Archive for the ‘The Beatles’ Category

When I became a high school student in South Wales in 1973 one of the habits I immediately acquired was to watch “Top of the Pops” on BBC One on Thursday evenings. The enormously popular show, which ran from 1964 to 2006, was the birth place of glam rock in 1971 when Marc Bolan of T. Rex appeared in sequins and with glitter under his eyes. Although I missed the T. Rex show by a couple years, I did see many of the sexual and gender innuendos and ambiguities, and theatrics, of the early glam acts while sitting crammed into a tiny tv room with my school mates. Glam quickly spread beyond the UK , influencing acts on this side of the pond, including Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Susi Quattro, until morphing into all sorts of other genres. More later.

In the meantime, get your eyeliner on and ready yourself for my Top Five Glam Rock Picks.

And a hat tip to Jessica for suggesting the topic.

Next week: Top Five Girl Bands

1. T. Rex-Hot Love

This is the song (and the actual performance) that started it all. Tryannosaurus Rex had been a folk act until, under Marc Bolan’s influence, it went electric and changed it’s name. Legend has it that Chelita Secunda, the wife of Marc’s manager, applied the most influential two dabs of glitter ever, creating the genre which was uncharitably described by John Lennon as “just fucking rock and roll with lipstick”.

2. David Bowie-Starman

If T-Rex was ignition, David Bowie was liftoff. “Starman” is on “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” a 1972 concept album featuring a persona created for the occasion. Although concept albums were hardly new-“Sergeant Peppers” was released in 1967-Bowie actually became the character portrayed in the record. Heady stuff. Brilliantly produced and executed, this album put glam on the map.

3. Roxy Music-Virginia Plain

Roxy Music (even the name sounds glamorous) was formed in 1971 by Bryan Ferry and Graham Simpson. Simpson became ill shortly after their first album was released in 1972, leaving the band’s core members as Ferry on vocals and keyboards, Phil Manzanera on guitars and Paul Thompson on drums. Hugely influential (think The Cars, Duran Duran, Kate Bush, Annie Lennox and so forth) Roxy Music remains for me the coolest of the cool and Bryan Ferry the leader of that particular pack.

4. Lou Reed-Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Quitting the Velvet Underground in 1970, Lou Reed took a job at his father’s accounting firm as a typist. A year later however he recorded his first solo album in London, which did absolutely nothing commercially and was furthermore overlooked by critics. Lou hit gold however with the Bowie and Mick Ronson (he is the guitar player in the gold suit in the “Starman” clip) produced “Transformer”. “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” is an ode to, and something of a musical compendium of, Andy Warhol’s Factory. That it was not censored for radio play is more a testament to clever writing than content and it really did serve to introduce Lou to the mainstream. If ever Lou was mainstream.

5. Iggy Pop-Sixteen

Iggy Pop is perhaps more of a product of glam rock than anything else and was another musician who worked very closely with David Bowie. Iggy met Bowie in 1971 in New York City, when he was already established in The Stooges (a member of which at one time was Scott Thurston, who plays guitar and piano in The Heartbreakers). His critical and commercial solo success was with Bowie at the producer’s helm. This track is off “Lust for Life” which followed the hugely successful “The Idiot”, also Bowie produced. It is too be noted that Iggy still refuses to wear a shirt, but has reportedly given up writhing in broken glass.

Listening to an entire album, eight or ten songs in a row from beginning to end and getting up in the middle to flip it over, is almost as anachronistic as the mix tape. If you haven’t done it in awhile, I highly recommend it, if only on CD (skipping the flipping part). In addition to hearing things in the order they were intended to be heard, it will give you a sense of accomplishment and make you feel good about yourself. Guaranteed. The first track on the first side should be an introduction of sorts and should set the stage for what is to come. Here are my Top Five.

1. Rocks Off, Exile on Main Street, The Rolling Stones

Recorded in 1971 in the basement of Nêlcotte, Keith Richards’ villa in the south of France, “Rocks Off” immediately lets you know that you have not embarked upon child’s play and that this is serious business. Enter at your own risk. Ragged and rough, it comes complete with a psychedelic bridge, and provides a wholly decadent, sleazy and glorious opening to one of my all time favorite albums. The Robert Frank video here is an added bonus.

2. Come Together, Abbey Road, The Beatles

“Abbey Road” was the last Beatles’ album, although “Let it Be” was the last one released. Books have been written on the infighting taking place in the band and the reasons for it when this album was recorded in 1969. How fitting that the opening track (the genesis of which was written by Lennon for Timothy Leary’s gubernatorial campaign in California) was about coming together when the band was falling apart. Great song to open the The Beatles’ closing triumph.

3. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Crosby Stills and Nash, Crosby Stills and Nash

Double winner here as this is the also the first cut on the first side of the first album by Crosby Stills and Nash. What a beginning. Makes you want to pick up an acoustic guitar and play along. Makes you want to learn to play if you don’t already. The song structure is certainly not your parents’ rock and roll, let alone that it is over 7 minutes long. What makes this a splendid introduction to a fine album is that it alerts to you to the the classically drawn harmonies which are to come and then very much became this band’s signature.

4. London Calling, London Calling, The Clash

“London Calling”, the song and the album, are musically literate punk manifestos. The song is one big hook, big, brash, and bold, with a reggae bass line rhythm welded to Joe Strummer’s frantic guitar. Damn I miss this band.

5. Whole Lotta Love, Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin

There is this moment in “It Might Get Loud”, a documentary about Jimmy Page, Edge and Jack White, when the three have come together in what appears to be a warehouse to make music. Jimmy is playing the opening riff to “Whole Lotta Love” with Edge and Jack watching and listening. The looks of the two of them sitting at the foot of the master while listening to him playing one of rock’s all time great riffs are pure schoolboy awe. Worth the price of admission if you haven’t seen the film. A fine opening to what is my most listened to Led Zeppelin album.