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The Rickie Lee Jones MP3 store

I’ve just come across the Rickie Lee Jones MP3 store. Rickie Lee Jones is the singer/songwriter who brought us the sexy, sublime Chuck E’s in Love back in 1979. Now she’s the biggest artist on sale at Great Big Island, where you can buy both CDs and MP3s. The percentages are not stated, but it seems that the musicians get a much larger slice of the profits that they would from iTunes or other legal download sites.

I like the idea, especially as there is no troublesome DRM to contend with. However I would much prefer files without the lossy compression of MP3, especially since these are a barely adequate 128K. Robert Fripp’s download store can do it; why not Great Big Island?

 

Songs that are just about perfect

I feel another list coming on. This is for songs that have a quality of completeness, such that it is hard to imagine how they could be improved.

  1. The Cranberries – Linger. Best in the studio version as Dolores O’Riordan can’t resist getting the audience to sing along in concert.
  2. Bob Dylan – Like a Rolling Stone. Perhaps the definitive Dylan song. I like it because he appears to be singing about someone else, yet you cannot shake off the suspicion that he is singing about himself.
  3. Patti Smith – Because the night. Some songs you only need to hear once; you know immediately it is for the ages.
  4. Robert Wyatt – Shipbuilding. A very sad song, sung in a very sad voice. A parallel to Because the Night in a way, because it was a song borrowed from another singer/songwriter.
  5. David Bowie – Heroes. A build-up song, that ends with Bowie screaming. Seems to capture something about hope in despair.
  6. Jimi Hendrix – All along the Watchtower. Another borrowed song, that so much caught the essence of the song that Dylan started singing it almost the same way. I love the non-ending: “Two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl.” And then what?
  7. Joan Baez – Diamonds and Rust. Presumed to be about Dylan. “My poetry was lousy you said,” who else could it be? Wrecked by Joan in concert in later years, when she ends with “I’ll take the diamonds.”
  8. New Order – Blue Monday. A disappointing band that never lived up to its promise; yet came out with some superlative singles of which this is the best.
  9. Richard Thompson – 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. A song about death. 
  10. Stephen Sondheim – Send in the clowns. How do you write about perfection?

The top ten albums, ever. Period.

Everyone loves lists, apparently. So here goes. By the way, I don’t believe in top ten lists. Subjective, subjective, subjective, plus dependent on which way the wind is blowing. And yes, they are of a certain era. Feel free to ignore this post.

Quadrophenia by The Who
There’s something about going down to Brighton and railing at the sea; I can’t get enough.

Late for the sky by Jackson Browne
I used to play this in the car and cry my eyes out. Still a sad and beautiful work.

Station to Station by David Bowie
Pure paranoid beauty, swirling Slick guitar and electronic noises, from Bowie’s Golden Years.

Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan
At the time, everyone said that Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands was no match for Desolation Row; yet I find it intoxicating. Another favourite is Visions of Johanna; and not forgetting Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.

This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello
My introduction to EC was when John Peel made Less than Zero his big single of the week. A couple of years later I had the privilege of seeing EC and the Attractions in full flow on the This Year’s Model tour: it really was “Pump it up, until you can feel it”. Sublime combination of primal energy and cerebral wit.

Layla by Derek and the Dominoes
It’s the guitar, and the emotion, and the fine songs; the tradition and the moment; sweet and sour; immaculate.

Liege and Lief by Fairport Convention
I’m struggling here, as two of my self-imposed rules for this list are first, no compilations, and second, no more than one for each artist. So I’m looking for a Fairport album with Meet on the Ledge, Who knows where the time goes, and Matty Groves. There are several live albums that would fit; but it’s the early studio albums I go back to most often, so I’m picking Liege and Lief; after all, how could I omit Crazy Man Michael?

The Four Seasons by Vivaldi; Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
I gather this is a remarkably non-authentic rendition of Vivaldi’s played-to-death masterpiece; yet it has a certain magic and drama that I rarely find elsewhere.

Hearts and Bones by Paul Simon
According to the All Music Guide that this was a “commercial disaster”; I don’t know why because it’s my favourite of Simon’s works, maybe a bit twee in places, but it resonates with me because I think too much and agree with him about cars.

On the Beach by Neil Young
I started on the beach and that’s where I’ll finish.

Is that it? What a dull list. How conventional. How introspective. Why nothing by John Lennon, or King Crimson, or R.E.M., or Talking Heads, or The Cure, or Tom Waits, or Velvet Underground? Can’t answer that; but perhaps I’ll do another list tomorrow.

 

ELP: bombast or brilliance?

From time to time I get an urge to revisit past musical pleasures. The other day it was Emerson Lake and Palmer, and I dug out Brain Salad Surgery, the eponymous first album, and the sprawling live affair Welcome Back my Friends.

I can’t make up my mind about this band. It seems to be a mood thing; sometimes the interesting rhythms, Keith Emerson’s flowing keyboard and Greg Lake’s delicate vocals fill me with admiration. Other times it sounds over-the-top and adolescent.

I suppose in an absolute sense it is more like the latter. Still, I think you have to concede at least moments of inspiration.

Why I hate compilations

Back when I was at school, we all despised compilations. Thing is, they have no artistic integrity. Artists make albums, record companies make compilations.

It seems we lost the argument. When I search for an artist on Amazon and sort by bestselling, all the top choices seem to be compilations. Despite myself, I buy ’em. It’s got all my favourites on, I reason.

Then I remember why I hate them. It has all my favourites on, but two of them are the live version, and I wanted the studio version. Or vice versa. So then I have to buy the album that had the version I really wanted. And then I have crazy duplication.

I don’t even like it when they stuff extra tracks on the end of a classic album (I don’t mind when it’s a separate CD). The bonuses can be interesting, but they don’t fit. Unless, of course, it was a compilation to begin with.

There’s another reason I hate compilations. Sometimes it’s the only way to get some song that was released as a single, or some such. So you have to buy the compilation, 95% of which you already own, just for that one song.

I realise that this is one good thing about buying downloads. You only buy what you actually want. Well, I’ll cheerfully buy from Robert Fripp’s music download store, where the downloads are DRM-free and uncompressed, but not iTunes or one of the Windows DRM stores where neither of those is true. Actually, there is a Windows DRM store that offers lossless WMA, but the CD is still, usually, a much better deal.

Nevertheless, I realise that the CD is dying and it will be download-only at some future time. I’m pinning my hopes on a sane subscription scheme. In the meantime, did I mention that I hate compilations?

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Mott the Hoople

Way back when, Island Records had a sampler LP called Nice Enough to Eat. There was a song on it called At the Crossroads, written by Doug Sahm and performed by a band called Mott the Hoople. I liked its yearning, dylanesque sound and later picked up the album of the same name. I’ve had a soft spot for the band ever since, even though in an absolute sense they are kinda trashy.

I’m writing this now because of a supermarket find on Saturday – you know, when you see a CD for next to nothing on one of those budget labels and it intrigues you. This one was by Mott and called Essential Young Dudes – Live and more; it was obviously some kind of compilation but the sleeve was silent on details like when or where the songs were recorded. I was curious because I know the band’s output fairly well, but titles like “The Ballad of Billy Joe” and “If your heart lay with the rebel” were new to me.

I stuck it on when I got home and have to admit I enjoyed it. Very English, very seventies; raucous in places, often silly, but full of energy. The songs seem to be from concerts previously released by Angel Air; the sound quality is bootleg-like but with compensating atmosphere. You even get David Bowie singing backing vocals on his song All the Young Dudes – the song which rescued Mott from complete obscurity.

As I was sitting here wondering what I like about the band I came across this remark from George Starostin:

The fact that certain reviewers and critics hold a very soft spot in their heart for the band can only be explained – as far as I believe – by the fact that Ian Hunter’s lyrics speak to them on a personal level: his constant humble saga of a little man stuck in an ambitious rock’n’roll band and always getting his kicks in the wrong way is quite biting on the social plane of things, if you know what I mean.

Good comment. I guess you had to be there.