537 Essential Rock Albums pt. 19.

Another extract from my book on Rock Music – 537 Essential Rock albums.

537 Essential Rock Albums pt. 20

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537 Essential Rock Albums – Tinariwen – Aman Iman – Water is Life

I love hearing what is happening with World Music – particularly when it’s plugged in and rockin’. Tinariwen are certainly plugged in.


  1. Tinariwen – Aman Iman – Water is Life

Tinariwen come out of Algeria and Mali. They are a Tuareg dessert band playing a type of guitar based music straight out of West Africa. This was the type of African music that fed into Blues a century ago. The black slaves took it to America with them and the Blues is what later emerged.

The incredible guitar weaves its way over a complex driving beat complex with a strong vocal and female chorus.

It is like going back to visit the force behind the Blues in America yet this is thoroughly modern. Despite all the cultural layers and language the music talks and communicates directly to the heart.

These guys are real rebels who have seen it all and it shows in the music. Where they come from has seen too much war and death.

This album has a variety of styles all with that quality musicianship and slightly different rhythm to the ones we are familiar with yet it is instantly accessible. I particularly like the opening track ‘Cler Achel’ and the slow infectious ‘Soixante Trois’

An amazing album

If you are enjoying or at all enlightened by these, rather idiosyncratic, list of brilliant albums why not purchase the book and see what other undiscovered gems it might expose (along with some of the more well-known albums). You might find it well worth a fiver.


537 Essential Rock Albums – Bo Carter – Banana in Your Fruit Basket

For me you can trace Rock right back to its roots in acoustic blues from the 1930s. Bo Carter might not be the best but he is one of the 1930s Blues singers that I greatly enjoy. His risqué Blues would have seemed quite shocking.


  1. Bo Carter – Banana in Your Fruit Basket

A lot of the Blues we have recorded was sanitised for general output. The Blues came from rural areas in Mississippi and Louisiana and was the music of the hard-working sharecropping families who worked there. It served many functions – as work-songs – to speed up the repetitive labour in the fields – as dance songs at the country barbeques – as busking songs in the streets – as songs for entertainment in the bars and brothels – and as protest and cathartic anger. I think a lot of these never saw the light of day. They were considered too dangerous to risk putting on vinyl. Life was dangerous in those days.

Bo Carter was performing back in the early 1930s and specialised in risqué acoustic Blues songs with double. His guitar playing is very highly developed rag-time style. This album, as the name suggests, is full of these type of songs. Some of them are very amusing and some highly inventive. It includes such gems as ‘My pencil won’t write no more’, ‘Pussy cat blues’, ‘Don’t mash my digger so deep’, ‘Pin in your cushion’ and ‘What kind of scent is this?’

If you are enjoying or at all enlightened by these, rather idiosyncratic, list of brilliant albums why not purchase the book and see what other undiscovered gems it might expose (along with some of the more well-known albums). You might find it well worth a fiver.

537 Essential Rock Albums (I use the term loosely) – Number 20 – Son House


Weighing in at number 20 on my all-time list is the great Son House. Took me straight back to where it all began.

  1. Son House – Death Letter Blues

Son House started it all. He taught Robert Johnson how to play. He was king back in the early thirties. That Mississippi bottleneck country blues played on that old beat up steel guitar created a sound that was going to beat its way all down the years to infuse Rock ‘n’ Roll and start up a revolution.

Son House was a leading exponent of the style. His playing was raw, sloppy and incredibly powerful. His anguished singing was equal to it. I was fortunate enough to see him perform even though he was an old man. As soon as he started playing it was as if someone had plugged him in to the mains. The energy shot through him and cauterised us. I have never experienced such a transformation and so much ferocity. The opening chords to ‘Death Letter Blues’ were like a thunder-clap!

This album was made after his rediscovery in 1964. He was already old and had to relearn the guitar and his own songs. You’d think it would be an insipid shadow of his old power but it wasn’t. It was awesome. The playing was crystal clear and startling. ‘Death Letter Blues’ is enough to send the hair standing up to the ceiling. He still had it in Spades, Diamonds, Clubs and Hearts.

Hearing him play was a revelation. The album had other great tracks like ‘Pearline’ and ‘John the Revelator’ but who needed more. This was plugged straight back into those steamy Mississippi nights.

This is a glimpse of where it all began. Heaven knows what he would have been like to hear as a young man! It must have been frightening!

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Number 3 on my all-time best Rock Albums – 537 Essential Rock Albums – Captain Beefheart – Lick My Decals Off


Well weighing in at number 3 on my all-time 537 essential Rock Albums is Captain Beefheart. Probably the best band that ever lived. Awesome

3. Captain Beefheart – Lick my Decals Off Baby 

Now I had immense trouble sorting out which Captain Beefheart album was the best. There were at least four contenders and ‘Trout Mask Replica’ is awesome but for me ‘Lick my Decals off Baby’ is just that bit better.

Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) is the most original and accomplished of Rock performers. His voice is amazing, the vocal range is stupendous, the lyrics are poetry to music and totally unique and the music is from another planet. ‘Smithsonian Institute Blues’ sums up where humanity is going to be – we’re heading to be fossils. The sad thing is that we’re devising our own demise and taking a huge number of species with us! ‘Woe-is-uh-me-bop’ says it all! The album is packed with extraordinary numbers – ‘Space-Age Couple’ and ‘I love you, you big dummy’ are incredible.

This is one of those albums that come along when you can sense a band is in the groove. They had just got ‘Trout Mask Replica’ out of their system and seemed to be motoring down that same channel with effortless ease. Don’s voice and songs were astounding. This album was certainly on a par with ‘Replica’ and I actually thought it shaded it.

Not only that but this band was the ultimate live band. Their performances are legendary. I have seen them many times, through many incarnations, and I never cease to be amazed by the intensity of the intricate music. I have heard nothing like it and I never tire of hearing it.

If you want to hear something completely different then this is it. The music is extraordinary. Those interlacing guitars still sends shivers through me and Don’s voice is unbelievable. This should have been enormous. They were the best band in the world!

Why not check out what other albums I put in my 537 Essential albums. I guarantee they’ll be some you haven’t heard of.


Number 4 on my all-time list of 537 Essential Albums – Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home


Well Bob features high on my list with a number of albums. This one was another groundbreaker.

4. Bob Dylan – Bringing it all Back Home

Of the three electric Bob Dylan masterpieces of the sixties this was the first and the best. Any album that features a track of the brilliance of ‘It’s Alright Ma – I’m only bleeding’ has to be in the top ten albums. What is up with songwriters today? Nobody is dealing with social issues even though the world is full of immense problems. The young snarling Dylan went for them head on and wrestled them to submission. This song ‘It’s Alright Ma – I’m only Bleeding’ is a no holds barred poke at the establishment. I love it. Dylan was the hippest thing on the planet with his shades, tight pants, mass of curls, polka-dot shirt and James Dean sneer. This album was a departure from the acoustic ‘protest’ songs of before and shows Dylan at his caustic best. Everyone was against him and he responded by hitting out big time in all directions at once. This was the underground Beat Poet rebel who spat words like machine gun bullets. Just listen to subterranean homesick blues and Maggie’s Farm. He was one angry outsider.

This album was another unique departure and revelation. We live in an age where we have become used to a diverse range of music. Back then it was limited fare. There had been nothing like this music before. Bob invented it.

It sparked near riots when he took it out on the road live and induced crazy reactions at Newport Folk Festival with Seeger threatening to put an axe through the power cable as Dylan blasted the audience accompanied by Mike Bloomfield and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. (I loved that raw sound they produced and wished they had done a lot more like it!). During the British tour he was called a Judas and the crowd reactions were often hostile.

As we have often seen it only serves to make Bob more entrenched. He does his own thing regardless.

Why not check out what other albums I put in my 537 Essential albums. I guarantee they’ll be some you haven’t heard of.

Opher Goodwin Author – 537 essential Rock Albums – Pt1. The first 270

537 Essential Rock Albums cover

537 Essential Rock Albums – Pt. 1 The first 270 Paperback – 11 Oct 2014



This is not your average run through an opinionated list of somebody’s favourite albums. This is much more than that. By the time you get to the end of the book you will be in no doubt as to the type of person who has written this and what their views are. This is Opher at his most extreme and outspoken. He’s been there at the front through thousands of shows, purchased tens of thousands of albums and listened to more music than seems possible to fit into a single life. He’s run courses on Rock Music, written books and been there in the studio with many of the greats. But more important than that is that he has lived the life. He was there living it. You’ll find a lot of albums and artists in here that you will never have heard of and they are all brilliant. You’ll find out a lot of information about them that you did not know; but more than that you will hear someone who was there telling you why they were so important to him and giving his view on the issues around and in that music. There is a depth, a political and social perspective and a personal involvement. The passion suffuses this like TNT through dynamite. Whether you agree with the choices or not you’ll love the journey.

Opher – the Author – selected book – 537 Essential Rock Albums pt. 1 – another extract.

537 Essential Rock Albums cover

Here’s another extract to whet your appetite even more:

  1. Elvis Costello – Spike


The early punky Costello was great and it is normal for an artist to mellow and mature as they get older, wiser and more adept. I am pleased to say that while Elvis certainly did develop his music, broaden it and bring in different styles, the power and ferocity of his lyrics and delivery were only intensified. This album was exceptionally spiky in places.

This was released in 1989 and was his twelfth studio album. It also contains one of my favourite tracks.

At this time Elvis moved labels and was also co-writing with Paul McCartney. Who knows? Perhaps the Beatles could have reformed with Elvis taking the John Lennon role? He certainly had the venom and bite to do justice to it. He could have pulled off the acerbic part quite well.

The two tracks he wrote with Paul are very good. ‘Veronica’ was very commercial but ‘Pads paws and claws’ was more experimental but still very accessible and catchy. It was a collaboration that showed promise.

‘Baby plays around’ was a beautiful song, sung very delightfully with a great deal of melancholy concerning a break-up of a relationship in which one’s partner is openly unfaithful. ‘…This Town’ was the opening track and was much more like the Elvis of his first few albums. This was the Punk Elvis lamenting the fact that in order to get on you had to be a complete bastard. ‘God’s comic’ is a great song and send-up of religion, a priest who had not been too religious has an audience with God who is listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber and wondering if he should have given the world to the monkeys. ‘Deep Dark Truthful Mirror’ is a song about confronting your own failings.

This was an album with a number of different styles, moods, instrumentation and types of songs. If that was all it would be an excellent album but that wasn’t all. There were two songs that had an exceptional impact on me. The first was the snarling diatribe against hanging ‘Let him dangle’. It told the story of a couple of young thieves who were cornered by the police. Young Bentley was already under arrest and Craig had a gun pointing at the police officer. ‘Let him have it,’ Bentley told Craig. Craig shot the officer dead. Craig was underage got life and Bentley was hung. Elvis turned it into a passionate expose of the viciousness of State murder and the hatred and primitive revenge involved. It was a thought-provoking tale delivered with real anger.

But the stand out track for me was ‘Tramp the dirt down’. It still sends chills running through me when I play it. The melodic beauty of the song only serves to accentuate the hatred in the lyrics as Elvis contemplates the cold, calculated duplicity of Margaret Thatcher. I still have a vivid memory of her standing on the steps at number ten delivering her election speech at the start of her term of office saying how she would bring harmony to the country while already plotting to break the unions and create havoc. Elvis pours out his vitriol as he goes through the trail of Tory deceit over the treatment of public services, the health service and the glorification of the Falklands war. It’s probably not too late to get there and tramp that dirt down so she never gets out, perhaps a good sharp stake should be deployed first though!


  1. The Fall – Slates


The Fall were one of John Peel’s favourite bands. It is easy to see why. They have consistently gone about doing their own thing throughout the whole of their long career without the slightest nod to fashion, commerciality or anybody’s views.

Mark E Smith is the Fall. Despite all the personnel changes he is the guvnor! He directs the music, bosses the band around and dictates what goes on. He once said that even if it was him with his moth-in-law on bongos it would be the Fall.

They go about producing their raw output of post-punk without regard to taste, political correctness or the media and often with seeming contempt for their own audience.

I have been to live performances with strange film intros that went on and on, Mark seemingly so intoxicated he could not function, and virtual fights on stage. I’ve also been to concerts where they have motored along completely in tune with the audience with everyone bouncing about and singing along with Mark.

This is the usual type of Fall album. The driving riffs with Mark reciting and shouting his lyrics over it. The result is great. I can’t say he has a great voice but the effect is more interesting than all the plastic bands put together. From ‘Hip Priest’ to ‘Slates, slags etc.’ it drives along. There is that repetitive coda and variation that makes it interesting. You can feel the Captain Beefheart influence.


  1. Randy Newman – Lonely at the Top


This has all Randy’s great songs all gathered together. It gives you a great view of Randy’s genius. There is so much of Randy’s quirky humour and idiosyncratic observation. He is able to hone a lyric to its bare bones, deliver it with perfect phrasing to a simple but perfectly effective backing. This album has many of my favourites.

‘Political Science’ is a sardonic view of the rest of the world in which Randy suggests that America should just nuke everybody, except Australia – don’t want to hurt no kangaroo – boom goes London! Boom Paris!

‘God’s song (That’s why I love mankind)’ is a send up of religion in which God is a character who is a capricious individual who doesn’t care a jot about people yet is amazed by the antics of humans in the face of his vindictiveness.

There’s the full spectrum here with ‘Short people’, ‘Rednecks’, ‘Jolly Coppers on parade’, ‘I love L.A.’ ‘Germany before the war’, ‘Birmingham’ etc etc. The album ends with his own send up of himself with ‘Lonely at the top’.

What a song-writer! What humour!


  1. Sam Cooke – Portrait of a Legend


Sam was the guy with the smooth silken voice who was capable of big soulful ballads, Pop songs and more rocking numbers. That voice came straight out of Gospel. He started singing at an early age and became the lead vocalist with the leading Gospel group ‘The Soul Stirrers’.

He left Gospel to move into secular R&B focussing on producing singles and immediately hit with ‘You send me’. This crossed over into the Pop charts and was followed by a string of other hits ‘Only sixteen’, ‘Cupid’, ‘Chain gang’, ‘Little Red Rooster’, ‘What a wonderful world’, ‘Bring it on home to me’, ‘Twistin’ the night away’ and ‘Shake’.

There was a great deal of variation in his work. A comparison between the Pop of ‘Cupid’ and the Blues of ‘Little Red Rooster’ (recorded before the Stones did their version). He also tackled issues like the Civil Rights fight for justice which was an incendiary thing to do at the time; his song ‘A change is going to come’ was a brave thing to do.

Sam’s soulful voice was one of the precursors of Soul music. Unfortunately Sam was not there to participate. He was shot dead at a motel in very dubious circumstances. Seemingly he was drunk and took a girl back to his room. She stole his clothes and ran off claiming he was going to rape her and the distraught Sam was shot dead by the white motel owner. We shall never know by there seemed to be a racial element involved in this.


  1. 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 John 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 John’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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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 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 Garage 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.

Whether you agree with the choices or not you’ll love the journey.

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