Friday, November 30, 2012

Van Morrison released Astral Weeks: November 1968

image from popmatters.com


Release date: November 1968
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) Astral Weeks / Beside You / Sweet Thing (2/6/71, --) / Cyprus Avenue / The Way Young Lovers Do / Madame George / Ballerina / Slim Slow Slider

Sales (in millions): 0.5 US, -- UK, 0.5 world

Peak: -- US, -- UK

Rating:


Review: Astral Weeks is generally considered one of the best albums in pop music history. For all that renown,” AMG “it is one of rock’s least-likely masterworks;” TL “in fact, it isn’t a rock & roll album at all,” AMG but “a jazz record disguised as a rock record.” JM It also draws from folk, blues, and classical. It has been described as “achingly beautiful,” EK “an emotional outpouring cast in delicate musical structures,” AMG “an ingenious orchestration of poetry and mysticism.” RV and “a languid, impressionistic, utterly gorgeous song cycle.” TL

This was Morrison’s first solo album. He’d “previously been the pint-sized head thug for the ruffian R&B combo Them” EK “which achieved immortality with the garage anthem ‘Gloria.’” TL This was “followed by an abortive stint as a top 40 pop singer” EK which produced “the irresistible singalong ‘Brown-Eyed Girl,’ but he dismissed the album that came from those sessions. Signing with Warner Bros. Records, Morrison then assembled a bunch of jazz-based players, took them into a New York studio, and emerged two days later with Astral Weeks.” TL

“Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Morrison sings in his elastic, bluesy voice, accompanied by a jazz rhythm section.” AMG Among the musicians are drummer Connie Kay, who played with the Modern Jazz Quartet; bassist Richard Davis, who worked on Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch; and guitarist Jay Berliner, who worked with Charles Mingus and others. EK In addition, John Payne is on reeds, Warren Smith, Jr. on vibes, and a string quartet is overdubbed. AMG

It “sounded like nothing he had done previously — and really, nothing anyone had done previously.” TL Kay and Davis, “in particular push what are actually pretty simple songs with an empathy that’s seldom seen outside jazz.” EK “The leap from all that to a delicate, graceful musing on romanticism is basically unprecedented. It’s as if Lost in Translation had starred Tony Danza.” EK

Astral Weeks more or less sank without a trace upon its release. It’s mostly through the critical rehabilitation of guys like Lester Bangs that this album achieved its widespread standing.” EK The album isn’t without its detractors with comments like, this “is a rambling record with a heavy jazz influence, lyrics that rival beat poets, and the average track goes on for seven minutes. It’s no wonder no one cared when it came out.” JM

Astral Weeks

However, the Warner Bros. publicity department hyped it as “the closest rock music has ever gotten to literature.” EK Morrison “spouts stream of consciousness lyrics like the James Joyce of music.” RV “The title track finds Morrison at his most idyllic.” RV He “takes us from slipstreams and viaducts of your dreams to his lady-love doing her kid’s laundry, possibly while our hero is slumped on the couch watching Green Acres. Van has continued to do this throughout his career…but it’s never been quite as seamless” EK as it is here. The song “encompasses a lifetime in a mere five minutes, making the journey from innocence to experience with all of the heartache such a pilgrimage entails.” RV

Madame George

“Morrison sings of lost love, death, and nostalgia for childhood in the Celtic soul that would become his signature.” TL He crafts “stories about the people of Ireland, characters searching for the solace and companionship that eludes them. Madame George is an ode to an aging transvestite” RV which is “hypnotic and compelling instead of a three-chord drone.” EK Meanwhile Cyprus Avenue could serve as the theme song for obsessive romantics too nervous to speak to their muse.” RV

Cyprus Avenue

Astral Weeks’ “mystic poetry, spacious grooves, and romantic incantations still resonate in ways no other music can.” TL Morrison has created “a beautiful sonic painting.” RV “He never made another record quite like Astral Weeks again.” EW


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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Rolling Stones released Let It Bleed: November 28, 1969

image from last.fm


Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) Gimme Shelter (11/28/98; #29 AR) / Love in Vain / Country Honk / Live with Me / Let It Bleed / Midnight Rambler / You Got the Silver / Monkey Man / You Can’t Always Get What You Want (7/19/69; #42 US)

Sales (in millions): 3.0 US, 0.3 UK, 6.0 world

Peak: 3 US, 1 1 UK

Rating:


Review: The Rolling Stones were in turmoil when they recorded Let It Bleed. Brian Jones, the guitarist who originally lead the group, was booted during the sessions for his serious drug problem. He died less than a month later. His final work appears on two tracks on the album. As such, Let It Bleed “finds the band, for perhaps the first time, accurately reflecting the spirit of its age. [They] now found themselves firmly in the center of the social and political post-‘68 whirlwind, and faced up to the challenge magnificently.” CDU

The Stones had already launched a “confident climb to its artistic peak” CDU with 1968’s Beggars Banquet, but this was “a quantum leap even from that musical milestone” CDU extending “the rock & blues feel of Beggar’s Banquet into slightly harder-rocking, more demonically sexual territory.” AMG Let It Bleed is “a motley compound of country, blues and gospel fire [which] rattles and burns with apocalyptic cohesion.” RS500 It “is less of an homage than its predecessor, as the songs begin to reflect the personalities that drive them.” IB The album also showcases “every role the Stones have ever played…swaggering studs, evil demons, harem keepers and fast life riders” RS – while also signaling the beginning of the ‘70s.

Gimme Shelter “came to symbolize not only the catastrophe of the Stones’ free show at Altamont but the death of the utopian spirit of the 1960s.” RS500 The song “is the sound of a frantically braking freight train about to crush the ‘60s under its wheels” IB as it “leads us decisively out of Flower Power and into a world where rape and murder are ‘just a shot away.’” CDU The song “builds on the dark beauty of the finest melody Mick [Jagger] and Keith have ever written,” RS “slowly adding instruments and sounds until an explosively full presence of bass and drums rides…into the howls of Mick and…Mary Clayton.” RS “The Stones have never done anything better.” RS

Gimme Shelter

You Can’t Always Get What You Want, with its “epic moralism…honky-tonk piano and massed vocal chorus” RS500 “is one of the most outrageous productions ever staged by a rock and roll band.” RS It “was the Stones’ ‘Hey Jude’ of sorts, with its epic structure, horns, philosophical lyrics, and swelling choral vocals.” AMG “Every note…works to perfection.” RS

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Songs like that, Monkey Man, and Let It Bleed, with its “druggy party ambience,” AMG “cast a sharp writer’s eye on the decay seeping into the Stones’ camp, proving that Mick had become more than a pair of lips and hips.” IB Elsewhere there’s the “menacing Midnight RamblerAZ in which Jagger sounds like a bloodthirsty stalker and “the spare country settings of Country Honk,” IB “the two-stepping alter ego of ‘Honky-Tonk Women.’” AZ The Stones also do a “brilliant revival of Robert Johnson’s exquisite Love in Vain.” RS


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Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Beatles released The White Album: November 22, 1968

image from thebeatles.com


Release date: 22 November 1968
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Disc 1: Back in the U.S.S.R. (7/10/76, #19 UK) / Dear Prudence / Glass Onion / Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (11/20/76, #49 US, #39 AC) / Wild Honey Pie / The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill / While My Guitar Gently Weeps / Happiness Is a Warm Gun / Martha My Dear / I’m So Tired / Blackbird / Piggies / Rocky Raccoon / Don’t Pass Me By / Why Don't We Do It in the Road? / I Will / Julia

Disc 1: Birthday (live version by Paul McCartney: 10/20/90, #90 UK, #35 AR) / Yer Blues / Mother Nature's Son / Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey / Sexy Sadie / Helter Skelter / Long, Long, Long / Revolution 1 / Honey Pie / Savoy Truffle / Cry Baby Cry / Revolution 9 / Good Night

Sales (in millions): 9.5 * US, 0.3 UK, 21.5 world (includes US and UK)

Peak: 19 US, 19 UK

Rating:

* Officially certified in the U.S. for sales of 19 million because it is a double album.


Review: “Some records have legend written all over them; this is one.” AZ “Beyond its stylish minimalism, the essentially blank cover of The Beatles, better known as the White Album, served a symbolic purpose. The band could find no honest way to visually represent itself as a coherent unit.” RS500 They “were now a tense alliance of daunting individual talents.” RS500 “The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein was dead and…in the middle of these sessions, Ringo was the first Beatle to temporarily quit the band.” TL “Each of the three main songwriters was pursuing his own vision, with the other members, however reluctantly, serving as backup musicians.” RS500 The four “were seldom all in the studio at the same time.” TL

As a result, “each song on the sprawling double album The Beatles is an entity to itself, as the band touches on anything and everything they can.” AMG This “became a double album in part because John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison all insisted that their favorite songs be included.” RS500 The result is “brilliant and amazingly eclectic, but long-winded.” JA “None of it sounds like it was meant to share album space together, but somehow The Beatles creates its own style and sound through its mess.” AMG It is “an exhilarating sprawl – some of the Beatles’ most daring and delicate work.” RS500 “Not all of its parts make perfect sense,” AD but “the cumulative effect of everything that’s here does create a masterpiece.” AD As Paul McCartney said, “I think it was a very good album…but it wasn’t a pleasant one to make.’” RS500

“This makes for a frustratingly scattershot record or a singularly gripping musical experience, depending on your view, but what makes the White Album interesting is its mess.” AMG “Producer George Martin fought hard to edit the project down to a consistent single album, but the Beatles were right to keep the scraps, experiments, and jokes – the tension and confusion of the time became central to The Beatles (which was originally called A Doll’s House, a fitting title for its odds-and-ends feel.” TL

Back in the U.S.S.R.

“Never before had a rock record been so self-reflective, or so ironic; the Beach Boys send-up Back in the U.S.S.R. and the British blooze parody Yer Blues are delivered straight-faced, so it’s never clear if these are affectionate tributes or wicked satires.” AMG

“Clearly, the Beatles’ two main songwriting forces were no longer on the same page,” AMG but “Lennon and McCartney were still at the height of their powers, with Lennon in particular growing into one of rock’s towering figures.” AZ “Lennon turns in two of his best ballads with Dear Prudence and Julia.” AMG The former sports “harmonic experiments that put the Byrds to shame.” JA

Glass Onion

He also “pours on the schmaltz for Ringo’s closing number, Good Night; celebrates the Beatles cult with Glass Onion; and, with Cry Baby Cry, rivals Syd Barrett.” AMG

He also delivers what has often been called “the worst thing The Beatles ever did.” AD Indeed, “the musique concrete collage Revolution 9AMG was the Beatles at their “weirdest.” TL It was one of the few remnants of the studio experimentation which marked the Beatles’ studio work a year before.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

“McCartney doesn’t reach quite as far” AMG but “his songs are stunning – the music-hall romp Honey Pie, the mock country of Rocky Raccoon, [and] the ska-inflected Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” AMG

He also proved he “could still rock.” AZ When he kicks off the album with the “exuberance” RS500 of “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, it is clear that “the production is much more ‘live’ here than either the Revolver or Sgt. Peppers’ recordings.” AD There’s also Birthday and “the proto-metal roar of Helter Skelter,” AMG which “reveals the Beatles at their hardest.” TL

Helter Skelter

“Harrison still had just two songs per LP, but it’s clear…that he had developed into a songwriter who deserved wider exposure.” AMG On While My Guitar Gently Weeps, “Eric Clapton drops by to deliver a blistering guitar solo.” JA On “the haunting Long Long Long,” AMG George delivers “a mellow number in the style that would dominate his ‘70s work.” DBW He also offers “the canned soul” AMG of “the horn-powered rocker Savoy TruffleDBW and “the silly Piggies.” AMG

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

“Ringo turns in a delight with his first original, the lumbering country-carnival stomp Don't Pass Me By.” AMG “It’s such a simple song yet the bass lines and whole execution sounds so truly ludicrous that it works as a piece of entertainment.” AD


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