Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Music I Love - 'A'

This is a first. Not that reviewing music or musical artistes on here is unknown, but this I think is the first series I've transferred to the blog from my Facebook page. There's a thing going the rounds at the moment asking Facebook users to nominate a great album. You do it once, it goes through a few friends and then someone who didn't see your previous one tags you in it again.

So I had the thought that it might make a good alphabetical series anyway and started yesterday with my Album for 'A'. 'A' in this case could have been both for the group Abba or the album name Arrival but I'm going to base this series on the artist rather than the album name. Last night I looked at all the albums I own that would come under the letter 'B' and decided that just choosing one would be a nightmare. So there may be some short articles here ('I' might not exist at all...), but some of them might be somewhat long...! I'll try to limit the number of albums from a single artist to a handful though...

So here was my starter from my Facebook page. Arrival was Abba's fourth studio album and was released in 1976. This was the album that really made them the huge phenomenon they came to be. It contains the singles Dancing Queen, Money Money Money, and Knowing Me, Knowing You. Of the other seven tracks, one (Arrival, the title track and the final track on the album) is an instrumental but any of the other six could have been selected to be a single. It's worth mentioning the track Why Did It Have To Be Me? which started life with that title, was then given a new set of lyrics and backing as Happy Hawaii which appeared as the B side to Knowing Me, Knowing You and finally reverted to its original title for inclusion on this album. There's a whole range of styles from disco (Dancing Queen) to hard rock (Tiger) to romantic ballad (My Love, My Life). Superb album.

It was followed by another great album - called simply Abba: The Album which was released in January 1978 because pre-release orders were so huge that enough copies could not be pressed before Christmas 1977. This included only two British single releases: The Name of The Game and the instantly catchy Take A Chance On Me, but there are once again no bad tracks at all. The "Three scenes from a mini-musical" under the title The Girl With The Golden Hair are worthy of a concept album with a ballad (I Wonder (Departure)), an anthem (Thank You For The Music) and a somewhat theatrical rocker (I'm A Marionette). One of my personal favourites was Hole In Your Soul. Abba: The Album was the top-selling album in Britain in 1977.

The next album, Voulez-Vous had failed to excite me as much as the two featured so far, but their 1980 album Super Trouper provided another gem with two No.1s from the three singles it included: The Winner Takes It All, Super Trouper and Lay All Your Love On Me which reached No.7. The album closed with a live track The Way Old Friends Do which had been recorded during their 1979 tour. The applause at the end of the track was carried into the run-off groove at the centre of the record and so continued until the stylus was lifted. Ha! Do that on an mp3!

Enough of Abba... Although there were still excellent singles to come I stopped buying the albums after Super Trouper. But they are not the only artists of note to come under the letter 'A'. The Reckless album of Bryan Adams may pre-date Everything I Do, I Do It For You, but it does include two awesome tracks capable of burrowing into the brain. These are Run To You and the ultimately awesome Summer of '69. That little apostrophe in the title is misleading. I'm not going to say what the song is about, but it is not about 1969... Listen to the last line! Another favourite track is She's Only Happy When She's Dancin', but I have to admit that it's seldom I play the entire album in a sitting.

The same could be said of this. There are probably only two tracks on this 2002 album that I can listen to without frowning, but both Beautiful and especially The Voice Within, which I used to perform as my solo spot with my own band at the time (although hardly with the same arrangement) were great songs. The image she cultivated at the time along with tattoos and all the sexual imagery was not particularly impressive... I'm not a fan of all the trilling embellishments around each note either - it always makes me think a singer has forgotten the tune!

Back to entire albums I can listen to! Norwegian group A-Ha released the album Hunting High And Low in 1985 and it was particularly the video for the single Take On Me that had me staring goggle-eyed at the TV screen (remember Tony Baker and Jenny Powell presenting the TV show No Limits?). The song itself was good too, I was a little disappointed when the trend for song backings moved from guitar chords to fast sequences of single synthesized notes but hey - there were some good examples. Other notable singles from this album were the title track: Hunting High And Low and The Sun Always Shines On TV and the band went on to record one of the better post-Roger Moore Bond film themes in The Living Daylights. But I still can't get the image of the pencil-drawn motorbike sequences and the troubled beauty of the video heroine out of my head whenever I listen to this album!

Before the advent of music videos I remember watching a TV special featuring Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass which must have dated from 1968 or '69 (probably the summer...) which pretty much used all the tracks of this album threaded together with some short documentary-type looks at America's Deep South on the Mississippi and around New Orleans. The Beat Of The Brass is still a great album with ballads and jazz influences (listen to the knock-out track Slick) and a couple of tracks surprising us with vocals. Most notably again, the final track which is Herb Alpert's wonderful This Guy's In Love With You which reached No.3 in the charts in 1968 and which once it left, kept re-entering the charts over the course of a year, eventually spending 50 weeks in the charts.

Anastacia was to be a short-lived (and aural-only) flirtation but I remember when the single I'm Outta Love first came on the radio and I thought it was Tina Turner. Indeed I remember our local radio DJ saying that Tina Turner could now retire and let Anastacia take over... This album Freak of Nature includes the singles Paid My Dues (somewhat disappointing after the previous single) and the better One Day In Your Life. I can't remember the last time I listened to anything else on the album and it remains the only one of Anastacia's that I bought.

And I'm mentioning Joan Armatrading here solely down to this single track, the theme to the film The Wild Geese which kept me in the cinema long after everyone else had gone. Stunning.

As regular readers will know, I do have a liking for pre-vinyl 78 rpm records and I have several by Winifred Atwell who was a popular tinkler of the old ivories. There were many pianists of my childhood: Russ Conway, Mrs Mills, Liberace and with the most boring delivery of the lot, but with the best nickname: Joe "Mr Piano" Henderson. The popularity of the stand-alone piano-tinkler waned as the sixties got into their stride, though the likes of Bobby Crush and Richard Clayderman were to prove there might still be an audience for such things in the 1970s. Winifred Atwell crossed from the 78 rpm era into the 45 rpm era with many of her records appearing on both media. You will know her work from the theme tunes from sports programmes such as Test Match Cricket and Pot Black.

I also love the old British Dance Bands of the 1930s and 40s and therefore have to mention Bert Ambrose, many of whose 78 rpm records are in my collection. With singers such as Denny Dennis, Sam Browne and Anne Shelton, Bert (he wasn't really "Bert" at all, he was born Benjamin Baruch Ambrose) he recorded throughout several decades. I left two singers out, both of whom Bert Ambrose discovered and both of whom became very famous indeed. The first was Vera Lynn who during World War II became The Forces' Sweetheart. The second, after Ambrose's fortunes had started to slip due to the take-over by rock and roll and beat music, was Kathy Kirby. It was at the recording of one of Kathy Kirby's TV shows that Bert Ambrose collapsed, dying the same night, 11 June 1971. He was 74.

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