Essential Elsewhere

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The Undertones: The Undertones (1979)

29 Mar 2009  |  4 min read  |  1

It's a measure of how obsessed rock music is with the present tense that in 1979 Paul Morley in the NME would proclaim, "The Undertones have created the greatest pop of this age and thus every age". That use of "thus" there says so much about the pressing immediacy of the punk era in Britain. New and urgent was what mattered. The Undertones out of Derry, Ireland were... > Read more

The Undertones: Here Comes the Summer

Charles Mingus: Thirteen Pictures, The Charles Mingus Anthology (1993)

8 Mar 2009  |  6 min read

Like Duke Ellington -- with whom he is most frequently (and fairly) compared for the vastness, depth and diversity of his recordings -- no single album could stand as emblematic of Charles Mingus, although many are certainly essential. In fact after The Wire magazine offered its primer on Mingus albums in early 2004 (14 albums under his own name, a Columbia Records compilation and a... > Read more

Charles Mingus: Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (1959)

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (1959)

6 Feb 2009  |  4 min read

Take it from the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis. For slow romantic action when he wants to make out, it's the album he plays. Steely Dan's Donald Fagen likes the trance-like atmosphere it creates, and that it's "like sexual wallpaper." And jazz-rock guitarist John Scofield says that 35 years ago it was so common you knew the people next door would have a copy.... > Read more

Miles Davis: Blue in Green

Bruce Springsteen; Nebraska (1982)

31 Jan 2009  |  2 min read  |  1

From this distance it is hard to remember just how huge Springsteen was in the late 70s and early 80s: these days disco and punk/new wave get more pages in rock history books, but Bruce Springsteen deserves a chapter on his own. In the States alone Born to Run in '75 sold in excess of seven million, it's follow-up the more bleak Darkness on the Edge of Town three years later about half that... > Read more

Bruce Springsteen: Atlantic City (Live, 1993)

Fela Anikulapo Kuti: The Black President; The Best Best of Fela

24 Dec 2008  |  3 min read  |  1

The great Fela -- who died of Aids-related illnesses in 97 -- was a superstar in Nigeria. He single-handedly created incendiary and righteously angry Afrobeat by welding together James Brown funk and the politics of resistance with a huge horn-driven band . . . and no one since has been able to match him for driving, percussive music and on-stage energy.Fela's life was as interesting as... > Read more

Fela Anikulapo Kuti: Sorrow Tears and Blood

Kraftwerk: Trans-Europe Express (1977)

5 Nov 2008  |  2 min read  |  1

In the rush to acclaim Kraftwerk as electro-pioneers, it is often overlooked how they grew out of the German avant-garde/post-hippie prog-rock scene. As Organisation and on the first two Kraftwerk albums, founders Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider (and others) engaged in long, almost free-form jams with Schneider playing flutes and bells. After their Ralf and Florian album however the two... > Read more

Kraftwerk: Showroom Dummies

Lou Reed: Berlin (1973)

1 Nov 2008  |  7 min read

Right from the beginning -- aside from a short period as a jobbing songwriter for the Pickwick label in ‘64-’65 -- Lou Reed’s lyrics had a literary quality. With the Velvet Underground his songs would take the listener to an immediate location (“standing on the corner . . .”) or conjure up characters (“she’s a femme fatale”) in the manner of... > Read more

Lou Reed: How Do You Think It Feels?

Van Morrison, It's Too Late to Stop Now (1973)

25 Oct 2008  |  4 min read  |  1

Anyone coming Johnny Rogan's thorough and sometimes exhaustive biography of Van Morrison, No Surrender, to find out why Morrison is such a curmudgeon will learn soon enough: it seems he has always been a grumpy, sullen and, when young, an occasionally violently surly character.  As a child he had lamentable social skills and was terribly uncommunicative. As a teenager,... > Read more

Van Morrison: Into the Mystic

Jackie McLean: Right Now! (1965)

16 Oct 2008  |  1 min read

The Reid Miles-designed cover of this album by altoist McLean is a Blue Note classic. The hammered-out typewriter font blown up large and the thump of the exclamation point hinted at - and the intense opener Eco confirmed - the tough music within. Altoist McLean, born in New York in 1932, studied with his neighbour Bud Powell and played with Thelonious Monk. By the time he signed to Blue... > Read more

Jackie McLean: Eco

Bob Marley: Songs of Freedom (1992)

17 Sep 2008  |  4 min read  |  1

Bob Marley was quite a man . . . nobody seems to have a bad word to say about him. Oh sure, a few wacko reactionaries got het up over the dope thing and tossed him into the Godless Heathen Corrupting Our Youth basket. But here was one spliff smoker who would run 10km before breakfast, was always keen to play a game of soccer and knew more scripture than most Anglicans. Interesting... > Read more

Bob Marley: Soul Rebel

Black Sabbath, Paranoid (1970)

11 Sep 2008  |  4 min read  |  1

There has always been an enjoyable if largely pointless debate about just who invented heavy metal: with Link Wray with The Rumble in ’58 or the Beatles with Helter Skelter a decade later? Blue Cheer for their classic album Vincebus Eruptum of ‘68? Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple? The answer is obvious, it really doesn’t matter. The fact is that heavy metal -- which a Creem... > Read more

Black Sabbath: Iron Man

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Bayou Country (1969)

1 Sep 2008  |  3 min read

Consider the landscape of rock in 1969, the year of Woodstock and flower power. The big names were Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead; Led Zeppelin had arrived with two thumping albums; there were supergroups (Blind Faith, CSN&Young) and Jimi Hendrix was channelling lightning. Radio had moved to playing album tracks, many long and sprawling, and it wasn’t uncommon for an... > Read more

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Proud Mary

Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)

20 Aug 2008  |  5 min read

While the jury will probably always be out on what was the first concept album in popular music -- a strong case has been made for Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours of 1955 -- the critical consensus about the first concept album in rock has formed around the Pretty Things’ SF Sorrow (’68) which predated the Who’s Tommy by a few months. Of course the Who had previously... > Read more

Genesis: The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging

Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville (1993)

20 Aug 2008  |  3 min read

Tribute albums are far from uncommon these days. In fact when you see there are tributes to a band that never existed (The Rutles) and The Muppet Show you could argue this one has run its course. But still they come. Tribute albums to albums are rather more rare -- although there was the all-star collision (Celine, Rod, Faith Hill) on Tapestry Revisited which even had exactly the same... > Read more

Liz Phair: Glory

Various: Sideways (2007)

10 Jun 2008  |  3 min read

From Loxene Golden Disc Award albums in the 60s through the Class of 81 and the Dunedin Double (82), and the South Auckland Proud collection of 94, the breadth and texture of Kiwi music has often been represented on compilations. And, on reflection, those mentioned also defined their period. The Sideways collection of electronica, bossa-lounge, ambient grooves, scratching and charming... > Read more

SJD: Gigawati

Jacques Brel, Infiniment (2004 compilation)

20 Apr 2008  |  4 min read

Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in ... Well, back in his hometown of Brussels, funnily enough. This is odd because Brel (1929-78) was ambivalent about Brussels. "Everyone has to come from somewhere," he would sardonically remark. And Brussels has seemed a bit iffy about him. The great singer-songwriter, who made his home in Paris, called one of his daughters... > Read more

Jacques Brel: L'amour est mort

The Tokey Tones: Butterfly, Caterpillar (2007)

22 Jan 2008  |  5 min read  |  1

It’s a common occurrence: just when popular music has got up a head of steam, some supportive critical consensus, and is charging off in a particular direction along comes something which, by going the opposite way, captures the imagination. At the height of Day-Glo acid-dropping hippiedom along came the Velvet Underground in all their monochrome gloominess singing about heroin and... > Read more

Tokey Tones: Yoghurt and Vinegar (from Butterfly)

Paul Weller, Wild Wood (1994)

10 Nov 2007  |  4 min read  |  1

By the time he came to releasing albums under his own name in the early 90s, Paul Weller had already had two separate careers: first in the Jam and then the Style Council. If the Jam had been quintessentially English and took its references from the Who, the Small Faces and Ray Davies as much as Mod culture and the rage of the punk years, the highly-political Style Council which followed... > Read more

Paul Weller: Can You Heal Us (Holy Man)

Joni Mitchell, Blue (1971)

24 Oct 2007  |  4 min read  |  1

In his 2006 book The Seventies -- excellent digressive but interlocked essays about the cultural and social movements of that volatile decade -- the London-based writer Howard Sounes namechecks singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell any number of times.As he should. Mitchell's albums helped define the Californian singer-songwriter movement which emerged at the tail end of the 60s and introduced the... > Read more

Joni Mitchell: Carey

Motian/Lovano/Frisell; Time and Time Again (2007)

19 Aug 2007  |  4 min read

Because jazz is -- as the critic Leonard Feather noted in the closing overs of the last millennium -- the classical music of the 20th century, in it you can hear the human condition reflected. Or in other words, each generation creates the jazz it requires. In the post-war period things adopted a cooler and more sophisticated mood (less dancing, more sitting around thinking, smoking and... > Read more

Motianj/Frisell/Lovano: Wednesday