
Ironically Patti was heavily into the sixties scene with Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, the Who and Beatles and these were the very people the Punk movement took to breaking away from. Patti didn’t. You could see that ion the stuff she chose to cover. All that stuff about never trusting a hippie was McClaren’s marketing ploy to create an artificial generation gap and a new image for the Sex Pistol’s. It worked very well but Patti proved that the spirit of rebellion was not just a Punk thing. It’s been there right through the whole of Rock, Jazz and Blues. You just have to tap into it.
Some people said that her hit ‘Because the night’, the Springsteen number, was a bit of a sell-out but I loved it.
47. North Mississippi Allstars – Shake hands with Shorty
Just when you think that Rock is truly dead and buried in a coffin of sanitised overproduction overseen by the major labels in their relentless drive to make more money from ‘product’ that does not offend the ears of the ‘middle of the road’ punter and can consequence reach the largest audience; just when you think Simon Cowell and ‘The Voice’, ‘Britain’s got talent’ and other sanitised shit has stolen the minds of all the world and you’ve given up hope; along comes a bunch of vibrant uninhibited musicians whose approach is rowdy, raw and ‘we don’t give a shit’ we’re going for it.
The North Mississippi Allstars was introduced to me by Lester Jones and I was bowled over again. They tapped into the blues from the Mississippi Hill County with the genius of RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough and they did it with panache and exuberance. Their first album ‘Shake hands with Shorty’ was a breath of fresh air in the claustrophobic fem-fresh atmosphere of manufactured contrived garbage. It’s all one great dive down to the most popular common denominator – garbage for the garbage collectors.
They were real.
‘Shake ‘em on down’ really did shake the place. Luther and Cody Dickinson sure knew how to keep it real.
48. Nirvana – Smells like Teen Spirit
The trouble is that there is no unifying global scene anymore, no youth culture that is pushing the political and social packet. I was lucky enough to live through the sixties and Punk but was just too young for the 50s Rock thing.
Grunge evolved out of the Punk scene. It had attitude and style. I loved it. It’s great when something with a different sound comes along. Not only that but Kurt was writing really good songs with great lyrics and melodies. It was heavy but varied and different. His voice was great. ‘Nevermind’ kind of shot out of left-field for me. I had not heard ‘Bleach’.
My sons were really into it. They had a hard life. They had to rebel and it was hard to find something I hadn’t heard of or wasn’t in to that wasn’t completely crap. They thought they’d cracked it with Nirvana – shame I took to them so well.
I still rate ‘Nevermind’ really highly and play it a lot.
49. Velvet Underground – Velvet Underground with Nico
The West Coast San Francisco scene was into a peace and love Acid Rock thing which I loved. Los Angeles was a tougher, more hard edged with that R&B sound but the New York scene was a different scene altogether. It didn’t have any of that peace and love scene. The Velvet Undergound epitomised that.
They were Andy Warhol’s house band at ‘The Exploding Plastic Inevitable’. Like the Psychedelic scene they had great light shows in what was a multi-media extravaganza.
Andy Warhol put Nico in the lead vocal role cos she looked the part. She’d come out of his Chelsea Girls filming. It was inspired. Her voice, with its German accent, brought a totally different texture to the sound. It was a strange band. Lou had come in from Garage Punk bands, Mo was a female drummer which was very unusual for those times and classically trained John Cale brought all these weird experimental discordant bits and different instruments like the electric violin. It all gelled into something very different with a mixture of soft lyrical songs and harder Rock numbers. The subject matter was also totally different with an emphasis on heroin, sado-masochism, violence and transvestism. The two big numbers that knocked everyone out were ‘Waiting for my man’ about scoring heroin in Harlem and ‘Heroin’ which was a graphic account of a heroin fix that build up to a big climax. The softer numbers created a nice contrast of light and dark.
I visited New York in 1971 but I didn’t get to see the Velvets or get any flavour of that street scene. I guess I was focussed on the Greenwich Village Scene at the time.
This album blew everyone away because of its totally unique varied character. It came out in 1967 and was immediately seen as one of those important albums. There was a whole bunch of them that year. However it didn’t really get universal recognition for a while. But the Velvet Underground were seen as one of those seminal bands that were to prove so influential on all those who came after.
I liked ‘White Light- White Heat’ but I think this first album was the best.
50. Lightnin’ Hopkins – Lightnin’ Strikes
Dick Brunning introduced me to the blues and Lightnin’ Hopkins when I was fourteen. This album was very different to anything I’d ever heard before. I was into Rock ‘n’ Roll with Little Richard, Chuck Berry and co, and Beat music with the Beatles, Stones, Kinks and Who. It took me a while to get my ears attuned to Lightnin’s blues.
This album sounded as if it had been recorded in a really big echoey old building. There was a lot of atmosphere and a great depth to the sound.
There was just Lightnin’ Hopkins with an amplified electric guitar and some bottle tops nailed on to his shoes. You could imagine him sitting in some empty church or a chair with his amplifier, a big guitar and a sombre mood. He was playing these intricate guitar runs with very distinctive rhythms and his rich Texas voice.
I have heard a lot of Lightnin’ and some of it is quite light and folky, some is quite funny, but this album wasn’t; it was very serious and atmospheric.
After I’d got into Lightnin’s voice and got used to the intonation I really started following those guitar lines. I loved it. On some of the tracks he kept time by tapping his feet on the ground with those bottle tops. It was crazy.
I had this album for years but when I went to America I lent it to a friend called Adam along with 27 other Blues classics. When I got back he’d moved and I never saw them again.
There are a number of albums released with the same title. I have it on CD but somehow it is not quite the same. Even so every time I put it on it takes me straight back to Dick’s room, sitting on that bed nodding my head in time as Lightnin’ sang ‘Worried Life Blues’ and hit those amplified runs. It had a rawness I’d never heard. That was the start of my love of the Blues.