Welcome to the final Five Favourites of 2021. It has been an absolute blast. See below my closing selections for the year:
Diana Ross – Eaten Alive (1985)
In addition to being an excellent album, Eaten Alive sports a rather unbelievable cover. Diana, afro sprawling, clutching her perls which are also in the mouth of stuffed tiger! At least I hope the tiger is stuffed or this might rank as one of the world’s most dangerous photo shoots. There’s something quite bizarre and wonderful about this cover.
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (1971)
… the front cover depicting a black woman buried up to her neck screaming in agony and back cover showing the same woman’s head, now become a skull. Vinyl District
Model Barbara Cheeseborough (real name) is pictured on the cover of this celebrated album, buried up to her neck in dirt and screaming. What more could you want from a cover? I am not sure whether this constitutes good cover art but it is quite striking in a way. The skull adds a delicious layer of existential distaste into the mix.
Rick James – Come Get It! (1978)
There is something about Rick James covers which is surreal to me. Frequently in knee high faux leather booties, Rick seems to tread the line of camp and glam rock/funk. He seems to use this to dispel any suggestion of homosexuality by pointing directly at a young lady who seems very uncomfortable on the floor, possibly in as much agony as Ms Cheeseborough. I hope she wasn’t too cold.
Prince – Prince (1979)
The simplicity of this cover is quite striking to me. Prince, young and moustashed, presumably nude as he was in the cover of Lovesexy, with a smattering of the colour purple, looking smouldering. What more does one need in an album cover? This is so simple but so effective – here is the artist before you, no embellishments, just Prince. There is an honesty here which indeed flows through the album, in which Prince plays every instrument (around 26 from memory) with virtuosity.
Grace Jones – Warm Leatherette (1980)
Grace Jones highly underrated by me
Cannon, formerly Saint, Nicholas Jenkins
Finally, Grace Jones’ excellent cover for Warm Leatherette. My vinyl has the blue cover. This was an excellent cover designed by Jean Paul Goude. This was the first of the ‘new Grace’ phase after three disco albums produced by disco legend Tom Moulton. This was the new look and the new sound, recorded at Compass Point studios with Sly and Robbie from Black Uhuru. A piece of history here, folks.
Warm Leatherette was the first Jones album with cover art designed by her then-boyfriend, Jean-Paul Goude, which presented the singer’s androgynous look for the first time. It featured a black and white photograph of Jones pregnant, with her signature flattop haircut, sitting with her arms crossed. Chris Blackwell praised it as “a very powerful image”. Wikipedia
Well this album has rather changed my life. I have been an admirer of Talking Heads for some time. Their albums Speaking in Tongues and Remain in Light were the soundtrack to my erasmus year in Rome. I can never listen to them and not think of the B line from Termini to San Paolo, where I went to university. However, their debut album 77 was a total revelation. Ahead of their time in an understatement. What David Byrne (lead vocals, guitar), Chris Frantz (drums), Tina Weymouth (bass), and Jerry Harrison (keyboards, guitar) and created is quite beyond this reviewer’s ambit of description. One can but try to explain this gem of an album.
Alongside its ingenuity, Talking Heads 77 also exists as a mere glimmer of potential, a fascinating prelude to a few of the most visionary albums ever recorded. Pitchfork
From the first notes of the first song this album transports you into the bizarre mind of David Byrne, who is still making musical history to this day. Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town opens and descends into an a-typical Talking Heads Experience. Steel pans come out of nowhere. This track talks about the ardour of finding love in a high paced commercial environment in the stock broking world. It speaks to me for a number of reasons.
New Feeling is exactly that. There is excitement in the music which pulls you around, the music itself pulls back at points as though to express Byrne’s self doubt. Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison work together beautifully in parts of this track. Byrne’s vocals are almost like a broken accordion, which does not sound appealing but works very well in this context.
I wish I could meet, every one
I’ve ever met before
Meet them all over again
Bring them up to my room
Meet them all over again
Everyone’s up in my room
This is a new sound which is screaming out to be heard.
Tentative Decisions provides relief from the previous song. The arrangement is simple, almost military in parts. It speaks of the perils of taking a firm stance and then questioning the position one has taken. The breaks from the snare drums are quite ethereal, like one is floating through air. The piano at the end was quite unexpected.
Happy Day is not quite Perfect Day by Lou Reed (ho ho) but is still quite beautiful. 37 seconds in is a particular treat. The riffing is gorgeous while the vocals can be jarring at times. Who Is It? is a brief intermission track.
No Compassion has to be my highlight of the album.
In a world
Where people have problems
In this world
Where decisions are a way of life
Other people’s problems
They overwhelm my mind
They say compassion is a virtue
But I don’t have the time
If ever there was a song to describe my current exact mood this is the one. The riff is excellent, the exasperation is clear as day. The words are delivered in a poignant way “why are you in love with your problems, I think you’ve taken it a little too far. It’s not cool to have so many problems” – genius. I wonder who hurt David Byrne to the point of producing this track.
The Book I Read is another brilliant track. It’s about falling in love with an author. Great pace, great energy, the tale of an ambitious young New Yorker. The piano throughout is a triumph. The drums at the end are transcendent.
Don’t Worry About the Government is a sarcastic upbeat song about an optimistic person coming to New York and all the things they hope to do which they will not be able to do because of the government. It is both optimistic and pessimistic, without saying anything negative. The whole song has, to me, the spectre of government looming in the background threatening to stop him at every stage.
First Week / Last Week has an excellent lyric – “every appointment has been moved to last week”. Would that I could move my meetings to the past! I have an average of 25 meetings per week so can fully empathise. This song is quite harrowing, speaking of the dangers of overworking, which seems to be a theme in this album.
Now the song you have all been waiting for… Psycho Killer, que-ce que c’est? This song has historic links to killings in New York, though the band insist there was no such link. The song is a telling monologue of the inner thoughts of a serial killer.
The song was composed near the beginning of the band’s career and prototype versions were performed onstage as early as December 1975. When it was finally completed and released as a single in December 1977, “Psycho Killer” became instantly associated in popular culture with the contemporaneous Son of Sam serial killings. Although the band always insisted that the song had no inspiration from the notorious events, the single’s release date was “eerily timely” and marked by a “macabre synchronicity”. Wikipedia
Finally, Pulled Up. This is also a highlight for me. A high point in the album. The excited New Yorker has come full circle and achieved what he dreamed of. This is indeed what David Byrne went onto achieve, being a leading authority on music, theatre and cinematography. What a terrific success and fulfilling album this is. Listen to the guitars descending after “you pulled me up”. Just great.
Overall I have three main impressions: this is an album about new punks on the block looking to make a name for themselves. This album is written to encompass the fraught perils of being new on the scene and emerging as a band of note. IT is filled with possibilities and successes waiting to happen, a hopelessly hopeful album.
Welcome to another edition of Five Favourites where I share some excellent album covers which have brought me some measure of joy over the last few weeks. See below your fixe for November.
Fleetwood Mac – English Rose (1969)
An absolutely extraordinary cover. Of course this drag esque figure of a woman is the antithesis of an English Rose and is more reminiscent of one of Dr Evil’s goons in the first Austin Powers movie (“That’s a man, baby!”). But still, you have to admire the confidence Fleetwood Mac must have had to publish this in 1969.
Queen – News of the World (1977)
On the subject of frightening covers, see above this terrifying cover of a wonderful Queen album. The idea of a giant robot carrying the members of Queen, in full regalia, is just excellent. In fact, it is so scary that Family Guy included it in their episode Killer Queen. Brian used it to torture Stewie, who was deathly afraid of the cover!
Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band – Trout Mask Replica (1969)
By this point I suppose you believe this month’s covers are All Hallows Eve based, and subconsciously I may have chosen these to reflect the horror of my present mood. However I find that I write best when stimulated, by all extremes of emotion. Trout Master Replica is called at once (by proper Music Men (TM) who can appreciate such works) a masterpiece and a cursed album. I have not yet understood the attraction to this strange band but am always willing to be proven wrong. What a very strange album this is, but absolutely worth seeing.
King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
I suppose this is quite similar to the first cover in some ways. They were contemporaneous. This is supposedly one of the best albums ever made but I don’t see it. In fact I’m minded to think the opposite but this is a matter of my current taste. I need to listen with open ears and make an objective decision – but when does one have the time to open their minds? Anyway, this is quote something, a shocking and nauseating meld of colours and emotions which leaves one open mouthed, shall we say?
Grace Jones – Slave to the Rhythm (1985)
I have hinted at this album cover in the inaugural Five Favourites in March but not written about it directly. Of course those of you in the know will remember this won AOTY in 2019, and I was so overwhelmed that I could not talk about it. The cover is something of a work of art for me. I read in Grace’s memoirs, ‘I’ll Never Write My Memoirs’, that Jean Paul Goude designed this cover to mimic the face Grace made at the moment she gave birth to their son Paulo Goude. It’s quite extraordinary and equally frightening. I have a framed sketch of this on my wall. Just sensational.
Keen readers of this weblog may well have noted that October was conspicuously lacking in any Album Of The Month (“AOTM”) post. Indeed, the more anxious amongst you may well have begun to worry that an AOTM post for October would never materialise. Fear not, however, for I am happy to present what I believe to be the world’s first “October Album Of The Month But Neither Cedric Nor I Had The Time To Do One That Month So It’s Actually Published In November” post (“OAOTMBNCNIHTDOTMSIAPIN”). A catchy title I am sure you will agree.
It must be said my belated choice for this august blog category is a somewhat unusual one, but nevertheless I believe it to be deserving of the accolade. Released by EMI at the turn of the century as part of their “Great Recordings of the Century” series, my album of the month is strictly speaking a compilation of two earlier recordings by Maurizio Pollini. The first being a recording of Chopin’s piano concerto No. 1 in E minor from April 1960 and the second a recording of a recital of solo piano music by Chopin from 1968.
Pollini began his recording career as an EMI artist before heading over to Deutsche Gramophone. Although recorded very early in his career, these performances are particularly fine, indeed some have argued that a few of his later efforts at DG have been a little “cold and mannered” in comparison. The performances here are far from lacking in warmth and lyricism, characteristics that are particularly on display in the Concerto’s Romanze second movement and the nocturnes. At the same time, Pollini’s playing on this album displays a clarity of expression that belies his then youthful inexperience.
For the piano concerto Pollini is very ably accompanied by Paul Kletzki and the Philharmonia, albeit given the dominance of the piano in this work, we should be scarcely surprised that Pollini takes centre stage. Written while Chopin was still living in Poland, this is not a piece I know well, although, I must say, I did enjoy the Romanze movement very much.
The highlights of the album for me, however, are definitely Pollini’s rendition of Chopin’s D-flat major nocturne and the Ballade in G minor. Pollini handles the nocturne with its dreamlike excursions so deftly, while his playing in the Ballade brings rigour to a piece that at times feels hardly able to contain its (for the time) unparalleled ferocity. The album ends with the Polonaise in A-flat major, a fittingly dramatic and uplifting departure to a truly captivating album.
Welcome to the October edition of Five Favourites. See below five album covers which have marked me this month, for one reason or another.
Superimposition – Eddie Palmieri (1970)
This is not only an excellent album but also has the most wonderful cover art. The picture itself is of course superimposed on Mr Palmieri’s face and shoulders, which is most splendid. The superimposed image looks like a drug trip dream, it bursts with colour to contrast with the black and white of the artist’s visage. I am as impressed with the art as I am with the music.
Metamatic – John Foxx (1980)
Reminiscent visually and musically of Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle, this is a must mention cover. Metamechanics (French méta-mécanique), in relation to art history, describes the kinetic sculpture machines of Jean Tinguely, but apart from this I could not find any dictionary meaning for the title word. The cover is very cool indeed, Mr Foxx, stood smartly with shiny shoes, touching a square of painfully bright light – just excellent. How unsual!
Pink Floyd – A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
Another excellent album with a wonderful cover. I see I mentioned Floyd in the last Five Favourites as well. I love the endless rows of colourful beds. I imagine the image was computer generated but a part of me wants to think about Sid and Roger dragging all of these up and down the beach. Of course they were both departed from the band by then but you’ll humour a dying man.
Gary Numan – Telekon Live (2008)
It is a wonder to me that Telekon was released in 1980 and the live album was recorded 28 years later. Perhaps Mr Numan ran out of money. In any case this album cover is identical to the studio version with the addition of the word ‘live’ – which is very frugal and economic, which is a tendency I appreciate in a person. Well done Mr Numan!
Grace Jones – Portfolio (1977)
A reference to Jones’ very successful modelling career, Portfolio is an excellent cover art. Almost baring her teeth at us, a flawless young Grace stares out at us in a striking pose, about to unleash her disco stylings, joined with legendary producer Tom Moulton, on the world. They would go on to make three albums together, which formed the initial cannon of her disco works before she moved on to higher things.
There was a sly brilliance to Jones grafting her persona onto the glossy sounds of disco as it prepared to finalize its transition from the underground to the mainstream. Portfolio encapsulates Jones’ keen eye, and ear, for detail and the ability to usurp trends to her own clever ends. Albumism
While watching the excellent documentary series Explained on Netflix, I came across an episode about hurricanes. Within this there was a description of how climate change was affecting coastal communities in Puerto Rico and how their heritage was being lost to climate change. Among the losses feared in the near future was the home ground for Bomba music. This music is both a traditional Puerto Rican drum consisting of a barrel with a goatskin head. and a genre of Puerto Rican dance accompanied by drums and other percussion also : a song sung by a soloist and chorus to accompany a bomba drum. Its origins are rooted in the island’s history of African slavery but today has evolved into a community expression of Puerto Rican culture and is inextricably linked with protest culture in the modern world.
A1 Coje Pa’ La Cola
A2 Chinito Boogaloo
A3 Sorongo (Ritmo Sorongo)
A5 Boogaloo Pa Los Pollos
B1 Sacame De Aqui Written-By – Luis Delgado*
B2 Mini Falda
B3 Que Te Lleven Las Olas
B4 Tiempo De Amor
B5 El Prestamista
B6 Que Se Pare La Bola
Sorongo, the title track is so exciting. The lyrics are simple and reflect a common question – Dimme Sorongo dimme Sorongo, que es lo que el blanco tiene de negro? Which translates as tell me Sorongo, what is white about Black men? The style of drumming as well as the infectious piano lends itself beautifully to bomba dancing, which can be viewed in the video below. It is said that you can feel Bomba music in your soul.
The second song I wish to highlight is Sacame de Aquí which means get me out of here. This is perhaps my favourite song on the album. It is slow and has some of the most touching lyrics I have heard. I shared it with my ex who is fluent in Spanish, as well as three other languages (at least) who was equally moved by it. I listened to this most recently on a train fleeing from Bristol, back to Birmingham, having been chased away by the most wicked cold. The song was highly apposite. The pain felt by Rafael Cortijo is so plain and jarring to me. This track went straight through me and remains as affecting as on my first listen. My Spanish is still good enough to be able to translate the lyrics in my head:
Hay veces en la vida
Que es impossible seguir juntos
Hay cosas en la vida
Que no tienen solucion
Viviendo de la nada
Que nada, nada, nada sacará
Overall this is one of the key albums of the Bomba genre, and a seminal one at that. Although Bomba music has been around for 400 years, it has only been recorded recently. This 1968 album is an excellent place to start and can be found on Spotify. It has invigorated and moved me in many ways over the last few weeks. I recommend it highly.