There's quite a few albums here, so I'll try to keep my descriptions brief and let the song samples do the talking for me. But I'm not promising anything, as I do have a tendency to ramble on. It all started back in nineteen dickity six; we called it dickity because my primary school had temporarily banned use of the word eighty due to [...]
Of course I loved Ga ga ga ga ga; it was one of my top 5 albums of 2007. Before getting their latest, I started to delve into their back catalogue. Prior to picking up Kill the moonlight, I only had Gimme fiction which was one of my top 10 albums of 2005. Sensing a trend here? Three albums of theirs, two in my best of the year lists and one in a list of my musical discoveries of the year. Yep, they are a great band, and I'm excited that I still have their first three albums to discover as well. One of my new favourite bands -- The way we get by is as close to a perfect piano-based pop/rock song that I could imagine hearing.
MP3: Spoon - The way we get by [Song link removed]
Orphans is a 3-CD compilation of new tracks and older rarities which have either never been released, or were scattered across movie soundtracks and other compilations. Each CD represents a different aspect to his sound: Brawlers consists of his barroom bluesy stompers, Bawlers is filled with alcohol-soaked ballads and Bastards has his more weird and surreal moments. They are 3 CDs that many lesser artists could build their entire career around, but merely a drop in time for Tom.
MP3: Tom Waits - Widow's grove [Song link removed]
MP3: Paul Simon - Wartime prayers [Song link removed]
The Exploding Hearts were a punk/pop quartet from Portland, Oregon who were relatively unknown. They released only one album (this one) before tragedy struck in 2003 when three of the four band members were killed in a car accident. After all of this, they were still relatively unknown.
On paper, this album sounds like it shouldn't be that impressive: take a band who's influences range from Ramones, Clash and Buzzcocks and release an album which builds upon these foundations and adds a power-pop twist to everything. Sounds a bit Green Day doesn't it? I don't know what it is about this album, but it's absolutely magical to me. Their influences are certainly obvious, and it would certainly be right to call them derivative, but they have also fused these influences into an album which is entirely their own and possibly even better than many of the albums made by their predecessors.
This album is a modern lost classic which deserves to be heard by many more people.
MP3: The Exploding Hearts - Sleeping aides & razorblades [Song link removed]
When I included Z in the list of my top 10 albums of 2005, I hadn't heard any of their previous albums. It's always exciting going backwards through a band's discography to see how their sound evolved, albeit in reverse order. I soon realised (thanks to recommendations from Pete) that they were quite a different band back when they released At dawn. A much better band with a fantastic southern reverb-based sound that owed a lot more to Lynyrd Skynyrd than the Flaming Lips of Z-era MMJ.
At dawn is an album that can only be described as epic. The opening title track takes about 2 minutes before the vocals even kick in. The way that he sings is really all about...how he sings. What a voice. What a great band these guys were -- the downside of getting into this album is that Z seems quite poor in comparison now!
MP3: My Morning Jacket - The way that he sings [Song link removed]
It's amazingly how different the common public perception of Johnny Cash is from the reality. Those who only know him by name (and not by his music) probably think of him as an old daggy country music star (who sadly passed away in 2003 at the age of 71). But the reality is a very different thing indeed -- this man was punk. Yes, his music could be classified in the country music genre (that's certainly where JB Hi-Fi file his CDs) but it's so much more. This is rock-n-roll, rockabilly, gospel, blues and yes...country too. He even throws a bit of western in there.
But these are just labels! Don't let the daggy stigma of country music put you off the genius that was Johnny Cash. This is a man who's two most famous albums were recorded in jails to an audience of convicted criminals! How punk is that? At Folsom Prison may be the more cohesive album (all the songs are about prison) but this is the better album. It has the songs, the atmosphere, the vibe and is also quite hilarious in parts -- notably the classic A boy named Sue, and the almost-title track San Quentin which he plays not once but twice, almost inciting a prison riot.
I'm not usually into live albums, but this is a special album.
MP3: Johnny Cash - A boy named Sue [Song link removed]
This album from 1971 is considered their last great album, even though it is very different to their 60's work. It's a bit all over the shop musically, covering a wide variety of genres from rock (20th century man), blues (Acute schizophrenia paranoia blues), music-hall (Holiday and Alcohol), country (Muswell hillbilly) and of course no Kinks album would be complete without their trademark British whimsy (Have a cuppa tea, Complicated life). And it all works remarkably well.
They probably would have been better off calling it quits after this album, as they would have certainly ended on a high note. Better to burn out than fade away, as a wise man once said.
MP3: The Kinks - Alcohol [Song link removed]
You know the old album review cliche where the reviewer says that this is the kind of album that the Beatles could have released if they didn't break up in 1970? Well, this is seriously one of those sort of albums. It helps that their career was actually kick-started by Paul McCartney, who wrote their early single Come and get it for them. But this album is not about hits; none of the songs are well-known, but it's got an unmistakeable vibe to it and so many of the songs sound like instant classics that you wonder why it didn't receive more acclaim than it did.
Reading about what happened to the band next only adds to the mystique of this superb album (I won't go into detail here, but please check it out on their Wikipedia page).
MP3: Badfinger - You're so fine [Song link removed]
I had a few Randy Newman albums before this one (Little criminals, Sail away and 12 songs) but this one is in a league of its own, mainly for its thematic unity. This is a great concept album about the American south, all told through Randy's warped vision. The man has a hilariously dry sense of humour and his musical arrangements are up there with the best of the 70's singer-songwriters.
This is an album which is worth your time, and I would recommend it as a great entry-point to Randy Newman's vast discography.
MP3: Randy Newman - Birmingham [Song link removed]
This is a great album of impressive melodic and lyrical depth. There's some classic material here, and you can't help but smile and tap your foot along with the great run of songs from Songs of love to Through a long and sleepless night.
An artist definitely worth exploring. I recently picked up the out-of-print Promenade album on eBay, and look forward to receiving it based on the excellent reviews I have read!
Tom Petty - Greatest hits
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Chronicle
No need to go into great detail about these artists as their hits are pretty well-known, but if I have to sum them up in a few words: Pet Shop Boys make highly-polished 80's pop music which is almost the best of their genre; Tom Petty records songs which are instant-classics even if they aren't particularly innovative; Creedence Clearwater Revival are the masters of the blues-rock genre and they released a ridiculous amount of fantastic material in the late 60's-early 70's, the best of which is perfectly documented on Chronicle.
MP3: Pet Shop Boys - It's a sin [Song link removed]
MP3: Tom Petty - You got lucky [Song link removed]
MP3: Creedence Clearwater Revival - Green river [Song link removed]
MP3: Yvonne Elliman - If I can't have you [Song link removed]
MP3: Bobby Womack - Across 110th street [Song link removed]
I had actually picked up his most critically acclaimed album Born to run a few years back, and while it had some fantastic songs it, I also found it frustratingly uneven. I picked up the stripped-down Nebraska shortly after, and soon discovered that this is an album which needs a lot of time invested in it before it will (hopefully) reap its rewards.
Since then, I have picked up Born in the U.S.A., The wild, the innocent & the E-Street shuffle, Darkness on the edge of town, Tunnel of love and double album The river. Each has slowly painted a bigger picture about the man who is Bruce Springsteen, and while he has a tendency to sing a helluva lot of songs about cars and girls, he really epitomises the working class rocker.
The wild, the innocent & the E-Street shuffle (his 2nd album from 1973) is the pick of the bunch for me so far, even if it's a bit of a red herring in his discography. It has a much more jazz-blues based sound, and is even a bit musically quirky in parts. A highly recommended album.
MP3: Bruce Springsteen - 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) [Song link removed]
Radio listeners may know Joe Jackson by his hits Is she really going out with him? and Steppin' out. I picked up his debut album Look sharp! (from 1979) on a whim this year, and found that he started out as an artist knee-deep in the new-wave sound of the late 70's-early 80's. An artist very similar in style to Elvis Costello in the early days, but not quite as good in the songwriting department.
Since picking up his debut, I have been lucky enough to find three more of his albums on eBay for $4 each (!) - I'm the man from 1979 (similar in style to his debut, but a bit more developed), Night and day from 1982 (where his songwriting started becoming more sophisticated) and Beat crazy from 1980 (which had a bit of a reggae influence).
Night and day is probably my favourite at this stage, as it is the best example of the more sophisticated and interesting side of his music. It's still early stages for me with all of these albums, so time will tell whether he will become an artist that I will cherish.
MP3: Joe Jackson - Real men [Song link removed]
UPDATE: Song links removed.