My favourite albums – 71–80

And so it continues…here’s #71 to 80 in reverse order as always.

#80 The Yardbirds – Roger the Engineer: In many ways one of the most influential bands this country has ever produced, if only for the triumvirate of guitarists – Clapton, Beck and Page – that passed through its ranks. This is their most sophisticated album and sees Beck nailing himself a place in rock history with some excellent guitar work. It’s basically blues with psychedelic touches. The expanded version is worth getting as it has some nice extras including Beck and Page’s only recordings together.

#79 The Band – The Band: Who needed Dylan during his sabbatical when you had the Band? In many ways the most perfect example of Rock Americana ever produced and the yardstick by which I measure many other acts. It moves between aching poignancy and hedonistic joy touching all points in between and the musicianship is stunningly good. More talent than one band should ever have with several lead vocalists and multi-instrumentalists. We shall not see their like again.

#78 Kate Bush – Never For Ever: Every so often rock throws up a real oddball who refuses to compromise and our Kate is surely one of these. This was a hard choice but it clinched inclusion because of the combination of the weird and the poppiness. The then new Fairlight CMI was heavily featured along with drum machines but this didn’t make the sound sterile because of the otherwise largely ethnic instrumentation and Kate’s own vocal dynamics. ‘Delius’ is a perfect song to play on a hot summer’s day – try it!

#77 Bebop Deluxe – Sunburst Finish: This really sounds self-indulgent today but I still love it. Bill Nelson never sounded as good again, with lead guitar to the fore and some amazing songs.  ‘Blazing Apostles’ still has lyrics applicable to today and other songs feature dystopian future worlds, mental turmoil and groupie homages. But it’s the guitar that really makes this album with ‘Crying to the Sky’ a stand out in a Hendrixy way.

#76 Patto – Roll ’em Smoke ’em Put Another Line Out: Patto’s guitarist, Ollie Halsall, is probably the best guitarist that no-one’s ever heard of. Playing amazing legato lines that would take another 15 years to become part of every wannabee shredder’s musical vocabulary, he was a true original. However, this is a deeply-flawed album with some attempts at humour that fail dismally. Despite this there are glimpses of Ollie’s majesty and he plays some neat piano too. In a  fairer world, Ollie would still be alive and very, very famous.

#75 Cardiacs – Sing to God: How do you start to describe this band? They’re a bit punky, a bit psychedelic and a bit prog rock…plus they’re bloody barking, with James Joyce style lyrics. File under quirky, and if Jon Poole’s cut-up solo on ‘Fiery Gun Hand’ doesn’t float your boat then you have no musical taste whatsoever.  Now on hold due to leader Tim Smith’s heart attack – almost fatally ironic – they could still return. We live in hopes…

#74 Toto – Isolation: Often dismissed as bland US AOR, Toto are a bit more than that. On this album, the band is almost entirely composed of its original members but still having problems finding a lead singer. But it’s the instrumental aspect of Toto that appeals to me. Steve Lukather, in particular, shines on guitar with some monster riffs and soloing. ‘Stranger in Town’ and ‘Change of Heart’ are my favourites here but – along with most of their albums – there’s also too much schmaltz in the form of lugubrious ballads. So, another flawed album but the gems make the trip worth it.

#73 Poco – Rose of Cimarron: The title track is worth getting the album for. It’s Byrdsish with some nice electric 12 string underpinning the sort of song that only Usanians could write with a certain grandeur and love of the wide open spaces. The rest of the album manages to steer clear of Eagles blandness and Rusty Young impresses with his virtuoso playing of anything with strings and frets. Can’t say any of the other of their 20-odd albums does much for me, though.

#72 La Bottine Souriante – La Mistrine: As my self-imposed ‘no live albums’ rule excludes their amazing ‘En Spectacle’ from this list, this album will have to do. Formerly a Quebecois folk band, once they acquired a pianist and a brass section they mutated into a sort of salsa-celtic hybrid which just simply fucking rocked and became the best live band I’ve ever seen. They have no percussion as such but the violinist sits and taps with his feet – but this is no ordinary tapping. You can’t hear this band anymore live. The two frontmen – including the tapper – left and the band is now a shadow of its former self. But buy ‘En Spectacle’ – it is truly music for the heart and feet and would have been the #1 album in this list.

#71 Neu – Neu2: Krautrock! Beauty through repetition, the opening track ‘Fur Immer’ has a relentless beat and hypnotic vibe that pre-empted Stereolab  and has to be played loud through headphones and in the dark – trust me. Although the other tracks are OK – some are simply speeded up or slowed down versions of the same track – it’s Fur Immer that guarantees them a place in my musical heart. It lasts 11 minutes but I could listen to it if it was 11 hours long.

My favourite albums – 81–90

The countdown continues…here’s the next batch of 10 for your delectation…

#90 Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells a Story: Rod’s ceased to be relevant for a long while, although he has one of the best voices this country has ever produced. This particular album showed that he could handle any sort of material and the backing musicians are simply top notch. A couple of albums later it was downhill all the way. I gather that he and Jeff Beck may team up yet again – this time on Beck’s terms with new material. Now that should be worth hearing!

#89 Jonathan Richman – Jonathan Goes Country: Yes, he’s made better-known albums, but this very wry but affectionate stab at country is a particular favourite of mine. Is ‘Since She Started to Ride’ really what I think it’s about? If so, he’s even more subversive than I thought.

#88 Devin Townshend – Ziltoid the Omniscient: A (very) heavy metal album about an alien invading Earth in search of the “perfect cup of coffee”. Townshend is one of those guys who can play anything in any style, produces albums on a regular basis but has never really broken through. He’s doing all right though, Check out his band ‘Strapping Young Lad’ too.

#87 John Hiatt – Slow Turning: I must admit that I chose this album mainly because of Sonny Landreth’s exquisite slide guitar playing. The guy’s a genius. However, Hiatt writes great songs even though they can get a bit sentimental at times. ‘Icy Blue Heart; is the standout track here. Listen to it. NOW!

#86 Ry Cooder – Get Rhythm: Every Ry Cooder album is a favourite so this was a hard choice. “Rhythm” just snagged it for me with ‘Goin’ to Okinawa’ which makes me want to go to Okinawa too. He’s recorded with Okinawan musicians with great results. Ry…great voice, great guitar and a real eye for great material. His solo work seems to now play second fiddle to his film score work but with such a fantastic back catalog to enjoy, who cares?

#85 Extreme – Pornograffiti: Almost the perfect heavy rock album and I sometimes have phases where this gets played several times in a row. Nuno is an amazing player and the band’s mix of metal and funk is truly exhilarating at times. I defy anyone to listen to ‘Get the Funk Out’ and not be tempted to shake their booty a little. A shame about ‘the hit’ – ‘More than Words’ sucks.

#84 Mojo Nixon – Sock Ray Blue: Who? Mojo’s a definite ‘one off’. Crude, raucous and sparing of no-one; if he can take the piss out of someone, he will. How can you not like someone who wrote a song about Princess Diana called ‘Drunk Divorced Floozie’ after she died? It’s not sophisticated stuff, but it often rocks like a bitch and there’s always Mojo’s warped humour in evidence.

#83 Booker T and the MGs – Soul Dressing: Best known for ‘Green Onions’, this is a much stronger effort from this stellar bunch of Stax session men. The playing is edgier, Steve Cropper’s guitar pumps out maximum dirt and the whole thing just cooks. After this, they were never the same and ended up on Planet Bland.

#82 Steve Miller – Book of Dreams: Another guy who is probably better-known for other material – such as ‘The Joker’ – this is probably his most consistent album. Beautifully recorded with pioneering close-mic’d vocals and great guitar work from Miller and Les Dudek, amongst others, this follow-up to ‘Fly Like an Eagle’ set Miller up for a string of good albums. Mellow, maybe, but he still rocks.

#81 Dictators – Blood Brothers: This was another tough choice (every Dictators album is a must-hear) to make. A truly pioneering band still going strong under the leadership of their ex-roadie Handsome Dick Manitoba (who really isn’t).  This just clinched it because it seems to mark their transition from NY punks to heavy rockers without spoiling the original raw and uncompromising feel of their earlier work. When I play any Dictators album it makes me want to play guitar very loudly – ’nuff said…

My favourite albums – 91 – 100

In surprised response to some demand on Twitter, I’ve finally come up with a list of my favourite 100 albums of all time.

However, first a few ground rules.

  • No greatest hits albums – it’s cheating!
  • No live albums – these are often greatest hits albums in disguise.
  • Only one album per band or artist – this sometimes made the choice very hard indeed!
  • No bootlegs – all albums have to have been commercially released.
  • I reserve the right to change my mind about this list at any time and I suspect that if I had to do this again in a month’s time it might be quite different – especially in the lower reaches.
  • This is my list. If I haven’t chosen your favourite album then that’s because it isn’t my favourite, although it might be one day. However, I’ll really welcome your views on my choices.
  • Very few albums are perfect 10s in my opinion. The further down the list you go, the more flawed an album becomes.
  • No links given – far too arduous. So, if you want to find out more, Google is, as ever, your friend.
  • The list is in ascending order – far more suspense that way!
  • A brief resume is given for each album but nothing too descriptive.
  • It’d be great if you could seek the albums out and listen to them – there are all sorts of ways and means, with Spotify probably being the most legal and the cheapest. If you have ways of downloading the albums without paying, you are a bad person and will probably go to Hell or Cleethorpes or something.
  • 10 albums posted at a time – the list is ready so a new batch of 10 won’t be far away.

So, here we go!

#100 Cheap Trick – Dream Police: Power pop before it was called that. Heavier than their usual stuff but full of great melodies, harmonies and crunchy guitars.

#99 Wind and Wuthering – Genesis: A beautiful album with stellar compositions. You don’t miss Gabriel at all and it was simply their last good album. It’s autumn in song.

#98 Fatso Jetson – Stinky Little Gods: Classic stoner/desert rock. You can hear where QOTSA got a lot of their sound from.

#97 Doobie Brothers – Stampede: The band before they blanded out into AOR anonymity. The last great guitar-based Doobies album and if “I Cheat the Hangman” doesn’t make you shiver at times, check that you have a pulse.

#96 Fashion – Twilight of Idols: New Romantics before Duran Duran were even dreamed of. Great songs and production with more guitar than was usual with such bands.

#95 Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Next: Aging Scottish rocker teams up with young Scots heavy rock band and forms a monster outfit capable of everything from vaudeville to metal. Funny stuff too and Alex’s sense of humour triumphs. He does good pathos too!

#94 Eddie Hazel – Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs: A bit of a rag bag but it has its moments. “Lampoc Boogie” is 12 minutes of face-melting guitar that shows that P-Funkster Eddie was Jimi’s natural heir.

#93 Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – Black Music for White People: An old trouper from the 1940s, Jay had a long career mixing soul and R&B with crazed humour. Ever wanted to hear someone murder ‘Old Man River’? Well, here’s your chance.

#92 Wishbone Ash – Here to Hear: a bit of a comeback album which proved that dual lead harmony guitars could still sound good in the 1990s. Great stuff from a band I’d given up on. The last track (both parts) is sublime.

#91 Metallica – Master of Puppets: The chaps at their best – forget anything they’ve done after the ‘Black’ album. In fact, forget that too. This is the real shit and the riff in the title track still sounds monster to me. So, you can play it on guitar? Try it on bass, you goddam’ pusseh!

The Sharks go to London

Although we only live about 45 miles north of London – that’s about 30 minutes on a fast train – Mrs Shark and I very rarely venture into it.

However, as we really wanted to go to the excellent France Show at Olympia and had already paid for tickets, we decided to gird up our lions, brave the weather and place ourselves at the tender mercies of public transport.

We left home by bus and after a very quick (some parts of the route were left out due to snow) and uneventful journey, we arrived at Central Milton Keynes Station, just in time to catch a London Express which was only delayed by about 10 minutes. So, one quick train ride later, we were soon standing outside of Euston Station with a cigarette and a cup of coffee bracing ourselves for the Underground.

It was remarkably uncrowded and we had a good journey to West Brompton – the best station to use for Olympia 2.

(Yes, I know this is all very prosaic, but we really don’t go to London much!)

We’d attended the France Show last year, when moving to France permanently was but a germ of an idea, but now, 12 months later, we now had a sense of purpose, having found a buyer for our place (fingers crossed!). We knew what we wanted to find out, so we circled the stands we needed to visit on the program and set forth.

We  managed to find some useful people to talk to and get advice from – Credit Agricole for setting up a French bank account, currency exchange people for transferring money and also property agents for renting and then buying.  Everyone seemed very helpful and we now have some useful contacts for advice. We also gathered a stack of material to read at home.

We saw some celebs there, too.

I almost knocked Jean-Christophe Novelli over in my haste to get to the loo. He was just coming out from ‘backstage’ to demonstrate some sort of seafood cuisine and we almost collided…

Then there was a bookstand, with Carol Drinkwater (now an author, but probably best remembered for her TV role as James’ Herriot’s wife in that vet series) and Kate Mosse (author of the excellent ‘Labyrinth’, set partly in one of my favourite places on earth, Carcassonne).

But the real treat was meeting John Dummer.

John used to lead a blues band in the late 1960s and early 1970s – the John Dummer Blues Band. They were never as big as Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, or even Chicken Shack, but they were a splendid band which I saw a few times back then. They were slightly lighter than most blues bands of the day and featured fiddle. They had a sort of country and folk tinge too, which set them apart from the rest. They had a big hit in France with ‘Nine by Nine’ which was used for a cheese advert and then released to become a best-seller.

He was also a member of Darts, which had several hits and which people probably remember more than his blues stuff.

Now, he’s an antique dealer living in France and he’s also an author. I bought his book, ‘Serge Bastarde Ate my Baguette’ and he kindly signed it for me. A nice guy and great to meet the leader of one of my favourite 1960s blues bands.

Anyway, laden with brochures, books, nougat, lavender soap and freebies (USB pen drives and keyrings with discs for using in supermarket trolleys) we decided to head back to Euston in case some trains were cancelled.

We got to Euston nice and easily via a still uncrowded tube and, whilst having a pre-journey coffee and smoke outside the station, managed to spot one more celeb. It was Johnny Vegas, leaning against a pillar near the entrance having a smoke and yawning. He looks much smaller in real life…

Having esconced ourselves on a nice warm train, there was an announcement that there would be a delay due to a technical fault. This then led to a series of announcements that an engineer had been called out, the engineer was working on the fault, the engineer was still working on the fault, etc, so we disembarked to find a working train.

We found one, settled in for the journey and then…

“We apologise for the delay, but we’re waiting for the train manager.”

We then heard that he had been delayed on a train from Preston.

About 20 minutes later, the manager must have arrived because the train pulled out of Euston and sped us back to Milton Keynes. Another bus journey and we were home.

All in all, 8 hours out but not bad for public transport, not to mention the inclement weather.

But would I ever give up my car and go fully ‘public’?

Would I fuck…

Hard stools and ‘Sex in the City’

I’ve made a New Year resolution!

From now on I’m going to adopt a more mature attitude when blogging, so…

Let’s talk about POO!

In between the usual Christmas dross on TV, ad breaks seemed to feature a lot of adverts for patent medicines – it was as if the entire nation was suffering from colds, flu, indigestion, trapped wind and hard stools.

Now, I don’t know about you, but at Christmas I tend to eat a lot more meat, lots of things like chocolates and nuts that I’m maybe not used to in such quantity, I drink more alcohol and consume far less roughage and water than usual.

The result – and let’s not be coy here – is that I go from being a ‘one good dump a day’ chap to maybe three times a day and with products of varying quality. Sometimes it’s too easy and at others a tad more difficult. Sometimes I get the shits and sometimes it’s sheep droppings time.

Those ‘difficult’ sheep shit times are hard stool moments.

I really couldn’t give a shit (see what I did there?) though, as I know that a return to a normal diet will restore me to ‘one good dump a day’ normality.

But the peddlars of patent medicines are wise to this. They know that people are going to be having a difficult time shitting at Christmas, so they put ads like this on:

It’s ‘Sex in the City’ with bowel movement gossip:

“When I went to the loo…bowel ‘stuff’…it was hard and really uncomfortable again…”

All this said with a look of acute embarrassment…

…and hushed tones that indicate some dreadful sexual and moral transgression – meaningless sex with disabled Great Danes whilst burning polar bears, possibly? – rather than a bit of a strain whilst on the cludge after three days of over-indulgence.

Her blond friend – I’m guessing she’s the Kim Cattrall figure in this low-rent production – says “You need…” which always makes me want to shout out, “A good shit!“, which I sometimes do when I’m feeling easily amused, which I often am.

But then ‘Kim’ whips out the DulcoEase which:

works by softening your stools. Each capsule contains 100mg docusate sodium. This acts to increase the amount of water and salts absorbed by your stool by decreasing your stool’s surface tension – making it softer and more comfortable to go to the loo.

However, on a more serious note, how the fuck is Ms ‘Coy’ going to be able to cope with finding blood in her stools? That’s really going to freak her out and what could be just a minor nick in the rectum, but could be a sign that something more serious is going on – like bowel cancer, all gets ignored.

Well, just maybe this advert could help if it makes a group of people chat about their shitting problems over lunch. Maybe one of them will come out with something that inspires one of her friends to suggest she sees a doctor.

But is all this crap (see what I did there?) really likely to happen?

Do people really discuss their bowel movements over lunch?

I very much doubt it.

Blue moon 2009

New Year’s Eve 2009 was marked by a blue moon.

I went out and looked but it wasn’t blue at all.

Feeling a trifle cheated, I laid some Google on its ass and came up with some facts about this phenomenon.

A blue moon occurs when you have two full moons in the same calendar month – about every 2.7 years – but  that month has to be December with the full moon appearing on the 31st – New Year’s Eve. This happens every 19 years or so.

Here’s what it looked like just before midnight yesterday – 31/12/09:

Yes, I know it’s a shit photo, but I took it with my iPhone which has a shit camera.