My favourite albums – 31–40

It’s a race against time to finish this before we up sticks here in the UK and lose internet connectivity for a time, so here’s numbers 31 to 40, hot on the heels of 41 to 50.

#40 Jason & the Scorchers – Lost and Found: Another tough choice, since everything this band does is God-like. However, this album has the amazing ‘White Lies’ which you can see performed live here. Warner E Hodges on guitar and Jason Ringenberg on vocals bring a strange blend of punk and country to the party and what a party this is. If you occasionally like getting shit-faced drunk and then waking up wondering what you did the night before then this may just be the band for you.

#39 Blue Oyster Cult – Spectres: OK, it only has one really well-known song on it – ‘Godzilla’ – but this was the first BOC album I bought so it has a special place in my heart. Rather mellow at times, the sheer range of material impresses, from ballads to straight pop to out and out rockers – and constantly underpinned by the classic line up with the ever-melodic Buck Dharma on guitar. Nice production, too, with lots of overdubs and stereo panning, making it a great ‘headphone’ album. For those who thought that ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ is all there is to BOC, think again. This is intelligent heavy metal with more than a whiff of irony. Or is that what they want you to think so that they can get away with being dumb? Whatever, a great band and still making good albums in their fifth decade.

#38 The Tubes – Completion Backwards Principle: All early and mid period Tubes is fine stuff, but this slick yet rocking sixth album from the band is my favourite. It’s consistently good, with Fee Waybill’s combination of schmaltz and stadium rock vocals in fine form and the band sounding heavier than on previous recordings. Female vocalist Re Styles has gone – no great loss – but the rest of the original band is all present and correct. The opening track features Steve Lukather on guest guitar and still figures in their live set. Elsewhere on the album you’ll find the usual Tubes freakshow with ‘Mr Hate’, ‘Sushi Girl’ and ‘Attack of the 50 foot Woman’ the latter of which deals with an aspect of a relationship with such a lady that you wanted to know about but probably wouldn’t dare ask…

#37 Todd Rundgren – Hermit of Mink Hollow: Typical quirky Todd but a tad more consistent than usual. Quite a lot of his great guitar playing with a lovely guitar ‘choir’ on ‘Lucky Guy’. ‘Onomatopoeia’ is silly and fun with daft sound effects and ‘Out of Control’ features some excessive rock guitar. ‘Can We Still be Friends’ is the classic track here and demonstrates his ability to write a beautifully constructed melody with a chord structure to match. File under ‘eccentric genius’.

#36 The Who – Who’s Next: The best track on the album – ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ – is definitely a desert island disc. Big Townshend guitars, classic Moon and Entwhistle rhythm section and Daltrey’s passionate delivery of lyrics which take a while to really understand (they’re not obvious at all, no matter what many people think) make this one of my favourite songs and performances of all time. The rest of the album’s great too, with ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ and ‘Baba O’Reilly’ getting heavy rotation here. A band at their peak – and no concept album bullshit…I hated ‘Tommy’!

#35 Jeff Beck – Blow by Blow: This was very much a transitional album for one of my favourite guitarists. After showing how rock should be played, Jeff moved on to Fusion with mixed but sometimes breathtakingly wonderful results. ‘Diamond Dust’ and ‘Scatterbrain’ reveal a lyricism and frenzy respectively that he tapped into more effectively than previously and are both exceptions to my theory that about 95% of every Beck track is crap, whilst the rest is pure unobtanium. Here the ratios are more like 50:50 which is good for such an unreliable player. If you can look past the glaring flaws, this album is a real keeper.

#34 The Smiths – The Smiths: Damn…they almost didn’t make it as ‘Hatful of Hollow’ is my absolute favourite but it’s a compilation so isn’t allowed inclusion here under my own rules. However, there’s enough of Morrisey’s jaded vocals and troubled and troubling lyrics and Johnny Marr’s glorious guitar here to make up for it. The rhythm section was just perfect, too – even though overlooked now as the Smiths recede further into rock history. We’ve got real songs here that surprise within a standard rock format and it’s always the songs that are important – take out one element for special attention and it lessens their impact. ‘This Charming Man’ is a stone classic – high life guitar combined with Rusholme reality.

#33 Dan Baird – Songs for the Hearing Impaired: Dan used to be chief vocalist with the Georgia Satellites and on this album he has a really good stab at a Stonesy, Facesy, country type album and largely succeeds. It’s hard not to smile when I hear a lot of this – particularly with a goofy song like ‘I Love You Period’ which deals with schoolboy lust channeled to improve punctuation. Nice gutsy playing on this album too. If you like that Stones/Faces ‘chug’ then Dan is most definitely your man.

#32 Donald Fagen – The Nightfly: Maybe just a little too smooth, this is still a wonderful record that perhaps tries just a tad too hard to be jazzbo cool. The playing is stellar – all those top session men – the songs are jazzy and melodic and Fagen’s voice has that cracked vulnerability in spades here.  It’s possibly one of the most played albums I have and yet I far prefer Steely Dan. Becker adds a sharpness and quirkiness that levens Fagen’s jazz excesses. Duff tracks? None, but overall there’s just a bit of energy lacking. Sometimes you can be just too damned laid back.

#31 Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks – Orange Crate Art: I’ve never bathed in warm maple syrup, but this is probably as close as your ears will get to it. Take Brian Wilson’s amazing vocals, add Parks’ idiosyncratic music and lyrics, toss in a bunch of great session players and adjust to taste with a soupcon of Disney. This is what you end up with. ‘Sail Away’ is a great summer song and if you fancy a ‘tropical zone’ in the middle of a cold February, play this track. ‘Hobo Heart’ has some amazing harmony vocals but you don’t find yourself asking where Carl and Al are. An album to relax to and maybe enjoy with a cocktail or two.

Paging Mr Clapton…

Anybody who knows anything about me as a guitarist or has heard me play soon realises that when it comes to my primary influence I wear it pretty much on my sleeve:

Mayall-era Clapton.

As exemplified on the groundbreaking ‘Beano’ album and a handful of odd tracks it was old ‘Slowhand’ who really inspired me to play.

His sound on that album – a Les Paul Standard through a cranked up Marshall combo – is my favourite guitar tone of all time and his playing was equally impressive. Playing with real flair and joie de vivre, Eric plays his way with panache through up tempo and slow blues and shows exactly why ‘Clapton is God’ appeared as graffiti all over London in 1966.

Even when he split with Mayall to form Cream along with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker he managed to keep this exuberance and some bootlegs of early Cream reveal someone who still had the ability to stun an audience with his playing. Sure, his sound changed a little – playing through two Marshall stacks will do that – but the vibrato, extremely well-controlled bends and breathtaking invention were still all there.

However, things quickly changed. Playing ever and ever longer versions of numbers from what was a fairly limited repertoire, Clapton started to repeat himself and the Cream of the final tour in 1968 sounded redundant and tired.

Then the real transformation started. Soon abandoning Gibsons and Marshalls for all Fender gear, Clapton tried to reinvent himself and, whilst always staying with the blues, he branched out reaching a trough of mediocrity in 1989 with the ‘Journeyman’ album which saw him totally blanded out on MOR pap.

It was then that he sought to return to more blues-based material, but by then it was too late.

He’d lost it – totally.

Instead of progressing as a blues player he’d just stagnated and marked himself down as maybe rock’s number one underachiever with 4 years of glorious playing and then over 40 more years – with perhaps just the exception of the ‘Layla’ album – of simply treading water.

Why I’ve chosen to write this now is because I’ve just ‘acquired’ a superb bootleg of the Madison Square Garden gig on the 18th of this month (3 days ago! How do they do it?) from his joint tour with Jeff Beck.

Sure, Jeff’s past his best really, but compared to Clapton he sounds inspired, interested and – above all – as if he still enjoys playing and isn’t just going through the motions like old Eric is. When they get together to play a final third set together after a solo set each I’m really quite amazed at how Eric manages to play in the face of such energy from Beck.

Maybe it’s to his credit that he doesn’t just throw down his guitar and walk off, but at least that would be an honest response, because I can only see two alternatives – he wants the dosh or he still thinks he’s got something to ‘say’ on guitar.

Well, the dosh isn’t a problem, so it must be the latter reason and that’s just simple self-delusion…

Give it up Eric, soon, please.