Brigid says I’m turning into a grouchy old man if the recent posts are anything to go by, so let’s get POSITIVE! Lets talk about music. In particular I need to make some sort of attempt at adding to the album list I started a few months back, here, and here. So, without much more ado.here are more albums that would make any listing complied by me but somehow slip though the “authoritative” lists from real critics.
American Spring (United Artists 1972): the great lost Brian Wilson album (although to be fair he only co-produced this, but his fingerprints are obviously all over this and are the ones that matter). American Spring were called Spring in the US but there was a UK band called that (who had a decent album on an obscure RCA label called Neon) but were originally called The Honeys. Confused? Don’t be, it was essentially Brian’s then wife, Marilyn’s band (with her sister). Whilst the songs are sometimes familiar the approach is different from anything else Wilson did or would do, and – this may sound ugly, but it makes more sense aurally than conceptually– imagine a blending of The Beach Boys with The Carpenters (not my favourite act but I do understand them). However, it works rather well, with the purity of the vocals accentuating the depth, and complexity of the Wilson sound. Rather wonderfully actually. Hard as hell to find, but best tracked down on the early nineties CD reissue with the extra UA singles tagged on.
Art Pepper – Smack Up (Contemporary 1960): shortly before, as the title suggests, the heroin dragged Art down (but not out, his later work is magnificent too) for a spell, he released this work of genius. I knew nothing of Art when a guy in a little shop in Soho recommended this to me in the early eighties, so I bought it on a whim – it sounded interesting. I found myself absorbed, not only by the record, but by the man’s rather tragic quagmire of a life (his autobiography, Straight Life, is an essential, if somewhat depressing read). But to the record itself, a collection of tracks written by other players on his label, I love the fact that despite his personal problems, this record simply oozes raw soul, beautifully executed, and with such melodic passion. Whether the heroin contributed to or detracted from the performance in these black grooves is an arguable point, but he only did these sessions under duress from his wife. I hate the drug, and all it implies, more than I can express but it’s impossible to satisfactorily dispute the fact that so much of the music I love was created under its influence. Smack Up is no exception.
The Temptations – Sing Smokey (Gordy 1965): the album that gave the world the smash hit My Girl and in a single swoop invented the whole sweet soul sound that so dominated the first half of the next decade. But that, however, may be the weakest track on the finest album from, arguably, Motown’s finest band. The story was that Berry Gordy was so desperate to get this band on the charts he gave them to his finest songwriter, the mighty Bill Robinson, who, in early 1964 began crafting the series of songs that comprise this wonderful record. Many of the tracks herein are well known as Miracles’ originals but this is much much more than the standard Motown artist covering other Motown hits that was the company rule to fill out albums. Eddie Kendricks’ vocals dominates this record and the match between his voice and Smokey’s (for the want of a better phrase) smokey anthems, especially the take of What’s So Good About Goodbye, which sounds like it was recorded after a hard night of the pain espoused in the lyrics, is absolutely perfect. I’m a huge fan of the Norman Whitfield Temptations era too, but if I had to pick one album of theirs, this perfectly realised and oozingly beautiful set is it.
Lamont Dozier – Out Here On my Own (ABC 1974): fresh from the intrigues of both Motown and his own (with the Holland brothers) HDH labels (Hot Wax and Invictus) Lamont resumed on his own solo career (he’d released a few singles prior to his years with Gordy) in the early seventies, with mixed results both commercially and artistically (more in the later years than the first part of it). But when he hit home he did so resoundingly and nowhere more so than on this wondrous album, which brought together all the strands of his earlier work and placed them firmly in the black America of the early seventies. The album is vaguely politicised (the gorgeous soft Nixon era funk of Fish Ain’t Biting), lush (the post-Philly and romantically disarming Trying to Hold on to My Woman) and raw (The Meters-ish title track with its classic livin’ ain’t easy / when you’re black and greasy lyrical slam) but never fails to deliver. I worked out today I’ve worn out three vinyl copies of this over the years….
Gregory Isaacs – Soon Forward (African Museum 1979): recorded at Channel One, this was my personal soundtrack for the last half of 1979. I’m a massive fan of our Gregory, despite the fairly substantial amount of dross that peppers his huge catalogue. But it’s that voice, you see, that lazy way he seduces the listener before you know done just that. I buy all sorts of Isaacs stuff, usually unheard, and as often as not I’m disappointed – there are actually only about eight albums that are absolutely essential, and this is one of them. Even if it didn’t contain the career defining, Sly and Robbie produced title track (Gregory produced the rest), this album would stand up. Slave Market is beautifully tragic from the winsome opening line of “you’ll never get away” onwards; My Relationship is probably Gregory’s most romantic moment (and that’s saying a great deal from Mr. Lover Man) and a pointer towards his crossover hit, Night Nurse, a couple of years later; and Universal Tribulation might not have the anthemic qualities that took Marley’s songs around the world but it’s every bit the conscious equal of anything Bob did, and melodically vastly superior. At the same time, both staunchly militant and beautifully wistful, Soon Forward is one of the finest albums of its era.
Orange Juice – Texas Fever…(Polydor 1984): a mini album, remember those? Produced by the peerless Dennis Bovell (check that discography and weep), Texas Fever was the “mature” record made by the fantastically quirky little pop band from Glasgow who were an about-to-make-it band for pretty much their whole career. By the time this came out, not that many were still waiting but I saw Edwyn Collins in the street once and told him this was my favourite OJ record. He said it was his too, whether that was something to say to a fan I don’t know or care, but it worked for me. The intro to A Place in My Heart is so beautifully evocative, and it’s a song I’ve, to steal a line from the lyric, always been mildly obsessive about. The Day I Went Down to Texas has glorious little time changes, but does beg the question…why are Scots musicians so obsessed with the state? A wonderful little record, now sadly, largely forgotten.