537 Essential Rock Albums pt. 20

191. Roy Harper – Flashes from the archives of oblivion

I have a certain nostalgia for this album as I was at most of the concerts in which they were recorded. The duet with Jimmy Page was at the Royal Albert Hall concert, as was Kangaroo Blues. I remember it well because not only was it a big gathering of the clans but a young Nick was there complete with toy guitar.

I was also at the Rainbow and spent the afternoon at the sound-check along with all sorts of Rock luminaries, many of whom, such as Ronnie Lane, Keith Moon and Jimmy Page were going to perform in Roy’s backing band. It was a special afternoon and everybody was extremely friendly. There was a party atmosphere.

This album was recorded when Roy was at the absolute peak of his song-writing and performing. The tracks on here are testament to that. ‘Me and my woman’, ‘Another day’, ‘South Africa’, ‘Highway Blues’, ‘One man Rock ‘n’ Roll band’, ‘South Africa’, ‘All Ireland’ and ‘Commune’ are among Roy’s finest.

It is great to have an album of well recorded songs from those days. They were brilliant times with lots of high expectations.

The cover caused something of a controversy. It depicted a naked Roy holding a stiffy and his pants pulled down. Seemingly a lady at the factory where they printed them protested and they had to be recalled and reprinted with a black censor circle over the offending appendage. Everyone pointed out to Roy that it was only a small black circle.

At one point in the 1990s Roy had a number of circles printed of the missing member. You could stick them on to the cover so that you restored it to how it was intended.

192. Bessie Smith – Blue spirit blues

Bessie Smith was a high earning Blues singer on the Vaudeville circuit. She had a tremendous voice that suited the unamplified times back in the 1920s. She was backed by all the best jazz instrumentalists including Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson.

Her songs reflected a type of freer lifestyle than that which was prevalent in white society. There was mention of reefer and drinking and having good parties with plenty of sex. A lot her songs contained double entendres or innuendo such as ‘Do your duty’, ‘I’m wild about that thing,’ and ‘It makes my love come down’. Bessie had the reputation of enjoying a good time and swinging both ways.

The recession put the skids on her career. After the recession she tried a few things, did some more recording but her comeback was ruined when she was involved in a car-crash close to Clarkesdale in Mississippi. There was a long wait for an ambulance and her arm was partly severed. She was eventually taken to the hospital, operated on to amputate the arm but died from her injuries. The story at the time was that the white hospital refused to take her in and that her death was the result of the racist attitudes of the times. This is probably unlikely. Though there was segregation and she had to be picked up by a ‘coloured’ ambulance. The ambulance driver probably did not even consider going to the ‘white’ hospital. What is certain is that the prevailing racism and segregation did nothing to help the situation.

Bessie is best remember for numbers such as ‘Careless love’, ‘St Louis Blues’ and ‘Gimme pigfoot.’

193. Leonard Cohen – Leonard Cohen

This Was Leonard’s first album. I don’t know who first had the idea of putting Len’s poems to music but it was an inspired idea.

The first track I heard was from a compilation album. It was so different and alluring that I went straight out and bought the album. It is stunning. The poems have beautiful words as you might expect from a published poet. What was less expected was that they should be so full of melody and delightful on the ear.

The songs are provocative and evocative. The love songs such as ‘Suzanne’ are achingly full of stories that create pictures in your head. The songs of longing, such as ‘One of us cannot be wrong’ are vivid and the songs of parting such as ‘So Long Marianne’ and ‘Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye’ are full of sadness and beauty.

Len led a bit of a Bohemian life and this is evident in all these songs. He was an explorer of the soul and human condition.

You could spend ages listening to these songs and delving into their meaning. Len feeds the head. I loved having my head fed.

194. Steppenwolf – Born to be wild

Steppenwolf were a Los Angeles band from the late sixties who rose to fame after two of their songs featured in the ‘Easy Rider’ film. They took their name from the Herman Hesse novel that was popular during the sixties.

‘Born to be wild’ symbolised that free-wheelin’ life-style of American bikers. The line containing the term Heavy Metal thunder was taken from William Burroughs and was then applied to that heavy riffed style of music.

‘The Pusher’ was a song that made the distinction between a dealer who specialises in soft drugs such as dope and the Pusher who causes misery with hard drugs such as heroin. Back in those days of the late sixties dope was almost a sacrament of the counter-culture and Acid a rite of passage. We were yet to experience the casualties that were to come from excess.

The band went on to release some other key songs such as ‘Magic Carpet ride’ which was a trippy ride, ‘Sookie Sookie’ a heavy riffed song, ‘Monster/Suicide/America’ with its political lyrics, but they never achieved anything as good as those two tracks on ‘Easy Rider’.

195. Randy Newman – Little Criminals

This is another typical Randy Newman album full of quirky songs that tell little stories. This one is slightly more commercial which is probably due to the presence of members of the Eagles in the recording.

My favourite is ‘Texas girl at the funeral of her father’ which must be different to anything anybody has ever done before and is so delicate and sad.

But then this album is packed with evocative songs and characters. I wouldn’t say you have to study them but you do have to listen to the album a lot and allow the songs to seep into you – because they certainly do seep right in.

I love albums that crawl into you and grow and grow. This is one of those. ‘In Germany before the war’ is one of those songs that nags at your mind and draws you in.

For most people ‘Short people’ is probably the stand-out track. It is such a clever song, full of ironic humour, witty lyrics and incisiveness. It is a different way of dealing with the topic of prejudice. I’m a short person and I adore it.

This album is packed with polished gems of honed song-writing such as ‘Baltimore’ and ‘Sigmund Freud’s impersonation of Albert Einstein in America’ (even the name is a work of genius). Then you have ‘Jolly Coppers on parade’, ‘Kathleen (Catholicism made easy)’ and ‘Little criminals’. It is a sin not to mention the others as they are all equally brilliant. Quiet – there is a great mind at work.

196. Snooks Eaglin – Country boy

When I was fifteen I had this girlfriend who I was desperately trying to impress so I remember borrowing this Snooks Eaglin album and a Sleepy John Estes album called ‘Broke and Hungry’. I figured she was bound to be impressed with my great taste. She stopped coming round so I guess she had poor taste in men and music.

I loved the album so much that I later got my own version on a beautiful cardboard covered Folkways album.

I loved Snook’s laid back style. It was so soft and melodic and did not seem to fit into any category of music to me. There was a folky element to it and a distinct New Orleans flavour. This was no standard Blues album. Snooks was an original.

My favourite songs were ‘Alberta’ and ‘Bottle up and go’. They went round in your head.

I have a CD with lots more tracks on but it is not the same. I wish I had my old Snooks vinyl album. There was a warmth and beauty about that soft, warm voice and great guitar playing on tracks like ‘Country Boy’.

197. JJ Cale – Naturally

This was J J Cale’s debut album and set the tone for what was to come. His languid easy-flowing style grooved along and draws you in.

This album was recorded after Eric Clapton popularised the song ‘After midnight’. Eric took to J J Cale and later recorded another JJ track – ‘Cocaine’.

The album is extremely atmospheric with J Js whispery voice and laid-back songs. The guitar sound is just excellent.

My favourite tracks are ‘Magnolia’, ‘Pretty mama’, ‘Call me the breeze’, ‘Crying eyes’ and ‘River runs deep’.

198. Ray Charles – In person

Ray lost his sight at the age of five probably as a result of glaucoma. That prompted him to take up music as a living.

Ray Charles was a seminal R&B force on the emerging Rock scene in the late 50s and early 60s with songs like ‘What’d I say’, ‘Sticks and stones’, ‘I gotta woman’, ‘Hit the road jack’, ‘Hallelujah I love her so’, ‘I’m moving on’ and ‘Georgia on my mind’. His track

He did a lot of cross-over work with Country & Western.

‘What’d I say’ was particularly influential and few people picked up on the Civil Rights aspects of the song – ‘When you see me in Missouri come on baby stand by me’. There were big battles taking place about the desegregation and black/white schools.

Ray Charles in Person was recorded live and has a great version of ‘What’d I say’.

199. Jimi Hendrix – live at Monterey

Jimi was unheard of in the States. He’d broken big in England with his English band but had yet to breakthrough in the States when he played Monterey. He was desperate to make an impression and pulled out all the stops. Jimi was an accomplished showman in the old Blues busker tradition and was accomplished at playing the guitar behind his back, behind his head, through his legs, with one hand, his teeth and elbow. His skill was not merely that he was the greatest guitarist that had ever lived, he was also the most visual Rock star of all time. His clothes, actions and performance were bigger and louder than anything else around. On this occasion he went through the full spectrum culminating in his setting fire to his guitar and sacrificing it before smashing it to pieces.

The Americans had never seen anything like it. The festival was full of huge big names but on Otis Redding and the Who got even close. Hendrix blew everyone away. The standard of playing and performance was mind-blowing.

This set starts with the old blues number ‘Killing Floor’ and heads off through all his early best tracks ‘Wild thing’, ‘Purple haze’, ‘The wing cries Mary’, ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Foxy lady’, ‘Like a rolling Stone’ and ‘Can you see me’ with BB King’s ‘Rock me baby’ thrown in for good measure. There was a surfeit of guitar histrionics, controlled feedback and tricks. It was outrageously wild.

This album was only released posthumously. It just shows what a huge loss Jimi was. We loved him. He was going on to even greater things. We woz robbed!

200. Dr Feelgood – Down at the jetty

Dr Feelgood took their name from the R&B singer of the same name AKA Piano Red. They were a hard hitting R&B act and Pub Rock band straight out of the cosmic inferno that was Canvey Island in the early 1970s.

They featured the brilliant Brilleaux on vocals and the wonderful Wilko on guitar with all his mad robotic staring and machine gun guitar. They were loud rocking and quite an act. These were the Pub Rock pre—Punk days of 1975 and Dr Feelgood was the major act around keeping the Rock Scene real. This was the energy and attitude that was to give rise to the Punk scene.

Down at the Jetty came out in 1975 and created a stir with its hard-hitting R&B covers such as ‘Boom Boom’, Rock covers ‘Tequila’ & ‘Bony Moronie’ and a style based on the Pirates (Johnny Kidd’s backing band).

Wilko Johnson was the man. He not only stole the show with his highly original stage performance but also wrote nearly all the songs and this album was packed with great Wilko songs such as ‘She does it right’, ‘Keep it out of sight’, ‘All through the city’ and the stunning ‘Roxette’. They set the place on fire!

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