Essential Elsewhere

Subscribe to my newsletter for weekly updates.

Little Feat: Dixie Chicken (1973)

24 Jan 2010  |  3 min read  |  2

The critics liked Little Feat -- and Dixie Chicken -- a whole lot better than the public. Today any number of greybeards will tell you how they were deeply into the band but (as with those who were always into the Velvet Underground) the facts speak for themselves. Only 30,000 bothered to go to a shop and buy Dixie Chicken when it was released. It was the band's third commercial failure... > Read more

Little Feat: Roll Um Easy

Ravi Shankar, Improvisations (1962)

3 Jan 2010  |  3 min read

George Harrison quite correctly referred to the sitar master Pandit Ravi Shankar as "the godfather of world music" -- and Shankar was creating and giving his blessing to cross-cultural fusions and experiments long before the phrase "world music" was even thought of. There are of course many dozens of Shankar albums in the world -- from straight-ahead classical ragas to... > Read more

Ravi Shankar: Fire Night (with Bud Shank)

Dave Dobbyn: Twist (1994)

30 Dec 2009  |  3 min read  |  2

With the Australian success of the Footrot Flats film in the early Nineties, it made sense for Dave Dobbyn to relocate across the Tasman and ride the wave of popularity of the songs he wrote for it. And in that great tradition of indifference Australians have shown New Zealand musicians -- more so then than today -- Dobbyn’s career languished. But his music didn’t. In... > Read more

Dave Dobbyn: Betrayal

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica (1969)

23 Nov 2009  |  4 min read

When I first heard Trout Mask Replica some time in early '70 I fled. It was all very well being told that Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) sounded like Howlin' Wolf, but that would be like describing happy, mop-top Beatlemania to someone then playing them I Am The Walrus. Or showing them lots of pictures of eyed-shadowed Ziggy Stardust and getting all excited about glam-rock -- then playing... > Read more

Philip Glass: Koyaanisqatsi (1983)

7 Nov 2009  |  3 min read

There are few things more depressing than observing a revolution become a style (or the Beatles’ Revolution become a Nike ad). Or to witness innovation morph into cliché. When director Godfrey Reggio’s innovative film Koyaanisqatsi appeared in the early Eighties it had an immediate impact on popular music and film culture. Ostensibly a narration-free look at the impact of... > Read more

Philip Glass: Resource

Arthur Alexander: The Ultimate Arthur Alexander (1993 compilation)

6 Sep 2009  |  3 min read

You only need look at a partial list of those who covered the songs of Arthur Alexander (1940-1993) to get a measure of the man's gifts: the young Beatles (John Lennon a big fan who sang Soldier of Love and Anna); the Rolling Stones and the late Willy De Ville (You Better Move On); Ray Columbus (Where Have You Been retitled as Til We Kissed); Ry Cooder (Go Home Girl); just about every... > Read more

Arthur Alexander: Every Day I Have to Cry Some (1993 version)

The Beatles: Rubber Soul (1965)

31 Aug 2009  |  6 min read  |  3

While there are any number of Beatle albums which are essential, there is a case to be made that Rubber Soul -- which marked their transition from an increasingly banal and almost irrelevant pop band into a group which became adult, confident and inventive -- is currently the most ignored in their catalogue. But before making the case for Rubber Soul it is instructive to look at the... > Read more

The Beatles: The Word

Various: Cuba, I Am Time (1999)

22 Jun 2009  |  4 min read

When any art form has success, especially if it is unexpected, you can expect the ripples for a long time afterwards . . . and like ripples when a stone is thrown in a flat pond, they are of diminishing impact. So when Gladiator had phenomenal success you didn’t have to wait long for a slew of increasingly bad sword’n’sandal epics. And when the Buena Vista Social... > Read more

Clave y Guaguanco: La Voz del Congo

Mike Nock/Frank Gibson: Open Door (1987)

6 May 2009  |  2 min read  |  1

When expat pianist/composer Mike Nock and Auckland-based drummer Frank Gibson got together in '87 to record these duets both men were at interesting points in their respective but separate careers, but neither had played together much. Their sole recording together released prior to these sessions -- they had played on some Radio New Zealand programmes together with bassist Andy Brown --... > Read more

Mick Nock/Frank Gibson: Phaedra's Lullaby

Radiohead: The Bends (1995)

3 May 2009  |  4 min read  |  2

There is an easy and convincing case to be made for Radiohead's more obvious OK Computer of '97 -- or the even more edgy Kid A of 2000 -- as an Essential Elsewhere album. But The Bends was their turning point. This was the album which took them from the pop culture hit Creep (which appeared in the teen comedy Clueless where the main character's favourite music was by "the... > Read more

Radiohead: Sulk

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Electric Ladyland (1968)

12 Apr 2009  |  4 min read  |  2

There's a very good case to be made that The Jimi Hendrix Experience album of 1967 was the most accomplished and innovative debut of the rock era. (Indeed I hope I made the case for Are You Experienced at Elsewhere with my free-ranging, autobiographical essay Jimi Hendrix: In My Life). This was an album which changed the boundaries of what was possible on guitar -- and by extension in rock... > Read more

Rainy Day Dream Away

The MC5: The Big Bang! The Best of the MC5 (2000 compilation)

5 Apr 2009  |  3 min read  |  1

Writing against the tenor of these times, let it be said that sometimes there's no particular advantage in being first. Take Detroit's MC5. Essentially they made snotty, loud, politicised rock'n'roll. Like the Clash? Sort of - except of their era, which was, unfortunately for them, the confusing period at the start of which Magical Mystery Tour coincided with the Velvet Underground,... > Read more

The MC5: Teenage Lust

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

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

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