3 Picks

After the Gold Rush is almost always regarded as Neil Young’s best album; it happens to be one of his least raved about. Rust Never Sleeps is one of the greatest, most passionate statements rock ‘n’ roll has seen. But After the Gold Rush is surely his best. Why? There’s not a particle of slickness or fakery in this man. The melody on here is perfect, the lyrics georgeous (he never drowns in his metaphors) and the LP manages to discreetly rise above its generally sombre mood to become timeless; the idea is that the true passion of the material only reveals itself after being lovingly played over and over.

10 Relocated silver seeds out of 10

When I first gave this the proverbial ”proper listen”, I was struck by how aspirational it seemed. I was outraged. A rock album that ditches despondence for ambition?! Sacrilege. Upon second, third and countless other listens, I now realize that these characters’ aspirations/dreams are often shattered at the end. The despondence is mostly just shown ‘off-screen’? Nice trick. The production was what Phil Spector dreamt of, although the elaborate, operatic layering is product of 2 years of striving for studio perfection, not simply trickery, and the songs don’t let it down.

9 Backstreets out of 10

If I thought Music From Big Pink and the Brown Album were the ultimate album comforts on a winter’s evening, The Basement Tapes really embedded a picturesque image of reclusive troubadors hiding out in a basement recording music that brought you back to an older vision of America and the joy of the recording process, with added humor and lyrics that were less obtuse than on Dylan’s earlier records. The delight of this album, or more specifically these 1967 sessions, is that they evoke a sense of a growing of character in Bob and the Band, as they seem to evolve as lyricists, musicians, and friends under the backdrop of back-to-basics Woodstock. The band would come to grow tired of Woodstock’s hedonism and relocate to Malibu, where they would make their first boring album. Yes, Malibu; the capital of the staunch work ethic…

Projectile juice gobs out of 10

Keep your juice to yourself…

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Willy and the Poor Boys

I’d go with this as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s best, as it shows so fully the band’s seamless mixture of an unpretentious, rootsy feel (they’re arguably one of the very few rock and roll bands whose live performance was far slicker than their studio work) and John Fogerty’s brilliant political lyrics. Neither element overpowers the other, and in 1969, CCR were at the top of their game. Fortunate Son is a contender for the greatest protest song of the Vietnam era, precisely due to the blend previously described. Maybe it’s that Fogerty is neither a poet nor a straight-up genius like Dylan that makes him one of the greatest rock lyricists, and certainly that the rest of the band treated music as something they loved to do, more like a hard worker who grafts because he enjoys it (they did put out three masterworks in one year), than tortured perfectionists.

Down on the Corner displays perfectly (what I think is) their attitude to music, and has the same effect of the ‘back-to-basics’ opener of The Dead’s ‘Uncle John’s Band’ from Workingman’s Dead, that of transporting the listener straight out of their urban ‘fastness’ to the sound and image of a band playing joyously on the street corner. It Came Out of the Sky tells the hilarious story of a martian asteroid landing in Moline hick country (”Ronnie the popular claimed it was a communist plot…”), while the Lead Belly cover ‘Cotton Fields’ is representative of their charming connection with black roots music (perfect harmonies by the way). Effigy, the epic final number refers to Richard Nixon’s (whodathunkit?!) ‘sneering at anti-war protestors’ outside the White House; what gives Fogerty the edge is that he did do military service, and his lyrics manage to be both arty and unpretentious, as they revolve endlessly around the hypnotising chords. Willy and the Poor Boys is one that will consistently make you smile, think and dance.

Best Track: Fortunate Son

Goof: Can’t say, really…

9 Rotten Cotton bolls out of 10

Note: Brilliant 2003 (40th Anninversary) remaster comes with live renditions of Fortunate Son, and It Came Out of the Sky. Not as good as the studio counterparts, but an interesting snapshot from ’71, as they were slowly breaking. I’d pay 20 pounds more to see CCR on a street corner with a washboard than I would to see them in concert.