Thursday, 8 September 2016

Music I Love - 'B'

The second in my series (of 26?) looking at my favourite music through the alphabet. Performers are the key not the songs or albums and performers will appear in surname order.

To kick us off today, here's Barclay James Harvest's 1974 album Everyone Is Everybody Else. Labelled by some The poor man's Moody Blues (so often that they brought out a track called that!) they were capable of esoteric ballads, dramatic storytelling and some hard driving pre-1980s soaring guitar rock. Hailing from a tiny village on the moors quite close to where I lived at the time I went to see them as often as I could and was never disappointed. I still have a programme taped the good old way - with a microphone from a tape recorder standing in front of the radio of a concert they did with "The Barclay James Harvest Orchestra" from the BBC's In Concert series. This album reflects their roots, containing songs about mining and mill workers.

The 'B' here stands for the surname of John Barry rather than James Bond. These are the tracks taken from the main film titles from Dr No (1962) through to Octopussy (1983) complete with vocals from such wonderful stars as Dame Shirley Bassey, Matt Monro, Tom Jones, Lulu and more. If they had included the next four films, to complete the Roger Moore series and take in the Timothy Dalton ones, they would have had by far the best selection of Bond themes, a genre of music in which I lost interest after Licence To Kill until Adele returned to a recognisable Bond motif and style for Skyfall.

But there was more to John Barry than Bond films and this LP contains some of his other film and TV work including the lovely theme that he composed and recorded for an advert for Sunsilk hair shampoo and conditioner: The Girl With The Sun In Her Hair. I can still listen to this album and go all tingly!

The Beach Boys just had to be included here though it was to be quite a long while before I heard anything of theirs except the singles. I heard so much about Pet Sounds that I had to buy it sooner or later, but by the time I did it was on CD rather than vinyl. Shame on me! But it did mean I got the bonus tracks one of which has unaccompanied snippets of Brian Wilson's wordless harmonies. Worth it just for those.

But as it's the singles I remember the most - and was influenced by the most - this has to be my favourite album. I had it on vinyl and also later on CD. The arrangements and harmonies are just sublime, yet you can pick out the simple melodies and arrange them for a more modest line-up. My duo's own repertoire includes I Can Hear Music and Help Me Rhonda. What would I give for a moment's inspiration to come up with an arrangement for Good Vibrations...

I could have included just about any of The Beatles albums really. But I'll start with the first album: Please Please Me. As with The Beach Boys tracks that I play on stage myself, there's a sheer joy in playing I Saw Her Standing There, the album opener. Perhaps at our age we should change the first line from She was just seventeen... but...

What an album Revolver is. There are so many stand-out tracks. Taxman is the opener with a message (more of a spit really) aimed at the Chancellor of the Exchequer at a time when they paid 95% Income Tax on the top end of their earnings. (It's still a bit hard to feel sorry for them, but it probably didn't do much for their incentive to earn more once they reached that level.) Then there's the lovely brass solo of For No-One, the excitement of Dr Robert and Good Day Sunshine, the simple beauty of Here, There and Everywhere and the two tracks from the twin A-side single: Yellow Submarine and Eleanor Rigby. Yes, Yellow Submarine might sound a bit naff now, but I can remember just how many times it was heard on jukeboxes in the cafes and amusement arcades of 1966! All with the bass turned up as high as possible and the treble frequency turned completely off!

I'll limit my Beatles albums to three, but there was never going to be any question about the inclusion of this one. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band changed the musical world. There was the effortless melding of the opening rock track with the following pop With A Little Help From My Friends, fitting so closely and superbly that it's impossible to listen to the opening track on its own without your mind launching into your own private version of Ringo's vocal on the following track. Then the finisher - what an eye opener that was in 1967. And the final chord that went on forever, that if you turned up your stereo as the track faded you could hear the scrape of a chair as someone stood up a bit too early.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I was never really a David Bowie fan per-se, but this album was just such a knock-out. From the initial track Five Years through to the stardom of the Starman all the way through to Rock and Roll Suicide I used to know every lyric and every note played by Mick Ronson. In 1972 when it came out I was 17 and playing lead guitar in a folk-rock band called Spiral in Failsworth near Manchester. We all loved this album. It was impossible, unthinkable, not to. Even now sometimes at gigs a stranger will come up and ask us to do Rock and Roll Suicide. Ahhhhh... "Time takes a cigarette..."

Another greatest hits album. You don't hear all that much of Bread now, but the songs and voice of David Gates were real class. Active from 1968-1978 with a 3-year break from 1973, they had some extremely memorable hits, some of which e.g.If and Everything I Own provided hits for other artists also. I first heard them playing a song called London Bridge in the middle of which was the first ever synthesiser solo I had ever heard.

Let's face it, there was some bloody horrible music about in the 1980s. We all listened to some of it. I watched the David Bowie film Labyrinth the other week and found myself cringing at the music. Bucks Fizz may have been thrown together for the sole purpose of winning Eurovision but win it they did and then churned out a number of hits, some more palatable than others. The Land of Make Believe was described by one music paper as "a nice enough piece of fluff" and as sheer genius by another. I still remember Cheryl Baker's outfit on Top Of The Pops with a certain adolescent yearning, even though I was 27 at the time...

Speaking of which... Kate Bush's second album is the one I have chosen, though I bought the first three. This included the tracks Wow and Hammer Horror and opened with the most exquisite ballad which can still send the hairs on the back of my neck standing: Symphony In Blue. She made a TV special at the time of this album and I still have a home-made DVD somewhere that I took from the original VHS tape I made of it.

And that's it for this time. Today's article has been brought to you by the letter 'B'.

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