Tuesday, 17 January 2012

2011: A Year In Music [Part 3 of 4]

10. Rolling Stones - Singles Collection: The London Years

The Stones didn't really become an "album band" until Beggars banquet in 1968 (although some may argue that their first great album was Aftermath from 1966). I have their 4 classic albums released between 1968 and 1972, and a few other recommended works, but there was a giant hole in my CD collection where Satisfaction, Paint it black, As tears go by, Jumpin' Jack Flash, and Honky tonk women needed to sit (many of which were released as stand-alone singles, as was the style at the time).

For a long time I have been researching about the best way to plug the gaps in my Stones collection. I considered the 2CD Hot rocks set (which was my first exposure to the Stones, via my brother's CD collection) and also their Big hits (High Tide and Green Grass) collection from 1966. Hot rocks is a killer set, but overlapped a bit too much with their classic run of albums; Big hits omitted a lot of their later classics (such as Ruby Tuesday) as it was released earlier in their career.

Further research eventually led me to this 3CD set, considered by many critics (Allmusic included) to be the definite Stones singles collection. While not as tight as Hot rocks (which is all killer no filler), there's no denying the breadth of this set. The first CD focuses more on their early blues-based material, the second CD covers their mid-late 60s work (my favourite of the set) and the third CD overlaps most with their 1968-1971 albums and was the least essential to me.

There's an abundance of brilliant material here, but it was also great discovering lesser-known hidden gems like The spider and the fly, Dandelion and The lantern. Just a warning - most of the songs here are in mono; if you want stereo versions you may want to stick with Hot rocks. This doesn't bother me so much; that's how the songs were released originally so it feels authentic.

9. Neil Young - Harvest Moon

Harvest moon was considered to be the long-awaited sequel to Young's most commercial successful album Harvest, released 20-years later in 1992. Harvest has never been one of my favourite Young albums; I preferred his music when it became less MOR and "headed for the ditch" as he so eloquently put. For this reason, I never considered Harvest moon an album which was worthy of attention.

I'm glad to say now that I own it that I was wrong; this may just be in my top-5 Neil Young albums (and there's a lot of competition!). This is a very rootsy country-folk-rock album and quite a change in sound from his previous raucous affair, Ragged glory from 1990. It's easy-listening, but never bland. Neil is in fine voice throughout and the performances are all impeccable. My favourite cuts are the political War of man, and the epic live finale Natural beauty which doesn't outstay its 10-minute running time and is one of the most beautiful songs Young has released to date.

8. Hank Williams - 40 Greatest Hits

Harvest moon has a great song on it called From Hank to Hendrix, which provides a nice segue into this album. Hank Williams was obviously a country music legend, a man who died very young but left an indelible impression on the music industry. I read about this compilation in a Rolling Stone (magazine) countdown of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

To be honest, I wasn't expecting much. The songs on this compilation were recorded between 1947 and 1953 (the year that Hank died, on New Year's Day). With the exception of Robert Johnson, this is the oldest music in my collection. I was expecting this to have more historical value than music I would enjoy listening to; an album that wouldn't get a lot of spins but fill an imaginary void in my collection.

While I expected the music to be dated and cheesy, instead I got an honest singer-songwriter performing songs that anyone can relate to. So many of the songs on this collection have been covered enough times to be considered standards -- Lost highway, I'm so lonesome I could cry, Hey good lookin' and Your cheatin' heart amongst others.

Almost every song in this collection is worth listening to -- Jambalaya (on the bayou), Kaw-liga, the poignant I'll never get out of this world alive (sadly, the last single released during Williams' lifetime). This is an amazing retrospective of a musical legend.

7. Lyle Lovett - Pontiac

Most will remember Lyle Lovett as the unattractive man with the funny haircut who Julia Roberts married in 1993. I'm not sure what made me investigate his music, but I started reading about his music and his 2nd album Pontiac (from 1988) was commonly accepted to be his masterpiece. $3 later on eBay and the album was in my possession.

This is a folk singer-songwriter album with elements of country, and a lyrical quirkiness that's not too far removed from the early work of Tom Waits. If I had a boat is a charming opener with cute, nostalgic lyrics that sets the scene for the rest of the album. Other great songs include the Dylan-sque murder ballad L.A. county and the misogynist She's no lady.

The latter part of the album changes the pace considerably, with the jazz textures of Black and blue, the beautifully understated melody of Simple song and the poignant portrait of a WW2 veteran in Pontiac. A short and sweet album that's worthy of your ears.

6. Leonard Cohen - New Skin For The Old Ceremony

Prior to picking up this album, I had a few early Cohen albums from the late-60s/early-70s (Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs of love and hate) and his excellent late-80s record I'm your man. His early work is very understated, with acoustic guitar, subtle string sections and Cohen's monotonic (yet powerful) baritone delivering lyrics that can only be described as poetry. I'm your man introduced some 80s production elements, but it's to Cohen's credit that only a few of the songs come across as dated now; his composition abilities and delivery are able to transcend the era.

New skin for the old ceremony was his 4th album, released in 1974, and provides an early indication of his evolving sound. New instruments are introduced here, including banjo and mandolin, giving the album a much fuller sound than the earlier records. Cohen's "sexually religious" lyrics as usual steal the show -- from the odd metaphors of the opening track ("You were K.Y. jelly / I was vaseline") to the hotel-act captured on Chelsea hotel #2, one of the finest Cohen tracks (supposedly about his affair with Janis Joplin).

Closer Leaving green sleeves is a reworking of the traditional folk song; in typical Cohen fashion it ends with him screaming the lyrics while the music fades away. This is an incredibly underrated album and probably the Cohen album I have enjoyed listening to most.


  1. Hey Jeremy

    I went 40 Licks for my Rolling Stones best of...covers their whole career, although some of the more recent stuff you could probably take or leave, but a great collection of songs.

    Glad to see you getting into country music. I have been thinking about getting some Hank and Lyle for a while now, good to hear your positive recommendations. Most of the Hank songs you have mentioned I am familiar with - but as covers, he is a much covered artist. So good to hear you like them.

  2. Yes, Hank Williams is getting better and better with each listen. And Lyle is easy to pick up dirt cheap on eBay, so I recommend doing a search and grabbing it!


Sing some harmonies here: