537 Essential Rock Albums pt. 27

261. Jeff Beck – Truth

Jeff Beck was one of the world’s great innovative guitarists. He came from my neck of the woods in the Deep South of the Thames Delta and played in one of my local groups – The Tridents – before going on to replace Clapton in the Yardbirds. His arrival sparked the most experimental and dynamic style of the band as they moved from R&B and Pop into psychedelia. Beck’s guitar-work was highly original and innovative and drove the band into a new level. They became widely accepted on the emerging Underground scene as a serious band.

Then it all started falling apart just when it should have been at its best. The Yardbirds had taken on Jimmy Page and had the most incredible double lead guitar attack ever. However it was not to be. Jeff started becoming inconsistent and the band fell apart. Jimmy took the remnants off with him to form Led Zeppelin. Keith went off to Renaissance and Jeff went off to go solo and then form the Jeff Beck Group. That band consisted of Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass and Micky Waller on drums. It was an incredible line-up.

I saw them play a couple of times and Jeff was always stunning on guitar though I never hugely liked Rod’s vocals.

This album ‘Truth’ is one of the great albums of British Progressive Rock. It features a number of great progressive bluesy and psychedelic numbers alongside some delicate workings of traditional songs like ‘Greensleeve’ and psyched out ‘Ole’ Man River’ which I always thought were a little incongruous though they seemed to work and gave the album another dimension.

The album starts with a version of the Yardbirds ‘Shapes of things’ in a very different psychedelic arrangement. Then there was a version of Tim Roses’ ‘Morning Dew’ and ‘Beck’s Bolero’ along with some blues favourites ‘Rock my plimsoul’ (which was a psyched out version of Rock me baby), ‘I ain’t superstitious’ and ‘You shook me’. They were all given the Beck treatment.

It was widely recognised as one of the major albums of the Progressive scene.

262. Dale Hawkins – Oh Suzie Q

In 1957 Dale Hawkins recorded ‘Suzie Q’. It was not quite like anything else. It took the Rockabilly of Elvis and married to the swamp-blues of Louisiana. The result was a bluesy guitar solo, muddy beat with cowbells and a swampy style of Rock.

He followed it up with good Rockabilly tracks like ‘Juanita’ and ‘Tornado’ which both had some of the elements but did not catch that magic of the ‘Suzie Q’ brand of Swamp Rock.

‘Oh Suzie Q’ gathers those tracks together with a rocked up version of Little Walters ‘My Baby’ and some other strong songs ‘Four letter word (Rock)’ and ‘Wild, Wild World’.

If only Dale could have developed that initial Swamp Rock into something more he would have been as big as Elvis. Unfortunately his other material was good but not quite as good.

263. Big Mama Thornton – The original hound dog

Big Mama Thornton was a big lady with a really big voice. She was outrageous for her time often dressing as a man in her stage act. Like a number of R&B artists she came into secular music from a background of Gospel.

A lot of her early fifties output was good hard hitting R&B like ‘I smell a rat’ (covered by White Stripes) ‘They call me Big Mama’ and ‘You don’t move me no more. But there were two tracks that she is best remembered for. The first of these was ‘Hound Dog’. Big Mama was the first to record this Lieber & Stoller classic as early as 1952. She belted the song out to a great guitar backing and great R&B beat complete with yelps and whoops. It prompted a response song (quite common during those days) from Rufus Thomas on Sun Records and then was later rocked up by Elvis. The second was a slower bluesier song called ‘Ball and chain’. Big Mama Thornton did a really soulful version of this but it gained much more prominence when Janis Joplin turned it into an anguished gutsy song that often stole the show with the intensity she put into it.

Big Mama remains a seminal force. The original Hound Dog collection together most of her early tracks.

264. Nuggets – Original Artyfacts from the first Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968

When the British invasion took place in 1964 the Americans were shocked. They had no response. It was as if they had been invaded by aliens and did not understand the new language. However, it did not take them long to start to respond. All over the continent kids started growing their hair and forming bands. The country exploded with a plethora of new bands. Many of them were clones of British bands but many more were original and different. As the 1960s progressed these bands developed with it so that when the style turned to psychedelia they did their own versions.

There were hundreds of these bands. Every town and city had a flourishing little flocks of them all playing to their mates in the local clubs and doing their best to pull the girls. Most of them died away without leaving any trace. Some recorded the odd single which might have sold locally and a few managed to secure major label contracts.

Because this music was rehearsed in their parents garages and was performed by young kids it began to be called Garage Punk.

It would probably have languished unheard collecting dust on shelves in those same garages and occasionally being dusted off for a sentimental nostalgic evening between old friends if it wasn’t for two men. Jack Holzman (founder of Elektra records) and Lenny Kaye (later the lead guitarist for the Patti Smith Group) had the bright idea of tracking down a number of these lesser known tracks and putting them out on a double album. At the time they thought it would be an interesting project and had no idea that in the process they would create a number of distinct genres, spark a wave of interest, and have far reaching effects further down the line. They called it Nuggets because they were collecting all those fairly obscure nuggets of music from that rich vein of the 1960s.

In actual fact it was rather a strange eclectic collection of fairly disparate recordings, some of which were quite big hits, some of which were obscure, and involving a wide range of styles. They were not really all Garage Bands or Garage Punk as Lenny described them. What they did do was spark an enormous amount of interest that started that snowball rolling down the mountainside picking up the debris from the sixties as it gained momentum until it exploded on the scene with the force of a nuclear avalanche.

The album Nuggets spawned other albums and album sets – Boulders, Pebbles, Chocolate Soup for Diabetics, High in the Mid 60s, Fading Yellow, and on and on and on. I was running a History f Rock Music course back in the 1980s as an Adult Education Course and one of my students was so smitten with Nuggets that he specialised in Garage Punk and started collecting Vinyl albums. He was a young man with disposable cash and by the end of the two year course he had amassed two thousand five hundred albums of Garage Punk Bands, compilations and related material!

On the Pop side there were the Castaways, Knickerbockers and Barbarians. On the Psychedelic side there were the Electric Prunes, Seeds, Count Five, Chocolate Watch Band and Cryan’ Shames. On the Garagage Punk side you had the Leaves, Premiers and Standells. On the psyched out Bluesy side you had the Amboy Dukes, Shadows of knight and Blues Magoos. On the really weird psychedelic Punk you had the Magic Mushrooms and Mouse & the Traps. Etc.

It was an inspired choice.

265. Pebbles Vol 3 – The Acid gallery

Following the success of Nuggets there were three more series of Nuggets, followed by Boulders and then Pebbles. All over the planet people were scouring through the dusty tapes of tiny record labels to turn up the most obscure tracks by the most obscure bands.

There was a treasure trove of unheard youthful genius waiting to be exposed to the light of day (or the sound of ear). More importantly, as far as the compilers were concerned, there was money to be made.

The most interesting thing to come out of this as we found ourselves buried under collections of multiple volumes like Collecting Peppermint Clouds, Electric Lemonade, Nederland Nuggets, Gravel, Coloured Lights and Sounds, Back from the Grave, Aliens Psychos and Wild Things, Acid Visions, Acid Queens, A trip to Toytown, A trip through the sugar cube, A Deadly Dose of Wylde Psych, Circus Days, Flower Power, Garage Mechanics, Girls in the Garage, Mindrocker, Oceanic Odyssey, Psychedelic States, Syde Trips, Tripzone, Turds on a Bum Ride, Ugly Things, and We can Fly, was that there was so much of it. Not only that but it was global. Seemingly all over the world in the most unlikely places, such as Peru, Singapore and Saudi Arabia, young kids had been turned on by the Beatles and Stones, donned flares and beads, grown their hair and formed Beat groups, psychedelic outfits and aped what was going on in the States and Britain. It was universal. All the kids in Russia were dying to get Western Rock Music. Turkey was aflame with psychedelia.

Forget your cold war and global politics this was the unifying force of music, fashion and rebellion. Everyone wanted to be in a band from Australia to Iceland, Brazil to New Zealand. It brought the Berlin wall down, smashed the Iron Curtain, bulldozed the Bamboo Curtain, breached the religious divides.

All we need to solve all the world’s problems is to create another Beatles and spark off a new social rebellion on the lines of the sixties.

Anyway, enough of those flights of whimsy and back to reality, or at least the unreality of Pebbles Vol 3 – The Acid Gallery.

If you are looking for weird and wonderful then look no further. This is what happens when groups of young kids get their hands on ridiculously strong hallucinogenic substances which they indulge to extreme, learn the rudiments of an instrument, become exposed to a lot of new sounds created by their slightly older and more competent compatriots and find themselves in a recording studio with the means to indulge and experiment. Their efforts are collected here on Pebbles 3.

There are hilarious parodies such as the one of Jefferson Airplane by Jefferson Handkerchief – ‘I’m allergic to flowers’; horror stories based on a psychedelic Kafka story with ‘The Spider and the Fly’ and just psyched out weirdness like ‘Let’s take a trip’, ‘The reality of (air) fried Borsk’ and the parody of Dylan in the wonderful ‘Like a dribbling Fram’.

If you’re looking for something outlandish and different this might well be it.

266. Sam & Dave – Soul man

Both Sam and Dave started off singing Gospel in their churches before joining Gospel Bands. They met up in a Gospel band and then, after discovering that their disparate voices could gel, headed off into secular R&B. Sam had the smooth voice and Dave the more aggressive and raw. Together it worked well when doing both call-and-response or harmonising.

They soon got themselves a reputation for a dynamic act. They had their dance moves and put everything in so that they came off-stage drenched in sweat. It got them numerous nick-names like ‘The sultans of sweat’ and ‘The dynamic duo’.

It was moving to Stax and working with the MGs with people like Steve Cropper that got them their break-through as major players on the Soul scene. They had numerous hits with songs like ‘Soul Man’, ‘Hold on I’m Coming’, ‘When something is wrong with my baby’, ‘Brown sugar, Soul Sister’ and ‘You don’t know what you mean to me’.

Seemingly there was lots of tension between the two of them which led to splits, periods of time when they did not talk and even open fisticuffs.

It seemed to me that the whole Blues Brothers act was based on Sam & Dave.

267. Animals – Animals

The Animals came crashing out of Newcastle on the back of the Beat R&B boom of 1964 led by the Rolling Stones et al. They quickly established themselves as one of the rawest most authentic R&B bands in the country and stormed into the charts. Eric Burdon’s gravelly Geordie voice seemed not only well suited to the Blues but also well beyond his tender years. Amply backed by the likes of Alan Price on organ, Hilton Valentine on guitar, John Steel on drums and Chas Chandler on bass they created a unique Blues sound which can be heard on this first album. They even backed Sonny Boy Williamson on a tour of England. That album was similar to the one he did with the Yardbirds.

They specialised in cover of Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker and Chuck Berry but varied that with some Ray Charles and even Fats Domino.

This more eclectic approach led them into the rather extraordinary field of Bob Dylan. Impressed by the early Dylan albums they were taken to do a cover of a Folk song and ended up doing a traditional one by the name of ‘House of the Rising Sun’. It was so successful with the amplified guitar and Eric’s great vocal delivery that it became enormous.

Sadly, for me, that signalled the end. Instead of continuing with great R&B stuff such as the brilliant ‘Story of Bo Diddley’ which told the story of how Bo Diddley had come into their club in Newcastle with the gorgeous Duchess to listen to them play his material only to declare that they were rubbish, in favour of a more commercial sound.

This first album is them with their rawer sound and I like that best.

268. Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup – That’s Alright Mama

Arthur was a street busker and blues singer from the late forties and early fifties and was supposedly quite a large man. He did not make much of a living out of it and at one time was supposedly living in a packing crate under the platform at the Chicago railway station.

He played acoustic guitar and sometimes electrified this to record with a little combo.

His big claim to fame is that he recorded a handful of songs that were destined to become massive.

Elvis Presley came from a poor share-cropping family in Tupelo Mississippi. He was brought up in a poor area with a mixed black and white community. His musical style did not come out of nowhere. He stole it from the local blues singers that he used to love listening to.

When he recorded for Sam Philips he was doing covers of old Blues and Country songs that he’d absorbed. His genius was to give them that extra zip that changed them from Blues and Country into Rockabilly.

One of the guys that he covered was Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup. Elvis’s first release was ‘That’s alright Mama’ and he also recorded ‘My baby left me’ and ‘So glad you’re mine’.

Arthur was much more than just those three numbers and other interesting tracks include ‘Mean old Frisco’, ‘Rock me mama’ and ‘Katie Mae’.

269. Big Three – Cavern Stomp

At the time when the Beatles were emerging from Liverpool on to the world stage arguably the best band in the city was the powerhouse trio called The Big Three. They consisted of Johnny Hutchinson, Johnny Gustafson and Brian Griffiths. They were reputedly the loudest and most aggressive and something of their dynamic stage act can be heard on the fabulous four track EP ‘At the Cavern’. Supposedly the whole show at the Cavern was recorded but the tape was subsequently wiped! What an act of criminality!

Unfortunately they got a big brushed to one side and short-changed as the attention swept to the Beatles and they were never fed with good enough material or received a sympathetic recording production and so never really captured their live form on record.

There were a couple of good singles including a great version of Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring it on home to me’ and their signature tune ‘Cavern Stomp’ but never made that break-through.

That wonderful EP makes it all worthwhile though and that plus all the rest is on this album.

270. Carole King – Tapestry

Carole King was half of the song-writing duo of Goffin and King who wrote tens of hits out of their little cubby-hole in the Brill building in New York during the late 1950s and early sixties before they got blown away by the Beatles.

She went on to great success as a singer-songwriter with the release of Tapestry in 1971.

I was working as a dishwasher in this Deli on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston at the time. The radio was always blaring out amid the steam, heat and chaos behind the scenes. It kept my family of cockroaches who lived behind the dishwasher entertained.

I remember the radio station constantly playing tracks from Tapestry. I knew the whole thing backwards by the time I left that place to hitch-hike round the States. It’s indelibly imprinted and always conjures up that sweaty heat, shouting and laughs of working in that place. I made some great friends.

The album was great and had some stand out tracks – ‘I feel the earth move’, ‘So far away’, ‘It’s too late’, ‘You’ve got a friend’, ‘Will you love me tomorrow’ and ‘You make me feel (like a natural woman)’.

4 thoughts on “537 Essential Rock Albums pt. 27

  1. Who’s John Stewart? Rod Stewart, one of the finest rock singers from the UK – you numpty. I haven’t spotted one of his rock albums (particularly with the Faces) in your “essential” collection. I’ve been reading your list with interest and realise that the title is misleading since you include only albums and artists YOU consider essenial not what most people would consider essential to an overall picture of popular music from the 50s onwards. For example how could anyone justify including an ordinary pub band like The Big Three whilst excluding Queen & David Bowie? This list is self-indulgent. I’m not a Michael Jackson fan but I can see that “Thriller” is one of the most important rock albums of all time.

    1. Hi Bede
      – Of course it is my view! I have no intention of being objective. I make that perfectly clear in the introduction. These are my 537 Essential albums and I do not expect anybody else in the world to agree with me. These are the albums that have meant something to me. I have included a Bowie because I quite enjoyed Aladdin Sane but I can’t stand Queen and Michael Jackson or the Smiths. Those albums are not essential for me. You may think that it is self-indulgent. I do not. It is the view of someone who has been there and seen most of these bands, listened to them on disc, written about them in numerous books, taught courses on them to adults, fanatics and students and is an expert. I am a musicologist with a vast knowledge and a personal view. I set out to express my view and my journey – not to give an objective account. If I had tried to be objective it would be a different list and a totally different book at the end.
      As for Rod Stewart – I have never liked him or his voice. I consider him an obnoxious with an over-inflated ego. I’ve seen him perform a number of times with Jeff Beck and he was the worst thing about the band. Michael Jackson was crass Pop Music and Queen were pompous and annoying (though I did like a couple of their songs!). I never took to the Smiths though I did try a few times because I felt there was something there.
      I write with a view to be controversial. I court reaction. But I also explain why I have my views. I am not, in this book, writing ‘academically’ about Rock though in other of my books, such as my Rock Routes and 4 volume Rock Strata, I do set out a much more objective analysis.
      You will find mistakes in the Blog due to the speed I am trying to do things. That is inevitable unfortunately because I am working on three projects simultaneously. Hopefully they will be ironed out when I do my rewrite’s and additions for the book.
      Speaking of books – have you completed ‘In Search of Captain Beefheart’? I would greatly value your objective views!

  2. Thanks for the mention of the ‘John’ Stewart clanger. I don’t know where that came from! Weird! My mind must have been somewhere else! I’ve corrected it now. Thanks for pointing that out. Most embarrassing.

    1. I have now discovered what went on with the ‘Rod’ and ‘John’. I was utterly bemused by it. Seemingly my computer automatically changes Rod to John! I have not got a clue why it would do that. Perhaps it does not think very highly of Rod either?

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