Monthly Archives: December 2009

Iiiiittttt’s Chriiiiissssttttmaaas!

Not in 1974.

Now.

Merry Christmas Everybody…. hope you’re having fun

Excerpts from a Teenage Rock Opera – currently phaffing its way through 1974 – will return after the holidays.

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(1974 Albums) Jimi Hendrix – In the West / Loose Ends

I got rid of “In The West” somewhere along the way. To be honest I couldn’t remember anything about it and so had to go-a-googling for some answers.

It was a live album apparently, featuring performances from as far apart as San Diego, California, London’s Royal Albert Hall and the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.

The tracklisting looks impressive too, featuring not only some of Jimi’s most well-known numbers (“Little Wing”, Voodoo Chile”) but a rendition of The Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”

You’d think I’d have some kind of recall for something as outwardly impressive as this, but I don’t. Not a note.

By way of a peculiar contrast I can air guitar along to “Loose Ends” from start to finish, despite it being amongst Jimi’s least known albums.

It was embroiled in controversy from the beginning. It’s a posthumous collection of studio outtakes and jams with only one track – “The Stars That Play with Laughing Sam’s Dice” – ever authorized for official release by Hendrix’s estate

Needless to say this collection has never seen a full (legal) CD release and has been twisted up in legal probate ever since 1974. It also goes without saying that had I actually kept a hold of the vinyl from all those years ago I could probably take the wife out for a decent slap up meal on the proceeds of an eBay sale.

Trivia freaks may wish to know that this album was never released in the USA, Jimi’s record company there – Warner Brothers – deeming all the material on it “sub-par”. No qualms in Europe though where Polydor doubtless added a few bob to their coffers with this post-death cash-in.

Something in the back of my brain says that I picked up at least one, if not both of these albums from a seller’s cart at Eastleigh market. So probably second-hand and probably cheap.

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(1974 Album) Santana – Abraxas

With its trippy-dippy cover featuring not one, but two naked women, I think this can easily be regarded as Santana’s finest album.

This was me casting my personal musical net a little further, Carlos’ rock guitar work overlaying samba & Latin rhythms, all infused with a kind of lazy funk.

I think it was the groovy keyboard work that got me the most though, highlighted by my favourite cut on the album “Oyé Como Va“, that Hammond underpinning the entire track.

Probably the only Santana album that has resonated with me over the years and not just because I had a hankering to be that white dove or a tall striped bongo drum.

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(1974 Album) Yes – Tales from Topographic Oceans

We move from one the finest ever rock operas in “Quadrophenia” to one of the dodgiest concept albums in existence. However, as dodgy as the concept of “Tales from Topographic Oceans” undoubtedly is (based on no more than a footnote from ancient Shastric scriptures) it remains – somewhat bizarrely – my favourite ever Yes album.

I’ll be honest and say that my attraction to this album was enhanced by the terrific cover art by Roger Dean. Although he had been working with the band for some time and had produced other beautiful covers for them, “…Topographic..” was the first time I REALLY noticed his artistic skills.

Skills which I openly admit I tried to emulate. Skills and ideas which – at least from the previews I have seen – James Cameron appears to be ripping off wholesale for the general appearance of vistas in his new movie “Avatar

The album itself is a four-part opus split over two slabs of vinyl. The four cuts are as eccentrically named as the album itself…

“The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)” (Part One / Part Two)
“The Remembering (High the Memory)” (Part One / Part Two)
“The Ancient (Giants under the Sun)” (Part One / Part Two)
“Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil)” (Part One / Part Two)

… and none can be strictly described as ‘songs’. They’re more like noodly compositions that go off an a million-and-one flights of fancy. They were all written by singer Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe and it has often been suggested that the only reason fellow band members Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Alan White are credited is because they complained so loudly about their lack of involvement in the process.

It’s certainly not an album for everyone. I remember one of the best reviews of it (and there were lots of negative vibes about it in the music press at the time) said something along the lines of it having ‘no warmth’ and that’s about the best way I can describe it too.

You can’t sing along to it, you can’t dance to it and about the best you can do is mime along to the finger cymbals that make an appearance from time to time. If truth be told I can’t really explain why I like it, but I do. It and “Fragile” are the only two Yes albums I have listened to and stuck with over the years… so it must have something going for it?

It feels haphazard, several pieces sounding as if they’re just made up on the spot, almost freeform. Undermining this though are Anderson’s later public remarks about the recording, saying it was done with meticulous precision. Rick Wakeman has subsequently been VERY critical about it, saying that for much of the time they spent in the studio supposedly laying down tracks he was in a room next door drinking and playing darts. (He left the band following the “Tales from…” tour)

Despite gaining an unfair reputation that this album represented all that was excessive and bad about Prog Rock, it shot to Number 1 on the UK album chart and spent over six months on the American album chart, topping out there at Number 6.

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(1974 Album) The Who – Quadrophenia

As I think I have stated before, I was far from a huge fan of The Who. Sure, I liked their singles – “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was, is, and always will be, magnificent – but unlike many of my contemporaries the band themselves never grabbed me as an album act.

Then – and sadly I can’t remember where  – I heard “Quadrophenia” for the first time. For whatever reason it really struck a chord with me and is now – if had just one choice – the album I would want with me for musical comfort on that fabled ‘desert island’.

By itself, the album kindled in interest in finding out more about the band – crazy and flamboyant drummer Keith Moon in particular – and researching the mid-60’s “mod” music the story revolved around. It’s fact that, as I have grown older, it has been sixties music I have found myself listening to more than anything else, all – I think – as a result of the influence this album’s backdrop conjured up. So much so that I often joke that I was born 10 years too late, and would have LOVED to have been a Vespa-riding teenage Mod.

I’m being honest with you when I state that I have tried writing this particular post/retrospective review a half-dozen times before. Each time I have somehow stalled, finding myself unable not to go off on long-winded tangents that bear no relevance to the album, or that could ever be of interest to you, the reader.

I think that’s because this album is just so ingrained in my psyche and so very loved by me that I find it hard to be fully objective. With that in mind, I shall keep any overtly ‘gushing’ comments somewhat brief.

If you discount the “A Quick One” project, “Quadrophenia” was guitarist Pete Townshend’s second rock opera opus. Where “Tommy” was about a disadvantaged deaf, dumb & blind kid (who sure played a mean pinball) “Quadrophenia” followed the fortunes (or lack thereof) of a disaffected teenager growing up in a 1964/65 South of England.

Jimmy Cooper, for that is his name, is supposed to be a Quadrophenic, an enhanced (and made up) interpretation of schizophrenia, wherein he is apparently burdened with four personalities.

He lives at home with his perpetually arguing parents and holds down a menial job which pays him just enough to run his scooter and buy the music and fashionable clothes his ‘mod’ lifestyle demands. Track by track the tale unfolds…

I am the Sea/The Real Me“, the segued opening cuts, try to set the scene, with Jimmy going to the doctor, hearing his mother tell him that mental illness runs in the family, letting us know about his job and his lost girlfriend and hinting at drug use.

Quadrophenia”/”Cut My Hair“. This pair of cuts, with all their lush orchestral flourishes, then pad out the story a little, informing us of his leanings towards ‘mod’ and his participation in the mods vs rockers fights that occurred almost every Bank Holiday weekend down on Brighton’s seafront. It culminates with him arguing with his parents over drugs and leaving home.

The Punk & the Godfather” is supposed to represent Jimmy going to a rock concert, then, wacked out on ‘uppers’ trying to meet the band backstage. The band blank him and he decides that music is just another element of his life that has let him down. This may just be THE finest song The Who have EVER recorded. A personal opinion, yes, but I don’t think I’m wrong.

In “I’m One” Jimmy tries to reinforce his own love for the mod lifestyle he has chosen and how it brings him out of himself and “Dirty Jobs” finds Jimmy getting into trouble at work, disagreeing with his colleagues before walking out.

Helpless Dancer” gives us Jimmy’s angry side. He seems angry at…well, the entire world in general. As if to somehow qualify his anger “Is it in my Head?” is Jimmy blaming either the drugs or all the injustices he has been exposed to all his life.

I’ve Had Enough” is something of a pivotal track where Jimmy sees his ex-girlfriend with another guy, then smashes up his beloved scooter in an act of frustration. Depressed and drugged up, he then catches the train – captured perfectly in “5:15” – down to Brighton in an attempt to recapture some of the energy and excitement had last time he was there.

Whilst “The Sea & the Sand” finds Jimmy quite optimistic, the gloom soon reappears inDrowned where he is, quite possibly, at his lowest ebb, contemplating suicide as a way out.

Bell Boy” is Kimmy’s final ignominy as he chances across a fellow mod “face”, who he once hung around with and admired, schlepping bags around for customers at a seafront hotel.

Jimmy then descends into a drug hell in “Doctor Jimmy” before stealing a boat and sailing it to a lone rock in the middle of the sea (“The Rock“/”Love, Reign O’er Me“) and finally finding spiritual redemption. Redemption which, dependent on your own interpretation of things, either finds him dying or obtaining strength to carry on.

Reading that back makes “Quadrophenia” sound like an UTTERLY depressing album doesn’t it? The weird thing is that the album sounds – musically – very joyous and vibrant by comparison to the storyline with only a handful of slow numbers interrupting the excitement.

I didn’t want to say too much about each track individually as this is one of those rare albums which demands to be listened to in its entirety. Whilst the hit single “5:15” is undoubtedly great on its own, it actually makes little sense outside of the story structure where it becomes an intrinsic element. Along with Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, “Quadrophenia” was one of the first albums I ‘properly’ listened to. By that I mean I sat down (usually at night with the lights out) and listened to how it was recorded, which instruments went where in the mix and how the story unfolded.

Sonically, it is an utterly immense piece of work, the entire band contributing some of their very finest recorded output, Keith Moon most certainly. I have always said that if anyone is training to be a drummer they should spend a few months listening to “Quadrophenia” and nothing else. I never fail to be shocked when Moonie is overlooked for being “the best drummer ever” in music polls when, to my ears anyway, his drumming was as natural and instinctively played as (for instance) any of Hendrix’s guitar work. Keith’s tricky little fills alone put other drummers to shame.

Then there’s John Entwistle’s bass playing. Playing it like a lead guitar, something he could have written the manual for. His death in 2002 – despite it being the ultimate rock & roll death… a cocaine-fuelled heart attack whilst romping with groupies in a Las Vegas hotel suite – hit me as hard as Keith Moon’s 24 years earlier.

For me, the band died along with Keith in 1978 and whilst I didn’t necessarily begrudge them trying to continue with three original members, now doing so with just two feels like an utter travesty for which I’d really like to punch Pete Townshend in the face. I know he might consider it “his band” and yes, OK, it’s his material and everything, but I just find it disquieting that – for some time now – he has done little more than shill The Who’s finest material to whomever turns up at his door with the fattest cheque. I can’t believe that he or Roger Daltrey can be ‘that poor’ they have to undermine the band’s body of work by allowing it to be constantly used for TV ads or theme tunes. I’m most certainly with (the late and very great) comedian Bill Hicks when he said “Do a commercial, there’s a price on your head, everything you say is suspect and every word out of your mouth is now like a turd falling into my drink

Now, see that’s one of the tangents I can’t avoid going off on when I talk about “Quadrophenia”. It’s a TERRIFIC, AWESOME & BLOODY BRILLIANT album – and I make absolutely no apologies for the ALL-CAPS screaming – but Townshend has been such a money-grabbing prick in recent years that, sadly, I now find it very difficult to listen to it with anything like the regularity which I once did.

If, as rumours suggest, “The Who” are going to play the prestigious half-time show at next years Superbowl, yet another turd will plop into my drink. I wish Townshend – for all his writing props – would realise that the LEAST talented musicians of The Who are the ones that survived and that calling themselves “The Who” is remarkably pathetic and self-delusional. It’s not even “The Who Lite”… it’s more like a karaoke/covers band turning up at your local pub while you’re trying to watch the game.

Anyway, yes… “Quadrophenia”… fantastic album, should be in everyone’s collection, by far the best rock opera ever, is perfect… etc., etc. If you’ve never heard it, may I invite you to my isolated little desert island – far away from ‘shilling pete’ and his apparent CSI fixation – for 81 minutes of sheer musical bliss.

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June 26th 1974

“JILTED!”

Yes, I really did write it that big.

My first “jilting” by a girl.

The first, as my life would turn out, of many such events. If truth be told I was a ‘jiltee’ more times than I care to discuss.

Naturally, you’re all eager for the nitty-gritty details of this teenage heave-ho.

And naturally, I can’t remember them.

I remembered the disappointment I felt that she wasn’t in when I called on her a few days earlier, but I have zero recall of how or why Angela dumped me on this Wednesday in 1974. Sorry.

It remains to be seen, but this jilting may result in my relationship with “the church” coming to an end. As regular EFA70sTRO readers will know, I wasn’t necessarily attending for the whole ‘jesus’ thing.

Whilst I retrospectively go off and cry into my beer about losing Angela 35 years ago, I present the best song ever written about jilting … 1978’s “Jilted John” by Jilted John…

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June 24th 1974

“Saw Angela – Went up her house – not in”

Certain things I remember.

This I remember.

I bumped into Angela whilst I wandered round the streets of Eastleigh and we arranged, or so I thought, to meet up a little later at her house. (Rather, her parents house)

I can’t imagine I wasn’t excited by the prospect… for all the reasons that a hormonal 16-year-old boy would be.

However, it appeared she had a different agenda.

She was not there.

I.should.have.taken.the.hint

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June 23rd 1974

“Went to church – Angela not there! Went up Nigs – saw his girl, Yvonne”

Oh no…………… first, my band seem destined for the scrap heap and now my ‘girlfriend’ was not where I expected her to be on a Sunday morning. This is like a microcosmic News of the World exclusive or something?!!

Did I really ever consider Angela to be my girlfriend I wonder? Sure I fancied the pants off of her (figuratively and literally) and we went out a few times to the pictures, but I can’t ever remember introducing her to anyone as ‘my girlfriend’ (or as the colloquialism of the day preferred; “my bird”).

Which means, ladies and gentlemen, future events – the next 2 diary entries to be precise – will come as something of a shock to you all.

Meanwhile, my mate Nig had paired off with Yvonne. I remember Yvonne. Difficult to forget Yvonne. She had certain physical attributes that, let’s just say, stood out. I certainly know why Nigel went out with her…. or rather, as was the case, stayed in with her.

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