The "New" Perfect Collection

THE NEW PERFECT COLLECTION Follow @terrytochel @tnpcollection @PgallagheretgGg

Greatest Records, Psychedelia, Punk Rock, Rock Music

The Perfect Collection was published in 1982. Subtitled “The Rock Albums everybody should have and why”, editor Tom Hibbert and his contributors selected 200+ albums, which would give you, if you bought them all, a “broad, balanced, lively, collection of all thats best in rock music”.

When this book appeared in our local library it consumed and obsessed us. It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t inspire us to track down all of the records like some other lists of the “greatest records ever made” (I’ve still not heard some of them). It included Vanilla Fudge’s The Beat Goes On which it claims is probably the worst album ever made. It included Pat Boone, Cliff Richard and Gary Glitter and omitted Howlin’ Wolf, Link Wray, T Rex and Can.

Where the book got it right was the inclusion of some records which I have never seen included in any other best of lists. It turned us on to records like The Standells’ Try It, The Seeds’ Raw & Alive and The Flaming Groovies’ Teenage Head which remain firm favourites thirty plus years after first reading about them. It included Gene Clark’s No Other and Big Star’s Radio City which were not acknowledged as classics for another decade or two.

While it included many of the big hitters and acknowledged classics, what was clear was that the rest of these albums were the real personal favourites of the contributors, the ones that you would fight for.

What we intend to do is write about the 200 or so albums that we would include in our perfect collection. While it would be tempting to only include records recorded since the books publication, it may include what we would consider glaring omissions from the original book. Like the book, if an artist has two albums of equal artistic merit, an alternative  choice will be denoted with an ‘a’. Various artist compilation were not included in the book, and will not be included here (sorry Nuggets et al) We have tried to avoid the bigger names and shine a light on those names that don’t usually figure in best of lists.

Dedicated to

Tom Hibbert, Andy Schwartz, Brian Hogg, Bill Knight, Chris Charlesworth, C. P. Lee, Chris Welch, Fran Kershner, Giovanni Dadomo, Harry, Shapiro, Ian Birch, John Tobler, Kerry King, Michael Heatley, Mike McDowell, Martin Plimmer, Mark Williams, Nigel Cross, Neville Wiggins, Peter Clark, Patrick Humphries, Paddy Poltock, Paul Whitcombe, Stephen Lee, Sally Payne.

TNPC presents… THE GREATEST ALBUMS MADE BETWEEN 1974-85

Greatest Records

So, 1974 to 1985, right?

I suppose the first thing to do is to answer the question everyone’s been asking: “Why 74-85?” A seemingly random period of time. The rationale behind the recent pre-1974 poll was perhaps a tad easier to explain. For that exercise we reimagined the 1974 NME Top 100 albums, through 21st century eyes. For this one, we’ve drawn a line at 1985, the year the NME published their second Greatest Albums poll. There would be little point in voters duplicating some of their choices from the pre-74 list, so instead, TNPC is planning a four part feature. The next one will focus on albums released between 1986 and 1999, and the last will be a 21st century rundown. Expect to be harassed into taking part in those over the coming months.

Where did jazz go?

While this is a terrific collection of albums, there isn’t a great deal here to be surprised about. One might note perhaps how Wire’s legacy, like that of The Kinks (as evidenced by their performance in the pre-74 poll) is becoming more secure. Wire was conspicuously absent from the ’85 NME poll, pictured above. The balance and breadth of the entries was striking too: people seem more relaxed nowadays to mix prog, punk and hip-hop together in their lists, something which might not have been the case in 1985.

In 1974, few could possibly have foreseen the changes that were about to take place in popular music, and the outward ripples of punk and new wave flow freely through the list. But there’s a real shortage of soul. While reggae and dub are at least represented with a handful of entries, it was after all the golden era of JA music. Jazz meanwhile has fallen of the radar spectacularly, despite Miles making some of the most adventurous music, and Sun Ra some of his most accessibly celestial, during the period in question.

All the others you’d expect to be there – well, they’re here. And the top choice? Won by a landslide…

As with the last poll, I’ll post an Appendix of the next 100 over the next few days. Some great albums just missed the cut, Marcus Garvey, one of my all-time favourites for example. I also intend to post an Alternative Top 100 of albums which were nominated only once. I guarantee that will be an eye-opener and will set you off on new journeys of discovery.

Once again, I can’t thank enough all those who were kind and enthusiastic enough to contribute. I’m very grateful to you all. Hope you enjoy the list. Back soon. (JJ)

The Top 100:

100. Kings Of The Wild Frontier – Adam & The Ants (CBS, 1980)

99. Fried – Julian Cope (Mercury, 1984)

98. Soul Mining – The The (Some Bizarre, 1983)

97. The Undertones – The Undertones (Sire, 1979)

96. New Gold Dream [81-82-83-84] (Virgin, 1982)

95. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight – Richard & Linda Thompson (Island, 1974)

94. 154 – Wire (Harvest, 1979)

93. Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen (Columbia, 1975)

92. Imperial Bedroom – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (F-Beat, 1982)

91. Super Ape – The Upsetters (Island, 1976)

90. Desire – Bob Dylan (CBS, 1976)

89. More Songs About Buildings & Food – Talking Heads (Sire, 1978)

88. Exodus – Bob Marley & The Wailers (Island, 1977)

87. Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen (CBS, 1982)

86. Physical Graffiti – Led Zeppelin (Swan Song, 1975)

85. Grievous Angel  – Gram Parsons (Reprise, 1974)

84. Rust Never Sleeps – Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Reprise, 1979)

83. Sulk – Associates (Beggars Banquet, 1982)

82. Diamond Dogs – David Bowie (RCA, 1974)

81. Court & Spark – Joni Mitchell (Asylum, 1974)

80. Get Happy!! – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (F-Beat, 1980)

79. Lexicon Of Love – ABC (Neutron, 1982)

78. The Man Machine – Kraftwerk (EMI, 1977)

77. Let It Be – The Replacements (Twin/Tone, 1984)

76. This Nation’s Saving Grace – The Fall (Beggars Banquet, 1985)

75. Colossal Youth – Young Marble Giants (Rough Trade, 1980)

74. The Modern Dance  – Pere Ubu (Blank, 1978)

73. Rain Dogs – Tom Waits (Island, 1985)

72. A Walk Across The Rooftops – The Blue Nile (Linn, 1983)

71. Kilimanjaro – The Teardrop Explodes (Fontana, 1980)

70. Purple Rain – Prince & The Revolution (Warner Bros, 1984)

69. Reckoning – REM (IRS, 1984)

68. Don’t Stand Me Down – Dexy’s Midnight Runners (Mercury, 1985)

67. The Hissing Of Summer Lawns – Joni Mitchell (Asylum, 1975)

66. Rocket To Russia – Ramones (Sire, 1977)

65. Rumours – Fleetwood Mac (Warner Bros, 1977)

64. Sound Affects – The Jam (Polydor, 1980)

63. Steve McQueen – Prefab Sprout (Kitchenware, 1985)

62. Pacific Ocean Blue – Dennis Wilson (Caribou, 1977)

61. Singles: Going Steady – Buzzcocks (United Artists, 1979)

60. All Mod Cons – The Jam (Polydor, 1978)

59. Lust For Life – Iggy Pop (RCA, 1977)

58. Another Green World – Brian Eno (Island, 1975)

57. Hex Enduction Hour – The Fall (Kamera, 1982)

56. Heroes – David Bowie (RCA, 1977)

55. Ocean Rain – Echo & The Bunnymen (Korova, 1984)

54. Hejira – Joni Mitchell (Asylum, 1976)

53. Tonight’s The Night – Neil Young (Reprise, 1975)

52. . Entertainment! – Gang Of Four (EMI. 1979)

51. The Specials (Two-Tone, 1979)

50. Another Music In A Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks (United Artists, 1978)

49. Dare – The Human League (A&M, 1981)

48. Swordfishtrombones – Tom Waits (Island, 1983)

47. Two Sevens Clash – Culture (Joe Gibbs, 1977)

46. Real Life – Magazine (Virgin, 1978)

45. Treasure – Cocteau Twins (4AD, 1984)

44. Hounds Of Love – Kate Bush (EMI, 1985)

43. Meat Is Murder – The Smiths (Rough Trade, 1985)

42. The Smiths (Rough Trade, 1984)

41. Cut – The Slits (Island, 1979)

40. Parallel Lines – Blondie (Chrysalis, 1978)

39. Veedon Fleece – Van Morrison (Warner Bros, 1974)

38. Pink Flag – Wire (Harvest, 1977)

37. Radio City – Big Star (Ardent, 1974)

36. High Land Hard Rain – Aztec Camera (Rough Trade, 1983)

35. Songs In The Key Of Life – Stevie Wonder (Tamla Motown, 1976)

34. Rattlesnakes – Lloyd Cole & The Commotions (Polydor, 1984)

33. The Idiot – Iggy Pop (RCA, 1977)

32. You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever – Orange Juice (Polydor, 1982)

31. Neu! 75 – Neu! (Brain, 1975)

30. Rock Bottom – Robert Wyatt (Virgin, 1974)

29. Ramones (Sire, 1976)

28. The Clash (CBS, 1977)

27. Kings Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown- Augustus Pablo (Yard, 1976)

26. Trans-Europe Express – Kraftwerk (EMI, 1977)

25. Hatful Of Hollow – The Smiths (Rough Trade, 1984)

24. Heart Of The Congos – The Congos (Black Ark, 1977)

23. Rum Sodomy & The Lash – The Pogues (Stiff, 1985)

22. Chairs Missing – Wire (Harvest, 1978)

21. Fear Of Music – Talking Heads (Sire, 1979)

20. Power Corruption & Lies – New Order (Factory, 1983)

19. 3rd [Sister Lovers] – Big Star (PVC, 1978)

18. Remain In Light – Talking Heads (Sire, 1980)

17. Murmur – REM (IRS, 1983)

16. Psychocandy – The Jesus & Mary Chain (Blanco y negro, 1985)

15. Suicide (Red Star, 1977)

14. The Modern Lovers (Beserkley, 1976)

13. London Calling – The Clash (CBS, 1979)

12. Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols – The Sex Pistols (Virgin, 1977)

11. Horses – Patti Smith (Arista, 1975)

10. Searching For The Young Soul Rebels – Dexy’s Midnight Runners (EMI, 1980)

9. Metal Box – Public Image Ltd (Virgin, 1979)

8. Station To Station – David Bowie (RCA, 1976)

7. On The Beach – Neil Young (Reprise, 1974)

6. No Other – Gene Clark (Asylum, 1974)

5. Closer – Joy Division (Factory, 1980)

4. Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division (Factory, 1979)

3. Low – David Bowie (RCA, 1977)

2. Blood On The Tracks – Bob Dylan (CBS, 1975)

1. Marquee Moon – Television (Elektra, 1977)

Contributors:

Bill Ainsworth, Camilla Aisa, Neil Alexander, Dot Allison, Mick Anderson, Andy (Birmingham 81), Michael Bailey (Soft Hearted Scientists), Billy Bell, Caroline Binnie, Nick Blakey (Underground Jukebox), Chris Bounds, Holly Boyd, Stephen Boyd, Gerry Braiden, Johnny Browning, Colin Brunton, Helen Bull, Marc (Captain Howdy), Julie Campbell (LoneLady, Warp Records), Rob Chapman, Chris Coleman, Mike Convery, Alison Cotton (Left Outsides), Dave Coulter, Laura Lee Davies, Jon Dennis, Mick Derrick, John Dickie, Andrew Divine, Philip Downer, Spender Downes, Vincent Driscoll, Seamus Duggan, Maureen Dunlop, Matthew Edwards, Liam Elliott, Matt Elliott, Pete Ferguson, Declan Flanagan, Mikki Francis-Lawton, Paul Gallagher, Ash Grace, Theo Hakkert, Jeff Hartley, Andrew Hill, Mark Hillier, Barney Hoskyns, Sophie Jay, Johnnie Johnstone, Martin Johnstone, Peter Johnstone, Allan Jones, Jukebox Rebel, Danny Kelly, David Kelner, John Kilbride, Harris King, Graham Kingsbury, Neil Kulkarni, June Lewins, Gerry Love, Huw M, Alastair Macduff, Gary Mackenzie, John Marcus, Leon Massey, Stephen McAuley, Ryan McCullough, Grant McPhee, Fiona McQuarrie, John Medd, Graham Meikle, Andy Miller, Thom Moore, Rob Morgan, Greg Morse, Tony Mulraney, Paul Murray, Peter Murray, Jason Myles, Brendan O’Leary, Jake Palmer, Thomas Patterson, Mark Paytress, Andy Pidluznyj (New Apostles), Nick Portnell, Johnny Purcell, Steve Rhodes, Don Richmond, Chris Roberts, Matt Rogers, Marco Rossi, Martin Ruddock, David Sharp, Simon Shaw, Angela Slaven, Jonathan Small, Jason Spence, Iain Stansfield, Duglas T Stewart, Theo Stockman, David Stubbs, David Tanner, Huw Thomas, Daniel Thompson, Terry Tochel, Toni Tochel, Ben Travers, Paul Turnbull, Sughosh Varadarajan, Ian Wade, Neil Ware, Judah Warsky, Stevie Watt, Rob Webb, Dominic Whittingham, Sandy Wishart, Colin Wright.

Appendix 1: 101-200:

101. The Scream – Siouxsie & The Banshees

102. Talking Heads ‘77 – Talking Heads
103. This Year’s Model – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
104. Nightclubbing – Grace Jones
105. Darkness On The Edge Of Town – Bruce Springsteen
106. Songs The Lord Taught Us – The Cramps
107. Mothership Connection – Parliament
108. Spring Hill Fair – The Go-Betweens
109. Heaven Up Here – Echo & The Bunnymen
110. Crocodiles – Echo & The Bunnymen 
111. More Specials – The Specials
112. WishYou Were Here – Pink Floyd
113. Marcus Garvey – Burning Spear
114. Aja – Steely Dan
115. Damned Damned Damned – The Damned
116. Wilder – The Teardrop Explodes 
117. Leave Home – Ramones
118. There’s No Place Like America Today – Curtis Mayfield
119. The Correct Use Of Soap – Magazine
120. 20 Jazz Funk Greats – Throbbing Gristle
121. Blank Generation- Richard Hell & The Voidoids
122. Movement – New Order
123. New Boots & Panties – Ian Dury & The Blockheads
124. Young Americans – David Bowie
125. Computer World – Kraftwerk 
126. Coney Island Baby – Lou Reed
127. Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables – Dead Kennedys 
128. New Day Rising – Hüsker Dü
129. Zuma – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
130. Emergency Third Rail Power Trip – The Rain Parade
131. Fables Of The Reconstruction – REM
132. Germ-Free Adolescents- X-Ray Spex
133. My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts – Brian Eno / David Byrne
134. Risque – Chic
135. Best Dressed Chicken In Town – Dr. Alimantado
136. Before And After Science – Brian Eno
137. Scary Monsters [And Super Creeps] – David Bowie
138. The Belle Album – Al Green
139. Y – The Pop Group
140. Soon Over Babaluma – Can
141. Perverted By Language – The Fall
142. English Settlement – XTC
143. Tusk – Fleetwood MAC
144. I Just Can’t Stop It – The Beat
145. Grotesque- The Fall
146. Autobahn – Kraftwerk 
147. Red – King Crimson
148. Zen Arcade – Hüsker Dü
149. One World – John Martyn 
150. Underwater Moonlight – Soft Boys
151. The Kick Inside – Kate Bush
152. Head On The Door – The Cure
153. Street Hassle- Lou Reed
154. Red Roses For Me – The Pogues
155. Kimono My House – Sparks
156. C’est Chic – Chic
157. Double Nickels On The Dime – Minutemen
158. Swoon – Prefab Sprout
159. Handsworth Revolution – Steel Pulse
160. The Strange Idols Pattern & Other Short Stories – Felt
161. The Raincoats – The Raincoats
162. Crazy Rhythms – The Feelies
163. Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret – Soft Cell
164. Cupid & Psyche 85 – Scritti Politti
165. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
166. Some Girls – The Rolling Stones
167. Here My Dear – Marvin Gaye
168. A Trip To Marineville – Swell Maps
169. Dragnet – The Fall
170. Live At The Witch Trials – The Fall
171. Natty Dread – Bob Marley & The Wailers
172. Inflammable Material – Stiff Little Fingers
173. The Nightfly – Donald Fagen
174. This Is The Sea – The Waterboys
175. Dirty Mind – Prince
176. Even Serpents Shine – The Only Ones
177. Machine Gun Etiquette – The Damned
178. Doc At The Radar Station – Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band
179. The Rutles – The Rutles
180. Give ‘Em Enough Rope – The Clash
181. Winter In America – Brian Jackson & Gil Scott-Heron 
182. It’ll End In Tears – This Mortal Coil
183. Fire Of Love – The Gun Club
184. Suicide – Suicide (2nd)
185. E2-E4 – Manuel Göttsching 
186. Come Away – ESG
187. LC – The Durutti Column 
188. La Düsseldorf – La Düsseldorf 
189. Gentlemen Take Polaroids – Japan
190. What’s The Matter Boy? – Vic Godard & Subway Sect
191. B-52s – B-52s
192. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway – Genesis
193. Al Green Is Love – Al Green
194. Run DMC – Run DMC
195. And Don’t The Kids Just Love It – Television Personalities 
196. LAMF – The Heartbreakers 
197. Pretenders – Pretenders
198. The Only Fun In Town – Josef K
199. Youth Of America – Wipers
200. African Dub Chapter 3 – Joe Gibbs

Appendix. 2: One Vote Wonders: Journeys of Discovery

Some of the more eye catching nominations – from the sublime to the ridiculous. Happy listening:..

A Certain Ratio – To Each…

The Aggrovators – Johnny In The Echo Chamber

Terry Allen – Lubbock (On Everything)

Amanaz – Africa

Art Bears – The World As It Is Today

Robert Ashley – Automatic Writing

Beat Happening – Beat Happening

Bee Gees – Main Course

Jorge Ben – Africa Brasil

Agnes Bernelle – Bernelle On Brecht and…

Jane Birkin – De Doo Dah

Glenn Branca – Ascension

Jacques Brel – Les Marquises

Butthole Surfers – Psychic Powerless, Another Man’s Sac

Cabaret Voltaire – The Crackdown

Cerrone 3 – Supernature

Don Cherry- Brown Rice

The Chords – So Far Away

The Church – Heyday

Alice Coltrane – Eternity

Cortex – Spinal Injuries

Miles Davis – Dark Magus

Betty Davis – They Say I’m Different

Francesco De Gregori – Bufalo Bill

Dukes Of Stratophear – 25 O’ Clock

Einsturzende Neubauten – 1/2 Mensch

Eno / Moebius / Roedelius – After The Heat

Original Soundtrack- Escape From New York

Felt – The Splendour Of Fear

Fred Frith – Guitar Solos

The Fuzztones – Lysergic Emanations

Game Theory – Real Nightime

Germs – (GI)

Richard Gotainer – Chants Zazous

Great Plains – Naked At The Buy Sell & Trade

Harmonia – Harmonia Deluxe

Eddie Hazel – Games, Dames & Guitar Thangs

Henry Cow – In Praise Of Learning

Higelin – BBh75

Joe Higgs – Life Of Contradiction

Isolation Ward – Point Final

The Jazz Butcher – A Scandal In Bohemia

Eddie Kendricks – Boogie Down

Basil Kirchin – Worlds Within Worlds

Fela Kuti & Afrika ’70 – Sorrow Tears & Blood

RD Laing – Life Before Death

Last Poets – Delights Of The Garden

Jah Lion – Colombia Colly

Lyres – On Fyre

Candy Mackenzie – Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry presents…

MX-80 Sound – Hard Attack

Indoda Mahlathini – Ngibuzindlela

Michael Mantler – The Hapless Child

Mantronix – The Album

Marine Girls – Lazy Ways

Millions Of Dead Cops – Millions Of Dead Cops

Mission Of Burma – Signals Calls & Marches

Moondog – H’Art Songs

Hugh Mundell – Africa Must Be Free By 1983

Milton Nascimento- Clube Da Esquina 2

Nash The Slash – Bedside Companion

Mickey Newbury – I Came To Hear The Music

Colin Newman – A-Z

Pauline Oliveros – Accordion & Voice

Bulent Ortacgil – Benimle Oynar Misin

Ossie All-Stars – Leggo Dub

Gilbert O’Sullivan – A Stranger In My Own Back Yard

Annette Peacock – X-Dreams

Ann Peebles – The Handwriting Is On The Wall

Pink Industry – Low Technology

Popol Vuh – Brüder des Schattens

The Radiators – Songs From The Ancient Furnace

Red Kross – Teen Babes From Monsanto

Terry Reid – Songs From Memory

The Residents – Meet The Residents

Minnie Riperton – Perfect Angel

Michael Rother – Fernwarme

Rufus – Rufusized

Sand – Golem

Scientist – Scientist Rids The World Of The Evil Curse Of The Vampires

Section 25 – Always Now

Yatha Sidhra – A Meditation Mass

Solid Space – Space Museum

The Sound – Heads & Hearts

Sun Ra – Lanquidity

Tangerine Dream – Rubycon

Teenage Head – Teenage Head

Telephone – Crache Tom Venin

The Triffids – Treeless Plain

TV21 – A Thin Red Line

James Blood Ulmer – Are You Glad To Be In America?

Van Der Graf Generator – Godbluff

Townes Van Zandt – Flyin’ Shoes

Velvet Monkeys – Future

Laurent Voulzy – Bopper En Larmes

The Wake – Here Comes Everybody

Ben Watt – North Marine Drive

Yabby You – Deliver Me From My Enemies

Zero Boys – Vicious Circle

Tappa Zukie – MPLA

TNPC presents… The 100 GREATEST ALBUMS made before 1974

Greatest Records

The Idea…

The NME’S Greatest Albums Of All-Time poll from 1985 jump-started my obsession with popular music, inspiring me to buy dozens of my favourite ever LPs. I learned soon afterwards that the magazine had published an earlier list in 1974, and in those pre-internet days, tried hard to track it down. Eventually, somehow, and from somewhere I can’t quite remember (probably a Back Issues mail order advert), I managed to acquire a tatty old copy. Coming from a definitively post-punk perspective, I found the list somewhat exotic, sometimes horrifying, but always intriguing. I dug it out recently in order to generate some discussion on social media, and – at Philip Downer’s suggestion – agreed to invite a range of music nuts, (writers, musicians, fans) to re-imagine the list today, restricting their choices to albums released before 1st January 1974. The response was surprisingly instantaneous.

Is the ‘canon’ dead?

November 11th: It’s very late in the evening. I should be in bed. I’m rustling through dog-eared scraps of paper pinning scores to roughly alphabeticised lists of albums. I wouldn’t say that I don’t trust computers, but I certainly don’t have confidence that mine will last the pace, so it’s safer this way. I’m on around my fifteenth or sixteenth list (sixty three to go), and already I’m recording the second nomination for Ralf & Florian and the third for Clube da Esquina. I’m thrilled, and for a brief moment believe that, rather than this being an exercise in great folly, what in fact will emerge from this painstaking endeavour will be the greatest list of albums I’ve ever seen. But neither Ralf & Florian nor Clube Da Esquina receive another vote. People are messaging me on Twitter, wanting to amend their selections. I am reassured by their uber-enthusiasm for the task. I’m about 40 votes in before I do a little counting – I can’t stand the suspense – convinced as I am that the tired old ‘canon’ is on its way out. But then I notice that the old favourites have not only started to creep into contention, but have relentlessly and ruthlessly gobbled up and spat out all the quirky curios and cult favourites that have caught my eye, the inclusion of which has made this such a pleasurable process.

And that perhaps is the inevitability of the block vote: there are still some interesting variations here (only 39 survive the original ’74 poll), but the end result is something that looks not unlike the ’95 Mojo poll, and in some ways makes the list of those ranked between 101-200 resemble a ZigZag poll from the mid-70s, peppered as it is with offerings by Jim Sullivan, Bill Fay, The Millenium, White Noise, Silver Apples and Amon Duul 2. As far as the quota ranked at 700 or lower is concerned, it looks a little like a cohort of refugees escaping from a Wire poll, and for some the more interesting things will undoubtedly be happening further down the list.

I make no claim for this to be regarded a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of the period – it could not pretend to be and was never intended to be. Naturally, the people we correspond with on social media often have similar tastes and so while the album which topped the poll may be a moderately surprising choice to some, if you think about the context, it may well be less surprising than you think. I did try to cast the net of contributors as far and wide as possible, and it brought me great satisfaction to read lists which consistently bore witness to the passion, wisdom and broad perspectives of their compilers, each of whom I’m very grateful to, and who are listed at the end of this article.

Anyway, hope you enjoy reading. Let us know what you think. I’m still reeling from Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad ranking a lowly 101st!

[I will post numbers 101-200 at a later date, and perhaps a post-1974 poll may be in order at some point in the future. Watch this space.] (JJ)

100. The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark (A&M, 1968)

99. Starsailor – Tim Buckley (Straight, 1970)

98. Led Zeppelin IV ( Atlantic, 1971)

97. Something / Anything – Todd Rundgren (Bearsville, 1971)

96. Dark Side Of The Moon – Pink Floyd (Harvest, 1973)

95. The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter – The Incredible String Band (Elektra, 1968)

94. Journey Into Satchidananda – Alice Coltrane (Impulse, 1971)

93. The United States Of America (Columbia, 1968)

92. American Beauty- The Grateful Dead (Warner Bros, 1970)

91. Aladdin Sane – David Bowie (RCA, 1973)

90. Chelsea Girl – Nico (MGM/Verve, 1967)

89. Small Faces (Decca, 1966)

88. In The Court Of The Crimson King – King Crimson (Island, 1969)

87. Axis: Bold As Love – The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Track, 1967)

86. Future Days – Can (United Artists, 1973)

85. Are You Experienced – The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Track, 1967)

84. Judee Sill (Asylum, 1971)

83. Roxy Music (Island, 1972)

82. John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band (Apple, 1970)

81. Liege & Lief – Fairport Convention (Island, 1969)

80. Arthur Or The Decline & Fall Of The British Empire – The Kinks (Pye, 1969)

79. John Wesley Harding – Bob Dylan (Columbia, 1967)

78. Heart Food – Judee Sill (Asylum, 1973)

77. Bitches Brew – Miles Davis (Columbia, 1970)

76. Safe As Milk – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band (Buddah, 1967)

75. Who Sell Out – The Who (Track, 1967)

74. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (Parlophone, 1967)

73. Trout Mask Replica – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band (Straight, 1969)

72. Innervisions – Stevie Wonder (Tamla Motown, 1973)

71. Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake – Small Faces (Immediate, 1968)

70. Ege Bamyasi – Can (United Artists, 1972)

69. The Madcap Laughs – Syd Barrett (Harvest, 1970)

68. Berlin – Lou Reed (RCA, 1973)

67. In A Silent Way – Miles Davis (Columbia, 1969)

66. Neu! (Brain, 1972)

65. Maggot Brain – Funkadelic (Westbound, 1971)

64. If Only I Could Remember My Name – David Crosby (Atlantic, 1971)

63. The Doors (Elektra, 1967)

62. Transformer – Lou Reed (RCA, 1972)

61. For Your Pleasure – Roxy Music (Island, 1973)

60. Curtis – Curtis Mayfield (Curtom, 1970)

59. Electric Warrior – T. Rex (Fly, 1971)

58. Let It Bleed – The Rolling Stones (Decca, 1969)

57. Songs Of Leonard Cohen (Columbia, 1967)

56. Gris-Gris: The Night Tripper – Dr. John (Atco, 1968)

55. Histoire De Melody Nelson – Serge Gainsbourg (Philips, 1971)

54. Scott 3 – Scott Walker (Philips, 1969)

53. White Light / White Heat – The Velvet Underground (MGM / Verve, 1967)

52. Electric Ladyland – The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Track, 1968)

51. Otis Blue – Otis Redding (Atco, 1966)

50. The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators (International Artists, 1966)

49. A Love Supreme – John Coltrane (Impulse!, 1965)

48. Abbey Road – The Beatles (Apple, 1969)

47. Kick Out The Jams – MC5 (Elektra, 1969)

46. Tago Mago – Can (United Artists, 1971)

45. Bringing It All Back Home – Bob Dylan (Columbia, 1965)

44. Who’s Next – The Who (Track, 1971)

43. Pink Moon – Nick Drake (Island, 1972)

42. Surf’s Up – The Beach Boys (Brother, 1971)

41. Loaded – The Velvet Underground (Cotillion, 1970)

40. Something Else By The Kinks – The Kinks (Pye, 1967)

39. Buffalo Springfield Again – Buffalo Springfield (Atco, 1967)

38. Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones, 1971)

37. Easter Everywhere – The 13th Floor Elevators (International Artists, 1967)

36. Exile On Main Street – The Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones, 1972)

35. After The Gold Rush – Neil Young (Reprise, 1970)

34. Five Leaves Left – Nick Drake (Island, 1969)

33. Piper At The Gates Of Dawn – Pink Floyd (EMI, 1967)

32. Bryter Layter – Nick Drake (Island, 1970)

31. The Band (Capitol, 1969)

30. Dusty In Memphis – Dusty Springfield (Atlantic, 1969)

29. Kind Of Blue – Miles Davis (Columbia, 1959)

28. Paris 1919 – John Cale (Reprise, 1973)

27. Younger Than Yesterday – The Byrds (Columbia, 1967)

26. There’s A Riot Goin’ On – Sly & The Family Stone (Columbia, 1971)

25. Blue – Joni Mitchell (Reprise, 1971)

24. The Stooges (Elektra, 1969)

23. The Gilded Palace Of Sin – The Flying Burrito Bros (A&M, 1969)

22. Raw Power – Iggy & The Stooges (Columbia, 1973)

21. Rubber Soul – The Beatles (Parlophone, 1965)

20. Beggars Banquet – The Rolling Stones (Decca, 1968)

19. The Notorious Byrd Bros – The Byrds (Columbia, 1968)

18. The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars – David Bowie (RCA, 1972)

17. Fun House – The Stooges (Elektra, 1970)

16. Odessey & Oracle – The Zombies (CBS, 1967)

15. Scott 4 – Scott Walker (Philips, 1969)

14. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Reprise, 1969)

13. The Beatles (Apple, 1968)

12. Hunky Dory – David Bowie (RCA/Victor, 1971)

11. No. 1 Record – Big Star (Ardent / Stax, 1972)

10. Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan (Columbia, 1965)

9. The Village Green Preservation Society – The Kinks (Pye, 1968)

8. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye (Tamla Motown, 1971)

7. The Velvet Underground (MGM, 1969)

6. Blonde On Blonde – Bob Dylan (Columbia, 1966)

5. Astral Weeks – Van Morrison (Warner Bros, 1968)

4. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys (Capitol, 1966)

3. Revolver – The Beatles (Parlophone, 1966)

2. The Velvet Underground & Nico (MGM / Verve, 1967)

1. Forever Changes – Love (Elektra, 1967)

 

Many Thanks to all who agonised and sweated blood before submitting their contributions to the poll:

Camilla Aisa, Andy (Birmingham ’81), Michael Bailey (Soft Hearted Scientists), Caroline Binnie, Nick Blakey (Underground Jukebox), Stephen Boyd, Holly Boyd, Mark Brend, Johnny Browning, Colin Brunton, Robert Century, Rob Chapman, Si Cole, Stuart Cosgrove, Jon Dennis, Mick Derrick, John Dickie, Philip Downer, Spender Downes, Vincent Driscoll, Matthew Edwards, Russell Elder, Liam Elliott, Matt Elliott, Declan Flanagan, Paul Gallagher, Gary (Captain Howdy), Ash Grace, Andrew Hall, Oliver Hawthorn, Greg Healey, Mark Hillier, Robert Hodgens, Sophie Jay, Johnnie Johnstone, Peter Johnstone, Allan Jones, Harris King, Graham Kingsbury, Blair Liddell, Paul Lowman, Gary Mackenzie, Gavin Martin, Stewart May, Stephen McAuley, Ryan McCullough, Grant McPhee, Fiona McQuarrie, John Medd, Andy Miller, Rob Morgan, Tony Mulraney, Jason Myles, Jeremy Neal, Kris Needs, Ingrid Neimanis (Neon Brambles), Thomas Patterson, Nick Portnell, Johnny Purcell, Mark Raison, Peter Rice, Don Richmond, Matt Rogers, Marco Rossi, Martin Ruddock, Chris Sawle, Jason Spence, Arthur David Spota, Theo Stockman, David Tanner, Huw Thomas, Daniel Thompson, James Timoney, Terry Tochel, Sughosh Varadarajan, Denis Version, Judah Warsky, Stevie Watt, Sandy Wishart.

Appendix: 101-200

101. Happy Sad – Tim Buckley

102. Talking Book- Stevie Wonder

103. Countdown To Ecstasy – Steely Dan

104. Goodbye & Hello – Tim Buckley

105. Gene Clark & The Godsin Brothers – Gene Clark

106. Hot Buttered Soul – Isaac Hayes

107. Cosmo’s Factory – Creedence Clearwater Revival

108. Songs Of Love & Hate – Leonard Cohen

109. Songs Of Innocence – David Axelrod

110. The Man Who Sold The World – David Bowie

111. 5D (Fifth Dimension) – The Byrds

112. Pieces Of A Man – Gil Scott-Heron

113. Os Mutantes – Os Mutantes

114. GP – Gram Parsons

115. New York Tendaberry – Laura Nyro

116. Here Come The Warm Jets – Eno

117. Quadrophenia – The Who

118. Every Picture Tells A Story – Rod Stewart

119. Bookends – Simon & Garfunkel

120. From Elvis In a Memphis – Elvis Presley

121. Just Another Diamond Day – Vashti Bunyan

122. Help! – The Beatles

123. I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You) – Aretha Franklin

124. All Things Must Pass – George Harrison

125. Crosby Stills & Nash – Crosby Stills & Nash

126. Giant Steps – John Coltrane

127. Bill Fay – Bill Fay

128. New York Dolls – New York Dolls

129. Aerial Ballet – Nilsson

130. Nashville Skyline – Bob Dylan

131. Head – The Monkees

132. Begin – The Millenium

133. Moby Grape – Moby Grape

134. New Morning – Bob Dylan

135. Disraeli Gears – Cream

136. Clear Spot – Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band

137. Led Zeppelin III – Led Zepoelin

138. Bert Jansch – Bert Jansch

139. Silver Apples – Silver Apples

140. Nancy & Lee – Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood

141. Meddle – Pink Floyd

142. Original Soundtrack – The Harder They Come

143. Mott – Mott The Hoople

144. Oar – Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence

145. A Wizard A True Star – Todd Rundgren

146. The Marble Index – Nico

147. An Electric Storm – White Noise

148. Their Satanic Majesties Request – The Rolling Stones

149. Clube Da Esquina – Milton Nascimento / Lo Borges

150. Roots – Curtis Mayfield

151. Live At The Apollo – James Brown

152. Scott – Scott Walker

153. Aftermath – The Rolling Stones

154. Headquarters – The Monkees

155. Sunflower – The Beach Boys

156. Blue Afternoon – Tim Buckley

157. Walk Away Renee / Pretty Ballerina – The Left Banke

158. Love – Love

159. Tim Hardin 1 – Tim Hardin

160. Closing Time – Tom Waits

161. Present Tense – Sagittarius

162. Basket Of Light – Pentangle

163. Tim Hardin 2 – Tim Hardin 2

164. Underground- The Electric Prunes

165. Watertown – Frank Sinatra

166. Band On The Run – Wings

167. Sketches Of Spain – Miles Davis

168. Wee Tam & The Big Huge – The Incredible String Band

169. Surrealistic Pillow – Jefferson Airplane

170. Sunshine Superman – Donovan

171. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel

172. Between The Buttons – The Rolling Stones

173. Live At The Star Club – Jerry Lee Lewis

174. Gonna Take A Miracle – Laura Nyro & Labelle

175. Back To The World – Curtis Mayfield

176. Solid Air – John Martyn

177. Dixie Chicken – Little Feat

178. Here’s Little Richard – Little Richard

179. Face To Face – The Kinks

180. Mr. Tambourine Man – The Byrds

181. Lady Soul – Aretha Franklin

182. Moondance – Van Morrison

183. A Hard Days Night – The Beatles

184. UFO – Jim Sullivan

185. Unicorn – Tyrannosaurus Rex

186. Pawn Hearts – Van Der Graaf Generator

187. Spooky Two – Spooky Tooth

188. Requiem For An Almost Lady – Lee Hazlewood

189. Yeti – Amon Duul 2

190. Goats Head Soup – The Rolling Stones

191. Moondog – Moondog

192. Space Ritual – Hawkwind

193. Superfly – Curtis Mayfield

194. SF Sorrow – The Pretty Things

195. Various Artists – Nuggets (Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era, 1965-68)

196. Aqualung – Jethro Tull

197. Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround Vol. 1 – The Kinks

198. Deja VU – Crosby Stills Nash & Young

199. In The Land Of Grey And Pink – Caravan

200. Call Me – Al Green

134. SONGS OF LEONARD COHEN (1967)

Folk/ Folk-Rock, Greatest Records, Singer-Songwriter

When I started out buying records, it was a fairly lonely process. There were a few books and greatest albums lists I used as reference points but for the first year or so, I didn’t speak to anyone at all. Any friends I had listened to U2, Simple Minds and that was about it. I spent virtually every penny I had accumulating vinyl, the ritual absorbing me completely, then just lay on my bed secretly enjoying the discoveries I’d made.

I got talking to someone I recognised from school at a football match one Saturday, and was invited round to his house the following week to borrow some LPs. I thought he had perhaps exaggerated, but when I got there, I met with an Aladdin’s Cave of delights. I recall my heart racing as I headed home with a bundle of LPs tucked under my arm, including albums by The Electric Prunes, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Jonathan Richman, Buffalo Springfield, Wire and Orange Juice. It was a life-changing moment. That there were other people who appreciated the kind of music I loved was reassuring, but now suddenly I would have access to all these wonderful sounds I had only read about.

A few years down the line, my friend and I were gradually finding we had less in common than we had at first, and when he began to extol the virtues of the latest Deacon Blue album I knew the small batch of albums I was returning to him would be the last. By then I had other friends whose discernment of all things musical I trusted more, yet I remain eternally grateful to him for being an important part of my musical education.

At the bottom of that original pile of borrowed records had been the first Leonard Cohen album. It was probably the last one I took out of its sleeve. It didn’t look psychedelic, punk or sufficiently interesting enough to bother with, but there was something mysterious about the sepia-tinted portrait on the sleeve. The photograph looked like it could have been taken in 1902. I had never heard of Cohen before and my first thought was that he looked like a young Al Pacino. Upon first listen its cryptic poetry, set to some largely uninspiring folk guitar, completely failed to register. Nevertheless, like everything else I borrowed at the time, it was quickly copied onto one side of a C90 cassette, for which I made a little cover with a Canadian maple leaf on it before shelving it (After The Gold Rush took up the 45 minutes on the other side). As autumn began, in a moment of boredom I played the album again. By the time winter had arrived I was playing little else.

To this day, it remains one of my all-time favourite records and so I am always mystified by Cohen’s absence from greatest albums lists. I tend to attribute this oversight to the steadfast unrock’n’roll-ness of his stage persona, and the fact he was in his mid-thirties before he recorded his first album. To paraphrase Joseph Cotten in Citizen Kane, he “was always too old.” Perhaps others simply find him too depressing or pretentious. But as a wordsmith Cohen was incomparable. In fact using that expression seems wholly inadequate. After all by 1967, he was a well established author of two novels and several volumes of poetry before deciding that the best vehicle for its expression was through music.

It is not always easy to deconstruct the meaning of his songs – they are so richly nuanced and highly personal – it can somehow seem a disservice to try at all. Take ‘Suzanne’ for instance, a remarkable piece whose lyric Cohen laboured over for four to five months in order to ensure each word ended up in its proper place. “I’m really in the middle of writing a wonderful song and I never said that before or since to anybody” he told Sam Gesser, a Montreal producer in 1966. Composed after he had first met Suzanne Verdal, a dancer he had already written poems about, and inspired by a visit he made to her loft apartment near the St. Lawrence river in Montreal, the language is unabashedly poetic, precise yet oblique, mysterious and arresting, and the voice so quietly hypnotic that it draws you inexorably into the unbearable beauty of his verse. He first played the song tentatively to Mary Martin who would go on to become his manager, after which he visited Judy Collins whose approval he sought, singing for her several of his compositions, amongst them ‘Suzanne’. Collins was instantly smitten with it and recorded the song for her ’66 outing In My Life. Leonard was thrilled and it provided him with the confidence to perform his songs in public for the first time (30th April ’67. He froze during the first song and walked off stage)

Collins would record three more of Cohen’s songs on her next album, by which time Mary Martin has secured for him a deal with Columbia Records, whose A&R chief executive John Hammond was immediately won over. “Leonard had his own rules and was an original” he said. Cohen entered Columbia’s Studio E on 52nd Street before the ink on the contract had had time to dry. He had never set foot in a recording studio before and – conscious of his own technical shortcomings – was overawed by the proficiency of the session musicians hired to accompany him. He burned candles and incense to build the appropriate atmosphere for the songs, then requested a mirror be placed between himself and the other musicians, so that he could watch himself as he played. The bass player Willie Ruff had an innate understanding of the songs and Cohen was able to struggle through the recordings with Ruff’s gentle encouragement providing the spur, recording ‘Suzanne’, ‘Sisters Of Mercy’, ‘Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’ and ‘Master Song’ during the very first session.

https://youtu.be/VT9k5NHCdvQ

Leonard was determined to avoid overworking the material, a task which became harder when Hammond fell ill and John Simon took over as producer. He and Cohen had sharply contrasting ideas about how the songs should be arranged. Simon added strings and horns to them and on ‘Suzanne’, even piano and drums. These were later removed by the singer who alluded to the tension in the note on the lyric sheet: “The songs and the arrangements were introduced. They felt some affection for one another but because of a blood feud, they were forbidden to marry. Nevertheless, the arrangements wished to throw a party. The songs preferred to retreat behind a veil of satire.” The melodies, deceptively simple on the surface, contained some fairly unorthodox key changes and timings such as on ‘Stories Of The Street’, where Cohen recalled the sense of dislocation he experienced during his early days in NYC (“I lean from my window sill / In this old hotel I chose / One hand on my suicide / One hand on the rose”) and ‘Sisters Of Mercy’ where the company provided him by two hitchhikers he allowed to stay in his Edmonton hotel room during a blizzard was mirrored here by the delightful addition of calliope and bells. This Simon got right, perhaps more so than the backing chorus on ‘So Long Marianne’, which nevertheless remains one of his most enduring songs. The recent BBC documentary about the love affair between Leonard and his muse (Marianne Ihlen) was a genuinely moving piece of filmmaking, which demonstrated great compassion for its subjects. Observing them drift in and out of one another’s lives, the intervals between growing in length, the distance apart expanding was heartbreaking to behold. But breathing in the atmosphere of Hydra in the early ’60s helped provide greater insight into the mind of the author and the world from which these songs were conceived. It’s a song of its time and yet for all time. In the ’70s Cohen sang it on stage under the influence of LSD, and a vision of Marianne materialised before him. He turned away from the audience sobbing to find each member of the band behind him also in tears. Think of that next time you listen to it.

Then there was the dark rolling lines of ‘The Stranger Song’, it’s confessional pessimism filled with such ‘stop you in your tracks’ verses as: “And then sweeping up the jokers that he left behind / You find he did not leave you very much, not even laughter / Like any dealer, he was watching for the card / That is so high and wild
He’ll never need to deal another”, and then of course there’s the maniacal wail at the end of the closing track ‘One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong’. Individually the songs are masterful portraits, collectively a gallery of riches.

When the album appeared in it’s final form, Simon’s arrangements could not overwhelm the delicacy of the verse. Cohen’s final mix jettisoned much of what he deemed unnecessary. Bring the whole world inside and the house might fall down. Cohen knew his own songs and what they needed, but some of Simon’s embellishments could not be erased from the original four-track master tape. On his next album the arrangements would be stripped back even further. The reviews were not entirely positive with many accusing the singer of being self-absorbed, depressive or pseudo-intellectual – the kind of charges which were continually levelled at him throughout his career. But there’s nothing to fear with a little erudition when it comes to writing pop lyrics, and these songs are little miracles, and a match for anything written by Dylan, Lou Reed or Joni Mitchell. Oh, the treasures you find at the bottom of the pile. (JJ)

133. SETTING SONS – THE JAM (1979)

Greatest Records

SETTING SONS – THE JAM (1979)
We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the prescience of Radiohead’s OK Computer. It captured a very precise pre-millennial moment, released right at the, as yet unsullied by military action, start of the Blair era, immediately before Diana’s death and the referendums that brought devolution to Scotland and Wales. But it also cast an unwavering retina on the burgeoning expansion of the internet; if Harold Wilson proclaimed a technological revolution of “white heat” before he reached Downing Street, the one at the time of his successor’s
arrival would soon be something akin to the surface of the sun.

As musicians often admit, sometimes ruefully, once a record is out, it ceases to be their property and how it is perceived and deployed passes far beyond their control, and so it was that OK Computer became not just a soundtrack but an accessory to, and commodity of, the lifestyle lampooned in the speak-your-salary Fitter Happier. But – to the point – while the technology-induced paranoia, dependency and delusion depicted by the album has made more  sense in each of the 22 (how?!) years since it emerged, its prescience doesn’t begin to come close to Setting Sons, a record whose time has, after 40 years, come again in the 2010s.
Regrettably.

Agonisingly, frustratingly, tragically regrettably.

Paul Weller’s idea of an album based around the theme of friends ending up on opposite sides of a civil war seemed fanciful in 1979 – but not that much, particularly as it’s also a starting point for broader themes of growing apart, shifting priorities, transformed ideals. The incipient Thatcher era was already unleashing its defining themes of industrial attrition, atomised communities and fiscal despair, while extremism as insidious as dry rot and ten times as pernicious was making its beery, bilious countenance known on marches, on football terrace, at gigs; the Jam seem to have escaped the worst but many of their contemporaries and successors – from the Specials to Madness to Sham 69 – saw the pantomime of bigotry performed below them in their audience, even though, despite appearances in some cases, it wasn’t something any of them actively courted.

Such was the clenched, touchpaper-ready environment Setting Sons entered in November 1979. Around half of the songs were migrants from Weller’s storyboard (not for the first time, but possibly the last, there was a parallel with the Who; Who’s Next was partly made up of excerpts from Pete Townshend’s internet-prophesying song cycle Lifehouse). Some of the rest didn’t feed into the story but are still yeast-smeared slices of life that act as a sub-plot and add further frames to the album’s depiction, not so much of the state of the nation as a nation in a state.

Thick As Thieves reflects on friends – maybe two, maybe more – who might not be literally light-fingered but, in the true meaning of the simile, are closely bonded – and pilfering from the unlikeliest of targets, from “the drink that made us sick,” “autumn leaves and summer showers” “the burning sun in the open sky” but at every turn, with every new theft on an even grander scale, “it wasn’t enough/and now we’ve gone and spoiled everything.” The approach is typically muscular and visceral Jam – thanks in no small part to the adroit, thoroughgoing and to this day undervalued rhythm section of Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler – but this only partially disguises the rueful lyric and an emotive melody, which breaks cover when Weller stays his guitar hand and delivers one of his most poignant lines: “We stole the silent wind that says you are free.” Then the commotion resumes and the parting is complete: “We’re no longer as thick as thieves, no/We’re not as thick as we used to be.” Conclusion is reached with a three-chord figure repeated twice; a lesser band would have bludgeoned us with it another four times to make sure we got the point but the Jam had an economy and lightness of touch that their legions of imitators would still be attempting to figure out today.

The original story emerges more explicitly on Little Boy Soldiers, a compressed epic in approximately four movements which owes a good deal less to Bohemian Rhapsody than to Buffalo Springfield’s Broken Arrow. The comparison would probably have found little favour with Weller – and most Jam fans –  at the time (Neil Young? That fa’in’ hippy?! Don’t think so, mate) but the way his narrator berates the politicians who have summoned him to do their bidding (“Why the attention now you want my assistance?/What have you done for me?/You’ve gone and got yourself in trouble/And now you want me to help you out”) could have come from any number of ‘Nam-damning diatribes of a decade earlier.
But a (very British?) resignation prevails and battle commences – it could be any battle, any war, the vicious quagmire that the ‘big picnic’ of the first world war proved to be, the imperial death rattle of the Boer War (as depicted on the label on the vinyl album’s side two), even the Crimea or Waterloo. There, we hear cannon fire, Buckler’s military tattoo and Weller strumming hastily as if he really were in a trench and it really could be the last thing he does, as he presents the officer class’ side of the story: “Think of honour, queen and country/You’re a blessed son of the British Empire/God’s on our side and so is Washington.” Cut to, for the first and only time on the album, an acoustic guitar, and Weller whispering to a future generation “a tale of how goodness prevailed” before he’s cut short by Foxton’s bass volley and a heads-down charge to the cruel, if inevitable conclusion, set to another throat-blocking melody: “They’ll send you home in a pine overcoat/With a letter to your mum/ Saying: Find enclosed one son, one medal and a note to say he won.” There were innumerable letters; this is just one of them.

Woodwind has always had a needlessly fraught relationship with rock music. The oboe gets a pass, through the collective endeavours of Andy Mackay, Amanda Brown and Kate St John but consider the ocarina in Wild Thing, the recorder in Satellite of Love and the flute in Moonage Daydream, all of which don’t so much intrude as squat in the songs, gambolling tweely and frivolously as if a maypole had been installed. The strife continues on Setting Sons’ Wasteland, which used to close side one of Setting Sons, and it undermines almost fatally a desperate sketch of friends meeting at a tip which seems barely distinguishable from its surroundings. Weller recounts a polluted Kim’s Game, a grotesque Generation Game conveyor belt of detritus jettisoned from innocent lives: “The dirty linen, the holy Coca-Cola tins, the punctured footballs/The ragged dolls, the rusting bicycles.” Mostly items of play but that innocence has been banished: “We’ll smile but only for seconds/For to be caught smiling is to acknowledge life/A brave but useless show of compassion/And that is forbidden in this drab and colourless world.” It barely matters that these elegant, almost formal lines sit alongside the trite clunkers of: “Watch the rain fall/tumble and fall/like our lives/just like our lives.” The title inevitably invokes TS Eliot and, while the song’s spiritual reach is nowhere near the poem’s, it still achieves a touching resolution through a gently but assertively seesawing melody and the notion of holding hands which escalates swiftly but subtly and emotively from “maybe” to “probably” to “we’ll have to” – the type of almost imperceptible shift which doesn’t become apparent until after several listens.
Burning Sky is bookended by a couple of marginally corny bursts of cod-Eastern exoticism, perhaps alluding to the runaway success of  the Japanese economy, but in between it looks to the shorter-term future. It recounts, in the form of a letter, the misplaced pragmatism and condescension towards an estranged friend of what would soon be known as a yuppie. The blue serge glints and the Moet dribbles with each line as he offers his apologies for his social absence: “In any case, it wouldn’t be the same/’Cos we’ve all grown up and we’ve got our own lives/And the values we had once upon a time/Seem stupid now, ‘cos the rent must be paid/And some bonds severed and others made.” But that mention of rent, and the lament that, “the taxman’s shouting ‘cos he wants his dough/And the wheels of finance won’t begin to slow” suggest a doubt, a fragility, a sense that whatever the width of the lapel or the value in today’s money, this In The City slicker dwells in a castle built on sand that would subside time and time again – on Black Monday, on Black Wednesday, in the puncturing of the dotcom bubble and the crunching of the credit. A couple of years earlier, Burning Sky had, give or take a rock ‘n’ roll apostrophe, been the title of a Bad Company album; here it’s evidently a metaphor for a capitalist system that gives light and heat but takes far more and ultimately only scorches. Weller’s suit, for all his bravado, is plainly being ground down by it, one minute offering worship but the next lambasting it as “the greedy bastard who won’t give up.” The bluster of the verses is matched for lucidity by the chorus, which runs: “doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo/doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-oo-oo.” Musically, it’s as dextrous and granite-hewn on an album where these qualities abound but, once again, lets a chink of pathos through with the cadences on the closing line: “Then we’ll all be happy and we’ll all be wise/And together we will live beneath the burning sky.” A promise of happiness, wisdom, harmony  -things we’d all covet – but on the condition that we throw in our lot with the rat race.
Eton Rifles, then. By far their biggest hit to date, it made number three, after three consecutive singles (a mighty run of Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, Strange Town and When You’re Young) stalled in the mid-teens but the combined forces of Dr Hook and Queen barred its way to pole position. As the now told to death anecdote has it, Weller wrote this story of literal class warfare after hearing of Etonians braying at a Right To Work march as it passed their school; David Cameron, a pupil there at the time, would choose it among his Desert Island Discs while he was still leader of the opposition and before he took a short-term measure for the sake of his party which would have permanent consequences for his country. Weller, naturally, was incredulous and incadescent: “What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?” “I’d prefer the plague to the Eton Rifles.” Contrary to some evidence, a good deal of intelligence is required to make it to Downing Street yet somehow these sentiments sailed over Cameron’s straw-boatered bonce as he mourned that the left’s privilege of having all the best tunes. This particular one seethes with discontent and injustice, Foxton discharging single-note cannons throughout a coda which has a good crack at simulating the perilous disorder of battle, while the organ of Merton Parka Mick Talbot – Weller’s future Style Council adjunct – takes flight from enemy fire. As we’re often reminded, the new wave’s commercial impact was largely marginal; only a handful – the Pistols, Blondie, Costello and, at a push, the Police and Gary Numan –  had by this point invited themselves to the very highest reaches. Sales, of course, were not the point but they do go a long way towards helping to communicate a message and by now the Jam were, with the Clash and the Specials, the foremost chroniclers of an Albion getting more perfidious with each passing hour.
Those sub-plot songs are the equal of their counterparts for incision and empathy. The plight of women trapped in domesticity (I refuse to use the pernicious term “housewife”) has long been as much a stock subject for rock songs as touring or the socialite on their uppers (the Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper, the Kinks’ Two Sisters, Squeeze’s Woman’s World). There’s always an uneasy air of incomprehension and condescension – how much insight could Mick Jagger really have into the life of a struggling mother? – but Weller achieves real empathy and compassion on Private Hell. “The fingers feel the lines, they prod the space, your aging face/The face that once was so beautiful/Is still there but unrecognisable” may seem unflattering but her husband hardly comes off much better (“The man that you once loved/Is bald and fat/And seldom in/Working late as usual”) and there’s a genuine pathos in the depiction of her isolation even from her family (“Think of Edward, who’s still at college/You send him letters which he doesn’t acknowledge), excursions away from home which bring not freedom but exposure and agarophobia (“The shop windows reflect, play a nameless host to a closet ghost”) and the, literally, breaking point when, “alone at six o’clock,” she drops and smashes a cup, the small, isolated incident which brings the threat of the precipice. All to the most abrasive music on a record where pugnacity isn’t in short supply.
Smithers-Jones is convincingly Foxton’s best song and, as a study of Home Counties white collar misfortune, takes its place alongside the best not only of Weller but also Ray Davies. It could even be a sequel to Mr Clean, the further adventures of the very same prim-on-the-surface-nothing-close-below city drone ridiculed and threatened by Weller in that song on the previous year’s All Mod Cons. Foxton has a shade more empathy as he follows Smithers-Jones at the eager start of the working week (“Here we go again, it’s Monday at last”), diligent, at least outwardly respectable, politely rebuffing the advances of an unidentified evangelist and arriving in the offices just before the clock strikes nine – to be told he’s out on his ear. The last verse suggests his reaction is to make the most of it and keep a lid on the despair (“It’s time to relax now  you’ve worked your arse off/But the only one smiling is the suntanned boss”) but tellingly, it’s sung by Weller rather than Foxton, making it seem like a well-intentioned but crass, worse-things-happen-at-sea gee-up from a drinking mate. The song performs a quick-change artist’s routine three months on from its first appearance as the B-side of When You’re Young; there, it’s a fine, agile barnstorming band performance, like so many other Jam songs. On Setting Sons, with strings reigning supreme, it’s unlike anything they or practically any other new wave band had done up to this point. They took a step which had been unconscionable ever since Joey Ramone derided any notion of “flugelhorns and strings” a couple of years earlier (of course, the Ramones were about to issue End of the Century which, Spector-helmed as it was, had strings to spare). By issuing two diametrically opposed versions, they even did what the Beatles couldn’t or wouldn’t with Strawberry Fields Forever; with Lennon unable to choose between band and orchestral versions, George Martin was compelled to pull off one of his most extraordinary feats of studio derring-do by splicing the two together, despite them being at different tempos and in different keys. For the Jam and producer Vic (Copper) Smith (Heaven) to have done the same would have run the risk of mirroring Little Boy Soldiers too closely and anyway, traumatic as it can be, Waterloo station stands little comparison with the events at its battlefield namesake in 1815.

This leaves us with Saturday’s Kids, a musically slight but lyrically rich, almost Hogarth-like  tableau of small-town weekends which are unremarkable in themselves but incalculably essential to the sanity and survival of those involved, those who”live life with insults.” The vanished period detail tumbles like an off-balance Spacehopper rider – Lite-a-Bite, Woolworths, Babycham, Capstan Non-filters, Cortinas with fur-trimmed dashboards, baggy trousers – but this isn’t a Peter Kay stand-up show; for all its wit and good-natured delivery, it’s much more World In Action or Nationwide probing the lives of “the real creatures that time has forgot,” as Weller calls them at the one moment he lets anger into the song.  They would remain forgotten, their votes would be taken for granted, they would by extension be taken for granted themselves. Many would then choose to vote differently – and here we are in 2019.

The two least distinguished songs open and close the album, which at least brings a sense of unity to  the songs in between. Girl on the Phone could have been an opportunity to get into the mind of a stalker but Weller, a little worryingly, seems flattered by her unrelenting attention and the music is perfunctory. Only the closing couplet (“The girl on the phone keeps ringing back/She’s telling me this and she’s telling me that”) appears on the lyric sheet, underlining the song’s apparent status as an afterthought. The same applies to the cover of the Vandellas’ Heatwave – or, more precisely, the cover of the Who’s cover, which closes the album in a fit of bathos. It’s not bad, exactly, but it is almost completely pointless – there’s little of the verve and gusto they brought to their version of the Kinks’ David Watts a year earlier and, like much of Motown’s ’60s output, the Vandellas’ version is close to unimprovable, so why the Who, let alone the Jam,  attempted it is unclear, even as an undoubtedly sincere homage. Furthermore,  it’s a retrograde step – with the Jam scaling towerblock-high peaks of their own, you’d have thought they’d finally have got out of their system the youthful fixation which even led them to do the Batman theme on their 1977 debut In The City – Just Like The ‘Oo Once Did. Instead, they sound like they’re back at the Red Cow in Hammersmith, pulling out an incongrous and surely unnecessary filler to get the album over the half-hour line.

But quibbles be silenced. Setting Sons caught the Jam in the very middle of their time of magic, a patch as purple as any, heightened a few months later when Going Underground pulled off the then-rare feat of entering at number one. For a year and a half, like many British youths, I had been  scribbling down the top 40 when Paul Burnett announced it at Tuesday lunchtimes on Radio 1; having decided some time earlier that I would retire when my spiral notebook was full, it was a glorious moment to be signing off: 1. Going Underground – The Jam (-) and to editorialise with a parenthetical ‘yeees’ while Liquid Gold and Rainbow languished  far below.

I’ve always felt that the Jam and two of my other favourite bands, the Velvet Underground and Echo and the Bunnymen, followed similar trajectories. Each followed a dense, complex, unimpeachable masterpiece (All Mod Cons, Banana, Heaven Up Here) with a record of overpowering intensity (Setting Sons, White Light/White Heat, Porcupine) and then something much calmer and more reflective, like a cooling  rain shower (Sound Affects, Third, Ocean Rain). Finally came albums which had some of each band’s strongest individual moments but which lacked real cohesion and would prove to be, temporarily at least, swansongs, (The Gift, Loaded, ‘Grey album’). Weller has since, with the Style Council and solo but, laudably, never with a reformed Jam, followed a path that has been capricious, often obdurate, as predictable on some occasions as unpredictable on others, sometimes tedious but rarely without value.

He’s always been least interesting when, paradoxically, he’s been most and least politically engaged. The well-intentioned but ill-fated Red Wedge venture of the mid-’80s was explicitly, capital P Political, at least as much specifically opposed to one party as in support of another, and proved that, while it can be pulled off, something as unregulated and ungovernable as popular music at its best isn’t necessarily the best platform for inherently compromise-driven and inconsistent party politics. Within a decade, his music was almost entirely inward-looking, an understandable reaction to just how far those political compromises and inconsistencies had taken hold, but what was left was a philosophy which appeared to amount pretty much to “I just believe in me, man” and the sound of barbecue-and-cider personal contentment which is a fine state to aspire to but seldom makes for gripping music.

A reawakened musical curiosity and a set of external circumstances impossible not to respond to have rekindled a good deal of his musical and political ardour in recent years but it’s never been more eloquent, more discerningly furious or more torrentialy compassionate than on Setting Sons, a record that’s relevant today as at any time in the past 40 years. I wish it wasn’t, though (PG).

132. THE VERY SPECIAL WORLD OF LEE HAZLEWOOD (1966)

Greatest Records

I think it was Charles Shaar Murray who once penned a pithy one word ‘review’ of Lee Hazlewood’s 1974 album Poet Fool Or Bum. I suppose the content of that review is hardly a mystery and it’s fair to say that at times Hazlewood cultivated that aspect of his character to his own advantage.

Take for instance ‘My Autumn’s Done Come’ an exquisitely supine moment from his fourth solo outing The Very Special World Of Lee Hazlewood. Not yet half way through his life, here was a man whose body appeared filled with lead, and whose mind, reeking of Chivas Regal and Marlboro, was wasting away endless days on a hammock. “Kiss all the pretty ones goodbye / Give everyone a penny that cry / You can throw all my tranquil’ pills away / Let my blood pressure go on its way / For my autumn’s done come.” Nothing to do, nothing to live for. It’s certainly an evocative piece. One can imagine him relinquishing those loaded heels onto the earth, the dustcloud wafting skywards the perfect companion to the glorious weightlessness of the melody. Bum.

A leathery baritone with neither the luxurious glaze of Sinatra nor the passion, poise or gravitas of Scott Walker – but a match for Cohen or Cash in its lugubrious familiarity – Hazlewood was busier than it might have seemed. Indeed, by 1966 he was undoubtedly a veteran of the music business. From his early collaborations with Duane Eddy in the mid-‘50s, he had composed dozens of songs – some for movies – and had made a penny or two writing hits for the likes of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. He had recorded three solo albums of unremarkable country music. Each had bombed. But it was his partnership with Sinatra’s daughter Nancy which brought him to international prominence, and his authorship of their runaway smash ‘These Boots Were Made For Walking’ which yielded more tantalising opportunities: first of all it sealed him a contract with MGM, but it also ultimately enabled him to establish his own label, Lee Hazlewood Industries. At LHI he oversaw the emergence of Gram Parsons’ fledgling International Submarine Band as well as producing dozens of records for up and coming younger artists, few of which were, by then, as successful as those under his name. After three LPs with MGM, his later ‘60s albums would appear on his own label, two of which, the soundtrack to the surreal dreamlike television special Cowboy In Sweden and the stark and mournful (or completely self-indulgent, depending upon one’s mood) Requiem For An Almost Lady would have been be equally worthy inclusions in TNPC. 

The case for choosing Very Special World over the others seems straightforward enough. Many of the songs, such as the dizzily hysterical opener ‘For One Moment’ benefit from Billy Strange’s superb orchestral accompaniment, the big sound one might have expected to hear on contemporaneous records by Gene Pitney or The Righteous Brothers, and which here provides the perfect antithesis to Lee’s deadpan miserabilism. “Big expensive demos”‘ Hazlewood called them. He had something of a way with words. How about about that for an opening couplet?: “The hurt I hurt is nothing like the hurts I’ve hurt before/ The things I feel do not feel like things I’ve felt before.” Poet.

In stark contrast, while the heartbreak stories continue on ‘When A Fool Loves A Fool’, on this occasion the emotional rupture is paralleled by a comedically jaunty melody (as if Herb Alpert has knocked up some gag accompaniment for The Benny Hill Show) racing furiously in the opposite direction from the solemn sentiment.

Here as elsewhere on the album, Hazlewood is ably abetted by incredibly versatile playing from the Wrecking Crew (Knetchel, Kaye, Blaine et al), and there are marvellous moments aplenty. The ticklish Jobim-like bossa nova of ‘Not The Lovin’ Kind’ is barely whispered, and this time reveals a man in total control, effortlessly keeping the feminine interest at arms length. And if his own version of ‘Boots’ turns into a self-congratulatory smugfest, he makes amends with the wandering travelogue ‘I Move Around’ and the epic smouldering ‘Sand’, adopting the slightly camp persona of guitar-slinging outlaw – here the vocal accompaniment provided by the woman who would break his heart, the muse for many of his most forlorn moments, Suzi Jane Hokom. The song – like many on the album – would be made more famous by others: this one appeared as a 45 with Nancy Sinatra and featured on the ’68 Nancy & Lee album, the knowing innocence of Nancy’s delivery making Suzi’s contribution sound matronly but simultaneously majestic.

Strange’s string arrangements are drowning in opulence on the marvellous redemptive ballad ‘Your Sweet Love’, but instead of roses and love letters it’s broken hearts which are being bartered on ‘My Baby Cried All Night Long’, which resurrects the avenging karma of ‘Boots’, loaded once again with Lee’s boozy barfly humour: “And the moral of this story is that you shouldn’t be caught messin’ / Where you shouldn’t been messin’ or you’ll end up cryin’ all night long.” Fool.

Hazlewood succumbed to renal cancer in 2007. He leaves behind a superb body of work, which despite his unapologetic claim (“The only thing I listen to is my bank account”), has entertained and influenced generations of musicians, and a biography written by longtime confidante Wyndham Wallace, Lee, Myself & I, which Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce declares to be one of only two books he’s ever read from cover to cover. Look up maverick in the dictionary- and there’ll be a photo of Lee there. Lee Hazlewood – Poet, Fool or Bum? I’d simply suggest ‘Very Special’

Running order:

The 1969 reissue, the sleeve of which us pictured above, contains a slightly different running order from the original issue, with ‘My Autumn’s Done Come’ closing the album out. Somehow I feel it suits being there a little better. (JJ)

131. JOE GIBBS & THE PROFESSIONALS – AFRICAN DUB ALL-MIGHTY CHAPTER 3 (1978)

Dub, Greatest Records, Reggae

Gibbs had been active in the JA music scene from the early ‘60s, working alongside Lee Perry and Bunny Lee as well as producing rocksteady hits for the likes of The Pioneers, The Heptones and The Ethiopians, but rose to international prominence with his production job on Nicky Thomas’ 1970 global top ten smash ‘Love Of The Common People’. An impressive résumé certainly, but one undoubtedly overshadowed by his ’70s partnership with engineer Errol (ET) Thompson (aka ‘The Mighty Two’) which – with the help of a crack team of session musicians aka The Professionals (Sly & Robbie & co) – delivered over 100 Jamaican chart toppers for a host of singers and DJs including Big Youth, Dennis Brown, Prince Far-I and Black Uhuru. Some of reggae’s most enduring albums such as Two Sevens Clash by Culture also bore his fingerprints, and along with Coxsone and Scratch he rightly competes for the title of greatest reggae producer of all.

However it is his groundbreaking ‘70s experiments in dub which lend his claim to that accolade the greatest weight. In particular his four volume African Dub Almighty series represents dub music at its most revelatory, with the third of those Chapters the pick of the bunch, a rival to King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown, Blackboard Jungle Dub and Pick A Dub as perhaps the key album of the genre.

The first two Chapters (from 1973 and 1974 respectively) were pioneering for the time, yet offered little clue as to what would come next. But four years was a long time during what was the most fertile period in reggae’s history, as Kingston rocked to the roots train, basked in the glory the Wailers’ international success, sweltered while DJs competed for dominance on the street corner sound systems and observed dreadlocks disappear into clouds of ganja smoke as the culture of Rastafari grew more fervent in the wake of Haile Sellassie’s removal as Emperor of Ethiopia.

By the mid-’70s dub had surged forward in its sonic development from the kind of primitive instrumental remixes and edits knocked out by Coxsone and Tubby initially as the most economical way of filling the B-Side of a 45, becoming latterly, far more experimental sonic excursions for increasingly enthusiastic audiences on club nights. Crucially for Gibbs however, in the intervening period (between Chapters Two and Three) he acquired a new 16-track recording studio and record pressing plant at Retirement Crescent. Tubbys by contrast had a mere four tracks and Thompson must have felt like a four year old let loose in a sweetie shop, although the first LP released after the move, State of Emergency, was not an especially significant step forward from Chapter Two – perhaps instead it merely served the purpose of allowing the duo to get their bearings and prepare for what was to come.

Some of the sounds and samples on Chapter Three will be familiar to you if you have at least some interest in reggae and dub music. For instance, the backing track to Jacob Miller’s ‘Baby I Love You So’ has been a much sampled dub staple and along with the echoed skanking guitar, provides the raw material for the album’s title track ‘Chapter Three’. But others almost defy description, so it is vital you give it a proper listen from beginning to end. There’s crazy stuff happening all over the place, not least on the aforementioned title track, where at one point it sounds as if a large grate has been removed from the earth, only to reveal a yawning pelagic catacomb; later in the same track, could that be a double decker bus or another HGV grinding abruptly to a halt?

Lloyd Bradley in his superb history of the genre, Bass Culture, devotes a few pages to ‘Tribesman Rockers’ an otherworldly borrowing of ‘Why Do Birds Follow Spring’ by Alton Ellis, where channels shift and screech over horns, flutes and digital bleeps and squeals which sound like they’ve come from some futuristic arcade game.

For good measure, leavened into the mix on ‘Freedom Call Dub’ are some Clangers-style recorder and insanely distorted UFO sound effects, while the guitar groove on ‘Jubilation Dub’ seems to tailspin off the edge of a cliff beneath some seriously phat bass, the whole thing descending into anarchy, the dial grips on that mixing desk having a house party to themselves. Elsewhere, door bells ring, sirens blare and water pools bubble and froth. One’s head begins to melt.

Best of all is ‘Angolian Chant’ – a heavyweight twist on Dennis Brown’s gorgeous ‘Love Me Always’ reinterpreted as “I wanna dub you, dub you always” – with the sustain on Brown’s “wooh-ooh-ooh-ooh” a stroke of genius, the work of a master engineer, one who understands how to fasten divergent musical fragments together, drape silent shrouds over familiar rhythms and brush and polish others until they gleam anew, radically reinventing with echo, splice and overdub.

Lloyd Bradley identifies parallels between dub and the African beliefs and practices which migrated to Jamaica known as obeah, which divides the body into seven centres or selves (eg digestive system, respiratory system, the brain) and prescribes herbs and potions in order to bring forward, push back or heal and realign those different aspects. Bradley noted how the best dub contains those medicinal even magical qualities, excavating, transfiguring, purifying, shredding, even amputating where necessary. African Dub All-Mighty Chapter Three delivers on all of those fronts, in addition to being one of the most authentically psychedelic records ever created. The likes of Scientist, Dub Syndicate and African Head Charge would rewrite the dub rule book, psyching into the FX and detaching it more and more from its roots. By contrast, the music of Gibbs, Thompson and the Professionals was steeped in reggae’s rich heritage. It holds body and soul, past and future, earth and the cosmos in perfect balance. (JJ)

130. THE ROLLING STONES – BETWEEN THE BUTTONS (1967)

Baroque Pop, Greatest Records, Psychedelia, Rock Music

For me, the best Stones album by some distance is Beggars Banquet. Although Brian Jones played a more peripheral part than usual in its creation, it was the last and greatest LP to feature the original five. By the following year the band’s sound, as well as its understanding of itself, had altered irrevocably. After Beggars Banquet, while the highs were often ecstatic ones, much of their music became progressively more hackneyed over time, and while some of their records (particularly those made between 1969 and 1972) are amongst the best and most confident they would ever make, never again would they sound so natural nor exuberant as they did in ’68.

The two albums which preceded BB offer a glimpse into the Stones’ orbit before they became self-proclaimed ‘greatest rock and roll band in the world’. The dayglo psychedelic experiment Their Satanic Majesties Request has undergone something of a critical reappraisal in recent years, its excesses (of the sonically adventurous kind) perhaps easier to stomach than those (of the dead-eyed smacked out type) of the ‘70s, so candidly chronicled by Nick Kent in Apathy For The Devil.

But TSMR‘s predecessor Between The Buttons is better still, an effervescent pop potpourri which saw them step outside of their R&B roots to incorporate elements of country and western (‘Who’s Been Sleeping Here?’), baroque (‘Yesterday’s Papers’) and Kinks-ish music hall (‘Cool, Calm & Collected’,’ Something Happened To Me Yesterday’) alongside their first organically psychedelic inflections.

’67 was the strangest year for the Stones. They would make newspaper headlines for the wrong reasons (the famous drug bust at Redlands) and Between The Buttons – while it performed fairly well in the charts (although not as well as Aftermath) – was somewhat overshadowed by the subsequent court case. A shame, because it’s one of the very best albums they ever made.

On January 15th they ‘spent some time together’ performing their new AA-sided 45 on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan censored the lyric while Jagger rolled his eyes and deliberately fluffed his lines. As was oft the case, the single cuts (‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ / ‘Ruby Tuesday’) were included on the US version of the LP which would be released in February. The UK version, released on 20th January, omitted both. Curiously, when I began building my Stones collection, the US version was more widely available and therefore I didn’t hear the album in the form it was originally intended to be heard, for many years. And when I did, the album finally began to make perfect sense.

The first of the two tracks to make way for the hits on the US version of the LP, contains the kind of embellishments which would remain absent throughout their ’70s oeuvre. ‘Back Street Girl’ sees Jagger lampoon the hypocrisy of the aristocracy, it’s ‘lord of the manor and his mistress’ lyric stapled to one of the Stones’ gentlest melodies, a waltzing companion piece to ‘Lady Jane’, featuring Brian on vibes, Jack Nitzsche on harpsichord with Nick de Caro lending some Gallic charm on accordion. “I wrote this in some weird place which I can’t remember. It’s got the feeling of a French cafe about it” Jagger explained to Keith Altham of the NME. Years later, he suggested it was the only song on the album he was happy with. It’s an album he sorely underestimates.

Brian’s fingerprints meanwhile, are everywhere in evidence, pulling the strings and twiddling the knobs on the second of those tracks, the Bo Diddley on (a)steroids runout ‘Please Go Home’. Jones had big plans then, and his interviews always made good copy. “I believe we are moving toward a new age in ideas and events. Astrologically we are at the end of the age called the Pisces age…We are soon to begin the age of Aquarius. There is a young revolution in thought and manner about to take place”, he told Keith Altham shortly after the album’s release. Maybe one eye was already on the band’s next more explicitly psychedelic project, but those roots were sewn on BTB not only through Brian’s dilettantish peppering of the material with sitars, oscillators and flutes, but also with Keith’s heavily distorted reverb on ‘Yesterday’s Papers’ and the menacing ‘My Obsession’. Sessions were engineered by Dave Hassinger and the hovering dynamics here recall his similarly impressive synchronous work with The Electric Prunes.

On ‘Yesterday’s Papers’ the miraculous interplay between Nitzche’s harpsichord and Jones’ vibraphone hangs like draped finery over Keith’s pulsating generator. Jagger had envisaged the song entirely differently. “It was going to be very straight but it’s ended up donging about all over the place. All tinkling and weird. Charlie said he wanted to think up a weird drum rhythm for it and brought about two dozen different drums into the studio for it, then he asked me if I thought he was getting contrived?” he told the NME at the time. Contrived or not, it is a hugely undervalued gem and for many, the album’s defining moment.

The Stones hadn’t forgotten how to rip it up as evidenced by the delightfully rambunctious ‘Miss Amanda Jones’. ‘All Sold Out’ and ‘Connection’ are feisty little rockers too, the latter’s irresistible staccato guitar riff and prescient lyric anticipating the personal problems to come (“The bags, they get a very close inspection/I wonder why it is that they suspect ’em?”), while the former is ’embellished’ with more superb guitar work alongside Jones’ tone deaf recorder. The mid tempo ballad ‘She Smiled Sweetly’ is less successful, possibly the album’s weakest track, and despite Keith’s versatility his efforts to edify the thing with solemn church organ – Jagger claimed the track was “quasi-religious” – are in vain. Even his bass part is bewildering, as if he’s playing on one string, and a broken one at that. One might guess they ran out of time and everyone else had disappeared for the evening.

‘Who’s Been Sleeping Here?’, a kind of countrified Dylan pastiche, is a peculiar marriage of his mournfully melancholic ‘She Belongs To Me’ with the bawdy ‘Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35′, but against the odds it works splendidly well, with particular credit to Jones’ understated harp playing. It’s also interesting to note the progression from here to ‘No Expectations’ from the following year’s Beggars Banquet. As for the closer, ‘Something Happened To Me Yesterday’, it is one of the oddest songs in the Stones’ canon, and musically at least sounds like an out-take from The Kinks’ Face To Face. As for the subject matter, Jagger was somewhat cryptic: “I leave it to the individual imagination as to what happened. The ending is something I remember hearing on the BBC as the bombs dropped.” A red herring probably – it is more likely to be about his first encounter with LSD. And that experience would of course lead them to unexplored pastures.

It is often overlooked, but Between The Buttons is quirky and ingenious, and if at times a little too polite for some tastes, reassuringly devoid of the rawk posturing to come. It is the Stones’ brightest album, and also their most English – their very own Village Green. (JJ)