Wednesday, June 14, 2006

And so it goes / and so it goes / and so it goes

I guess this is part three of the vinyl listings I did here and here. Having collated a bunch of 7” singles and 12” singles, albums are the obvious next listing, although I find the concept way more daunting than a singles list. The playing field is already well signposted, there are accepted parameters.

And, if I’m realistic with myself, the world, and myself, really doesn’t need another greatest albums of all time thing. Do you really want me to tell you that Pet Sounds is a work of genius (I guess it is) or The Bends is a monumental achievement (c’mon be honest, Radiohead are really just a good rock band who mutated into a pretentious poor mans post Barrett, Pink Floyd, Meddle era…oh and having heard two tracks from the Tom Yorke album, shall I risk life and limb by saying that what I’ve heard is formless drivel).

I’m not the person to write such a list.

What I’m happy to waste my time doing is writing a few words about a bunch of albums that, for one reason or another escape all those lists, albums that maybe should be listed somewhere but seem to get forgotten. I think you could make an extended list of some 200 records and cover any possible album that could possibly be considered for a Q, Mojo, NME, or RS list, it’s that predictably narrow and dull. All they do is shuffle. There are rules and there are records that are pre-ordained classics, ones you are supposed to assume hit the listings. The ones below are not on that top 200 boys club listing.

I perused the recent Mojo (another bloody Mojo list…they love em lots, eh?...must really push sales along big time…like yet another Beatles cover) of the best albums released in their fifteen year tenure and it really was a mostly shitty bunch of mediocre sub Americana and drab singer-songwriters. It was the Zimmer frame of lists, but I guess that’s Mojo, they kind of get the distant past but the more recent stuff eludes them somewhat. But, generally speaking they sem to be running out of subjects to reminisce about, which is a shame. New York Dolls story was good though….

But that’s beside the point. These are the records that I recommend without any reservation. Am I wrong about these? And who really cares anyway. I guess I have too much time on my hands..

The rules are the same as before..2000 is the cut off, I have to have a physical copy and only one album per act or artist is permitted.

And, rather than burden this blog down with forty odd albums (which is about the number I narrowed it down to) I’m gonna do this in slabs. That makes it user friendly and stretches the thing out somewhat, so in lots of half a dozen or so:

  1. Alexander O’Neal (Tabu 1985)….before this album there were lush soul records but this was the eve of machine driven lush soul. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis took the mountainous Alexander (he was / is six foot six) and made what may still be their finest soul record. Thrown out of The Time because he was, they said, too black (!), any doubt that there was so much more to the sound that made Prince what he became, is put to rest by this album, especially the grinding purple funk of Innocent (best in its 12” B side mix). Prince, genius that he is simply took the sound and ran with it. But Innocent is an aberration on this album which is dominated by gorgeous, plaintiff, ballads and mid tempo grooves, none of which qualify as anything close to a filler (and that’s a virtual unknown on soul albums of the era…Alexander’s future albums are full of them), and all dominated by the deep purity of Alexander’s voice which was never swamped by the, at the time, fresh technology that the production duo was using. He came close again with Hearsay and released some killer singles over the next few years, but this album is the one.
  2. Carlton-The Call is Strong (FFRR 1990)..the usual call made is that Massive Attack’s debut was the defining moment in the post Wild Bunch Bristol scene. Not true. I’m not going to say anything disparaging about Blue Lines, it was, and remains, one of the pivotal moments of its decade, pushing open doors for British, and indeed (and I’m trying to think of a word but I can’t) Jamaican infused soul music, and it was, ahhh, understatingly, a good record. That said, the debut, in fact only, album from Carlton (who was the vocalist on the first single to bear the name Massive Attack, the original, and superior, 1988 take of Any Love) was every bit its equal and in many ways is a better record, with more dimensions. Produced by Smith & Mighty (who have never had the kudos or rewards their immensely influential work rightly deserves), and largely forgotten now, this dark, haunting and fragile record has never sounded better than it does now. K7! did a very patchy Smith & Mighty collection a couple of years back, but the re-issue and elevation of this absolute classic is long overdue
  3. Fingers Inc- Another Side (Jacktrax 1988)…for a genre that can claim classic singles by the hundred, great, or classic house music albums are very thin on the ground. In real terms I can think of less than twenty, and a bunch of them turned up in the first five years of its existence. I still don’t know the legality of this record. It came out on an indie UK label in a time when the niceties of who owned what in Chicago was vague at best, and was essentially a collection of earlier singles, with some newer material. It has, as far as I know has only briefly appeared on CD. However, Larry Heard mentions it favourably on his site, so who knows. The day I first managed to get hold of this in 1988 (I swapped it for something forgotten with a friend as you simply couldn’t buy this stuff in New Zealand then) I was mesmerised. I sat up all night and played it repeatedly until the sun rose. This was the rawest, most sensual, most elegantly beautiful music I’d ever had wash over me. It was the moment when it all changed. So simple, so powerful…..
  4. VariousThe Philadelphia International Story 1971-86 (Philadelphia International / Street Sounds 1986)…various web sites claim this was a bootleg. Maybe it was but Morgan Khan was furiously releasing a mind boggling selection of bits and pieces from all over the soul, funk and jazz stratosphere, so I doubt it. I guess, over a wine or five he somehow managed to persuade someone at CBS to license the tracks which make up the bulk (there are later, non-CBS, tracks too) of this unbelievable anthology of what many claim is the greatest independent record label of the past thirty years. Certainly PIR was the equal of Motown, Stax and Chess in changing the face of black contemporary music. Simply put, there are black American records pre-PIR and black American records post-PIR and the difference is both obvious and substantial. Fourteen big fat slabs of thick, beautiful black vinyl with god knows how many tracks which include every major track on the label (think O’Jays, MFSB, Billy Paul, Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, The Jacksons, Teddy Pendergrast, Dee Dee Gamble, Dexter Wansel and countless more). That plus albums of obscurities, Philly flavoured jazz, 12” mixes, and so very much more. Rare as hell, I got it (he says gloatingly) for virtually nothing at a sale in Auckland after having coveted it for close to a year. The holy grail of seventies soul…
  5. The Ronettes-The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica (Philles 1965)…an album to make your heart pause. Every damned song just goes bam and shatters me. It’s not just the power of Spector’s production, although there is that of course ((he may be a lunatic but that’s the industry…there are no shortage of nutters, its just that he takes it to new levels), but it’s also that unassailable voice. Every time Ronnie Spector opens her mouth it just makes me want to shiver, to collapse and crawl away. No woman has ever had a voice like hers, before or after, and Phil was able to recognise that power. The way he placed it in the mix, allowed it to soar and explode with such carnage, was what made this work. Ronnie tried both before and after Phil but, sadly, the voice was there but the other essential element that makes this one of the greatest American pop albums ever, wasn’t.
  6. Allen Toussaint -Southern Nights (Reprise 1975)…there are songs on this album that others have taken and placed in the charts (and, I imagine made Mr Toussaint, one of the most influential American writers and producers ever, a bucket of money) but you’ve not heard them properly until you’ve heard the originals herein. Glen Campbell’s slight, throwaway, take of the title track sits in the shadow of the beautifully dreamy recording on this album which evokes an aura of the place that Toussaint so clearly loves and breathes, and Boz Scaggs’ pleasant cover of What Do you Want the Girl To Do is dwarfed by Allen’s smooth southern funk (with The Meters of course). Alternately tough, although rarely raucous, and warm & soft, Southern Nights is an unhailed masterpiece, and deserved its due many years ago…


Anonymous said...

Hi Simon. Thanks for a great list. Thought I should leave a thankyou, I have been reading your site (and your lists inparticular) for awhile now. Cheers.

You wouldn't happen to have a cat# for the Philadelphia International Records comp?? Discogs turned up nothing...Sounds amazing. I will have to add it to the list of hard to find records that are a must...Along w/ that history of the house sound of chicago comp (one day).

I mentioned this on Biggie (cough), but I found the Padlock LP in the bins at Real Groovy yesterday for silly cheap. Was a real score for me, have been after it for ages. I checked, and it was the '85 pressing w/ the bonus 12". Who gives away these sorts of things??


Simon said...

Its PHST 1986. I don't know why its not on dicogs...I looked too there for an image to use. The complete track listing is on down the bottom....what it doesn't state is that lots of these versions are 12" or Molton mixes etc. are lucky, that is so rare now (although HTFR pirated it a few years back)

Anonymous said...

Hey Simon,

Do you know where I could get a copy of this? I need it bad.

I assume these are the unreleased edits that were mentioned on that BBC documentary on the history of dance music.