Monday, February 18, 2013


YEAR:  1971
LABEL:  Reprise
TRACK LISTING:  Mambo Sun,  Cosmic Dancer,  Jeepster,  Monolith,  Lean Woman Blues,  Bang a Gong (Get It On),  Planet Queen,  Girl,  The Motivator,  Life's a Gas,  Rip Off
BONUS TRACKS:  I own two different copies of this album (no, I didn't buy either of them -- free promos, baby!).  The first cd reissue from 2001 features bonus tracks of all demo versions:  Rip Off (Work In Progress),  Mambo Sun (Work In Progress),  Cosmic Dancer (Work In Progress),  Monolith (Work In Progress),  Get It On (Work In Progress),  Planet Queen (Work In Progress), The Motivator (Work In Progress) and Life's a Gas (Work In Progress).  The 2003 30th Anniversary cd features the following bonus tracks:  There Was A Time,  Raw Ramp,  Planet Queen (Acoustic Version),  Hot Love,  Woodland Rock,  King of the Mountain Cometh,  The T. Rex Electric Warrior Interview
IMPRESSIONS:  If there is an epicenter of the glam rock era, it is surely ELECTRIC WARRIOR.  There is simply no other album that sounds like this (including any other T. Rex albums).  The insolent, almost lazy groove, the combo of electric guitars and acoustic guitars, that strange-sounding clappy echo, the fact that Marc Bolan seems to be able to sing without using his vocal chords i.e. in an impish, insolent squeaking whisper.  I don't know what it is or how to explain it but this album captures 1971.  In fact, Marc Bolan himself says in the interview contained on the 30th anniversary Rhino reissue:  "I think Electric Warrior, for me, is the first album which is a statement of 1971 for us in England. I mean that's... If anyone ever wanted to know why we were big in the other part of the world, that album says it, for me."  This is another one of those albums which I grew up with in the wood-panelled living room on Linwood Avenue with our lime-green beanbag chair and the string art picture on the wall.  Dropping the needle onto side two (we only ever listened to side two owing to my Dad's perverse habit of only playing one side of a new album so that years later he could play the other side and it would be like having another new album -- I know, makes no sense to me either) meant catapulting myself into the glittery world of groovy glam with Marc Bolan as a guide.  Marc Bolan, who seemed like a spoonful of sugar laced with black pepper; exceedingly sweet but slightly dangerous.
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Mambo Sun,  Cosmic Dancer,  Jeepster,  Bang a Gong (Get It On),  Planet Queen,  Girl,  The Motivator,  Life's a Gas,  Rip Off
GUEST ARTISTS:  Rick Wakeman (keyboards on "Bang a Gong (Get It On)")
FACT SHEET:  ELECTRIC WARRIOR is T. Rex's sixth album (and their second under the name T. Rex as their previous 4 albums were released under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex).  The album was produced by Tony Visconti.  The album cover was designed by South Kensington art design group Hipgnosis who designed scores of classic album covers for Led Zeppelin, 10cc, The Alan Parsons Project, Al Stewart, Peter Gabriel, Paul McCartney & Wings, Genesis, UFO, AC/DC, Bad Company and many more.  "Get It On" was retitled "Bang a Gong (Get It On") in the US to distinguish it from another song called "Get It On" released in late 1971 by Chase.  ELECTRIC WARRIOR went to number one in the UK for several weeks and became the biggest selling album there in 1971.  Rolling Stone ranked the album number 160 in their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003.     

Sunday, February 17, 2013


YEAR:  1979
LABEL:  2 Tone
TRACK LISTING:  A Message To You Rudy,  Do the Dog,  It's Up To You,  Nite Klub,  Doesn't Make It Alright,  Concrete Jungle,  Too Hot,  Monkey Man,  (Dawning of A) New Era,  Blank Expression,  Stupid Marriage,  Too Much Too Young,  Little Bitch,  You're Wondering Now
IMPRESSIONS:  The undoubted epicenter of the explosion that was the U.K. ska movement in the late 70s.  A perfect snapshot of the disillusioned anger of British youth at the time.  As wikipedia for once puts it rather eloquently, the British version of ska "...shares the infectious energy and humour of the original sound (of Jamaican 60's ska), but injects new-found anger and punk sensibility.  The sound is more manic than its Caribbean laid-back ancestor while bringing the guitar to the fore and having the traditional horn section and percussion lessened somewhat.  Ska was such a phenomenon in Britain at the time that a TV special called "DANCE CRAZE" aired examining it (and I'm lucky enough to own a copy of that broadcast).  The Specials really were the epitome of British ska and were even more short-lived than the short-lived ska craze itself; soon to break up into the equally short-lived but excellent Fun Boy 3.  But here in the Specials' debut album is the manifesto of ska through original songs as well as copious Jamaican ska covers (which went uncredited at the time but nowadays are properly attributed).  "THE SPECIALS" is a message to you, rude bwoy, and it stands up just as proud all these years later.
GUEST ARTISTS:  Elvis Costello (producer),  Rico Rodriguez (trombone),  Chrissie Hynde (vocals)
FACT SHEET:  THE SPECIALS is the Special's first album.  The Specials were Terry Hall (vocals), Neville Staple (vocals), Lynval Golding (rhythm guitar), Roddy Radiation (lead guitar, vocals on "Concrete Jungle"), Jerry Dammers (keyboards), Sir Horace Gentleman (bass guitar) and John Bradbury (drums).  "A Message To You, Rudy" is a cover of a Dandy Livingstone song; former Skatalites member Rico Rodriguez played trombone on the original Jamaican version 20 years before and appeared here with the Specials' cover version.  "Rudy" in the title of the song is not a proper name but is a shortened form of the Jamaican term "rude boy".  "Do the Dog" is a cover of a Rufus Thomas song.  "Too Hot" is a cover of a Prince Buster song.  "Monkey Man" is a cover of a Toots & the Maytals song.  The song "Concrete Jungle" is NOT a cover of the Bob Marley song but the title was obviously inspired by it.  On some US versions of the album, the song "Gangsters" appears between "Too Much Too Young" and "Little Bitch".  Q Magazine rates the album at number 38 on the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever list and Rolling Stone ranks it number 42 in their list of the 100 Best Albums of the 1970s. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013


YEAR:  1959
LABEL:  HiFi Records
TRACK LISTING:  Granada,  Far Away Places,  Istanbul,  I Love Paris,  A Foggy Day,  April In Paris,  Funiculi Funicula,  Londonderry Air,  By the River Sainte Marie,  Sabre Dance,  Eastern Romance,  Veradero,  Under Paris Skies,  German Medley
IMPRESSIONS:  One of the most prominent pipe organ technicians and the most-recorded pop organist of all time, George Wright was also notoriously hard to get along with.  A perfectionist, he would routinely find fault with organs, take them apart in order to correct it and then, after a perceived slight or altercation with the owner would not put the organ back together again.  Quite renowned for his rather bombastic style of playing -- Amok Books' Brian King, quoted in RE/SEARCH INCREDIBLY STRANGE MUSIC VOL. 1, states:  "There's one album where he visits Japan (TICKET TO TOKYO) and it'll be real quiet and then he'll go overboard -- you have to turn the stereo down all the time.  He'll take a song meant for acoustic guitar and transcribe it for organ -- that's always a laff riot."  Wright does, in fact, have a soft touch when he wants to (i.e. "By the River Sainte Marie") but then usually can't seem to resist pulling out all the stops for a wow finish.  Here, on "HAVE ORGAN WILL TRAVEL" the emphasis is obviously on songs evoking different countries.  The album cover is definitely a classic and the music on the album itself is one of Wright's most enjoyable collections.  One of his feats is that he takes "I Love Paris" -- a song I've never liked -- and made it enjoyable for me!  That's quite an accomplishment; the only other person who did that was Leona Anderson on her "MUSIC TO SUFFER BY" album.  George Wright hauls his organ around Spain, England, France, Istanbul and any other vague country of origin for his song selections.  "HAVE ORGAN WILL TRAVEL" was released in the same year as another "travel" from George Wright's fingertips:  the equally enjoyable "TICKET TO TOKYO" mentioned earlier.  Kitschy, bombastic and enjoyable.
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Granada,  Istanbul,  I Love Paris,  April In Paris,  Funiculi Funicula,  Eastern Romance,  Under Paris Skies,  German Medley
FACT SHEET:  HAVE ORGAN WILL TRAVEL is George Wright's 18th album (probably).  Wright spent four years as featured organist at San Francisco's Fox Theater then became organist and musical director at New York City's Paramount in Times Square.  In 1950, Wright moved to Los Angeles and became the musical director for TV soap opera GENERAL HOSPITAL which featured his music and theme song until 1976.  Wright released over 60 albums during his career.  In 1968, however, the warehouse where he stored his pipe organ burned down and he did not record again for 10 years.  In 1995, Wright was awarded the first Life Achievement Award by the American Theatre Organ Society.  George Wright died in 1998. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013


YEAR:  1963
LABEL:  Canadian American Records Ltd.
TRACK LISTING:  This Could Be the Start of Something,  Fly Me To the Moon,  I'll Get By,  Speak Low,  As Long As He Needs Me,  My Man,  Let's Face the Music and Dance,  They've Got A Lot To Learn,  Mean To Me,  Gravy Waltz,  Someone To Watch Over Me,  Nice 'n' Easy
IMPRESSIONS:  This album first came to my attention when it appeared on a wall of lounge albums behind the drag queen Lypsinka in a photo on the back cover of RE/SEARCH:  INCREDIBLY STRANGE MUSIC VOLUME 1 (a bible for space age bachelor pop lounge music aficionados.  Only about a third of the album cover is visible behind Lypsinka's outrageous hair but that didn't stop me from tracking it down.  Inside the music is what one would expect.  Jennie Smith was a minor night club vocalist of the late 50 - early 60's with a pleasant, sunny voice who landed a gig on "THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW" singing nightly (hence the title of this album).  It is perhaps no surprise, owing to her Steve Allen connection, that the album opens with Allen's own composition "This Could Be the Start of Something" (probably the most well-known of his hundreds of songs) which Smith sings in a suitable "ring-a-ding-ding" style.  The album is an amalgam of songs from the Depression era ("Let's Face the Music and Dance") to contemporary early 60's hits like "As Long As He Needs Me" (which have always seemed to me to have a bleakly depressing air about them).  And, being the height of the lounge music era, "Speak Low" fittingly breaks out the bongos!  Smith tackles Fanny Brice's torch song "My Man" in a playfully spry style while her "Gravy Waltz" seems to be an attempt to duplicate Kay Starr's number one hit "Rock & Roll Waltz".  Smith is no Ella Fitzgerald but as a second tier vocalist she is nice to listen to; particularly strong is her rendition of "Fly Me To the Moon" (in the slowed-down ballad version) which seems to bring forth a warmth of feeling absent in some of the other up-tempo songs on the album.  A short and sweet dozen songs (enriched by an extra bonus track for the cd).
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  This Could Be the Start of Something,  Fly Me To the Moon,  Speak Low,  Let's Face the Music and Dance,  They've Got A Lot To Learn,  Someone To Watch Over Me,  Nice 'n' Easy
FACT SHEET:  Born Jo Ann Kristof in a coal mining hollow in Burnwell, West Virginia, Jennie Smith grew up with a love of movie musicals and popular song.  After landing a contract with RCA Records via the auspices of Ray Ellis, Smith got a spot performing on "The Steve Allen Show" when the host heard a song from her album.  This eventually led to a permanent spot on the show singing on each episode.  Smith also began performing in nightclubs around the country; the first being Chicago's Black Orchid with comedian Jonathan Winters.  Smith went on to feature with other top stars of the time including Bill Cosby (during his early stand-up years), the Smothers Brothers, Red Skelton, Pat Boone and Buddy Hackett.  When the constant touring lost it's excitement, Smith retired from the stage and began working for the General Reinsurance Corporation where she met and married her husband Arthur Brown in 1978.  Now retired, Smith and her husband live a quiet, happy life.  NIGHTLY YOURS was issued on compact disc in 2009 with a different album cover and the sequencing of all the songs shuffled around; a non-album track was also included as a bonus which bizarrely leads off the cd version.  A contemporary piece in Life Magazine seems to make an awful lot about Smith's dieting and weight loss of 15 pounds for stardom.  The singer is quoted in the article as saying:  "I love strawberry shortcake which I'm not allowed to eat anymore.  So far it's been the greatest sacrifice I've made for my career".

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


YEAR:  2012
LABEL:  Warner Bros.
TRACK LISTING:  Supremacy,  Madness,  Panic Station,  Prelude,  Survival,  Follow Me,  Animals,  Explorers,  Big Freeze,  Save Me,  Liquid State,  The 2nd Law:  Unsustainable,  The 2nd Law:  Isolated System
IMPRESSIONS:  Before we get to Muse's 2nd Law, let's discuss Muse's 1st Law:  that is, the fact that Muse wears its influences on its sleeve.  Muse has been described as "sounding like" other bands (Radiohead, in particular) and this album is no exception.  Just listening to the album's first three songs perfectly illustrates this fact.  You simply cannot hear the album opener "Supremacy" without hearing Queen performing it (with an added "James Bond Theme" chord progression to spice the mix) and the catchy hit single "Madness" is SOOOOO offa George Michael's FAITH album; it's the song George Michael would've recorded if he was still trying anymore.  And song number three "Panic Station" is something like a lost INXS track.  While we're ticking off "influence" boxes, listen to how much "Big Freeze" recalls U2 with it's Edge-like jangly guitar and even Matthew Bellamy's lead vocal seems deliberately styled after Bono.  If you're reaching for bombast, there's probably no better exponent.   However, the fact that much of Muse's sound may be "homage-y" makes it no less entertaining.  Just look at a Quentin Tarantino movie and all the fun you can have with that.  As for Muse's 2nd Law, that refers to the second law of thermodynamics which states:  "...the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium -- the state of maximum entropy."  What that means is that Muse has created a concept album concerning "the story of a resource-strapped planet that can no longer support its inhabitants".  So recycle those plastic bottles, folks.  This is not a quiet, intimate-sounding album; the sound is big BIG BIG!!!  Operatic, in fact, which makes the comparison to Queen appropriate.  The trudging, anthemic "Survival" (which featured prominently in the recent London Olympics I did not watch) is also Queen-like in its over-the-top baroqueness.  In fact, rather than the usual Radiohead comparison, I think "THE 2ND LAW" is most inspired by Queen's rock operatic sound (listen to "Explorers" for yet another song you can actually hear Freddie Mercury singing in your head).  It's also nice to hear Muse playing with the time signatures (a la "Animals" 6/4).  The result is an album which is refreshingly bombastic in these extremely boring musical times when the music of Lady Gaga is viewed as "exciting".  If Muse's newest album isn't exactly "original", at least it's interesting.
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Supremacy,  Madness,  Panic Station,  Prelude,  Survival,  Animals,  Explorers,  Liquid State,  The 2nd Law:  Unsustainable,  The 2nd Law:  Isolated System
GUEST ARTISTS:  David Campbell (orchestral arrangements & conductor on "The 2nd Law:  Unsustainable") 
FACT SHEET:  THE 2ND LAW is Muse's sixth album.  The album cover art represents a map of the pathways of the brain "tracking the circuits in our head and how we process information with bright, neon colors".   

Sunday, February 10, 2013


YEAR:  2005
LABEL:  Sanctuary
TRACK LISTING:  Streetcrawler,  Life Begins Again,  P.S.A.,  Loki Cat,  Cranes of Prey,  Love Is Real,  Owed To Darryl,  Newerwaves,  Time Shift,  Lullabye,  Loki Cat (Reprise)
IMPRESSIONS:  Categorized as jazz fusion, "LIFE BEGINS AGAIN" features the monster drumming of the Smashing Pumpkins' Jimmy Chamberlin (particularly on the opening track "Streetcrawler").  Jimmy brings along a couple lead singers from Catherine Wheel, the Righteous Brothers (!) and . . . oh, well look at this . . . Smashing Pumpkins as well!  There are also a couple songs with lead vocals from Chamberlin's co-songwriter Billy Mohler as well as some choice instrumentals.  This album is a really nice antidote to most albums of the noughties in that it's actually really enjoyable to listen to and your ears never become bored.  The Complex mixes up the sounds with every subsequent track; contrasting instrumentals with vocals and then varying the vocals between several singers.   The "jazz fusion" label is a little problematic in that several songs are out-and-out rockers; the title track, frinstance, sounds like Soundgarden while the instrumentation on "Loki Cat" does resemble Coldplay quite a bitty bit.  But all of it's tasty!  All that and a pretty little birdy on the cover.
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Streetcrawler,  Life Begins Again,  P.S.A.,  Cranes of Prey,  Love Is Real,  Owed To Darryl,  Newerwaves,  Time Shift,  Lullabye
GUEST ARTISTS:  Rob Dickinson (lead vocals on "Life Begins Again" and "Love Is Real"),  Billy Corgan (lead vocal on "Loki Cat"),  Bill Medley (lead vocal on "Lullabye"),  Linda Strawberry (backing vocals on "Lullabye")
FACT SHEET:  LIFE BEGINS AGAIN is the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex's first album. The Complex features Jimmy Chamberlin (drums, producer, writer), Billy Mohler (bass, keyboards, guitar, writer, lead vocals on "Newerwaves"), Sean Woolstenhulme (guitar, writer),  Adam Benjamin (Fender Rhodes), Paul Chamberlin (additional drums on "Loki Cat") and Corey Wilton (lead guitar on "Love Is Real", additional guitar on "Time Shift").  The cover was designed by Corey Wilton.