The Blow Monkeys have continued staging their fine comeback this year.
Their spring released album, Feels Like A New Morning, got some great reviews and showed they had lost none of their sophisto-pop cutting edge with those great, clever, politically tinged lyrics and love songs. We asked mainman Dr. Robert for the impossible 10 – the albums that were milestones in his life and he replied…
‘Making these sort of lists is almost impossible as you know…every day it could be a different one..so here’s today’s..in no particular order.
My favourite kind of music is Delta blues..but they tend to come in “collections..like those Alan Lomax ” Library of Congress” field recordings and the fabulous Harry Smith collections.
I’ve missed out so much here.Miles..Hendrix..Nina Simone..Louis Armstrong…ahh! .I hate doing this!
1 . T Rex . Electric Warrior.
Probably because its the first LP I actually bought. I love his early Tyrannosaurus Rex stuff too..especially Beard of Stars..but Electric Warrior swings . Bolan was an outstanding rhythm guitarist..check out Planet Queen and Mambo Sun. Rip Off finishes it off in style..wild, sexy it even has Ian McDonald playing some freeform sax over the coda. Tony Visconti deserves credit too..and that rhythm section of Bill Legend and Steve Currie are just perfect. This was a peak..
2. The Laughing Clowns. ” The History of Rock and Roll . Volume 1. ”
I spent my teenage years in Sydney. It was 1977 and Punk was in full swing “back home” and here I was 12,000 miles away. Except the first band I saw we’re The Saints. Phenomenal . The Laughing Clowns was guitarist Ed Kuepper’s next move after he left The Saints. A heady mix of be bop drumming..punk guitar and Fela Kuti horns. This album collects their best early stuff..the frenzied Theme from Mad Flies Mad Flies and the hypnotic Everything That Flies bookend a unique and vastly underrated collection. They changed my life. They were the blueprint for The Blow Monkeys. It didn’t quite turn out that way.
3. Fred Neil. “Fred Neil”
Jeff Barrett at Heavenly Records turned me on to Fred way back in the early 90’s. it was “Dolphins” that hooked me. I’d heard Tim Buckley’s version but Fred’s baritone shook me.
He was was a Greenwich Village stalwart. A father figure to people like Tim Hardin ,Terry Callier ( ( I produced Terry and Beth Orton doing Dolphins) and even Dylan. Like Rimbaud he gave it all up early. He went off to Florida Keys to study his beloved Dolphins. Geezer.
He also happened to write Everybody’s Talkin. His producer, Nik Venet said of him “Probably the most famous and financially successful “cult artist” in the history of the world!…..
4. Bob Dylan. “Desire”
I’d resisted Dylan for years. Then one day I had a long drive to do and the only cassette in the car was my wife’s copy of this. I must have played it ten times on that journey. It’s unique in the Dylan canon. The drums and bass exist in an other worldly echo chamber and Scarlet Riviera’s violin haunts it. Add Emmylou Harris harmony vocals and its a potent magical mix..made all the more powerful because most of it was first or second takes. Dylan knew to catch things before self consciousness crept in. Emmylou thought she was rehearsing! Isis stands out..but it’s all beautiful.
5. Tom Waits . “Bad As Me”
Tom’s latest and for me greatest. It contains the most astonishing anti war song “Hell Broke Luce” plus the timeless “Chicago” . Keith Richards sings and plays on “Last Leaf on the Tree”..a woozy lament to survival. Waits makes records like no one else. He’s not an actor or a fake. He doesn’t need to impress. He just is. Nick Cave..who I love ever since I saw him in Australia with The Boys Next Door..does a similar thing ..only he can sometimes be self consciously “literate” and veer close to parody .Tom’s the real deal.
6. Curtis Mayfield. “There’s No Place Like America Today”
The last and greatest of Curtis’s political albums. Even the cover is great. Songs like “Billy Jack” and the transcendent ” When Seasons Change” are amongst the most beautiful things he ever wrote. And they are so slow. You gotta be good to play that slow and still swing. The musicians support his delicate falsetto and give the whole album a moral authority..born of compassion..not pedantry. I was lucky enough to sing with him. I was young and cocky. He put me in my place. Gently and with love. I genuinely loved the man.
7. The Jam. ” Setting Sons”
It was as if “one of us” had made it. They seemed so “ordinary” and yet made this astonishing music. And the songwriting was so good. So spot on. “Little Boy Soldiers” , ” Burning Sky” and the mighty “Eton Rifles” . Lyrically Paul stood apart from his Punk brethren. Of course there were very large echoes of Ray Davies but it transcended all the copyists. And the playing was tight and ferocious. It sounded like mid seventies Woking ( I had family there) in the same way that Dr Feelgood could only have come from Canvey Island. The cover of ” Heatwave” hinted at the way forward..but for a while there they lived up to John Weller’s famous rallying call..”the best fucking band in he world”
8. Joni Mitchell .” Blue.”
I have my best friend and wife Michele to thank for this ( and so much else)
Don’t try to play these songs on guitar people..she made up her own tunings and then her own chord shapes to go with them. Everything about this is perfect ..the sleeve..the production ( there is none) and her coruscating octave defying voice. “A Case of You” “Carey” ” Blue”..every single song just right. Laura Marling’s latest ” I Was An Eagle ” is a fantastic piece..the first five songs as good as anything I’ve heard..but it doesn’t sustain the spell like “Blue”. Not much does.
9 The Kinks. “Arthur”
For me this is their best album. Written for a TV play that never got made. It contains ” Shangri La” possibly the finest song Ray ever wrote. But there are so many great songs on this. ” Australia” ( sung in an Ozzie accent!) ..” Some Mothers Son” ..” Mr Churchill Said” and the criminally neglected single “Victoria”. It’s a concept album I suppose but don’t let that put you off. It’s probably Britain’s greatest living songwriter at his peak. And the pullout sleeve is a gas.
10. The Sex Pistols ” Never Mind The Bollocks”