“Flick the dust off the needle first” taken from “Light in My Heart” by Rab Noakes with kind permission.
33. Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die (Island ILPS9116 – 1970 )
In the late 1960s and early 1970s it was difficult to keep up with Little Stevie Winwood. He’d already fronted the Spencer Davis Group as a fifteen-year old soul singer, then formed the rock band Traffic with Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood and Dave Mason, who churned out such psychedelic singles as “Paper Sun” and “Hole in My Shoe”, before settling into a critically acclaimed jazz rock outfit that went on to rub shoulders with the likes of Free, King Crimson and Jethro Tull on the burgeoning Island label. After Mason left the band, Winwood enjoyed a very brief spell in the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith with Clapton, Baker and Rick Gretch, before regrouping with the two remaining members of Traffic, Capaldi and Wood, to record the band’s fourth album, which began as a Winwood solo project but soon became a full blown Traffic release. Among the jazz fusion of “Glad” and “Empty Pages”, the soulful rock of “Every Mother’s Son” and the bluesy “Stranger to Himself”, the band surprised just about everyone with a veritable show stopper, a delicate reading of the traditional folk song “John Barleycorn”.
32. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River (Liberty LBS83273 – 1969)
I can’t remember precisely where or when I first heard Creedence Clearwater Revival, probably on the radio back in 1969. Neither can I remember which was the first of the small collection of CCR singles I bought, probably “Bad Moon Rising”, the band’s only chart topper in the UK, in the same year. With a steady newspaper round together with a weekly wage of one pound sterling, I was able to expand upon my LP record collection, then currently standing at just the one and of the records I would buy around this time, most would be cheap sampler LPs. One of my regular haunts was Foxes Records in the Arndale Centre, a place I would visit even if my pockets were empty, which was more often than not. Flicking through the browsers became a regular pastime, carefully pulling each record sleeve out to read everything printed on it. If ever I had sufficient coinage in my pocket, I would read more intently and spend a great deal more time deciding which record to buy. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s third LP Green River, with its tangible mottled sleeve showing a seemingly carefree sun-drenched California quartet led by John Fogerty, was a bit of a no brainer at the time. They were briefly my favourite band in the late Sixties and I’d had my eyes in the record for some time. I remember taking the record out of the plastic carrier bag on the bus home and gazing at the picture on the cover, which was dominated by the figure of John Fogerty. I had an insatiable desire to look just like that. Sadly, later that same year, a similarly attired Charles Manson ordered his followers to take up murder as a pastime, which kind of spoiled all the fun. Some great tunes here though, including “Bad Moon Rising”, “Lodi” and the title song of course.
31. The Who – Who’s Next (Track Record 2408 102 – 1971)
I first became aware of Who’s Next after hearing the single “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which was the rock anthem of 1971, a record played often on the radio at the time, albeit in a shorter version than the epic album track. The album’s notorious cover shot of a 2001-styled monolith, which all four members of the band have recently relieved themselves against, brings a certain attitude to the record a good six years before the arrival of Punk. Although the album appears to be a fully formed finished product, it was in fact cobbled together from remnants of Pete Townshend’s abandoned Lifehouse project, which included the use of synthesisers, particularly on “Baba O’Riley”. All the songs on the album were written by Pete Townshend, with the exception of John Entwistle’s “My Wife”. The album remains one of the milestones of British rock and was re-issued in 2003 as a three-disc LP set, which included live performances at the Young Vic as well as a New York Record Plant session. I still play this album often.
30. The Steve Miller Band – Masters of Rock Vol 3 (Capitol C054-81 583 – 1973)
In the early to mid 1970s I discovered The Steve Miller Band through a college theatre group I was involved with at the time. Between the male members of this group, we made a concerted effort to collect the entire Steve Miller Band LP collection, including Children of the Future, Sailor, Your Saving Grace and Recall the Beginning.. A Journey From Eden, even sending off to the US for the Holy Grail of Steve Miller LPs at the time, Brave New World, which was only available through import. Capitol Records released an impressive introduction to Steve Miller in their budget series Masters of Rock, which for me is still one of the best of Miller’s records, despite it being a retrospective collection. The budget-priced LP features some of the band’s best loved songs, including “Journey From Eden”, “Living in the USA” and “The Joker”, which had just been released as a single, bringing the band to a wider audience. To anyone new to the Steve Miller Band, this is a good place to start.
29. Nick Drake – Heaven in a Wild Flower (Island ILPS9826 – 1985)
Those whose musical taste began to develop just as the 1960s morphed almost seamlessly into the 1970s, might possibly remember the name Nick Drake from the series of Island sampler LPs such as Nice Enough To Eat (“Time Has Told Me), Bumpers (“Hazy Jane) and El Pea (“Northern Sky”). In my case, Drake’s songs would be largely ignored as I dove straight into the tracks by Free, Mott the Hoople, Traffic or even Quintessence, heaven forbid. My first real introduction to Nick’s songs came a few years later, when in around 1985, Island brought out the affordable Heaven in a Wild Flower compilation, released a good ten years after the singer’s untimely death. The LP features fourteen of Drake’s most representative songs and probably served as a slice of nostalgia for the handful of fans who remembered him and who bought his three albums upon their initial release, but also a signpost for those new to his music. It wasn’t until a few years after the release of this LP though, that young musicians would begin to take a real interest in Nick Drake through other compilations such as Way To Blue, or the Fruit Tree box set, or indeed a certain radio documentary presented by onetime collaborator Danny Thompson, all of which effectively rescued the singer-songwriter from on going obscurity. Since then you can hardly turn on the TV without hearing snippets of Nick Drake’s guitar in commercials or as part of some movie soundtracks. It’s also worth noting that when Joe Boyd sold his Witchseason production company to Island Records, it came with the condition that all three of Nick Drake’s official solo albums, Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon, would always remain available, which they are to this day.
28. Claire Hamill – One House Left Standing (Island ILPS 9182 – 1971)
All my girl friends in 1971 (real or imagined) appeared to look like Claire Hamill. Just seventeen on the cover of her debut LP, Claire was rightly or wrongly compared to Joni Mitchell, which was probably more of a hindrance than a help. Nevertheless, Claire was a regular feature in all the music press at the time and as a consequence, was adored by one sweaty Herbert from Doncaster. The cover shot of One House Left Standing, inexplicably sees out heroine perched upon some railway debris in an industrial part of Middlesbrough with the Tees Transporter Bridge looming in the background. It was a little like Millais painting Ophelia in a Yorkshire colliery face puddle. John Martyn plays on the record as does Terry Reid and David Lindley, good company for this young northern schoolgirl to say the least. I was fortunate enough to meet up with Claire over three decades later and fell in love with her all over again as she signed my old crackly copy of this memorable album, then got up on stage with her guitar and played “The Man Who Cannot See Tomorrows Sunshine”, “Where Are Your Smiles At” and the jaunty “Baseball Blues”.
27. Jonathan Kelly – Twice Around the Houses (RCA Victor SF8262 – 1972)
When I first saw Jonathan Kelly play live, he’d been around the houses a good few times already. I was far too young to see him the first time around and I always thought that I’d perhaps missed the opportunity, Jonathan having left the music business decades before. It was really good to see him return to the stage, if only temporarily, where I heard dozens of familiar songs for the first time live, “Ballad of Cursed Anna”, “We’re All Right Til Then” and “Sligo Fair” among them. The week before that particular concert in Doncaster, I played a short set at the same club and promoted the next gig by singing a fairly pedestrian version of “Sligo Fair”, a song from this LP, in which I changed the final chorus from ‘Sligo Fair is just a week away’, to ‘Jonathan Kelly is just a week away’ to one or two guffaws from the audience. Too many syllables I know, but I got away with it nonetheless. Apparently, the concert was taped and the performance was played (rather embarrassingly) to Jonathan, who when I met up with him a week later, wrote “thanks for doing my song” on the cover of this, his best known LP. Sadly, we lost Jonathan earlier this year.
26. Aretha Franklin – Aretha Now (Atlantic SD8186 – 1968)
When Aretha Franklin died in 2018, it was obvious to me that we’d lost one of the greatest voices of our times in any genre. This LP was released exactly fifty years earlier and it still sounded great when I popped it on the turntable in respect after the singer lost her short battle with cancer. I was just packing to go on a family holiday to Cornwall for a couple of weeks and stuck a few Aretha CDs in the car for the drive down. I needn’t have bothered, as Radio 2 played many of her songs on that five and a half hour drive down, indicating that I was far from being the only one saddened by her untimely passing. Released in 1968, Aretha Now was the first Aretha Franklin LP I bought and remains one of my favourites, not least for the inclusion of “Think”, “Say a Little Prayer” and “You’re a Sweet Sweet Man”. And doesn’t she look fantastic on the cover?
25. Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis (Mercury 5707137 – 1969)
Dusty’s was one of the first female voices I ever heard on the old Dansette back in 1962, when I was just five years-old. It was one of the most played singles around the house at the time and one that resonated with me, especially the chorus of “high in the sky is a bird on a wing, please carry me with you, far far away from the mad rushing crowd, please carry me with you”, which was pure escapism for a kid who had no inclination of washing his neck or eating onions. I desperately wanted to be on that bird’s wings. If the Springfields’ folky “Island of Dreams” filled my childhood dreams with hope and optimism, then hearing that same voice mature into what we heard just six years later was staggering. Dusty in Memphis is one of those albums largely ignored at the time of release, only to be picked up on much later, though “Son of a Preacher Man” has long been a favourite. It’s little surprise that many still consider Dusty to be the greatest British female vocalist of all time.
24. Steely Dan – Can’t Buy a Thrill (ABC ABCL 5024 – 1972)
Again, it was the Old Grey Whistle Test that brought this band to my attention way back in the early 1970s via a live clip of the band performing “Reeling in the Years”. Aesthetically, this album had nothing going for it really, with its garish Pop Art lips, its sleazy row of 1950s hookers and foetus-like nymph straddling the shoulder of a shirtless Terry Wogan lookalike and let’s not forget the band is named after a dildo (courtesy of William Burroughs), yet the music almost literally jumps out of the speakers upon first hearing “Do it Again”, “Reelin’ in the Years” and “Fire in the Hole”. The album also offers a couple of songs that both my wife and I agree upon (finally), the soulful “Dirty Work” and the country-inflected “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)”, both of which include a fine vocal courtesy of the outgoing David Palmer. These days, whenever I see OGWT anniversary shows, I always expect to see Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker, reeling in those years.
23. Ry Cooder – Into the Purple Valley (Warner Bros K44142 – 1972)
When I first saw Ry Cooder on the Old Grey Whistle Test back in 1972, I became totally obsessed with his music and in particular his bottleneck guitar playing style, which led to seeking out other such players including Lowell George, Duane Allman and Bonnie Raitt. I didn’t know “Vigilante Man” was a Woody Guthrie song, I didn’t even know who Woody Guthrie was. Neither did I know who Ry Cooder was, although his name had been cropping up in the music press and I had one of his tracks on the ‘Fruity’ sampler LP, the one with the round sleeve to match the record. I also thought the name Ry Cooder was incredibly cool, well at least when compared with my unfortunate moniker. Here’s a man appearing on the TV in an empty darkened studio, wearing a piece of cloth on his head and a shirt, which looked for all intents and purposes as if it had been vomited on, while running the chopped off neck of a beer bottle up and down the neck of a very attractive guitar. I couldn’t even decide whether he was singing in tune or not, all I knew for sure was that it was worlds away from Sweet’s “Little Willy” that was at the same time seen on Britain’s only other rival music show. After seeing this very ordinary looking dude, who looked like he had a glass eye (he did), sitting next to Bob Harris on my then favourite TV show, I went out and bought this album, mainly for “Vigilante Man”, but then to go on and discover to my eternal gratitude, such gems as “ Billy the Kid”, “Denomination Blues” and “Teardrops Will Fall”. I only ever got to see Ry Cooder once, on stage with David Lindley at the Manchester Apollo sometime in the 1990s. Cooder remains one of greatest sources of musical eclecticism to this day.
22. Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones (Warner Bros K56628 – 1979)
In the 1980s I occupied myself with various tasks as a volunteer at our local hospital radio station, which involved presenting a weekly folk show, then a jazz show, then a pop album show, which led to a senior position (Programme Controller) and ultimately became the fool who towed the outside broadcast caravan to various weekend events. This is when I realised that if you’re cursed with an inability to say ‘no’, they get you doing everything. I digress. During those pop show years, I played Rickie Lee Jones almost every week. “Chuck E.’s in Love” is just such a great radio song and I was convinced that playing it made people better, until I realised that nobody was actually listening. “Just give us a ring here at Radio Danum and I’ll give you a thousand pounds” I declared on air which was proof enough for me, as I waited in vain for the phone to ring. Despite this small inconvenience, I was content in the knowledge that at least one person was enjoying the shows and I continued to play several songs from this album (and others) throughout the 1980s. With contributions by Dr John, Randy Newman and Michael McDonald, the album features such gems as “The Last Chance Texaco”, “Weasel and the White Boys Cool” an the sleazy “Easy Money”, which was covered by Lowell George and the only single released from his solo album Thanks, I’ll Eat it Here, of the same year.
21. Nic Jones – Penguin Eggs (Topic 12TS411 – 1980)
My first visit to a folk club came quite late really, shortly after Nic Jones’ near fatal accident in February 1982, after he’d done a gig at the Glossop Folk Club. Once I visited the Rockingham Arms in Wentworth, sometime in 1982/83, and began to mix with, for want of a better term, ‘folkies’, I came to the understanding that no record collection would be complete without a copy of ‘Penguin Eggs’ by the revered singer/guitar player and so I aimed to put that right immediately. I already had a vague knowledge of who Nic Jones was from an LP I had knocking about at the time called Songs in a Changing World, which I’d borrowed from a neighbour, whose dad apparently started the ‘Traditional’ record label and who had a cupboard full of Strawhead records. I devoured Penguin Eggs and soon discovered that what to me sounded relatively easy to play, was in fact extraordinarily difficult. After several attempts to play those few chords, I asked a nurse friend to disentangle my frustrated digits and never tried again. I got to meet Nic Jones in York some years later, who gave my son some good advice on playing folk music, “don’t take this music as seriously as we all did, just enjoy it”, which we were both happy to take on board.
20. Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band – Lick My Decals Off Baby (Straight STS 1063 – 1970)
This was the only occasion when I was relieved that I didn’t have to ask the young lady at the counter for the record. Going into a record shop and asking for Lick My Decals Off Baby was a daunting prospect even in Doncaster, which conjured up every scenario from a simple slap to being marched off to the nearest constabulary in cuffs. Fortunately the LP was right there in the browser and I was saved from further embarrassment. I first heard Beefheart on the John Peel show, a track from his second album Strictly Personal, “Son of Mirror Man – Mere Man”, which had an enormous effect on me. ‘Decals’ came later, when I’d already managed to absorb most of the challenging Trout Mask Replica. Standing in the record shop reading the credits whilst considering whether to buy this or save my hard earned bread for several pints of Carlsberg in the Yorkist later that night, I was immediately drawn to such song titles as “Woe-is-uh-Me-Bop”, “I Love You Big Dummy” and “I Wanna Find a Woman That’ll Hold My Big Toe Till I Have To Go”, which I couldn’t imagine the Everly Brothers ever singing. I took the sleeve to the counter, thankful that the title was written in a fine almost unreadable script and took the thing home to delight my dad, who clearly thought I was bonkers.
19. The Mothers of Invention – We’re Only in it for the Money (Verve 2317 034 – 1967)
When I first heard this LP, I didn’t quite know what to make of it; it sounded like Frank Zappa had taken miles of tape, cut it up into small pieces and randomly stuck it all back together again. By 1972, I’d already bought the previous Mothers album Absolutely Free and therefore knew what I was getting myself into. With a gate fold sleeve parodying Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, though inverted to avoid record company executives having an unnecessary nose bleed, I initially thought the whole thing might have been a spoof on the Beatles classic, but I soon discovered that it was an almost scathing attack on the hippie subculture and the summer of love in general and that it came from the alternative angle of the ‘freak’ culture through biting satire. If I was slightly confused at the start of the first side, being repeatedly asked “are you hung up?” or who the Peace Corps might be, what the ugliest part of the body is or why a track called “Absolutely Free” was on this LP and not the previous one, by the end of “Flower Punk”, the penny had finally dropped. A lifelong association with Frank Zappa’s music began, whose humour, satire, orchestral ambitions and musical dexterity was just the ticket. Strangely, I never got to see him live, though I saw him on the big screen behind his son Dweezil, as the pair of them performed the entire Apostrophe album, going on to perform another hour’s worth of Zappa’s repertoire at the York Barbican, including “Rollo, Gumbo Variations”, “Dancing Fool” and even “What’s The Ugliest Part of Your Body?” of all things. When Frank died in 1993 he was just 52. He left easily twice as many years worth of music.
18. Kevin Coyne – Marjory Razor Blade (Virgin VD251/2 – 1973)
I remember precisely when and where I bought Kevin Coyne’s double LP set Marjory Razor Blade. It was Bradley’s Records in Doncaster, right next to the West Laith Gate entrance of the Arndale Centre, now the Frenchgate Centre and it was the day after John Peel featured the Derby-born singer songwriter live on his late night programme. I’d never encountered such a voice before and part of me knew I would like the album he was promoting on the wireless that night and part of me was absolutely convinced this would also irritate both of my sisters to death (it did). There was something primal in Coyne’s performances, almost as if he was making it up as he goes along. His acoustic guitar was primitive and his voice was like the sound of a feral cheese grater with an additional sneer. Though I bought the album on the strength of such eccentric songs as “Dog Latin”, “Karate King”, “Good Boy” and “This is Spain”, I soon discovered another side to this extraordinary talent, the heart breaking “House on the Hill”, which still sends a shiver whenever I hear it. In a perfect world, this song should perhaps appear on many ‘top ten songs of all time’ lists.
17. Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs (Harvest SHVL765 – 1970)
Recorded between May 1968 and August 1969, just after he parted company with Pink Floyd, due in part to some increasingly bizarre and peculiar behaviour, The Madcap Laughs is Syd Barrett’s debut solo LP. The cover itself, designed by the late Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis, shows some of these worrying signs; a sparse flat, actually Syd’s bedroom at his home at Wetherby Mansions, painted floorboards, no furniture, wilting flowers, a barefooted crouching Syd looking not quite right. The gate fold sleeve also shows an acquaintance, known as Iggy the Eskimo, posing nude on a wooden stool, the two seemingly unaware of one another’s presence. I became aware of the album in 1973, around the same time I discovered Kevin Coyne and like Coyne, I was initially puzzled by some of the songs, almost accusing the pair of them of not even trying. The false start on “If It’s in You” should’ve perhaps been left on the cutting room floor. Of course it later became apparent that Syd’s psychological state was pretty much worse than I first thought and in that context, the songs perhaps mirrored what was going on in Syd’s head. I don’t know what Coyne’s excuse was though. Side two of this album, from “Octopus” through to “Late Night”, is a journey into the unknown and was perhaps not the most suitable soundtrack for my mid-teens angst, in fact it was positively harmful. Reciting “Terrapin” to ‘chicks’ was invariably unrewarding, even on a good day.
16. Deep Purple – Machine Head (Purple TPSA7504 – 1972)
When Deep Purple’s Machine Head tour rolled into town on 28 September 1972, I had my chin on the edge of a vibrating Sheffield City Hall stage, while I waited, with eager anticipation, for the band to come on stage. Those behind me grew steadily more impatient, with several calls for “Wally” and one or two sharp digs in the back from those who wanted to take my prime place. The album had been released six months earlier, giving me plenty of time to acclimatise myself to such songs as “Highway Star”, “Space Truckin’” and the mighty “Smoke on the Water”, which not only has one of the best guitar riffs in rock music, but also name checks Frank Zappa and the Mothers, when nothing else in the Top 40 did. When the band appeared, my chin left the stage and I became possessed for the next hour or so as the band, which at the time included Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Paice, chucked out the best of the Machine Head album, one or two from both Fireball and Deep Purple in Rock and a couple of notable singles. The most memorable moment for me though, was when Jon Lord reached for the bottle of Guinness standing on top of his organ, took a swig then reached down to give me the bottle. I was fifteen, fearless and flattered as Jon Lord gave alcohol to a minor. When Jon died in 2012, part of my youth also died with him.
15. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV (Atlantic 2401012 – 1971)
I’ve never waited for a record with quite as much anticipation than that of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, the untitled one. By the time this album was released just before Christmas 1971, the other three records were already showing signs of wear, so often were they played and therefore I made sure I was the first to arrive on the doorstep of Foxes Records on the first floor of the Arndale Centre in Doncaster and couldn’t wait to get it in my mit. On the bus home, I took the record out of the bag and was immediately baffled by the sleeve design, a discarded framed picture of an old man with a bunch of sticks on his back, then on the back, a photo of a district that could easily have been one of the more derelict areas of my home town. Words were also conspicuous by their absence. I then pulled out the grey inner sleeve, which revealed the song titles, the lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven” and a few credits including the names Sandy Denny and Peter Grant – Beauty and the Beast perhaps? Most curious of all were the four strange symbols, which no one really understood, apart from the four people they represented. I was confused. Once I got the record home I played it over and over until I fell asleep. It was just over a year later when I got to see the band at Sheffield City Hall on 2 January, 1973, where they performed “Rock and Roll”, “Black Dog”, “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Stairway to Heaven” from this album and had already begun to include material from their follow up Houses of the Holy. Robert Plant had the flu and couldn’t quite reach the high notes, in fact their tour was abruptly cancelled after this gig.
14. Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks – Striking It Rich (Blue Thumb Records ILPS9204 – 1972)
I was never sure if the members of the little theatre group I belonged to were more into the late night music sessions or the plays we were writing and performing at the time, but I suspect it was the former. Another record hidden away in Paul’s box, which continued to provide a soundtrack to the late hours, once the rehearsals at a local disused church were over, came in a sleeve design resembling a book of matches. Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks’ Striking It Rich LP was completely different from anything else in the box and showcased the San Francisco-based band’s penchant for mixing gypsy jazz with cowboy folk, country, swing, bluegrass and pop, resulting in a unique sound. Jaime Leopold’s walking bass line that opens “You Got to Believe” owed more to jazz than anything else I was listening to at the time and therefore, opened up a new and exciting world of discovery, the fact that the old Hot Club of France swing style had now found its way into the repertoire of a band of fellow long hairs, despite one of the singers having the voice of Fozzy Bear (“O’Reilly’s at the Bar”). I still consider this LP a favourite to this day, in fact I play it so much, I scare myself.
13. Little Feat – Sailin’ Shoes (Warner Brothers BS2600 – 1972)
In the early 1970s, just after I’d jumped the high school ship and landed right on my backside in the real world, I was ready to join a hippy theatre group called ‘Arthur’, made up predominantly of students from a nearby teacher training college. When we were not rehearsing Samuel Beckett scenes or Chekhov shorts, we would often find ourselves back at the director’s place, sharing illegal substances, spicy food and kindred musical spirits. One of the group’s more enigmatic figures was the director’s lodger, a tall quiet man called Paul, who pretty much kept himself to himself and said very little. He kept his records in a cardboard box next to the record player, which contained around fifty LPs and which I was always eager to dip into. Made up almost entirely of LPs by American bands, that box contained albums by the Steve Miller Band, early Doobie Brothers, Todd Rundgren, The Flying Burritos, The Byrds and most importantly, two records by Little Feat (Dixie Chicken hadn’t yet arrived). As Ian’s wife prepared food, I would dive into the box and out would come Sailin’ Shoes, a record that effectively kick started a lifetime love of Lowell George, although at the time I wasn’t to know just how short his lifetime would become, the singer cashing in his chips before the end of the decade. Strangely, I can’t watch a Samuel Beckett play, have a curry or be on the receiving end of a whiff of the herb, without thinking of “Cold Cold Cold”, “Trouble”, “Tripe Face Boogie”, “Sailin’ Shoes” or the timeless “Willin’”, not to mention Neon Park’s bizarre Fragonard Gainsborough inspired cover painting, depicting a cake on a swing!
12. Gene Clark – No Other (Asylum 7E-1016 – 1974)
There’s a picture on the back of his fourth solo studio LP No Other, which looks like Gene Clark could have joined Abba or Bucks Fizz (or both), which doesn’t so much worry me, but makes me wonder if this could possibly be the same tall brooding dude who banged a tambourine on the Byrds debut hit nine years earlier. Released in 1974 on David Geffen’s Asylum label, ‘No Other’ was poorly received both critically and commercially and seemed to be doomed from the start, the label even refusing to promote it at the time, causing a major rift in relations between the former Byrds songwriter and the label, at one point leading to a skirmish involving fisticuffs in an LA restaurant, which Geffen denies ever having happened. The fact that the recording went fantastically over budget costing upwards of $100,000 and contained nothing that could be considered ‘hit’ material, would certainly have impressed the studio boss little and after the album’s release, Clark was definitely off the label. Nevertheless, Gene Clark himself always considered the album his masterpiece and maintained this belief until his death in 1991. Conceived whilst looking out of the window of a friend’s Mendocino home, which overlooked the Pacific Ocean, the songs have an almost mystical edge, songs such as “Life’s Greatest Fool”, “From a Silver Phial” and “Strength of Strings” not to mention the title song, which is probably why the album has endured to this day and is currently undergoing scrutiny by an entirely new audience of musicians. Still, those flairs Gene… Jeez!
11. David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name (Atlantic K40320 – 1971)
I found my copy of David Crosby’s debut solo LP If Only I Could Remember My Name languishing in a cardboard box at a garage sale just outside of Tampa on Groundhog Day 1996, an album first released in the wake of the hugely popular Déjà vu by his then band, Crosby Stills Nash and Young. In the early 1970s those four musicians released solo albums almost simultaneously, each inviting various prominent musicians along for the ride. In Crosby’s case, Joni Mitchell was there, along with members of the Grateful Dead, Santana and Jefferson Airplane. In places the album echoes some of the sonic styling of Déjà vu, with a strong acoustic feel, yet the LP received less than favourable reviews at the time of release in 1971, which was possibly due to Crosby’s overt hippy sensibilities. I quite like David Crosby, warts and all. I know he has his faults, that he is enormously opinionated and can be unreliable and that he’s been a very naughty boy over the years and heck, he even manages to upset Graham Nash so much as to make the Blackpool-born Hollie never speak to him ever again, the man who he once stood by through thick and thin, which beggars the question, what on earth could he possibly have done to worry the likes of Graham Nash? Crosby continues to make me smile for some reason and this album remains my favourite of the CSNY related solo albums and is still played regularly, almost fifty years on. “Music is Love”, “Cowboy Movie” and “Laughing” are all great songs, in fact they all are.
10. Various Artists – Easy Rider Original Soundtrack (Stateside SSL5018 – 1969)
In the late 1960s there were a handful of films that every self respecting rock fan would’ve been expected to see, even if some of those fans, including me, were far too young to actually get into the cinema to see them at the time. Monterey Pop was one, Woodstock another, then there was Alice’s Restaurant, Gimme Shelter, Candy, Blow Up and Performance, not to mention all of the Beatles films of course. Another one was Easy Rider, which was almost like a modern western, featuring hippie bikers on their Harleys, which effectively replaced cowboys on their horses. Who could forget the opening sequence of this cult 1969 movie, with Steppenwolf performing Hoyt Axton’s atmospheric song “The Pusher”, as the camera gracefully navigates the contours of a bike’s gleaming polished chrome curves? Without the film’s soundtrack though, there’s not really an awful lot of Easy Rider to write home about, unless you really do have a thing for motorbikes and long straight roads and the occasional iron bridge. The Band’s classic song “The Weight” was used in the film, but due to licensing issues, their recording which originally appeared on their debut LP Music From Big Pink couldn’t be used on this release, the song being replaced by a specially recorded version by an obscure band called Smith. Other artists to be included was The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Electric Prunes and The Fraternity of Man. Bob Dylan was asked to contribute some songs but refused; however he did write the opening line to “Ballad of Easy Rider” and then advised the filmmakers to give the song to Roger McGuinn, saying “he’ll know what to do with it”. This British LP included all the songs from the American soundtrack but thankfully omitted the sprinkling of sound effects, including the rumbling of motorbikes. After taking my girl to see the film sometime in 1977, I got down on one knee and did the deed, before Roger McGuinn had finished warbling “Ballad of Easy Rider” over the closing credits. Most outstanding songs include “The Pusher” and “Born to be Wild” courtesy of Steppenwolf, together with “If Six Was Nine” by Hendrix and “Wasn’t Born to Follow” by The Byrds.
9. Various Artists – Woodstock Original Soundtrack (Atlantic K60001 – 1970)
The Woodstock Festival, or to give it its official title, ‘The Woodstock Music and Arts Fair presents An Aquarian Exposition in White Lake NY’, left a lasting impression on me, despite the fact that I wasn’t there. Too young and too far away is my excuse, being just twelve and a half and White Lake being three and a half thousand miles away. I experienced the festival as most of us did through the film, which was released a year after the event and which I saw sometime later in the 1970s, after queuing up at the now demolished Gaumont Theatre on the crossroads of Hallgate and Thorne Road in Doncaster. I first heard the triple disc soundtrack album in 1973 after borrowing it from a fan of The Who who I worked with and immediately took to the music, the atmosphere and the legendary announcements. In the subsequent weeks, months and years, I would seek out the music of just about every one of the bands and musicians featured on these six sides, including CSNY, Santana, Arlo Guthrie, Ten Years After, Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe and the Fish. Hendrix, Cocker, Canned Heat and The Who, I was already acquainted with. Despite Guthrie’s embarrassingly stoned announcements, that there would be “about a million and a half people here by tonight”, which actually turned out to be a third of that estimate, together with the fact that “New York State Thruway is closed man, can you dig it?”, there was an unprecedented gathering of people who turned out for the stormy weekend, which began on Friday 15 August, 1969 with Richie Havens and concluded on the morning of Monday 18 August, with Jimi Hendrix, the event running over by a good eleven hours. The three-panel centre spread photo taken by Jim Marshall shows the extent of the crowd, which is still impressive today. As a live LP, the sound is a little dodgy in places, due to various bits of buzzing and bleeping, probably caused by the damp weather, but as a historical record of probably the most famous pop festival ever, it’s an impressive statement. Great moments include CSNY’s “Suite Judy Blue Eyes”, Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends” and Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner”. Did I mention Sha Na Na? Thought not.
8. Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (Elektra EKS74021 – 1968)
Then there was the curious look that dad would often give me as we passed on the stairs, the sort of look that suggested I might actually not be the produce of his loins. This was probably after hearing the vague leakage of Mike Heron singing “Mercy I Cry City” or “A Very Cellular Song”, or Robin Williamson wishing he was a “Witches Hat”, filtering out through the cracks between the door of my bedroom only to invade his space. That same look would continue through tea time as he passed the salt over or as he peered from behind his evening newspaper, carefully scrutinising me as he checked the score draws, wondering if I might possibly have come from Venus. Why wasn’t his Shadows LP good enough for me anymore? The Incredible String Band’s mighty fine Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter still goes around on the turntable every now and again, only this time the strange looks come from my wife, as Robin Williamson sings “Earth water fire and air, met together in a garden fair, put in a basket bound with skin, if you answer this riddle, if you answer this riddle, you’ll never begin”. I knew I should have married someone more like Licorice, had kids like that, had a dog like that and lived somewhere deep in a forest, like that!
7. Amazing Blondel – England (Island ILPS9205 – 1972)
I first became aware of the Amazing Blondel’s England LP when I saw it in the window of Ken’s Swap Shop on St Sepulchre Gate in Doncaster back in 1972 and I decided there and then that it would be mine. Climbing over the junk shop debris, while simultaneously holding my breath (who says men can’t multitask?), I troubled Ken to negotiate the hazardous terrain of the window area in order to salvage this LP from the sun’s rays. I held it close as I offered him a one pound note in exchange. I then ran home, lifted the lid of my Fidelity twin speaker affair, placed the needle on the grooves, laid back on my bed and read every single word on the gate fold sleeve, another world. As a kid, I always lamented never having had the opportunity to see the trio live back in the early 1970s, but was pleased as punch when the original trio reformed in the late 1990s to do a few gigs. I recall sitting in a pub in Cottingham awaiting the arrival of John Gladwin, Eddie Baird and Terry Wincott, who I only knew through the photographs on their LP covers at home. I wondered if I would still recognise them; the hair should have surely gone by now I reasoned. When they walked through the door and took to their respective chairs, I not only recognised them, I felt I already knew them. I saw the band three times during that period with my son, who had grown up with their music and had himself become a fan, possibly due to their albums being played most Sunday mornings since his birth. The last time I saw the band was in October 1998 and I doubt I’ll ever see them again, which is a shame. This album features such notables as “Dolor Dulcis (Sweet Sorrow)”, “A Spring Air” and the “The Paintings” suite. They are my favourite band, despite having been lumbered with the reputation of being the worst band ever to play at Glastonbury, but there again, they do have a crumhorn in their musical arsenal, so it probably serves them right.
6. John Renbourn – John Renbourn (Transatlantic TRA135 – 1966)
The first thing that attracted me to John Renbourn’s debut solo LP was the cover shot, which shows the folk troubadour leaning against a disused site beneath an officious Greater London Council notice instructing visitors to report to the general foreman before entering. Several decades later I would bump into John standing in a similar manner on a street in York, this time with his guitar in its case as he waited for his son to lock the car up. On this occasion, he didn’t have a fag in his mouth. I’m not sure when I first became aware of him, possibly when I first heard the Basket of Light record. Recorded in 1965, the LP showcases many of the diverse styles the guitarist subsequently became noted for, including baroque folk, blues and spirituals. My copy is now adorned with his familiar signature and obligatory ‘star’ motif, which I got him to do a good few decades after this album’s initial release. Unlike his noted collaborator Bert Jansch, I never had any reservations about going up to him for a chat, something I did on one or two occasions, where I found him to be one of the most approachable and kind musicians I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. When I listen to such songs and instrumentals as “Judy”, “Beth’s Blues” and “John Henry”, I always seem to return to a comfortable time, surrounded by pace posters, impractical coloured light bulbs in every socket and the aroma of several joss sticks burning simultaneously, with mum downstairs fixing dinner.
5. Bert Jansch – Bert Jansch (Transatlantic TRA125 – 1965)
During my last couple of years of High School, I was taught by a young art teacher who could’ve been described at the time as ‘relatively hip’ and who would often bring records into class by such obscure guitar players as the Reverend Gary Davis and Stefan Grossman, all of which were, to my ears at any rate, a marked improvement on “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Grows” and “Wandrin’ Star”. On one such occasion, this teacher brought in the debut LP by a then relatively obscure Scots guitar player, whose name I couldn’t pronounce, but whose guitar playing made me sit up and take note. We were told to stop working, put our pencils down and gather around the Dansette, whereupon he lifted the arm and hovered the needle over the last track on side one, asking us to concentrate on the lyrics. At first, I thought “Needle of Death” was a cautionary tale for Singer sewing machine users, but it then dawned on me that our teacher was delivering a warning about heroin. Bert Jansch entered my world in the art class that afternoon and he’s remained there for fifty subsequent years and counting. Bert always remained a distant figure, despite his later records becoming ‘must have’ additions to my collection, and he was perhaps the only musician I was too much in awe of to go up to on the numerous occasions when I saw him play live. I did say “hi” to him sometime in the 1980s as we passed on the steps of the Leeds Astoria, but he just kept on walking. Memorable songs include “Strolling Down the Highway”, “Running for Home”, “Needle of Death” and “Angie”, which we all had to learn before we could call ourselves guitar players. It’s all here, it’s all you need. Bert is also the only musician whose grave I visited to pay my respects. I talked to him on that occasion. I’m not the only one who misses him.
4. Kate and Anna McGarrigle – Kate and Anna McGarrigle (Warner Brothers K56218 – 1976)
When you first discover voices as good as these, you should really take note of where you are and what you are doing, but for the life of me I can’t remember at all. It might have been on the Old Grey Whistle Test back in the mid 1970s or on John Peel show, but there again it could’ve been while lying semi-conscious in a bath after a late night party in an attic flat along Broxholme Lane. It was most probably as a result of being obsessed with all things Loudon Wainwright III, who was at the time married to Kate, but I’m still not entirely sure. Heady daze indeed. What I do know, is that a fair old shiver went sailing down my spine when I first heard “(Talk To Me Of) Mendocino”, “Heart Like a Wheel” and the highly infectious “Complainte Pour Ste-Catherine” delivered in French, all from this LP. The last time I saw Kate and Anna was at the Cambridge Folk Festival in the summer of 1995, shortly after the sisters lost their mum. It was an emotional affair to say the least as they held back their tears. We then lost Kate in 2010, the mother of both Rufus and Martha, both recording artists in their own right. I doubt we’ll ever hear anything quite as special as those two voices again.
3. The Roches – The Roches (Warner Brothers K56683 – 1979)
As the New Jersey siblings point out in the autobiographical album opener “We” , this trio was first of all a duo comprising elder sisters Maggie and Terre, who established themselves a good ten years before younger sister Suzzy joined to record this, their debut LP as a trio. Recorded at the Hit Factory in New York, with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp producing and also contributing some of his idiosyncratic trademark guitar licks, the LP features ten songs showcasing their faultless sibling harmonies, a sound that I first heard sometime in the early 1980s. Slightly quirky, all ten original songs demonstrate the trio’s unique vocal sound, which appears never to date. I get the same rush today, midway through “Hammond Song” as I did in 1981. It’s difficult to choose favourite tracks, though I would be happy for either “Hammond Song”, “Quitting Time” or “Runs in the Family” to be played at my funeral, or even “Mr Sellack”, depending upon my mood at the time.
2. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Smash Hits (Polydor ACB 00219 – 1968)
If The Shadows was the first LP I heard, then Smash Hits was the first LP I ever bought with my own hard earned cash (£1), from an older boy down the street, who had allegedly “moved on”. I’m in my sixties now and I still haven’t moved on from it. Up to this point, my record collection was made up purely of 45rpm singles, some of which resided in a plastic wallet that I referred to as an ‘album’, others kept in what I described as ‘the little orange box’. This was a most exciting progression, owning a real long playing gramophone record that crackled with static when removed from its inner sleeve. I distinctly remember placing the cover on the shelf, then standing back to admire my LP collection of one, eagerly anticipating the next addition, which would follow a week later, after being paid for shoving newspapers in letterboxes around the village. Favourite songs “The Wind Cries Mary”, “Foxy Lady” and “Purple Haze”.
1. The Shadows – The Shadows ( Columbia SX1374 – 1961)
The significance of this album from 1961 is that it was the very first LP that reached my ears, when I was all but four or five years old. It was the only record in my dad’s collection that might be described as a contemporary pop album and it was the only one to feature guitars on the cover. Most of the records stored under the lid were Big Band or Swing records by the likes of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. This one was different, in that the four musicians on the sleeve, Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris and Tony Meehan, posed in a relaxed fashion, sporting their best Cashmere sweaters fresh from the catalogue and each trying their best to look cool, with varying degrees of success. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios between Autumn 1960 and Summer 1961, the recordings were made on analogue equipment and in real time with each track recorded on a one-track-per-day basis and with no overdubs. If the take was messed up, then it went straight to take 2 and so on. That’s how it was in those days. Although the LP now sounds a little dated, especially the vocal performances, some of the instrumentals still sound fresh, such as “Blue Star”, “Sleepwalk” and “Nivram”, which the observant among us will have already noticed is ‘Marvin’ spelled backwards.