Tag Archives: #Ichallengems

Review 19: A rainbow connection?

harvest moon-2

Harvest Moon
Neil Young

Neil Young reminds me of Kermit the frog. Young is a few octaves lower and Canadian, but to me they share the same, beseeching tone.

And stuck in traffic on the M1, this fleeting similarity between the world’s favourite frog and one of the world’s favourite rock/folk musicians got carried away in my mind’s eye. Kermit was singing Neil Young, Animal was playing the harmonica, and Miss Piggy was flicking her porcine mane as the overlooked waitress in the first song, Unknown Legend. Then all the little animal muppets popped up to sing the choruses, swaying in time.

And that’s probably sacrilege to Neil Young fans. I’m expecting frog spawn through the letterbox.

Released in 1992, this was his 20th album and it is really strong. His vocals aren’t for me, sorry, but the music – piano, banjo, acoustic guitar – are excellent. I found the first song lovely and Harvest Moon was a deserving hit. Maybe it deserved more than the solid grey skies around Doncaster.

I’m on the road this weekend, so I’m keeping it short!

(What about a duet on Kermit’s great hit, Rainbow Connection? Shucks, Debbie Harry beat him to it)


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Review 18: You make loving fun


Fleetwood Mac
Nominated by Sally Dickson

Rumours is a great album, packed with hits. I’m a bit cynical,  always thinking ‘it can’t be that good’ but I really enjoyed listening to this.

Many of the songs are  well known hits in their own right  – Go Your Own Way, Dreams, The Chain, You Make Loving Fun – so it was good to hear them as an album, building up the intensity. And I really sang along, big style. It may be a bit ‘middle of the road’ (ie loads of people like it) but it’s very accomplished.

It reminds me of my FVSB (first very serious boyfriend), who liked Fleetwood Mac because his dad did. His dad was an electrical engineer in the Navy, and their house was full of fantastic (and fantastically safe) wiring. There were speakers built into the bathroom, and I remember sitting on the loo (or the ‘head’ as he called it) listening to Stevie Nicks.

So I think these songs were well embedded, waiting to be released. And they have been.

‘Sweet wonderful you, You make me happy with the things you do’

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Review 17: Waitress in a cocktail bar


The Human League
Nominated by John Bergman

The Human League were my first taste of glamour. I remember watching Don’t You Want Me aged 11, and thinking the women singers were just so cool. Fascinatingly, frighteningly cool.

That waitress in a cocktail bar knew she’d find ‘a much better place, either with or without you.’ So dismissive! So brave! Being ready to do without one of those ‘men’. But so dangerous… ‘You’d better change it back or we will both be sorry,’ (sounds a bit childish now). A brilliant psycho-drama for a pre-teen to get stuck into.

Phil Oakey was a bit ‘fanciable’ too, though I remember being unsettled by his fringe. I was a strange child.

It is deceptively simple music. It sounds sparse and simple to pick out on a keyboard. A few synths, a drum track.  But the effect is impressive. Oakey’s voice creates the drama and tells the story. Easy when you know how.

There are deserving hits on this album – Open your Heart, Love Action, Don’t you Want Me – and the other tracks are interesting too. I am the Law and Seconds stand out.

And it’s got another one of my very, very best lines, in Open you Heart. 

‘But if you can’t stand the test, you know your worst is better than their best.’

And you can catch them at the Hammersmith Apollo on 6 December! Phil still looks fanciable, and better without the fringe I reckon.

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Review 16: Monkey in the moon – this one’s made for you


Nominated by Wess Hattingh

This tasty slice of synth pop almost made me miss my change on the tube. I was in the zone, bopping away, and things just got better – all the people crowding the carriage suddenly disappeared! A wave of surprised delight went through my mind, before I realised we were at Finsbury Park and I had to follow most of them quickly onto the Piccadilly Line.

Big in Japan is the only Alphaville song I’m familiar with, their classic dancing-round-the-handbags debut from 1984. Salvation seems quite different – less catchy, less formulaic and a lot weirder, in a nice way. It has a gently hypnotizing quality, with a mix of chilled synth music and earnest vocals that remind me of Brian Wilson (the former Beach Boy who went rogue).

And the lyrics are bizarre, while making a strange musical sense.

Monkey in the Moon is the best. I can’t work it out, but ‘it’s made for you’ and there’s a rabbit involved too.

Pandora’s Lullaby: ‘And when the subway brakes to preserve some suicidal bee
I stop to breathe for a while. Maybe it was me’. Maybe it was…

Salvation made me happily oblivious to Caledonian Road, Holloway Road and Arsenal. It is therefore great!

(Like the music, the cover art  is also great but inexplicably symbolic. The cross, I get, the red motif means something (or nothing) and the greyhound – faith, loyalty? Purple fabric? It’s the pile of plates on the inside cover that  stumps me.)

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Review 15: Shameless plug for the band


Welcome Interstate Managers
Fountains of Wayne
Nominated by Jill Hopper

Welcome Interstate Managers helped me skip into work this morning, and then pick my feet up walking home tonight.

The 16 songs are packed with clever lyrics and appealing melodies. I thought they were getting progressively silly, but now realise I was listening on shuffle play… What with yesterday’s live album mix-up, am I’m losing my edge?

I really enjoyed this record and want to have the energy to say loads more than I can today. But I haven’t, I’m afraid.

So I’m going to include a big shameless direct link to the Fountains of Wayne website, where they include YouTube clips of fans singing their songs – like this acapella group doing I Want an Alien for Christmas, in a car. Watch the band videos, and check out the fan videos tag for Hey Julie and Hackensack.  Sing along, tap your feet, shake from side to side, smile!

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Review 14: Live and loving it


August and Everything After: Live at Town Hall
Counting Crows
Nominated by John Bass

Ok, I’ve realised that I listened to the live version of the Counting Crows’ debut album (released 2007) , rather than the album itself (released in 1993).

And the crowd loved it, taking over the chorus line to Omaha from front man Adam Duritz, and doing a whole lotta whooping throughout. To be honest, the songs didn’t grab me after one listen (might be a grower) but I always get a tingly feeling when its obvious the audience is having an amazing time. Singing in unison is so powerful. I won’t repeat what Public Enemy got us chanting at Reading Festival in 1992, but I really remember the experience.

As the name suggests, this live version of August and Everything  (a great title for an album that sold millions of copies) was recorded in Town Hall, New York. I had been picturing a big festival arena, with guys in cowboy boots lifting blonde-haired girlfriends onto their shoulders. Everyone had a bottle of Bud, and everyone had a great time

If you like Americana guitar rock and full-hearted singing give it a go!

(And hello to those in the USA who’ve been visiting my blogs. I don’t know if you are the same few people, or an ever-changing audience, interested in music, MS or both, but I appreciate it.)

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Review 13: Show all the love in your heart

Carole King's "Tapestry" album, photographed by Jim McCrary

Carole King
Nominated by Kim Davis

Tapestry was one of the biggest selling albums in the world on its release in 1971 and it’s still marvellous. I knew more of the songs than I realised and it was superb to listen to the full album in one sing-along go. (My musical backdrop for making lemon curd in my new pressure cooker).

Where Setting Sons was boys talking to boys, this is a woman talking to other women, or maybe just to herself.

Her rendition of Will You Still Love me Tomorrow? is a thoughtful pondering, maybe a question to a sleeping partner (or maybe, back in 1960 when she co-wrote it with Gerry Griffin, to the departing figure of a man she’d chastely kissed goodnight). The song was a hit for the The Shirelles, making them the first all-girl group to reach number 1 in the USA.

She’s wrestling with the uncertainty of relationships in I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, and the title track Tapestry, and sitting alone in her bedsit for Home Again.

And You’ve Got a Friend – well that’s for everyone. ‘I’ll come running to see you again.. It’s winter, spring, summer or …’ sniff. Carole King got me. I knew it was going to happen.

There are certain pieces of music where I might make it to the chorus without convulsing in tears, but usually it’s three bars and I’m gone. It can get embarrassing. If anyone out there really understands how music works at this semi-conscious, instinctive level, I’d love to know more.

A few examples – Father and Son (Cat Stevens original only), Glenn Campbell’s Wichata Linesman and the theme tune to the Onedin Line. (At least that’s the Adagio of Spartacus and Phyrgia by Khachaturian, rather than something by Tony Hatch). And don’t get me started on the trailer for the film version of War Horse.

But I digress.

My favourite track is Beautiful.
‘You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart
Then people gonna treat you better
You’re gonna find, yes, you will
That you’re beautiful as you feel’

That’s so right. It’s a lovely, lovely song, beautifully sung.

And accidentally capturing the zeitgeist, Beautiful is the title of the juke-box musical about King that’s just opened in Broadway. I know a slow burner when I hear one…

A footnote on the album cover. Photographer Jim McCary moved King’s cat, Telemachus, from a pillow across the room to the windowsill to create a shot that brings the viewer in. He looks a bit confused, but I think it was worth it.

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Review 12: Left me standing like a guilty schoolboy


Setting Sons
The Jam
Nominated by Andy Blake

This is lads talking to lads. There’s no ‘I’m sorry, please love me’ songs on Setting Sons, no trying to impress the girls.

The songs are tribal – I’ve read this was originally conceived as a concept album about three friends who go to fight in a war. And it is angry, and hostile, and sneering about the suburbs they want to escape.

Eton Rifles is the stand-out track – with the brilliant chorus line:
‘What a catalyst you turned out to be:
Loaded the guns, then you run off home for your tea
Left me standing like a guilty schoolboy’

But  the other tracks are interesting too – Girl on the Phone is funny (a one-night stand who remembers a lot more than he did?), Thick as Thieves is full of nostalgia (But we seemed to grow up in a flash of time, While we watched our ideals helplessly unwind), and Saturday’s Kids … live in council houses, Wear v-necked shirts and baggy trousers. A life very neatly sliced up into class divides? Pitying both the trapped commuter in Smithers-Jones and those baggy trousered kids?

I feel contractually obliged to mention the Winter of Discontent and Thatcher coming to power in 1979, when the album was released. But I’ll stop there, because I was only 8 and I’d be getting well out of my depth.

And I’m just a bit young to place this album. Boys were ‘dressers’ and ‘casuals’ in their Kappa jackets when I was a teenager.  The Mods had moved on by then – shame, I think I would have liked the sharp suits.

And I can picture those boys dancing to this, cool but bouncy, sharp elbows and fierce expressions. It’s good music.

The album cover shows three ‘boys’ brought together as St John’s Ambulance Bearers, a bronze statue cast in 1919 by Benjamin Clemens. In 2007 at least, this was the only way the statue could be seen, because it was kept in the archive of the Imperial War Museum. I haven’t had the chance to check, but wonder if it’s surfaced in this First World War centenary year.

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Review 11: A bit of sweet relief

Searching For Sugar Man (Orange)

Searching for Sugar Man
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Nominated by Jackie O’Dea

Searching for Sugar Man did what music is meant to do, it distracted me when I couldn’t sleep last night. I put it on at 2am thinking (hoping) I’d nod off by the third track, but I heard it through to the end.

Though I didn’t concentrate enough, or check track titles, I can say Sixto Rodriguez, the Sugar Man of the title, is a very good down-to-earth singer of some very good down-to-earth songs. I think I can imagine why they appealed in South Africa, when they did. They’ve got some gravitas, but also always a catchy hook, a bit of melody that makes you sing along. A bit of joy in the darkness?

I want to see the film now.

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Review 10: Royal Blood – there’s only two of them!


Royal Blood
Royal Blood
Nominated by Ben Mellor

Tenth of September,  10th review, my 43rd birthday, and what a brilliant album to celebrate with. Pounding real rock with big beats, damn good guitar riffs, and a smouldering vocal.

Genre? Garage rock, grunge, Jack White, Arctic Monkeys, Nirvana, Muse? Just really good in their own right?

‘Nothing better to do
When I’m stuck on you
And still I’m here
Trying to figure it out’

And there’s only two of them pumping it out.  Bassist and singer Ben Kerr and drummer Mike Thatcher got together last year and were one of 15 bands on the BBC Sound of 2014 playlist. This was the fastest-selling British rock debut in three years and made it to number 1. There isn’t a weak track.

What can I say? Its my birthday, I had Prosecco with my breakfast, so I rock and so do Royal Blood. Buy, download, listen!

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