A (welcome?) diversion from the usual, because I have to be positive about something.
I started this as a little indulgence on my favourite albums of all time. Then I realised that almost all of them were from the 70’s. Then I went to the shops for some ridiculous curry ingredients we’ll only use once (fenugreek seeds anyone?) and as I was leaving I spotted the new copy of Classic Rock magazine offering a list of the real 100 greatest albums of the 70’s, whatever that means. I don’t really understand Classic Rock magazine because their definition of classic rock is a bit unspecific. For instance it’s hard to read a piece on, say, The Faces, and then five minutes later leaf past a Slipknot gig review. If that doesn’t make any sense then don’t worry, but do take my word for it when I insist that Slipknot are not Classic Rock but rather Shit Rock. In fact they’re that bad that I would happily see them pelted with both shit and rocks until they stop making noise altogether. The magazine comes with 4 free Iron Maiden coasters, because what home could live without them?
As I queued for a magazine which I never normally buy I realised that this was fate being all fatey, so I rushed back to adapt and finish this. I accept it’s not really at all related to stupidity but I’ve always fancied being a music writer and since I now have a blog etc, etc. However, just to compensate, here’s a little aside. I queued at the cigarette counter to quickly pay and be gone. But oh no, don’t hold your breath, because lo and behold the till in front was held up by a lottery twat. Some sorry old miserable pensioner spent roughly seven hours quibbling about a combination of numbers and lines that would have made John Maynard Keynes sweat with despair. The check-out lady seemed utterly lost as to what the cranky ratbag wanted but eventually, like some bizarre souk bartering exercise, an exchange was made. Then to my surprise the fat, dawdling, mean-spirited old mare turned back towards the queue and, pushing against logic, tradition and bodies, with a crooked face devoid of joy from years of getting her own way, barged past muttering (and she really said this) ‘I’m going this way’. Daft, rude crone. I have plenty of respect for my elders but, as with any section of society, it’s on the condition that they’re not arseholes! I hope she wins the lottery but forgets where she put the ticket. Here are my favourite albums of the 1970’s.
- Exile On Main Street/Sticky Fingers, The Rolling Stones. OK, so I’ve cheated. For roughly 20 years ‘Exile’ has been the one; the album I would rescue from a chemical fire, wearing a 100% polyester suit and with my shoe laces tied together. But to be honest ‘Fingers’ really is just as good. I’m too young/unborn to know The Stones at their peak but can assure you that in the early 70’s they really were the coolest gang in the world. They looked ridiculously great, they were funny, dangerous, sexy and naughty and they made music that just folded over itself and even in retrospect you can’t help but to be sucked in. Even better is that (particularly with Exile) you had to earn them, give them time for it to all seep in. Zeppelin and The Who were both incredible but they somehow took themselves more seriously and were a bit too self-aware whereas, if anything, The Stones rolled with it to the extent that they seemed to stop giving a shit altogether and that’s when things went from being loose to just plain sloppy. These two albums should make your ears perk up and your hips swing and then make you do the Jagger chicken-dance (a drunk party speciality of mine, I’ll have you know). And yes, Keith Richards was the greatest guitarist ever. He’s not now, of course, but that doesn’t matter.
- Station to Station, David Bowie. A dark masterpiece which soars high above the next best thing he did, and that’s not to take anything away from the next best thing he did. The whole thing rewards repetition and dissection. Q magazine once described him as ‘the 70’s fastest moving target’. It’s probably the best thing Q magazine has ever said. If it was released today Q magazine would probably give it 4 stars. Just to be safe.
- Blood On The Tracks, Bob Dylan. In my early 20’s I was an emotionally immature twat who found romance, indeed any meaningful contact with women, unbearably awkward and hopelessly unsuccessful. Bob helped me through this time (see 9 also) with an album that commiserates, empathises, howls and whines and even manages to give vent for slights; actual or imaginary. The anger in ‘Idiot Wind’ is so wonderfully articulated it’s almost funny and ‘Buckets of Rain’ just trembles with sadness.
- A Tribute to Jack Johnson, Miles Davis. Fucking hell. This is the musical equivalent of a great big bloody kick in the balls by a weightlifting donkey on coke. Davis (possibly modern music’s most remarkable individual) bragged about putting together the best rock and roll band you’d ever hear and then just went ahead and did it (almost, see 1). To be honest I rarely get to the second track, though it is brilliant, because the first track ‘Right Off’ is enough to pick you out of pretty much any crappy mood. You don’t have to like jazz or rock music to like this; you just have to like being awake and still having your hearing.
- No Other, Gene Clark. I can’t sleep on planes, something which annoys me very much indeed, especially when I end up next to some smug bugger who falls asleep before the door closes and wakes up on touch down. I managed to briefly slip off once on a plane to northern Cyprus a few years ago and the sound on my headphones when I woke was ‘Strength of Strings’ from this supremely gifted album. Clark was a songwriter of rare talent who basically propped up The Byrds in their early years and then went on to a sadly unfulfilled solo career. This album was the only time someone gave him a big enough budget to really start waving his willy around. And what a job he did. A slow creeper, this has taken years to wriggle into my top division but you’ve got to admire its tenacity. Stick it on and get tapping to ‘Life’s Greatest Fool’ and follow this long dead genius into cosmic American heaven.
- Stephen Stills/Manassas, Stephen Stills. Although I own what are regarded as all of Neil Young’s essential records they’re not so much essential for me. I’ve always found him a bit of a tricky character and while he is more than likely bestowed with genius I find him a bit remote. No, I’m a Stills man. Better voice, better musician and while he never quite tapped the same seams as Young his song-writing at his best is up there with anyone. Following the first CSN album, of which his contributions are unquestionably the best, young Stephen recorded his eponymous debut and generously declined to include a stinker. How kind. The first Manassas album is just as good and contains a song called ‘So Begins The Task’ which demands to be heard immediately. It is astonishingly beautiful.
- Love You, The Beach Boys. The Beach Boys albums are daftly inconsistent but as a band and a group of recording artists they have committed so many heavenly sublime moments to record that they must be in a top ten. They should be in anyone’s top ten. I could have bunged in Surf’s Up or Holland or Carl and the Passions but no……. Love You is the one because it’s so bizarre and joyful and Marmite and if you really, really like music you can cut through all that and just relish how great this little bunch of (roughly) brothers were, even at their most screwed up. And they got REALLY screwed up in the 70’s. No music career in the 70’ needs championing and re-assessing more than The Beach Boys. True that by 1976 they were bearded, chubby, cowboy hat wearing anachronisms, who dressed and acted like bearded, chubby, cowboy hat wearing anachronisms, but by golly could they still make your heart melt. No one has EVER done harmonies as well and no grown man has written kids songs as well as Brian Wilson. Songs with a line like ‘if Mars had life on it, I might find my wife on it’ or simply called ‘Honkin Down The Highway’ are begging to be heard. There are some very cheesy moments in there but if you let it, it will become your secret little friend and keep you warm and happy, whatever your weather.
- Animals, Pink Floyd. Their meanest and bleakest and the closest they came to the spirit of punk. Which is good because 90% of punk is total twaddle and there’s absolutely no way a punk record would be getting into this list. 1972’s Meddle is also well worth giving a go. I’d recommend listening to ‘Sheep’ as a form of anger management, ideally after narrowly avoiding giving a lottery obsessed old harridan a big fat punch in the dentures.
It’s getting tricky now because there are so many albums that could fill the last two places but I’ve just had a thought. Hooray. Let’s face it, your favourite albums aren’t the ones you choose because other people say they’re great or because they have a few killer tracks on them. It’s the ones you have spent a substantial time in your life listening to and that don’t waste time with filler. Case in point – I love Zeppelin but no one album gets it right all the way. Van Morrison is similar, as are Steely Dan, both of whom had astonishing runs of quality. I’ve listened a LOT to Marvin and Stevie and Sly Stone too but they just don’t quite get there. At least I mentioned them, so I can’t be racist, eh! And I didn’t forget about The Mac or John Martyn or Emmylou Harris either. Or AC/DC, Can, King Crimson, Aretha, Simone, Iggy, Television, Chic, The Band and The Clash…… the list goes on and on and on and……I’m also sorry that it’s very American. And male dominated, but I’m trying to be honest and just remember that Joni Mitchell really is quite tough going. So…….
9. Grievous Angel, Gram Parsons. Because I listened the shit out of it in my twenties and I’ll never forget what a graceful, human, vulnerable and simultaneously uplifting and crushing record it is. It doesn’t get played enough these days but it has more than served it’s dues. Well done and RIP Ingram Cecil Connor III, you unfortunate, privileged, junkie wonder.
10. John, The Wolfking of LA, John Phillips. Released in the spring of 1970, so it just sneaks in and what a lovely, sneaky little bugger it is too. I rarely bother to listen to those crap free cd’s you get with magazines but I would marry the one that had ‘Topanga Canyon’ on it. It got to me right away and then the rest of the album just washes over. It’s probably the most laid back album I know. Very casual and ragged and filled with naughty smoke and beautiful and shiver inducing from start to finish. Which is what all good music should be about.
I bet you didn’t bother getting this far but if you did then get on Youtube and give this lot a shot. Or don’t bother, I’m only trying to help. And do send me yours. I’m off to read my magazine and rock like a hard rocking mother-rocker.
G B Hewitt. 31.3.2016.
60’s, 80’s, 90’s and Noughties all to come. Unless you beat me to it.
Pinch, punch etc for tomorrow.