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Classic Album Friday
December 18, 2009, 7:00 am
Filed under: Classic Album Friday, Music | Tags: ,

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (1969)

No-one will ever accuse the sixties of going out with a whimper. The year 1969 was permeated with socio-political and cultural events that still reverberate in our collective consciousness forty years later. Try this on for size – Nixon plots the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. Apollo 11 lands on the moon and Neil Armstrong takes ‘One small step for man’. Charles Manson & his cult murder Sharon Tate & four others. Nearly 400,000 converge in upstate New York for the Woodstock music festival. The Boeing 747 and Concorde take to the skies for the first time. Monty Python’s Flying Circus debuts on television. Miles Davis releases Bitches Brew which would no less than redefine the jazz idiom if not popular music. By this time of his career, apart from being a master trumpeter and band leader, Davis had become more of a puppeteer encouraging free-thinking and improvisation and never failed to extricate blinding performances from his band members. Of course Davis always had an uncanny knack for picking his co-conspirators and the Bitches Brew sessions were no different enlisting Joe Zawinul, John McLauglin, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland among others. Perhaps most significant was Davis’ partnership with longtime collaborator Teo Macero whose thinking perfectly resonated with Davis’ increasingly experimental leanings. Of course this was the point were jazz met rock. Of course jazz snobs were outraged. Of course many didn’t quite get it. That never changed Davis’ nothing-less-than crystalline vision of what popular music should sound like and the role he would play in the revolution. It’s easy to drown in the mythology of Bitches Brew but if you give these recordings a chance they might just change the way you listen to music.

Key Track: Bitches Brew

Further Listening: In a Silent Way and Maggot Brain

Why should I buy it? Davis probably ranks in the top five most important musicians of the twentieth century. If you like rock music this is about as good a place to start as any other.

Buy it: Kalahari or Amazon


Classic Album Friday
December 11, 2009, 4:06 pm
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Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III (1970)

It’s pretty tough choosing a single Led Zeppelin album to feature in this column. Hell, pretty much every album from the debut through to Physical Graffiti is a classic. Led Zeppelin III might however be the perfect bridge between their earlier blues influenced hard rock albums and the later albums where they explored an increasingly eclectic musical palette incorporating English folk and world music elements. The album opens with the storming ‘Immigrant Song’ and gallops along at full tilt until it catches its breath with the epic blues jam of ‘Since I’ve been Loving You’. In the days of vinyl you would flip the record over to side 2 and perhaps more than any other single moment in their career it would signal their broadening musical intent. It kicks off with the menacing acoustic chug-a-thon that is ‘Gallows Pole’, pauses for the beautiful country-tinged lament of Tangerine and That’s The Way before the appropriately titled ‘Bron-Y-Aur Stomp’ steps up the pace one final time. Closer ‘Hats off to Roy Harper’ is a slide-guitar workout with distorted vocals which shows that the blues still run deep in their veins. Perhaps then – and probably not – the greatest of Led Zeppelin’s album, but arguably the most important one in their significant career.

Key Track: Since I’ve Been Loving You

Further Listening: Praise God I’m Satisfied and Liege & Lief

Why should I buy it? If you ever thought heavy metal and hard rock was lame – and to be honest, who’d blame you – then you haven’t spent enough time in the company of Led Zeppelin. As an added bonus you might just find yourself exploring traditional blues and English folk music.

Buy it: Kalahari or Amazon

Classic Album Friday
December 5, 2009, 1:11 pm
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Primal Scream – Screamadelica (1991)

In the early nineties the indie landscape was represented by two pretty distinct movements. Stateside grunge was gaining speed and about to change music forever with Nirvana’s Nevermind. In the UK the mop-tops were infusing nu-wave and mod with dance grooves. Bands like the Happy Mondays, The Charlatans and Suede were dominating the indie charts. Appearances and earlier albums suggested that Primal Scream were comfortably embedded in that scene and whilst they had a propensity for jangly guitars and Stones-ey blues, there were no obvious clues that they had a paradigm-shifting masterpiece in them. Released during the latter part of 1991 Screamadelica was exactly that. It single-handedly redefined the sonic landscape of indie rock and its influence can still be felt almost two decades after its release. Importantly, unlike Nevermind which published a new sonic blueprint for alternative and indie rock, it borrowed musical elements from a wide spectrum of popular music and showed that indie rock could be much more than jangly guitars and torn denims. It married drug culture, deep house, techno and dub to more traditional stoned blues, acid-fried psychedelia and pop music. Producer Andrew Weatherall was instrumental in successfully coalescing the disparate elements into what remains the most exciting and convincing audio metaphor for an e-induced drug trip in recent memory. Screamadelica was to nineties drug-culture what Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band was to the sixties, and despite the fact that it never bridged the commercial divide like that epochal Beatles album it remains no less essential to the modern listener.

Key Track: Higher than the sun

Further Listening: The Psychedelic Sound of the 13th Floor Elevators, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and Tarot Sport

Why should I buy it? Quite simply breathtaking in it’s sheer scope and execution. The perfect distillation of nineties drug-culture regardless of whether you partook or not. The perfect bedfellow to Trainspotting.

Buy it: Kalahari or Amazon