I’ve just finished Nick Hornby’s new novel “Just Like You”. It’s brilliant. I love all his novels. This one addresses issues of racism, British class structure, ageism, the Metropolitan elite and BREXIT. That looks serious, which it is, but it’s a hugely easy and entertaining read with lots of dialogue, lots of humour, some sympathetic leading characters, a plot that’s easy to follow and a love story. I can’t wait to forget the plot so I can read it again.
As I said, I love all of Nick Hornby’s novels and “High Fidelity” is probably my favourite. One of many brilliant moments in the book is when Rob, the main character, is interviewed by someone from “one of those free magazines full of advertisements that people shove through your door and you shove into the rubbish bin”. They start talking and then she asks him another question. “All my life I have been waiting for this moment and when it comes, I can hardly believe it. ‘What are your five favourite records of all time?’” The next few pages are really funny as he can’t think of any songs, tells her the first five songs that come into his mind, changes his mind three times, goes home and discussed his choices with his girlfriend and subsequently phoned up the reporter to give her five completely different songs.
I have listened to a lot of episodes of “Desert Island Discs” over the past few years. I like it, mainly because a one-to-one, in depth interview, is always fascinating and I think that both Kirsty Young and Lauren Laverne are sympathetic listeners without shying away from asking probing questions. It’s also interesting to hear the musical choices of people but I’m not sure the concept of the programme is rigorous enough.
I think that there are four different questions that people answer when they go on “Desert Island Discs” and they mix them up. Here they are.
1) What are your eight favourite songs?
2) What are the eight songs you have played the most?
3) Which eight songs would you like to listen to if you were stranded on a desert island?
4) Which eight songs remind you of your loved ones or significant moments in your life?
I’m sure people think they are answering Question 3 but I’m not sure that’s what happens. There’s also a difference between a song and an album. I’m going to discuss the above questions in the context of albums.
The eight albums I have played the most are amongst the first albums I ever owned. “Help!”, “Rubber Soul”, “Revolver”, “Sgt. Pepper”, “Astral Weeks”, “Starsailor”, “On The Threshold Of A Dream” and “In Search Of The Lost Chord”. These are not my eight favourite albums. They are also, not the albums I would take to my paradise island because I know them so well. I know every note and every word of every song. They are, literally, a part of me. Ask me nicely and I’ll sing you any song from these albums. Word perfect, if not note perfect.
The albums I would take to a desert island would be ones that I know, but not too well. I would want to be entertained by music when resting from building a shelter, hunting for food and starting a fire. (None of which I would be able to even start, let alone complete.) I think my choices would be from albums I have first heard this year. Probably “Monovision” by Ray Lamontagne, “And Nothing Hurt” by Spritualised, “Rough And Rowdy Ways” by Bob Dylan, “Old Flowers” by Courtney Marie Andrews, “The Unravelling” by Drive By Truckers, “Reunions” by Jason Isbell, “Saint Cloud” by Waxahatchee and “Forever Just Beyond” by Clem Snide. I’ve played these albums. I like them but I haven’t played them out by which I mean they all have so much more to give and repeated listens would be entertaining.
As far as which albums have an emotional connection, I guess that’s what a lot of these posts are about. “Shooting At The Moon” is a good but not great album; it means a lot to me because of the confirmation from some “heads” that I was “straight”.
But what are my favourite eight albums? The best albums ever? I did write about this in one of my early posts and linked to a list I made in 2016 but that list was made by answering a mixture of all four questions.
So, here is my list of the best eight albums ever. It will change in a few hours and a few days and in a month’s time will be completely different. I’m going to use the criterion that the best eight albums of all time cannot have any weak tracks on it. So, for example, “Highway 61 Revisited” is ruled out because of “From A Buick Six”; “Astral Weeks” is ruled out because of “Beside You” and “Starsailor” is ruled out because of “I Woke Up”. This list is in chronological order.
1) “Revolver” by The Beatles (1966)
2) “Pour Down Like Silver” by Richard And Linda Thompson. (1975)
3) Common One” by Van Morrison (1980)
4) “Lone Star State Of Mind” by Nanci Griffith (1987)
5) “Spirit Of Eden” by Talk Talk (1988)
6) “Crazy On The Weekend” by Sunhouse (1998)
7) “The Sunset Tree” by The Mountain Goats. (2005)
8) “A Deeper Understanding” by The War On Drugs (2017)
Already, I’m not sure that’s definitive but I’ve tried to list albums from different decades and a variety of genres. What would be brilliant would be for anyone reading this to add your own lists in the “Comments”.
In the February 2016 issue of “UNCUT”, a list of the 200 greatest albums of all time was published. The list was compiled by asking fifty nine writers who contribute to UNCUT to name their favourite albums. Eight of the top ten albums were released between August 1965 and November 1968. The Top Ten was 1) “Pet Sounds”, 2) “Revolver”, 3) “Astral Weeks” 4) “The Velvet Underground And Nico”, 5) “The Beatles”, 6) “Forever Changes”, 7) “Blonde On Blonde”, 8) “The Queen Is Dead”, 9) “Highway 61 Revisited”, 10) “Marquee Moon”.
What intrigued Peter and I on Tuesday when we were looking at this list is that someone called Robert Sekula named “Volume 3: A Child’s Guide To Good And Evil” by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band as the best album ever. For an album that neither Peter nor I had ever heard of, this was remarkable. The best album ever? Better than any of those albums mentioned above? Better than “Crazy On The Weekend”? And I’ve never heard of it, let alone listened to it. The last two days have put that right though. There were two avenues ripe for exploration. Who is Robert Sekula and who were The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band?
Robert Sekula is a sub editor at UNCUT but also at “The Lady”. He was in a band called 14 Iced Bears who were an “indie-pop” band from Brighton, formed in 1985. I’ve just played their top Spotify track called “Come Get Me” which seems okay and heavily influenced by The Smiths and The Las. It’s not really anything like The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band though.
More interesting than Robert Sekula is the story of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. There’s a really interesting half hour YouTube video all about the band which I shall try to summarise.
Bob Markley was the adopted son of a very wealthy oil tycoon. He grew up in Oklahoma in the 1930s and having hosted a local music TV show he travelled to Los Angeles in 1960 to attempt to become famous. He got a contract with Warner Brothers and released a few unsuccessful singles. He may or may not have minor roles in an episode of “77 Sunset Strip” and a film called “Where The Boys Are”. In 1965, The Yardbirds were on tour in the USA. They had booked some appearances on TV but they had not completed the proper paperwork to obtain visas. By this time, Bob Markley was “a washed up wannabe Hollywood Star who was living a rich life due to his family’s money but was far from successful.” Hearing of The Yardbirds’ predicament, he offered to host a private party in his mansion and invited The Yardbirds to play. The event was very successful with a whole range of local celebrities attending, including a local group called The Laughing Wind comprising Shaun Harris, Danny Harris and Michael Lloyd. Bob Markley offered to manage and finance the band whilst they would write the group’s music. This sounded fine to the others but the catch was that Bob Markley also wanted to appear on stage with them. Thus The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band was formed.
They went on to release six albums. Confusingly, the first one was called “Volume One” and the second was called “Part One”. Thus, the third album was called “Vol 2 (Breaking Through)” and the fourth album was called “Volume 3: A Child’s Guide To Good And Evil”. After their third album, Michael Lloyd and Danny Harris left and were replaced by Ron Morgan and, for this album only, Hal Blaine who was a member of The Wrecking Crew, playing on a million great Sixties pop singles. Michael Lloyd went on to become an extremely successful record producer. According to IMDB he has “provided scoring, music supervision, song writing, song placement and or music producing for well over 100 motion pictures, 16 TV movies, 13 television specials & 35 television series”. He has received over one hundred gold and platinum records for his music production.
“Volume 3: A Child’s Guide To Good And Evil” contains some outstanding instrumentation by Shaun Harris, Ron Morgan and Hal Blaine and some seriously weird, if not disturbing, lyrics, written and sung by Bob Markley. The worrying issue concerning Bob Markley’s lyrics centre on whether or not they display misogyny or, even worse, a predilection for under age girls. One of the best songs on the album, “Watch Yourself”, contains the lyrics “She’s the meanest girl in town. She will pick you up and put you down. I’m telling you for your own good. Stay away like you know you should.” Not necessarily terrible in themselves but read on. Maybe the title of the album (“Volume 3: A Child’s Guide To Good And Evil”) is a bit of a giveaway.
Here are the lyrics to “Our Drummer Always Plays In The Nude”. “I like very comfortable girls who are straight, but not quite. Who are ready for new adventures, ready for the altogether unexpected. I’m kind but not too gentle. I’m gentle but not too nice. When you find the right girl, she’ll be rare and easily frightened. Use magic and secret potions. Take her to some far-off island” Musically, it’s great. Lyrically, it’s suspect.
Allegedly, none of the members of the band took drugs. It sounds hard to believe. Here are the lyrics to “A Child Of A Few Hours Is Burning To Death”. “Her eyes are full of smoke, her mouth is full of fire. Napalm is perfect for women and children. Forgive us. Forgive us. We should have called Suzy and Bobby. They like to watch fires” I guess that this is an anti war song but it’s a bit sinister.
Possibly the most worrying lyric is saved for the next album called “Where’s My Daddy” where the opening track is called “Everyone’s Innocent Daughter.” The lyrics include “Everyone’s innocent daughter licking her lollipop fingers. Soft is this girl. Wise is this child. Down below in the city. Faces as grim as granite. I want to run, tell the world how much fun you are. Sitting at your window. Watching the soft wind blow. Putting away your childish things. Putting away your paper and string. Listening for what you haven’t yet heard. Looking for what you haven’t yet seen.” Wikipedia notes that after The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band dissolved, Bob Markley’s “interest in underage girls resulted in convictions”.
So I’m back to the old conundrum. How important are the lyrics to the enjoyment of a song? The music is fantastic here and the words are horrible. Nevertheless, I’m very pleased that Robert Sekula thought this was the best album ever because I really like it. I’ve managed to ignore the spooky lyrical content and enjoy some amazing psychedelic pop music.