Friday, March 21, 2014

Flashback Friday: The Dreaming by Kate Bush

In 1974 or so, Kate Bush, a shy, retiring 16 year old schoolgirl, managed to get a demo tape to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. He was stunned that there were over 50 songs of exceptionally high quality on her demo. Paying for a proper studio recording of three of the songs out of his own pocket, he got her signed to EMI records.

A few years later, after she turned 19, she entered the studio to record her first album. She had spent the intervening years studying movement and dance, while continuing to write and perform idiosyncratic songs. At this point, she had over 200 compositions to choose from. Her debut album, “The Kick Inside”, featuring the single “Wuthering Heights” was released to general acclaim and success, but a large part of her career – mostly record production – was out of her control.

In 1982, after a couple of modestly successful follow-up albums, she finally gained control of the producer’s chair and released an album that was her vision from start to finish: The Dreaming.

You can hear it here: The Dreaming by Kate Bush (Xbox Music)

Fair warning: This is a “difficult” album, but you can get your head around it if you spin it a few times. Kate had become intrigued with the compositional possibilities of the Fairlight CMI sampler and built most of the album around it. Also – she had moved beyond the singer/songwriter style of the time and was exploring more dramatic cinematic storytelling with her songs. Topics on this album include failed bank robbery attempts, driving in the Australian outback, the life of Harry Houdini, and the paranoia of the suburban homeowner, among other things. She also was experimenting with alternative vocalizations – shrieks, groans, backward vocals – all processed through the Fairlight. This can be off-putting to the first time listener, but patience is rewarding, since there’s nothing quite like it in modern music. The album is roughly divided into two movements, split right where the vinyl album break would be.

After this record, Kate moved back to a more general pop direction, and released Hounds of Love, which became the biggest selling record of her career. However, Hounds of Love’s cinematic sweep would not have been possible without The Dreaming, which most people still haven’t heard, due to its reputation. So – give it a spin and see what you think.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Flashback Friday: A nod is as good as a wink... by Faces

So - it's 1971 or so. The Yardbirds, which featured three of the finest guitarists in rock - Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page - have broken up. Jimmy Page is regrouping as the New Yardbirds with John Paul Jones, and a pair of unknowns - Robert Plant and John Bonham. Jeff Beck has formed his own version of the Yardbirds with an unknown Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. While Jimmy Page's group would go on to become Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck's group would record two amazing albums - Truth and Beck-ola - and disband.

Meanwhile, one of England's beloved psychedelic bands - The Small Faces - were having issues of their own. They had just disbanded after losing their founding guitarist/vocalist and were trying to figure out what to do. Somehow they hooked up with the remnants of the failed Jeff Beck group and became the Faces. (Possibly over a shared love of alcohol - Faces live performances were notorious for including a real bartender on-stage!)

Although their first couple of albums were tentative, their live shows were anything but. It wasn't until their 3rd album - A Nod Is As Good As A Wink... To A Blind Horse - that they really captured their live sound on vinyl. If you only know Rod Stewart from his 80's mega hits, you'll be pleasantly surprised here. Rod wasn't the only vocalist - Ronnie Lane provides a nice counterpoint to Rod's vocals. This album is pretty much a winner from start to finish - a "ragged but right" album. You can hear echos of this record in many of the bands influenced by the Faces: The Replacements, Guns N' Roses, The Black Crowes, and Pearl Jam.  

You can hear it here:
A Nod Is As Good As A Wink... by Faces (Xbox Music)

Sadly, the increasing popularity of Rod Stewart's concurrent solo albums - especially a song called "Maggie May", which featured members of the Faces - overshadowed the rest of the band, and they fell apart soon after this album was released, bowing out with one final album "Ooh la la".

So - grab a beverage, give this a spin, and let me know what you think in the comments below.