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The “Ten Albums in Ten Days” Challenge

So, I have just posted my final LPs on Facebook having been challenged by Allan Jones to nominate ten records from my youth that I still listen to today. That list in full:

  1. Even Serpents Shine – The Only Ones (1979)
  2. Radio City – Big Star (1974)
  3. Teenage Head – Flamin’ Groovies (1971)
  4. Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones (1971)
  5. Let It Be – The Replacements (1984)
  6. Hunkydory – David Bowie (1971)
  7. Raw Power – Iggy and the Stooges (1972)
  8. Something / Anything ? – Todd Rundgren (1972)
  9. Roxy Music (1972)
  10. So Alone – Johnny Thunders (1978) / Hard Promises – Tom Petty & the Heartbeakers (1981)

I did not think too much about the selection otherwise we would have been into Hi Fidelity territory. What does this list say about me? Mainly that I was fourteen in 1971 and fifteen in 1972 and it shows – three quarters of these LPs were released in those two years, with only Tom Petty and the ‘Mats from the following decade. It is a very white and guitar-orientated selection, and not much has changed in the interim.

The songwriting is consistently strong throughout. And the artwork is striking, and works even when reduced to an iPhone-screen sized jpeg (Even Serpents Shine – not so much). And each record contains about 40 minutes of music – pre-CD notions of quality control were still in operation.

My teenage self would have been amazed that I would go on to see all of these acts live, and in some cases interview them, write about them and even DJ at their gigs.

What is missing are other equally great LPs that I only discovered in retrospect (Something Else, Sell Out, Back In The USA) as well as the teenage LPs that have not lasted so well (Family, Curved Air, Pink Fairies).

I also remember the people I with whom listened to this music – Jeremy Smith, Neil Parison, the Moritzes (RIP), Mark & Lee, Fred The Butcher, Brian, Mick Brophy. A lot of my listening was done alone in my suburban bedroom, gloomily contemplating a life that seemed to be going off the rails almost before it had got going. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the swagger, energy and exuberance of this music was one of the things that pulled me through. I am eternally grateful.

Lou Reed was right – my life was saved by rock’n’roll*

* other versions are available eg I was maimed by rock’n’roll (Jeff Tweedy)


Suppose the Velvets re-united…and nobody noticed?

Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico

Le Bataclan, Paris, January 29 1972

Spyglass SPYCD3003 (CD+ DVD)

This is a great gig, badly served by the many recordings that have been released thus far. All the legitimate versions have run too slow, making Lou Reed sound like he was on Qualuudes. However this new 2018 release has been pitch and speed corrected, and sounds immeasurably stronger as a result making it a very worthy addition to the Velvets canon.

The setting is a live acoustic gig at the Le Batclan nightclub in Paris on January 29th 1972. For once the three participants all seem to be getting on well, with Reed engaging in what can only be termed “genial onstage banter”’. The opening Waiting For The Man is performed as a stately acoustic folk duet between Reed on acoustic guitar and Cale on grand piano. Next is a highly effective rendition of Reed’s newly-written Berlin, which he described as “a real nightclub torch thing…kind of a Billie Holiday trip”. The piano part is played beautifully by Cale and the song lacks only its final ‘some sweet day’ coda. Then it’s back to the first Velvets LP for The Black Angel Death Song, played so slowly that you can actually hear the words. Cale contributes an undulating viola part, resulting in the definitive version. From Reed’s first solo LP comes Wild Child, which shorn of its studio prog-bombast fits right in amongst its illustrious neighbours. Finally a restrained Heroin, again with Cale’s viola to the fore.

Having done such a Sterling (sorry) job in backing Lou, Cale’s own solo set here disappoints. Only Empty Bottles – written for Jennifer Warnes – stands out. Had the concert featured his Paris 1919 material from the following year rather than the likes of Ghost Story then it would have all been very different. Nico’s set starts strongly with a Femme Fatale featuring backing vocals from the guys. However we then detour into harmonium territory, before finishing strongly with a double whammy of I’ll Be Your Mirror and an encore of All Tomorrow’s Parties, both arranged for voice and acoustic guitar. Two additional tracks are rehearsal versions of Pale Blue Eyes and Candy Says, taken from the 3rd Velvets LP on which Cale was absent.

In addition to this excellent audio documentary the Spyglass release adds a DVD featuring five tracks – Berlin, I’m Waiting For The Man, Heroin, Ghost Story and Femme Fatale – screened on the French TV show Pop Deux on June 10th 1972. Footage is black and white but perfectly watchable.

The trio never managed to repeat this experience, with a follow-up London gig cancelled. By the time Reed and Cale finally reunited for a full-blown Velvets tour in 1993 Nico was gone.  I saw the re-union tour at L’Olympia in Paris the night they recorded the live DVD and on the whole would sooner have been at Le Bataclan. Six of the eleven tracks of the Velvets debut LP feature here, emphasising their pop-folk tendency at the expense of their monolithic Sister Ray side. These were indeed different times.

In 1972 only a thousand lucky punters saw this gig live.  Now the rest of us can catch up


Record Collector Double Whammy

For only the second time in my life the new edition of Record Collector magazine (July 2018) carries two of my reviews in the same issue – Pretenders and Bryan Ferry


(I Can’t Get No) Trainreaction: The Rolling Stones, Twickenham Stadium, June 19 2018

Vantage point: Pit B (Keith’s side), packed

Collectable merchandise: Bright yellow Rolling Stones beer glasses (£2)

 The final UK date of the #NoFilter tour saw the Stones returning to their geographical roots, with Mick Jagger reminiscing about their gig at the Station Hotel in Richmond a mere 55 years previously. Tonight’s cover of Ride’ Em On Down was from that era and a very raunchy Midnight Rambler benefitted from a snatch of Come On In My Kitchen, elsewhere on the tour it’s been You Gotta Move.

Street Fighting Man made for a swaggering opener whilst Tumbling Dice never sounded better, mainly because of The Return Of Keith Richards. He may technically never have left but his guitar playing had become highly selective. Now he is trading solos with Ronnie Wood on It’s Only Rock’n’Roll, Sympathy For the Devil and Honky Tonk Women. During an elegant Beast Of Burden support singer James Bay duetted with Jagger: Richards’ playing was even more tasteful than Bey’s Bacofoil trousers (very Iggy Pop 1972).

Other highlights included a a brass-driven Bitch, a gorgeous accoustic duet between Wood and Richards on You Got The Silver, bass player Darell Jones forming a Supremes-style trio with backing singers Bernard Fowler and Sasha Allen and Charlie Watts restarting final encore Satisfaction just so they could carry on playing right up to the curfew.

Before Keith started his solo numbers he paused and looked out over the crowd before nearly saying something. Maybe he wanted to say goodbye: if so this extraordinary band has left the UK on a high. The 60,000 fans here tonight were equally delighted until they discovered that Twickenham Station was closed and there was no direction home. Truly, You Can’t Always Get What You Want….

Lemon Jail: On The Road With The Replacements

Bill Sullivan

University of Minnesota Press

Lemon Jail was the name the Replacements gave their first tour van, and Bill Sullivan was the guy behind the wheel. Thanks to Bob Mehr’s probably definitive Trouble Boys we now know more about the Mats disturbed and disturbing approach to touring. Bill Sullivan fills in the dots – he was there for the best bits, that is the early gigs with the band signed to Twin Tone through to the recording of major-label Pleased To Meet Me. Most of the time it was Sullivan’s job to keep the band out of trouble: sometimes it was his job to be part of the general on-the-road mischief. This could include anything from retrieving the band’s drumkit from the crowd (thrown by the band) through to annoying headliner Tom Petty by singing lead vocals on If I Only Had A Brain.

Sullivan’s literary style is breezy and straightforward, entirely suited to the material. His upbeat tone suggests he is the only person connected with the band who has come through more more or less unscathed. Downsides: the photographs, taken by Sullivan are for the most part worse than my holiday snaps. The mini-hardback format whilst nicely done is slightly expensive for a slim 148 pages – the cheapest copy I could find in the UK came from Wordery. However given that there have only ever been three books dedicated to the Replacements I am happy to welcome a fourth.

Behind The Shade – James Williamson and the Pink Hearts

Leopard Lady Records LLR008CD

Following the final demise of the Stooges in 2016, guitarist James Willamsons’ first LP of original material finds him collaborating with vocalists Frank Meyer and Petra Haden. And here is the paradox: the more this band attempts to emulate the demented raunch of James’ previous band, the less interesting the record sounds. Opening track Riot On The Strip is a case in point where Meyers oversinging and cliched “rock” mannerisms undermine the attempt to move things forward. The lyric of The Revolution Stomp bravely kicks off with You Say You Want A Revolution and would like to be the MC5 but ends up smoothed over and blanded out in the search for AAA Radio action. This Garden Lies is more ranch by rote, albeit with good trumpet.

Far better are the tracks where the vocals and violin of Petra set the agenda. Pink Hearts Across The Sky has a countryish lilt, You Send Me Down has a a Motown beat and wayward sax whilst Miss Misery has attractive Petty/Nicks style duet vocals from Meyer and Haden and a thoughtful guitar solo from Williamson.  Best of all is the closing song, a cover of Alejandro Escovado’s Died A Little Today. Haden sings in a low register and plays violin over woozy Big Star Third piano and understated acoustic guitar from Williamson. So a mixed bag, and whilst Williamson plays well throughout it is hard to see how he can carve out a new musical identity for himself in this setting.

So Alonesome – Johnny Thunders

Remarquable Records RMO2

Another Remarquable release from Pedro Mercedes’ label, dedicated to spreading the word about the excellence of Johnny Thunders studio work during his brief sojurn on Dave Hill’s Real Records.  Hence this latest release, a 12” ten track vinyl LP issued for Record Store Day 2018 which expands and amplifies Thunders So Alone LP from 1978. All the trademarks we have come to expect from Remarquable are here: a thick vinyl pressing, free download, extensive sleeve notes, unreleased pics and a colour poster featuring a cool painting of JT onstage by Wendy Dancey, which used to hang in Dave Hill’s office.

The opening version of Pipeline has a new guitar balance which emphasises Thunders rather than Steve Jones copying Thunders. The alternate mix of Dead Or Alive that follows is so much better than the single version with the backing vocals really coming through and the track sounding livelier all round. Great Big Kiss has a lot more going on with “Tell Me More”s all the way through the song and John Irish Earle’s sax more prominent. Leave Me Alone is a one-take experiment: Thunders with Peter Perrett and Mike Kellie (Only Ones) plus Paul Gray from the Hotrods producing a version that oozes mid-60s Who, clearly A Very Good Thing.  “Title” track.  So Alone is the last time the Heartbreakers recorded together, albeit with Jerry Nolan replaced by Paul Cook on this version inexplicably excluded from the original LP. A slow tortured song with restrained and effective guitar from Thunders that speeds up at the death to savage effect.

Side Two kicks off with a back to basics Daddy Rollin’ Stone –  Thunders on the verse and Phil Lynott on the chorus, no Steve Marriott – a classy bar band sound reminiscent of the Living Dead at the Speakeasy. London Boys remains a waste of space even in the alternate version offered here. Much more interesting is the early version of (She’s So) Untouchable, again the product of Thunders/Perrett/Kellie/Gray. Somewhat overshadowed by the better known You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory this thoughtful mid-tempo piece is a good example of the sort of song that Jerry Nolan refused to play in the Heartbreakers, resulting in an outburst of creativity at the So Alone sessions. A very live-sounding version of the venerable Subway Train is followed by an extended version of The Wizard. Fascinating to learn from the extensive liner notes that it involves BP ‘Beep’ Fallon on harmonica and Chris Wood on Sax

If you hated So Alone, there is not much for you here. If you loved So Alone – and it’s one of my all-time fave LP’s – then what you have here is more of the same. You know what to do.