120. GENE CLARK – WHITE LIGHT (1971)

The Perfect Collection was crammed full of records by The Byrds. Hardly surprising – if ever there was a total Byrds nut it was the book’s author, Tom Hibbert. Their first five studio albums all featured in its pages and Hibbert singled out Fifth Dimension as possibly his favourite album of all time. He even found room in the ‘U.S. Seventies’ section of the book for Gene Clark’s ’74 solo masterpiece No Other, which at the time (1982) had been virtually forgotten by everyone else.

Discovering Clark’s post-Byrds solo output proved almost as thrilling as listening to those Byrds records themselves for the first time, and, of the original band members, his own solo work is by far the most accomplished. For those who had been paying attention, Clark had already proven that he wasn’t simply the ‘guy with the tambourine’ (see ‘I Knew I’d Want You’, ‘I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better’, ‘If You’re Gone’, ‘Set You Free This Time’ for starters) and for many, myself included, he remains the greatest Byrd of all.

After his initial departure from The Byrds in 1966, he hadn’t wasted any time in recording his debut album, Gene Clark with The Godsin Brothers, later repackaged as Echoes. It was a strong album, the songwriting mature and confident, although one clearly indebted to the sound of The Byrds, a comparison particularly difficult to ignore given that it hit the record stores in the same week as Younger Than Yesterday in February ‘67. As if resigned to the idea that the umbilical cord could not be entirely severed, Clark even rejoined the band, albeit very briefly, in late ’67. But the marriage wasn’t to last.
He found a truly authentic voice of his own on his brilliant forays into roots music with Doug Dillard, releasing two groundbreaking albums, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark and Through The Morning, Through The Night. Perhaps as much as any other album of the time, the former of those encapsulated the shift in American popular music away from psychedelic excess towards a ‘back to the country’ retreat (from Vietnam; from political assassinations; from inner city breakdown; from LSD overkill), in the process laying the foundations for the more laid back country rock of the early ‘70s.
At the dawn of the new decade Clark kept himself busy, contributing to albums by The Flying Burrito Bros, and also recording a few songs of his own, including the fabulous ‘She’s The Kind Of Girl’, originally intended as a single for A&M, but which, owing to record company problems, remained unreleased until Roadmaster surfaced in ’73.
Relocating to Albion California, Clark was sustaining himself on Byrds’ royalties (the Dillard & Clark albums didn’t sell), then after getting married (to Charlie Lynn McCummings), and fathering two children, he began work on White Light. It too would disappear almost without trace, but its reputation has steadily grown in stature since Clark’s tragically premature passing in 1991.
‘The Virgin’, upon first listen a solid if unspectacular beginning, reveals not only the great warmth of Clark’s homespun rootsy sound, but also the new depth to his lyricism. Dylan had long been the template for Clark’s wordsmithery, but by ‘71 the apprentice had arguably overtaken his master, although the influence was still too transparent for some: “From her dancing love and young soul/And the gypsies in her dream/To the pulse of stark acceptance/When the winds began to freeze/With no curfews left to hold her/And no walls to shield her pain/Finding out that facts were older/And that life forms are insane.”
The playing throughout the album is unfussy and economical, but everywhere the melodies niggle and ache, the spaces between those miraculous little chord changes growing ever more taut, nowhere more so than on ‘With Tomorrow’. Immediately afterwards the title track provides the album’s only noticeable change in tempo. Encompassed all around by delicate songs of rugged beauty, its buoyant country quickstep garners visions of cotton pickers holding on to their hats on the roof of a steam train hurtling to freedom across the prairie.
‘Because Of You’ boasts a denser arrangement, but retains that poignant mournful timbre, while the brooding ‘One In A Hundred’ re-recorded from the earlier A&M session in 1970, has since become one of his most celebrated songs. It’s barely whispered, the tone fragile, and he sounds like he needs those backing vocals to get him over the line.
‘For A Spanish Guitar’ on the other hand, may possess the most beautiful guitar line of his career, augmented by the most heartbreaking harmonica solo this side of ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ and some fairly impenetrable philosophical discourse which reads once more like Dylan’s great poetry of yesteryear: “And the laughter of children employed/By the fantasies not yet destroyed/By the dogmas of those they avoid/Knowing not what they are/And the right and the wrong and insane/And the answers they cannot explain/Pulsate from my soul through my brain/In a spanish guitar.” Dylan by then however, was churning out the worst music of his career, so Clark had to dig a little deeper for the obligatory cover version (‘Tears Of Rage’) which he carries off in fine style.
‘Where My Love Lies Asleep’ nicks the bottleneck guitar line from The Stones’ ‘No Expectations’ (played beautifully by Jesse Ed Davis, who also produced the album), but is nonetheless entirely gorgeous for all that, and the finale (‘1975’) pre-empts the spiralling chord sequence of Neil Young’s ‘Lookout Joe’, recorded two years later in ’73, and a key track on his classic Tonight’s The Night Set from ’75.
With White Light, Clark was halfway up the mountain. At the summit was the gilded karmic conquest of No Other, but in these sparse and humble love songs he created one other album you certainly ought to have in your collection. (JJ)
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119. NICO – THE MARBLE INDEX (1969)

I’d forgotten all about The Marble Index, such a crushingly pessimistic listen, that each and every remnant of its shimmering beauty seemed to have been catheterised by some dark unbearable grief. But recently I found my way back to it alongside it’s shining sister Desertshore, through an obsession with the last few Left Outsides albums, whose forest-spirit avant-folk seemed to rekindle some latent inclination towards the vaguely morbid. Or perhaps that was simply the onset of winter.

Nico had already recorded her first solo album, an exquisite assemblage of chamber folk, Chelsea Girl – by the time she reunited with former VU companion John Cale. I know of at least two people who believe that album to be the greatest record ever made, period – and I must say I like it a lot myself – but Nico detested it, seething with frustration when she first heard its neutered production. Even so, few could have predicted what would emerge from the sessions at the recording studio on Cienega Boulevard in LA in September ‘68. After all, Christa Päffgen had a face made for superstardom – icy blonde, geometric cheekbones – but there had been signs on Chelsea Girl (in particular on ‘It Was A Pleasure Then’ where accompaniment was provided not by Jackson Browne, but by the Velvets’ core, so it came out howling and droning like a wrung out ‘Black Angels Death Song’) that she was striving to be taken seriously as an artist too.

To that end, she rejected her own beauty, dyed her hair dark red, wrapped herself in a shroud of death and like Scott Walker – a contemporary also at pains to prove he was more than simply a pretty face – reinvented herself as existential goth queen. I’ve always suspected an additional element of contrariness in this transformation which happened just as she moved from NYC to sunny California, but who knows? For certain the timing must have made the contrast in her appearance seem even sharper.

The album’s desperate bleakness resulted from a confluence of factors. Cale cultivated in its timbre a sound reflecting his interest in modern European classical music and Nico had been feeding off the mad ramblings of Jim Morrison who encouraged her to explore her inherently darker sensibilities, and gorge upon the opium-fuelled poetry of Coleridge. She had also acquired a harmonium and it’s droning wheeze perfectly captures the album’s dark spirit.

According to some accounts, Nico and Cale reputedly spent the whole time feuding whilst strung out on smack. All too much for in-house producer Frazier Mohawk, who could barely bring himself to put the finishing touches to the album, first of all consigning four of its bleakest compositions to the dustbin of history and then handing over the reins to Cale who became defacto producer. Cale claimed Nico’s harmonium was out of tune with everything but that didn’t matter, and in some ways it was entirely fitting. When after being left alone for two days, he played back his mix of the album to her, Nico reputedly wept with joy.

The album’s title is taken from a line in Wordsworth’s Prelude, which also lends its title to the short but incredibly beautiful opening instrumental. After that brief moment of transcendence darkness descends, beginning with ‘Lawns Of Dawns’ whose sonic refractions – like mirrors on the ocean, now glistening on the surface, now submerged beneath – parallel its author’s psychological disintegration. “Can you follow me?/Can you follow my distresses/My caresses, fiery guesses?/Swim and sink into/Early morning mercies”

There are dissonant chamber pieces (‘No-one Is There’) and ‘Ari’s Song’ (named after her son) which promises some relief but replete with droning pump organ entangled in some strange sonic barbed wire, was reckoned by Rolling Stone to be “the least comforting lullaby ever recorded”

On ‘Facing The Wind’, whose bizarre martial piano comes across like a discarded instrumental from Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs, Nico’s voice is electronically distorted giving it an even eerier more expressionistic quality: “It’s holding me against my will/And doesn’t leave me still/Amazons are riding out/To find a meaning for the name, my name.”

Cale’s fingerprints are everywhere in evidence but nowhere more so than on ‘Frozen Warnings’ whose bubbling ‘Baba O’Riley’ type pulse is underwritten by the insistent and unfluctuating drone of his viola.

And as far as apocalyptic finales go, the sinister spiralling ‘Evening Of Light’ takes some beating. “In the morning of my winter/When my eyes are still asleep/A dragonfly laying in a coat of snow/I’ll send to kiss your heart for me/Midnight winds are landing at the end of time/The children are jumping in the evening of light/A thousand sins are heavy in the evening of light.” It is ‘Tubular Bells’ turned inside out by Beelzebub, an agonising descent – as the last rays of light are slowly extinguished by the clattering noise and chaos of the welcome party for Hades.

The album clocks in at a mere half hour. Not everything about The Marble Index is black, but almost everything is. Its doomed unremitting litanies suggest catastrophe but it possesses an undeniable ‘slash your wrists’ nocturnal beauty and marks the moment Nico’s career as an artist truly began. (JJ)

90. MARY MARGARET O’HARA – MISS AMERICA (1988)

  

The Agony & The Ecstasy

It is an album whose incubation is shrouded in mystery. Throughout its shifting moods and styles, one savours that voice: one moment floating upon starsailing crescendos, the next a crumbling interior avalanche, buckling breathlessly beneath a stream of consciousness deluge of jagged emotion. If the vocal performances sound raw and spontaneous, the instrumental arrangements by contrast, suggest a creative process of painstaking precision: clearly envisioned, perfectly measured.

Recorded in 1983-84, but not released until 1988, one might imagine Miss America to have drained Toronto’s Mary Margaret O’Hara both emotionally and physically. Certainly, the album had a complicated evolution. After being signed by Virgin, O’Hara was given creative carte blanche, but from the very beginning the problems mounted up. Andy Partridge of XTC had been tasked with its production, but it soon became clear that the pair could not work together. Partridge, unable to fit in with her modus operandi, reputedly lasted one day. Enter the formidable figure of Joe Boyd, producer of more classic folk roots albums than it is possible to count. Almost all of the songs you hear on the album date from the sessions he oversaw at Rockfield Studios in South Wales in 1984, but remarkably, by the time the album finally saw the light of day, Boyd was uncredited on the sleeve. He has spoken very candidly about this elsewhere (http://www.joeboyd.co.uk/rentree-letter)

Eventually, the production credits would go to Michael Brook, who had already worked with Eno, David Sylvian and the late Pakistani superstar, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a devotional singer of such strength and singularity who could attain similarly feverish trancelike states. However, a more obvious touchstone would be Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. In their mutual search for spiritual ecstasy, the parallels between O’Hara and Morrison are obvious. Compare “the loves to love the love’s to love the love that loves…” of Morrison’s ‘Madame George’ to O’Hara’s “Joy is aim-eh, joy is the aim-eh, joy…” from ‘Year In Song’, the oldest tune here, written on the cusp of the 1980s. Or again with virtually all of the incomparable ‘Body’s In Trouble’, where an inscrutably awkward carnal tangle is enlightened by the most sublime fadeout. Just as well perhaps, as O’Hara sounds like she’s being recorded having a psychological breakdown live in the studio. Graeme Thomson wrote that Miss America contains “an aura of exorcism. She has talked about inner and outer voices and believes in unseen powers” and a mystical web weaves itself through the album’s rich tapestry.

From the aching Patsy Cline inspired C&W of ‘Dear Darling’, through the angelic (go on, listen, it is not a lazy adjective) lounge jazz of ‘Keeping You In Mind’, to the gulping funk hiccup of ‘Not Be Alright’, it is clear we are hearing something quite extraordinary.“When your heart is sick with wonder/at a long and lonely way/walk in brightness/cause its anew day”, she purrs effortlessly as if she were a hundred years old on the masterfully crafted gladsome swing of ‘Anew Day’, which must have had the likes of Nanci Griffith weeping with envy. The most perfectly executed performance of all is on ‘Help Me Lift You Up’ where that voice surreptitiously reaches acrophobic heights over a languid rhythm redolent of Tim Buckley’s godlike ‘Morning Glory’. And with only double bass for accompaniment, she closes out with the most fragile finale imaginable – virtually singing herself to sleep on ‘You Will Be Loved Again’

Morrissey adored it, prompting him to requisition her services for ‘November Spawned A Monster’, but 28 years on from its release, O’Hara remains something of a recluse, defiantly at odds with… well… with the way things ought to be. “Just because I have an idea, I don’t have to make something of it” she quipped some time later with characteristic contrariety. Frustratingly, she has barely exercised her tonsils since, contributing only sporadically to others’ music, whilst producing virtually nothing of her own: a Christmas EP in 1991 and the soundtrack to the film Apartment Hunting a decade later (although tantalisingly, one new song emerged earlier this year). And so, she remains a puzzling enigma. The songs presented to Virgin for her second album we very well may never hear. The label apparently found them too obtuse. Like those critics at the time who labelled her ditsy and kooky or those who heard only a coffee table companion, the public failed to appreciate O’Hara’s unconventional, blessed genius, or recognise a soul possessed by strange angels. (JJ)

 

 

71. RANDY NEWMAN – RANDY NEWMAN (1968)

RANDY NEWMAN – RANDY NEWMAN (1968) 
My introduction to Randy Newman came even earlier than I realised. It was 1974, I was five and I was a few green months into primary school. Before the ruthlessly efficient, stripped-and-stranded TV scheduling of today, unforseen gaps would on occasion appear between programmes, in the grand interlude tradition of the potter’s wheel and the kitten frolicking.
One such hole was plugged by a cartoon accompanying a song which told the commonplace story of a couple travelling through life. I hardly knew anything of such matters at the time but it appeared straightforward enough: meeting; marrying; having children. Only the last line of the song stuck but it haunted me for years: as I recalled, it was a female voice singing: “We’ll play checkers all day/until we pass away,” as the now elderly couple vanish from either side of the board. It may well have been the first time I gave any thought to mortality, so strange and sad did I find it.
Scene fades…it’s now 14 February 1988. Without the remotest prospect of getting a card, it’s just another day for 19-year-old me but, it being a Sunday, Annie Nightingale is on and she’s doing a Valentine’s Day special, in which every song played includes the word ‘love’ in  the title and is one more display of the sheer unpredictability of her show which reached its apogee the night she played Duran Duran and immediately followed  them with Bogshed . I hear what are by now the familiar tones of Randy Newman – droll, drawling, dry – clothed in sumptuous orchestration which gives way to a similarly lush  chorus echoing Spector with precision. Hints of Dixie jazz, hints of minstrel tunes – and then that lifelong  game of draughts again. Love Story by Randy Newman – first part of the mystery solved.
It would take the internet’s reduction of total mysteries to double figures before the puzzle would be complete. The first version I heard, complete with animation, turned out to be by Sonny and Cher – they’d performed it for their own show, even as it was rapidly losing autobiographical status for them.
And Love Story turned out to be the opener of Newman’s debut album. Even in 1968, its subtitle – Randy Newman Creates Something New Under The Sun – must have seemed a shade brazen. Though decades would pass before all the possibilities of Popular Music were finally exhausted, there was already an end-of-history mood prevailing. Psychedelia and its attendant adventures far from rock ‘n’ roll’s roots were already being dismissed by many – and still are to this day – as an aberration. Practically every leading figure released something that year which, while ranking among their best, was again holding fast to Earth rather than exploring further into space, even as the first lunar footfalls approached fast (years later, in his soundtrack for Apollo documentary For All Mankind, Brian Eno would explore the paradox of astronauts listening to country – one of the most Earthbound of all genres – as they ploughed through the vastness).
But like The Band, and to some extent Bob Dylan, Newman was digging back further still. Not quite as far as The Band’s evocations of the Civil War but to the first third of the 20th century,  a superficially genteel land of barbershop quartets, rocking chairs on antebellum porches and straw boaters tipped to every passing parasol-twirling dame, all the stranger for being well within living memory yet utterly bygone. He was steeped in this stuff, with with three composer uncles whose credits stretched from Modern Times, The Grapes Of Wrath and The Best Years Of Our Lives to Cleopatra and Alien. Characteristically, he embraced his heritage but with more than enough guile, bile and style to find favour with the burgeoning Serious Rock audience. As a practitioner of the now thoroughly debased (with a few exceptions, trite, wheedling and spectacularly point-missing in the 21st century) singer-songwriter genre, Dylan comparisons came like death and taxes…but listen to him singing “so hard” on Living Without You and then Boaby’s “so bad” and “so sad” on One Of Us Must Know and it’s valid for a moment at least.
And they’re both controversial voices. Add them to a long list – Ray Davies, Neil Young, Bryan Ferry, Robert Wyatt, Joanna Newsom, Anthony Hegarty; in fact, the oft-told story about Newman’s debut is that Reprise felt compelled to advertise the album with the somewhat backhanded  tag  “Once you get used to it, his voice is really something” but in vain  – low sales followed. True, Newman does usually  sound like he’s never more than a few seconds away from making a wisecrack about your choice of shirt but he sounds genuinely wounded on the aforementioned Living Without You, while the sauntering melodic nonchalance of Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad belies what seems to be real sorrow – or is it one of the double bluffs which Newman tosses up to keep us on our toes? (see also: Rednecks, which satirises not only the racists but also the smug superiority that wealthy, educated types feel towards them; Mr Sheep, which mocks not the office drone but the arrogant rock star sneering at the office drone, and, most notoriously, Short People, which was proven to be a masterclass in genuine irony by its mass misinterpretation). Maybe they can just be taken at face value after all – I’m not aware of  him having done his own version of I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore but Dusty Springfield’s interpretation reaches Great Pumpkin levels of sincerity. When Newman sings, though, he just keeps you guessing; the son in So Long Dad seems as devoted as he needs to be but is still impatient and in a hurry (“Just drop by when it’s convenient to/Be sure and call before you do”) yet its mirror image, Old Man (on 1972’s Sail Away) ends with as devastating a line as you’ll find anywhere – “Don’t cry old man, don’t cry/Everybody dies.”
Another likely consequence of the divisiveness of Newman’s voice is that
many of his songs have become  better known through versions by others but few of these have improved on his. One of the best known covers is Three Dog Night’s version of Mama Told Me Not To Come, from 1970’s 12 Songs. Newman is said to have observed that they gave it a chorus he never did but I’ve always found their attempt pretty awful – I’m usually a sucker for electric piano but theirs is a smarmy burble and that chorus is in the type of hammy, overwrought voices which were all too prevalent at the time. They also had a stab at Cowboy, which is on Newman’s first album – it’s more tolerable but again, he triumphs easily – the verses are sotto voce but the arrival of the orchestra for the chorus is truly startling,  batwing doors not so much flung open as  breached with a battering ram.
With Newman’s own arrangement and the deft production of stalwarts Lenny Waronker and Van Dyke Parks, it’s the sort of thing John Ford might have commissioned (commanded?) for one last bold sweep of Monument Valley before the credits roll. The lyrics, though, reflect more a Sam Peckinpah vision of a landscape changing too rapidly for its inhabitants to keep up with (“Cold grey buildings where a hill should be/Steel and concrete closing in on me.”) It was a reality for many as alleged progress rode roughshod over communities – Family offered a British perspective on the same theme later the same year with Hometown.
I Think He’s Hiding is one of Newman’s numerous meditations on the nature, attitude and, ultimately, existence of God. Here, he offers the view of those who believe in both a merciful (“There’ll be no more teardrops/There’ll be no more sorrow”) and a vengeful (“When the Big Boy brings his fiery furnace/Will He like what He sees/Or will He strike the fire and burn us?”) deity before hedging his own bets to a hushed and subdued accompaniment. Even more minimal is I Think It’s Going To Rain Today, which has become possibly Newman’s most covered song – maybe because it’s so spare that there’s a widely felt need to embellish it. There’d be a decent album to be had from compiling the best versions but Newman’s would have to be among them – you strain to hear him whisper (even Leonard Cohen took 20 years to reach this depth of register) and when you catch what he says, it still seems densely enigmatic (“Scarecrows dressed in the latest styles/ With frozen smiles to chase love away). In its strange invocation of solitude in a sparse landscape, like many songs here it’s unequivocally American but deals in universal themes, in style as finely etched as a Whistler and in content as acutely observed as an Edward Hopper – and the whole album packed with these brilliantly crafted miniatures is over in under 28 minutes.
Newman seems so unassuming on the cover; in houndstooth jacket and yellow turtleneck, and minus the curls and glasses which would later be his visual trademark, he could almost be mistaken for Neil Sedaka. There’s no more sign of him as the unofficial biographer of human foibles than there is in some of his more recent, far better known activities. To many, he is just Toy Story Guy, and that’s fine – there aren’t many films that offer more sheer joy (though for what it’s worth, I actually prefer Toy Story 2) but there’s a further frisson to be gained from the knowledge that he could also write (from Laughing Boy): “Find a clown and grind him down/He may just be laughing at you/An unprincipled and uncommitted clown/Can hardly be permitted to/Sit around and laugh at what/The decent people try to do.” (PG)

29. TIM BUCKLEY – STARSAILOR (1970)

Oblivion carries me on his shoulder: Beyond the suns I speak and circuits shiver” (‘Starsailor’)

It might sound like baloney to claim that Starsailor killed Tim Buckley, but in his resoluteness to go as far with the voice as ‘Trane went with the horn, he came undone. The culmination of this intrepid expedition to the outer limits was a rejection by his audience and a subsequent descent into psychological chaos, exacerbated by spiralling alcohol and (ultimately fatal) drug abuse.

Starsailor has to be understood in the context of Tim’s recording a career. If you are unfamiliar with his work it would be imprudent to begin here. Having said that, much has been written about Tim’s music, some of which is amongst the best rock literature (for example Max Bell’s NME retrospective (http://timbuckley.net/articles/nme-1979.shtml) and there are even more insightful accounts, such as Chronicle Of A Starsailor by Lee Underwood, Tim’s friend, lead guitarist and along with Larry Beckett, closest musical confidante. (http://www.timbuckley.com/tim-buckley-chronicle-of-a-starsailor/

I suggest you read both of these if you get the opportunity. Underwood captures with particularly incisive brevity Buckley’s remarkable musical odyssey:

“I watched him grow from a Bambi-eyed littleboy poet prattling about paper hearts and Valentines, into a hurricane-haired rock and roller, into a madman/genius improvisational vocalist who blew all the pups away, and finally into a lowdown, roadhouse, sex-thumping stomper who injected steam and blood and juice into an r&b music nobody cared about.”

And that really just about sums up Tim’s development as an artist. Starsailor sits as the pivotal moment in a riveting musical journey which has few parallels in the history of rock. Chronologically, it comes exactly half way through Tim’s recording career (1970)  – despite being album number six of nine – and marks the peak of an assurgent creative curve from his  self-titled 1966 debut onwards. After Starsailor, musical compromise set in and the artistic merit of his recordings gradually deteriorated along with his mental well-being.

The album’s most famous track ‘Song To The Siren’ was successfully resurrected by This Mortal Coil in 1983, sung by Elizabeth Fraser. [Elizabeth of course later had an intense personal relationship with Tim’s son Jeff whose short life bore an eerily tragic resemblance to his father’s]  Buckley’s original is pitch perfect: in the context of the album itself you might say delicate, restrained, and along with the charming Parisian caress of ‘Moulin Rouge’, certainly unrepresentative of the bulk of its content.

Many of Tim’s performances on Starsailor beggar belief, understandably inviting those ‘operatic vocal gymnastics / acrobatics’ descriptions which characterise reviews of the album. But this is over-simplistic journalism. After all, acrobats and gymnasts spend years perfecting rigidly complex routines. The reality for Tim was somewhat different. That’s not to say the musical performances here lack discipline. Far from it, but, liberated from the constraints of the rock idiom, head swollen with Stockhausen, Monk, Mingus, Roland Kirk, Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman, he felt compelled to reach further with his voice than anyone had ever gone, and did so with an unbridled and ecstatic inventiveness. 

It is clear from the outset that there are no rigid routines here. No, this is going to be a challenging listen. ‘Come Here Woman’ is a staggeringly ambitious calling card. It begins an ends with an avant-jazz skulk, redolent of the territory explored on his previous proper album Lorca. After the intro, suddenly the song leaps to life with Lee’s dissonantly funky guitar and Tim’s off key bawling. Moments later the skittish electric piano suggests we could be listening to Bitches Brew. It’s complex. It’s all over the place. It’s a fantastic start…

On the brilliant ‘Monterey’ Tim sounds like a lustily crazed chimpanzee who has broken into a Magic Band recording session and wrestled the mic from the good Captain, his yelps,warbles and shrieks providing a bountiful exhibition of his vocal dexterity.

Side Two takes us to rock’s outer limits. ‘Jungle Fire’s moody improvisational beginning is abruptly brought to a close by Buckley’s ludicrously unhinged “deep insi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-de” Tarzan yodel. What follows next is magnificent: an accelerating riff of earthy funk guitar amidst a blizzard of deranged wails and howls.I picture those kids shaking their hair to the Stones at Hyde Park in ’69 and imagine how much further they would have gone to a soundtrack like this.

The title track is extraordinary, an abstract assemblage of 16 vocal tracks laid over one another to create something that seems to take us into the realm of metaphysics…even as it’s last few notes fade, nothing can prepare us for the headlong rush of the introduction to ‘The Healing Festival’ which is genuinely shocking – goosebumps not only stand to attention but fly off my back in fright, seeking refuge from Buckley’s hair-raising vocal assault, the  aural equivalent of the mass slaughter of 10,000 dolphins. The horns, courtesy Bunk and Buzz Gardner from The Mothers Of Invention are wild and free yet still struggle to keep pace with Tim’s five and a half octave vocal range.

The curtain comes down with ‘Down By The Borderline’ where flugelhorn gives way to the relatively more stoic rhythms that would anticipate the earthy soul of his next album Greetings From LA. A good album that, but by then Buckley had descended from the mountain, reclothed himself in flesh and bone and shifted his energies to the lower half of his body. A brief confused and sweaty future would follow, but he had already taken rock music as far as it could go. 

PostScript: A Personal Footnote

[Misleading album sleeve #429] As a teenager, I had heard of Tim Buckley – his album Goodbye & Hello was referenced as the only one worthy of note in most rock music encyclopaedias, although I had recently spotted an entry for Starsailor in a Critics’ Top 100 Albums book (edited by Paul Gambaccini). I flicked past Starsailor onto the album featured on the next page, which if I recall correctly may have been Private Dancer by Tina Turner!

Instead, my introduction to Tim’s music came while browsing the A-Z in Glasgow’s Virgin Records in February 1987. I had a £10 note in my pocket and back then this was enough to buy two, three, maybe even if one was canny enough, four albums. I was keen to make that £10 go as far as possible before inadvertently stumbling upon a US import of Tim’s Happy Sad. It was priced at a prohibitive £8.99, but the picture on the back of the sleeve was of the coolest man I had ever seen. There were only six tracks, which varied in duration from 2 to 12 minutes. Those  Bowie and Byrds albums would have to wait a bit longer. I simply had to have this. As a devotee of Astral Weeks I was naturally captivated by the music – a bewitching spell of jazz-folk reverie – which matched perfectly the image on the reverse of the sleeve with its hazy forest sunlight bursting through Tim’s Dionysian locks.

  

I returned to the book store once again to gaze at the picture of ‘Starsailor’. Nah, I thought, he looks too happy here – this must have been the contractual obligation album. Its juxtaposition, next to ‘Private Dancer’ did little to allay those concerns. Little did I know at the time that the album would go down in history as one of rock music’s great acts of commercial suicide. (JJ)