Saturday, 21 September 2013


This is my favourite record. Right here, right now! You gotta problem with that, buddy?

Answer: Not if it's 1975, sunshine.

And therein lies the problem: I'm not sure it isn't. Or maybe it's-

Or possibly 1967.

No, I'm sorry, it's a little further back.

With the exception of Europe 72 which I've been listening to on and off for 40 years, the albums are all ones I've bought recently. (Actually, the Jefferson Starship was part of a box set but I'll get back to that.)

Okay: sidebar.

A brief history of popular music as I see it.

You can't define decades in music simply by the date or even, really, by time at all.  However, for the sake of argument, I see it like this.

The 50's began in 1956 with Bill Haley and the Comets Rock Around The Clock and they didn't end until the release in late 1962 with The Beatles Love Me Do.

And after that it was the 60's and nothing was ever the same again.

The 60's didn't end until (and, yes, I know this even more subjective than anything else I've said so far but I've got to pick a date and for the sake of the subject of this post this is it) 1975 with the release of Red Octopus. 

The 60's, as I define them, are the period when I grew from adolescence to adulthood and my musical tastes were formed by this period. It was a era when young wannabees realised that Popular music (as opposed to Pop) had potentially no boundaries. It was also a time when white boys in the States realised how important and how good the Blues was. Of course British kids like The Rolling stones, already knew that. Artists like BB King, Albert King, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf went from playing small rough clubs and to segregated audiences to huge venues like the Fillmore West to adoring white kids.

The Monterey Festival, while light on black bluesmen (at least on the 4-CD set) is almost a paradigm of the period. Just look who's on it. The Association playing easy listening pop-rock; Eric Burdon & the Animals where Eric displays too much hippy Haight-Ashbury influence; blues enthusiasts Canned Heat who had just unleashed their first album; Big Brother & the Holding Company demonstrating why Janis Joplin was the star and they weren't; The (Paul) Butterfield Blues Band, America's answer to John Mayall's Bluesbreakers but fielding actual black bluesguys in the lineup; The Byrds; Hugh Masekela, Ravi Shankar; Jefferson Airplane; Booker T & The MG's, the Stax mixed-race combo whose recordings with Albert King made him the Blues superstar he deserved to be, here playing their own set and then backing up soul legend Otis Redding; The Who, new to the States, letting the audience find out why they were so huge back home; (The) Jimi Hendrix (Experience); and finishing off with The Mamas and the Papas.  There are also many bands and artists, like The Grateful Dead who wouldn't release their material for this set. Looking through this (which is only a partial listing) there isn't a single artist I dislike and only a very few I can take or leave, there are far more I'm a fan of.

At four minutes shy of five hours playing time, plus an extensive comprehensive booklet this is little short of heaven for a 60's music fan.

Of course there is more to 60's music than that but it's not a bad sampler of stuff I liked during those important formative years. Now obviously I didn't remain stuck in the 60's (which, as I said above, includes the early 70's). Just to list a few (the tip of the iceberg) as examples: Springsteen (from 75 to date), Julian Cope, Chris Rea, Echo & the Bunnymen, Alela Diane, The Levellers, U2, Big Country, The Waterboys, Patti Smith, Rory Gallagher, Steely Dan, The Human League, Afro-Celt Sound System, Imelda May, JJ Cale, Frank Zappa, Fela Kuti, Cowboy Junkies, Ry Cooder, Youssou N'Dour, Luther Allison (one of the last great Bluesmen) and a whole host of other Blues artistes. A quick scan of box set compilations on my CD shelves include: Celtic, English Folk, Bhangra, Ska, Reggae, African Funk, African Blues, Nigerian Rock plus a bunch of Classical shit like Vaughan Williams. 

But I keep going back to my roots. I have pretty much every album Neil Young has made, a 19-CD box set of Sandy Denny (cost £150, since seen on Ebay for a grand), a terrifying number of Grateful Dead box sets which includes the two 12-disc sets of all their major label releases including tons of bonus stuff and more live sets than I really need. 

And I keep going back to the stuff I liked in my youth and it still sounds great. 

This is my most recent purchase. Only Red Octopus has bonus tracks which is as it should be as for my money it's one of the great Rock albums of the 70's. Spitfire (the one to its right), is also pretty good and there are good tracks on the other three. All clock in around 42mins (exc bonus tracks) which is fine for the period. But only Red Octopus works perfectly and this despite the variety of the numbers on it. It opens with a rocker and is followed by Miracles which is possibly the best track Marty Balin ever sang lead on. You then get Git Fiddler, an instrumental with Papa John Creach on lead with some good piano work in the mix. I'm not going to list everything as every track is memorable from the headlong rocker of Sweeter Than Honey to achingly lyrical climax of There Will Be Love. Every member of the band is on fire, all working tightly together both instrumentally and vocally.

This is simply the best single album by any band with the name Jefferson as part of it and I've loved it for 38 years.

(Side Note: Winging its way to me from the states is a live 2-CD set recorded just before the release of Red Octopus and it's supposed to be sensational.) 

Now every so often I go through a Bob Dylan phase. I particularly like his bootleg series of which this is the latest. To be honest, while I quite like it, it's more for the hard core Dylan fan but I also picked up at the same time-
This is almost worth buying just for the accompanying booklet which contains a lengthy essay about Dylan in the period immediately preceding this show. It's by John Glover a folk artist and long-time friend of our Bobby and it is fascinating. (All the  Bootleg series contain first class booklets which reveal much about the man and the related music.) There are two discs. The first is acoustic, just Dylan, his guitar and harp. On the second he brings on his rock band which is not to the liking of some of the audience. Just before the final song is played, one of the crowd shouts out "Judas!" much to Dylan's justified annoyance because the man is an arsehole. 

If Dylan had stayed where he was -a folkie protest singer- he'd be a footnote in the history of music. Instead he seized on the possibilities, inspired by The Beatles, that Rock offered and expanded the vocabulary (figuratively and literally) of popular music itself. Me, I was a Dylan fan already and liked the Rock direction he was moving in, just as I went along, for a time, with other changes until I moved on and away.

Listening to these albums, ironically pointed me back to another Bootleg set I had which I hadn't listened to more than once.
This is a 2-disc collection of mostly out-takes from three of his later period return to form which had somehow passed me by. I've been listening to it more closely (it's playing now) and it's really very good indeed. The booklet explains how Dylan explores different ways of playing a song in search of getting it just right. Which is what he's been doing all his life.

Which is off the track. 

The thing is that I was wondering, while your taste in music expands as you encounter new artistes whom you enjoy very much, does it really change? I keep going back to the music I listened to during the period I was growing up and still enjoy it as much as ever. The eponymous Fotheringay is still my single favourite album and Sandy Denny still my favourite female singer. Europe 72 remains my most played Grateful Dead live set. I've followed Neil Young since I heard After The Gold Rush in 1971 and love his latest Psychedelic Pill (2013). 

To be honest, it's years since I listened to any new music except for occasional discoveries like the exquisite voice of Alela Diane and Bombino (a Tuareg electric guitarist) and the later work of a revitalised Dion. With the exception old favourites releasing new albums, I haven't really listened to new stuff since the end of the 80's, partly because I shortly became a white boy lost in the Blues for several years. But always I keep going back to the music of my youth.

But then why shouldn't I? It was fucking great then and it's still fucking great now.

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