The Dark Star Album Guide

Here I have compiled a longlist of the records essential for a happy and rich life. In other words, if you don’t own these albums, you are still stuck in boring limbo before the philosophical rebirth that each of these will provide. Read this first, thank me later…

This is archived and primarily a reference for those who use this blog. My own album guide in the vein of Christgau or Rolling Stone, maybe. Each album that has been reviewed as of yet will have it’s own link which you can click to browse.

The Band: Music from Big Pink, The Brown Album
The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds
The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Big Star: Radio City
David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust
Buffalo Springfield: Buffalo Springfield Again
Ray Charles: Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music: Vol’s 1 & 2
The Clash: S/T
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Willy and the Poor Boys
Derek and the Dominoes: LAYLA and Other Assorted Love Songs
Nick Drake: Bryter Layter
Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde, The Basement Tapes
Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On
The Grateful Dead: Live Dead, American Beauty
Roy Harper: HQ
Jimi Hendrix: Electric Ladyland
Buddy Holly and the Crickets: 20 Golden Greats
B.B. King: Live at the Regal
The Kinks: Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur
Led Zeppelin: II, III, IV, Physical Graffiti
Little Feat: S/T, Dixie Chicken
Love: Forever
Joni Mitchell: Blue
Van Morrison: Moondance
Randy Newman: 12 Songs
Gram Parsons: Grievous Angel
Pink Floyd: Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon
Elvis Presley: The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Complete 50’s Masters
Prince: Purple Rain
Otis Redding: Sittin’ By the Dock of the Bay
Lou Reed: The Blue Mask
REM: Murmur
Replacements: Let it Be, Tim
The Rolling Stones: Beggar’s Banquet, Let it Bleed, Exile on Main Street
Paul Simon: Graceland
Sly and the Family Stone: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
The Smiths: Hatful of Hollow, The Queen is Dead
Bruce Springsteen: The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, Born in the USA
Steely Dan: Countdown to Ecstasy, Aja
Rod Stewart: Every Picture Tells a Story
Talk Talk: Spirit of Eden
Stevie Wonder: Innervisions
Yes: Close to the Edge
Neil Young: After the Gold Rush, On the Beach, Tonight’s the Night, Rust Never Sleeps
John Prine: S/T 1971

Advertisements

Some Favourite Lyrics

Albertsthal Typewriter Regular

Albertsthal Typewriter Regular

Inspired by a recent post by the Music Enthusiast, (link to his blog here: https://musicenthusiast.net/) I decided to pick out some of my all-time favourite lyrics – some are humorous, some are cynical, some are beautiful, some are pot-induced and all are fantastic. Who says poetry can’t be musical?

Paul Simon: Graceland – Best ever lyric about America?
The Mississippi Delta was shining
Like a National guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the civil war.

 

Bob Dylan: Tangled Up in Blue – Some sneaky existential relationship metaphors from America’s national bard…
She was married when we first met
Soon to be divorced
I helped her out of a jam, I guess
But I used a little too much force
We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best.

Joni Mitchell: A Case of You – One of the greatest love songs ever written.
On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
With your face sketched on it twice.

The Rolling Stones: Rocks Off – How to sum up rock ‘n’ roll in one lyric from the Stones’ ‘fagged out masterpiece’.
The sunshine bores the daylights out of me.
Chasing shadows moonlight mystery.
Headed for the overload,
Splattered on the dirty road,
Kick me like you’ve kicked before,
I can’t even feel the pain no more.

Neil Young: Pocahontas – 1979 Acid Western starring Marlon Brando and Neil Young on a journey through America’s past, present and future. Rolling Stone says ‘Five stars!’.
And maybe Marlon Brando
Will be there by the fire
We’ll sit and talk of Hollywood
And the good things there for hire
And the Astrodome
and the first tepee
Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and me.

 

In the Light

IMG_2733

If someone asked me to sum up to define rock and roll in two albums – two albums that encapsulate the entire DNA, the power, the glory, the excess, the messy, vibrant artistry of rock and roll – I would choose Physical Graffiti and Exile on Main Street in an fingerclick. I’ve often said that Zeppelin are the greatest ‘albums band’ in rock for their unbroken string of near-perfect 6 albums from 1969’s Led Zeppelin to the LP in question. A string of giant, monolithic touchstones in the recorded album’s history. Forgive my constant glorification – they were the first band I ever seriously loved, and I still hold them in a sort of childlike, unquestioning revery. Don’t get me started about In Through the Out Door, though.

Physical Graffiti kicks off with Custard Pie; a mildly sexual punch to the stomach that rocks out with loose swagger, followed by the apocalyptic rocker The Rover, a showcase for Jimmy Page’s mastery of guitar production. Not a single track on this sprawling epic has the same guitar sound; further solidifying the fact that, while Page isn’t the greatest ‘feel guitarist’ that he is often lauded as, he was a genius at producing, layering and recording his instrument, and Physical Graffiti is packed with these chunky, chewy, alien, tones.

Robert Plant outside Headley Grange, with the Rolling Stones’ Mobile Studio to the left

The second disc is packed with overlooked classics: Down by the Seaside and Ten Years Gone have a bittersweet calm about them, and the beautiful Bron Yr-Aur instrumental which I will post below.

By 1975, Zeppelin were disintegrating. But as so many great rock ‘n’ roll albums have showed us (Big Star’s Radio City, Exile on Main Street, Tonight’s the Night), an artist in cynical excess and disintegration makes far more interesting records than one in youthful naivety. There are moments where the band sprawl themselves naked and apathetic, and it’s fascinating: In Boogie With Stu, distant intoxicated chuckles are heard as the band relax in the garden with Ian Stewart, recording an impromptu, raggedy blues stomp.

These moments sum up exactly what the double album should be: an artist pouring every single strand of their musical DNA into an inconsistent, glorious mess of a record; it’s the unfocused spilling of one’s artistic guts out onto two plates of black plastic. That’s why so many artists have never made it out alive: Marvin Gaye never made another good album after the naked, raw emotion of Here, My Dear; the Stones never created anything of true merit album-wise after Exile on Main Street; Prince could never after live up to the majestic disorder of Sign O’ the Times. This is the case with Physical Graffiti – Led Zeppelin’s last stand, and arguably their most representative work.

The Old Cricketer Returns

So I haven’t been on here for a while (ages). Busy. I’m back, though! Here’s a recent discovery that is simply refusing to leave the speakers: HQ by Roy Harper (1975):

IMG_2488

You’ll really understand Roy Harper if you’re British. He seems to encapsulate something unexplainable about the country; his own little slither-slice of the intangible aura of England. In the most famous track on HQ, When an ‘Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease’, he captures a village cricket match as the sun sets and the brass band fades, his voice full of painfully bittersweet nostalgia for times passed. The legendary John Peel asked for this song to played in the event of his death.

HQ kicks off with a 13-minute rocker, ‘The Game’, which features Dave Gilmour, John Paul Jones and Bill Bruford. Angry rock turns to pastoral grandeur, which is then swiftly followed by ‘The Spirit Lives’, a track in which Harper takes on his ‘only true enemy’: religion. It’s refreshing to hear some angry atheism in a rock world of blues-preach (note the blasphemous tongue-in-cheek ‘walking on water’ cover art by Hipgnosis). Then follows the heavy Referendum where Roy flamboyantly displays his chops in the field of folk-metal. HQ then takes a breather for the second side for some olde quaint singer-songwritery that achieves the lush, spacey hypnotism that I consider the hallmark of good folk music.

While Stormcock remains the most quietly raved about album in our music press, HQ is an overlooked delight of folk-hard-rock-prog and wacky English prose; hard beats and soft Keats with a little Guthrie mundane mysticism.

I really need to get back into the swing of writing, so forgive the feeble length of this post. Here’s the lovely nugget Forget Me Not from said album. Enjoy:

Solid Mental Grace

IMG_2306

Another one of those album experiences that are permanently imprinted in the memory. It was a cosy winter’s evening. I had just bought Yes’ Fragile and Close to the Edge and was already roughly familiar with the former. I stick on Close to the Edge and let myself be washed away with the distant utopian sounds, until the jarring polyrythmic sections come clinging and clanging in. Stunned, amazed, I ask myself: ‘What is this crap?!”.

So, I stay with it for its sublime 18-minute lifetime and the piece of grandiose progressive rock reveals itself as a kind of masterpiece. Further listens and I still deem it one of the most transcendent uses of the studio since the inception of recording. Close to the Edge ultimately transcends the stigma of its genre to become something quite momentous.

To those who dismiss prog as utter pretentious tosh (and god knows some of it definitely is), just give this an objective listen. I can think of only a IMG_2307handful of records of this era that use the synthesizer and still sound fresh today without a hint of cheesiness. Of course, the lyrics sometimes smell of stoned teenage poetry, but also make perfect phonetic sense when played with the music. Sort of?…

A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace
And rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace

Deep, man. As for the gatefold on the right, note its careful design – engineered for equal parts philosophical contemplation and herb-rolling. And You and I follows the title track with a gentler, acoustic tone…

Ah. I give up. I just can’t explain it. Maybe that’s why it is so brilliant. You know music has entered the realm of the ineffable when trying to describe it makes you sound like a blubbering idiot, desperately throwing superlatives at it. How about this: when I play it really loud, it boggles my mind that a group of human beings and some reels of tape made it. In other words; good prog.

100,000 Siberian Khatrus out of 10

I leave you in typicaly ostentatious style with John Martin’s The Plains of Heaven:

John Martin - The Plains of Heaven - Google Art Project.jpg

Kentucky Homes and Mexican Divorces

I remember picking up American Beauty (top left in my cretinous photo) along with a batch of other Grateful Dead CD remasters and having the same kind of revelatory album experience as when I first heard The Band’s 1969 self-titled record. Something about a few guys being able to channel the ghosts of old bluesmen and their ropey guitars through the modern recording process and encapsulating what a hopeless suburban brit romanticizes as the aura of America.

It simply didn’t matter that I couldn’t hear my locked-out brother slamming on the front door over the chiming mandolins of ‘Ripple’. If you look at the cover, you’ll find that it can either say ‘American Beauty’ or ‘American Reality’. Mmm. Psychemedelic.

So began a long interest in ‘roots rock’, which led me to the other 2 albums I reccomend to you, dear reader:  Ry Cooder’s ‘Paradise and Lunch’, and Randy Newman’s ’12 Songs’.
IMG_2248

Paradise and Lunch (1974)
Ry Cooder’s cover choices for this album are seemingly illogical. Yet he makes every one sound totally natural in the context of a unified album. Whether they be blues standards from the 18th century or Burt Bacharach tracks from the 50’s, he makes each one sound weirder than ever. This presents a problem, though: Cooder’s lack of original material AND lack of any true vocal power means he has to make these obscure covers his own. He does this by modestly fingerpickin’ and bottleneckin’ his way to the great smoky barroom in heaven and ultimately the highest musical prestige in my book. Seriously; the man is a guitar genius. Check out his Old Grey Whistle Test performance of ‘Jesus on the Mainline’:

 

12 Songs (1970)
On most Randy Newman albums, the cynicism is dry and sarcastic and ultimately counteracted with some faith in humanity. 12 Songs doesn’t have that. It’s the grumpy uncle. Newman reaches a level of casual, humble, infectious misanthropy. He doesn’t ever sing as himself; there’s always some character he speaks through: a unreliable, flawed, stupid, racist narrator, presenting little vignettes of the worst of backwards America. This allows him to release his cynicism subtly and indirectly and, while it sets him up for perceived inhumanity, he had enough confidence in his relative anonymity and wry intellect to not give a shit.

As for the music, it’s pure understated ingeniousness (real word, trust me) and repays infite re-listenings, each accompaniement suited perfectly to the mood of the lyrics. It works both as a basic roots rock record and a piece of smartass singer-songwritery (not a real word).

Turpentine and dandelion wine
I’ve turned the corner and I’m doin’ fine
Shootin’ at the birds on the telephone line
Pickin’ em off with this gun of mine

80s 5: Lou’s Blues

 

IMG_2136Fifth and final in a series of posts where I go through some of my favourite albums of the decade which made Ferris Bueller, Jello Pudding Pops and f*cking Bon Jovi*.
Here’s Lou Reed’s ‘The Blue Mask’ from 1982…

By 1982, Lou Reed was slipping out of his 30s. The Blue Mask is the musical result of turning 40 (which I hear can be quite weird), and it’s at times brain-meltingly heavy and sorrowfully mellow; an evocation of both the desperate anger of losing youth and the bittersweet acceptance of it.

By this time, Lou had let go of the New York druggy, androgynous, Warhol-obsessed faux-decadence he had been peddling for the entirety of the 1970s from the detached persona of a sleazy intellectual, and by the 1980’s had actually begun to sing about himself with the kind of scary honesty that we had never seen before. The face of Transformer, as the cover and title shows, is now just a mask. Clean, sober and living in a rural retreat in New Jersey at the time, Reed seems at first glance happy with ‘my house, my motorcycle and my wife’, but on Waves of Fear confesses to ‘cringe at my terror and hate my own smell’. Jee-zuss, Lou. Chill your bean.

The man has a knack for assembling really weird bands, and this one; comprised of highly melodic jazz bassist Fernando Saunders, avant-geetarrist Robert Quine and top notch pro-thrasher Doane Perry can do floaty jazz and industrial rock in equal weird measure, and reach that weird musical alchemy while doing so.

His best album. Yeah, I said it.

9 Heavenly Arms out of 10

*Liiiivvvviiinnn’ on a praaayyyyerrrr