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Update June 2015

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Life at 33 1/3   By Carl Meyer


Update June 27, 2015

ABBA’s bittersweet masterpiece

ABBA, “Super Trouper” (Polar)

*From the vaults of Carl Meyer, an original album review written in November 1980.*
A Christmas without ABBA is like Mickey Mouse without his gloves. But no worries, ABBA is here, and Christmas is saved. Once again the Andersson/Ulvaeus-team impresses both as arrangers and producers. The modern day magicians swing their wands, and presto! ...even the lesser tunes are transformed into something larger than life. They are in a league of their own right now.
“Super Trouper” is Christmas hymns for the disco. Anni-Frid and Agnetha’s angelic lead voices and harmony singing pour through the speakers like joyous blessings from the heavens. The towering layers of instruments create a Nordic wall of sound.
And Benny Andersson’s command of the synthesizers and keyboards is awesome: A diversity of timbres, he can do anything, flutes, funfair hurdy-gurdies, deep resounding organ chords, silvery piano notes dripping from stalactites in a cave, there’s so much going on it’s a symphonic brew, tender, melancholic with quite a nostalgic touch to it, and seasoned with glimpses of traditional folk tunes, but never forgetting the main mission, pop music that’s both easy on the ear and tailored for dance floor addicts.
The reverb gives the music an almost sacred quality. “Super Trouper” is a bittersweet masterpiece that puts ABBA among the titans of pop. Its ultimate moment is of course “The Winner Takes It All”, a song and vocal performance so beautifully sad you feel like going down on your knees. Thank you Agnetha. I love you.
Released: November 3, 1980
Produced by: Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus
(All songs written and composed by Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus)
Numbers in brackets indicate highest position on the British singles chart.
Contents: Super Trouper (1)/The Winner Takes It All (1)/On and On and On/Andante, Andante/Me and I/Happy New Year/Our Last Summer/The Piper/Lay All Your Love on Me (7)/The Way Old Friends Do (Live)
Benny Andersson – synthesizer, keyboards, Vocals
Agnetha Fältskog – vocals
Anni-Frid Lyngstad – vocals
Björn Ulvaeus – acoustic guitar, vocals
Additional Personnel:
Ola Brunkert – drums
Lars Carlsson – horn
Rutger Gunnarsson – bass, guitar
Janne Kling – flute, saxophone
Per Lindvall – drums
Janne Schaffer – guitar
Åke Sundqvist – percussion
Mike Watson – bass
Lasse Wellander – guitar
Kajtek Wojciechowski – saxophone

Update June 20, 2015

…but the sleeve is a classic

Depeche Mode, A Broken Frame (Mute)

*From the vaults of Carl Meyer, an original record review written in October 1982.*
Depeche Mode used to be Vince Clarke’s band – until he packed up and left for Yazoo. “A Broken Frame” is their first album after his departure. And they are on much the same trip as Yazoo, all synths and drum machines. And pop. And emotional postcards from the tear soaked world of Teenage Romanticism. But they don’t have a singer of Alison Moyet’s calibre to deliver the goods, so they can’t match the fiery soulfulness of Yazoo.
Depeche Mode opt for more aesthetic solutions, their arrangements are very tasteful, sometimes achieving breathtakingly beautiful results – like the melodic and oh so melancholic clarinet runs (it is a clarinet, isn’t it?) in “Satellite”. They are also more sugar-coated and less desperate. The tunes are laced with frisky little pop themes, easy on the ear. But it is not enough to hold your attention the whole album through. It seems to me that the music is a bit lackadaisical, and even worse, anonymous.
Depeche Mode have yet to find their own voice. That doesn’t stop the album from being promising as there are songs here that qualify for a good run on the hit parade (there’s three Top 20 hits on it). And let’s give them credit for that wonderful cover photo, must be record sleeve of the year. Hang it on your living room wall!
Released: September 27, 1982
Produced by: Depeche Mode and Daniel Miller
(All songs written by Martin Gore)
Contents: Leave in Silence/My Secret Garden/Monument/Nothing to Fear/See You/Satellite/The Meaning of Love/A Photograph of You/Shouldn’t Have Done That/The Sun & The Rainfall

Update June 13, 2015

The dark horse of country music

David Allan Coe, “Castles In The Sand” (CBS)

*From the vaults of Carl Meyer, an original album review written in July 1983.*
Coe really is the dark horse of country-music. Born in 1939, he grew up in orphanages and institutions, was on several occasions imprisoned (unconfirmed rumors even claim he was sentenced to death for killing an inmate). It’s hard to separate truth from myth, and Coe probably prefers it that way. Nothing wrong with the odd air of mystery. It sells records. Coe’s star is certainly rising, and not just within country-music, I would not at all be surprised if he crossed over into the mainstream.
Coe goes his own way, and he does it with a poetic assertiveness that balances between the unpalatable and the genuinely moving. “Castles In The Sand” is dedicated to Bob Dylan (!). And the title track, more a piece of story-telling in the John Prine tradition than country, is entirely devoted to Dylan. In this abject homage Dylan appears as a Christ figure, and by force of habit Coe puts himself inside the story: He identifies himself so hard with the song’s prototype that they become equals, coinciding destinies.
The weakness of the song - how well-intentioned and heartfelt it is - is in Coe’s tremendous poetic aspirations, the swelling metaphors at times bring him dangerously close to parody, and there are also uneasy vulgar and plump lines here that don’t fit the song well. But despite its weaknesses the title track works. It’s Coe at his most charmingly clumsy and self-pitying and it leads directly into his version of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” (the gospel arrangement is quite similar to how Dylan performs it live).
Coe’s homage to another one of his heroes, Hank Williams, is just as intensely confessional. But “The Ride” (which he didn’t write himself) is the better song. You find yourself in a car with a mysterious driver, hitching a ride from Montgomery to Nashville, the car radio plays old tunes and the “ghost-white pale” stranger behind the wheel keeps talking about art and honesty. The build up is extremely clever and yet so simple, and when the driver hits the punch-line as he lets the hitch-hiker off, you’re all goose pimples: “You do not have to call me Mister, Mister, the whole world calls me Hank!”
The album is quite versatile. But then again, Coe is not your average country singer. He moves effortlessly from singer-songwriter soft rock (“I Can’t Let You Be A Memory”), to the muddy swamp rock of Tony Joe White (“Cheap Thrills”), George Jones-influenced confessions (“Fool Inside Of Me” - a duet with Dianne Sherrill), Waylon Jennings’ hardboiled storytelling (“Son Of A Rebel Son”) and more.
The heartbreaking post-divorce longing-for-your-daughter-blues of “Missin ‘The Kid’ is so gripping you feel like crying. And “For Lovers Only (Part 1)” (dig that precious hesitant intro) is simply a tight and well crafted pop song.
Coe’s voice is a pleasant acquaintance, it holds a tender sensitivity (with a slightly nasal connotation) that one associates more with the American singer-songwriter tradition than with country. It is not at all the brutal bellowing his murky biography would lead one to expect.
“Castles In The Sand” is a brilliant album that deserves to sell millions.
Released: June 1983
Produced by: Billy Sherrill
Contents: Cheap Thrills/Son Of A Rebel Son/Fool Inside Of Me/Castles In The Sand/Gotta Serve Somebody/The Ride/I Can’t Let You Be A Memory/Missin’ The Kid/Don’t Be A Stranger/For Lovers Only (Part 1)

Update June 6, 2015

A crunchy great collection

The Rolling Stones, Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass) (Decca)

The American version of this collection came as early as March 28, 1966, sporting a front cover photo that was relegated to the back of the British edition, and containing 12 cuts against the British 14. Both versions included a pasted booklet with colour photos of the band. The British version has a significantly cooler sleeve and is certainly the best purchase, not least because it’s got “Paint It, Black” and “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?” on it, and thus making the album a complete journey through the group’s first four years as recording artists.
Just like the other three, The Beatles (Revolver), Bob Dylan (Blonde On Blonde) and The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds), the Stones (Aftermath) released one of the greatest albums of all time in 1966, and just like the other three they had no sequel ready for Christmas – so their respective record companies in the UK all released compilations (Dylan’s Greatest Hits arrived the week after Christmas, a somewhat strange strategy).
I remember very well how disappointed I was with The Beatles’ contribution, “A Collection Of Beatles Oldies But Goldies!”, especially after seeing this Stones package. The Beatles-album arrived in a contemptible single-sleeve with a stupid colour drawing on the front. The Stones album however, was sheer luxury, a colourful gatefold with a booklet. It also had the more enticing content as the Stones, even more than The Beatles, kept their singles off the regular albums. 12 of the 14 tracks had never been on a British LP before. The fraction on the Beatles-collection was 8 over 16.
Some more nerd facts: The American version of “Big Hits”, even with its lesser tracks, is a more accurate collection in the sense that it contains all 11 of their American hit singles (at the time of release), including “Play With Fire,” a B-side that also hit the Hot 100. The 12th track, “Good Times, Bad Times”, was a B-side that didn’t chart, but a nice bonus anyway. In other words, the American version is a complete hit-collection. Nerds do like that.
The British version admittedly has more songs, including their most recent hits (Paint It, Black and Have You Seen Your Mother…). But it skips “I Wanna Be Your Man,” the group’s second hit-single (a striking habit on most Stones-collections), and it is definitely not for lack of space as the group had only clocked up 11 hits in the UK at the time.
To complicate matters even further they also had three hit EP’s behind them – all registered on the singles charts, but none of them are represented on “Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass)”. So four of the 14 tracks weren’t “big hits” in England at all: A B-side (As Tears Go By), a US hit (Heart Of Stone) and two album tracks (Time Is On My Side and Lady Jane). I could have accepted “Time Is On My Side” if they had chosen the American single-version, but they rather lifted the familiar recording off “Rolling Stones No. 2”.
Both album tracks could have been replaced by key EP-recordings like “Poison Ivy” and “If You Need Me”. Actually, if they had collected all singles (A- and B-sides) and EP’s this could have been a marvellous double-album. That would have been my choice. But Decca didn’t ask for my opinion (they never did, strangely enough), so be it. Anyway, it still beats the Beatles-collection hands down.
Enough from the nerd in me. “Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass)” plays so well it’s almost unbearable. Indeed, I would argue spontaneously and without doing any research, this is by far the best “Greatest Hits”-album ever released in the 60s.
It captures most of the peaks from their phase as a cover band – the earliest recordings show a delightful immature savagery in their dealings with other people’s work (Come On and Not Fade Away), then they started to match the originals (It’s All Over Now and Time Is On My Side) and finally eclipsing them, claiming the songs as their own, the icing of the cake being the magnificent and spectacular “Little Red Rooster “, the most perfect three minutes of electric blues performed by a British band ever, and I just love that beautiful slide-playing of Brian Jones.
Phase 2, 1965-66, is when Jagger/Richards came into their own as writers, establishing a partnership that would become a brand almost as strong as Lennon/McCartney, and Brian Jones turned into a full time swingin’ London fashion dandy and part-time musical magician (the latter something the Stones’ 1966-67 output would benefit from enormously until the drugs took control and reduced him to a sobbing whisper).
“The Last Time” was the first Jagger/Richards-original to grace the A-side of a Stones-single, a reverberating monster-classic that kissed the sky and filled Beatles-fans like me with envy. They followed it up with sequels “Satisfaction” and “Get Off Of My Cloud”, a trio of classics that surely gave The Beatles a run for their money.
The Stones took the electric blues and blew it wide open, incorporating all their favourite contemporary sources, rhythm’n’blues, soul, Motown, creating something the world had not heard before, it was aggressive, it was virile, boosted by insanely clever, insistent guitar-riffs and choruses that made you wanna buy rubber. Competitors The Animals and The Pretty Things disappeared in the rear-view mirror.
In 1966 the metamorphosis was completed. “19th Nervous Breakdown” and its nerve-wrecking bass run, “Paint It Black”, a song about death, no less, but sounding absurdly uplifting thanks to that wonderful, little sitar-theme and the cunningly untidy time signature, and finally, the absolute fabulous attack on your senses called “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?”
The Rolling Stones were just as much ahead of the game as The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan in 1966. It was an incredibly fun year. This is where pop music took off and became a candy store for the brain. And yes, there was sex and drugs involved.
“Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass)” is a monument, a perfect summary and a crunchy great collection of songs packed in a super sleeve that kept Stones fans gloating for seven months until The Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper”. Then they finally shut up.
Released: November 4, 1966
Produced by: Andrew Loog Oldham
Contents: Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?/Paint It Black/It’s All Over Now/The Last Time/Heart of Stone/Not Fade Away/Come On/(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction/Get Off of My Cloud/As Tears Go By/19th Nervous Breakdown/Lady Jane/Time Is on My Side/Little Red Rooster
The Rolling Stones:
Mick Jagger – harmonica, lead vocals, percussion
Brian Jones – rhythm guitar, slide guitar, harmonica, percussion, appalachian dulcimer, sitar, organ, backing vocals, keyboard
Keith Richards – lead guitar, backing vocals
Charlie Watts – drums and percussion
Bill Wyman – bass guitar, keyboards, percussion, backing vocals
Additional personnel:
Jack Nitzsche – percussion, keyboards
Phil Spector – percussion
Ian Stewart – keyboards


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

ABBA’s bittersweet masterpiece

…but the sleeve is a classic

The dark horse of country music

A crunchy great collection



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