Sunday, 1 April 2012

great songs from not-so-great albums

Darkthrone: ‘Transilvanian Hunger’ from Transilvanian Hunger (1993)

Transilvanian Hunger is, without question, one of the great black metal songs; everything that was to become a cliche about the genre is here, but done exactly right. Unfortunately, most of the other songs on the album are uninspired by comparison; in fact most of them sound like variations on the same riff, without its atmosphere or power. Still, the title song alone makes the album live up to its reputation.

Fanny: ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ from Rock and Roll Survivors (1974)

Fanny are more important than their limited fame would suggest; as one of the first all-female rock bands to write and play their own material (years before The Runaways and without a male svengali figure like Kim Fowley behind them), but by the time of 1974’s Rock and Roll Survivors they were all but finished. The band sported a new, glam/disco-influenced image (they had signed to Casablanca records, home of Kiss, Donna Summer & Angel) but the album is severely diminished by a lack of material and newcomer Patti (sister of Suzi) Quatro’s laughable guitar-playing skills. But this suitably sexy cover of the Rolling Stones classic is great, miles ahead of Bowie’s then-recent version on Aladdin Sane.

Gerry Rafferty: 'Night Owl' from Night Owl (1979)

This possibly is a great album; I just don't like it very much. But that isn't a reflection on Paisley superstar Gerry Rafferty - I don't like anything of his (that I've heard) very much; but I should probably give him a listen, this song is a lovely piece of maudlin pop/rock.

Mull Historical Society: ‘Am I Wrong?’ from Us (2003)

Mull Historical Society’s 2001 debut Loss is an album full of heartfelt, catchy songs, in some ways typically ‘indie’, but musically ambitious and with its own atmosphere of remote sadness. The follow-up, Us, is simply unmemorable and dull; except for the single ‘Am I Wrong?’,  a lovely piece of post-Smiths UK indie pop.

Metal Church: ‘Fake Healer’ from Blessing In Disguise (1989)

Blessing In Disguise was where classic US metal band Metal Church went wrong; it’s not a bad album, but it lacks the bite of its predecessors, going for a more commercial direction but not quite having the tunes to manage it. Except for ‘Fake Healer’ that is, one of the best opening tracks on any metal album, it has two massive riffs, a great melody and vocalist Mike Howe’s best performance by a mile. Plus, it’s about faith healers, an endless source of inspiration for 80s metal bands.

Lou Reed: ‘NY Stars’ from Sally Can’t Dance (1974)

Recovering from the bleak misery of the vastly superior Berlin, Lou Reed seemed to have also recovered his commercial appeal when Sally Can’t Dance became one of his biggest-selling albums. It is, however, an incredibly dull and forgettable record, except for the sneering, cynical glam strut of NY Stars, the only song on the album where Lou actually sounds awake.

Roy Wood – ‘Any Old time Will Do’ from Mustard (1975)

Mustard marked the end of Roy Wood’s time as one of the UK’s top hit-writing stars. Essentially a great writer of singles, a ‘best of’ including his work with The Move, Wizzard and his solo material would be by far the best way to discover his work. by 1975, glam was more or less dead and Wood mainly seems to have been concerned with recreating the work of heroes like the Beach Boys and Del Shannon.  In among the pastiches though, he wrote some straight-forward post-Beatles pop songs, the best of which is this sunny, uplifting paean to pop music itself.

E - 'Nowheresville' from A Man Called E (1992)

Eels frontman Mark 'E' Everett's second solo album is okay; a very of-its-time 'alternative' record not too far removed from the sound that would eventually bring Eels some mainstream success. This weary-but-not-giving-up song is very good though; nice French horn (if that's what it is).

Wu-Tang Clan: ‘For Heaven’s Sake’ from Wu-Tang Forever (1997)

By the time Wu-Tang Forever came along, the group’s hugely successful debut The 36 Chambers had been succeeded by a stream of solo records which were in some ways more impressive than than the group’s own work. Wu-Tang Forever was a monster hit, but it mainly feels like a fairly uninspired sum of its parts, except for this song, where everything gelled. It’s completely a rap song of its era; but one with great style and authority.

Tom Waits – ‘Muriel’ from Foreign Affairs (1977)

Foreign Affairs isn’t actually bad at all, but it’s the first time that a Tom Waits album was less good than its predecessor. But among the lesser material (a duet with Bette Midler may be to some peoples’ taste; it’s not to mine) there is this lovely, atmospheric song. ‘Burma Shave’ is good too, but it was developed into something far better in concert, ‘Muriel’ is perfect as it is.

Lou Reed – ‘Crazy Feeling’ from Coney Island Baby (1975)

Another hit Lou Reed album that isn’t a quarter as good as most of his flop albums; except for opening track ‘Crazy Feeling’ which is that rare thing, a straightforward Lou Reed pop song, with a good tune and cheerful lyrics. You wouldn’t want him to do this all the time, but every now and then it’s nice.

Alien: 'Don't Say Goodbye' from Cosmic Fantasy (1983)

Despite their straightforward hair metal image, the music on this 6-track EP from 1983, is spacey and slightly unfocussed hard rock. Except, that is, for 'Don't Say Goodbye', a perfect, catchy hair metal pop song that, if released as a single (by, say Def Leppard), could have been a big hit. A jangly guitar intro, a an atmospheric tune and great male/female duet vocals make for a cheesy, but immensely likeable song.

Sarah Vaughan - 'Easy Evil' from Feelin' Good (1972)

Despite the psychedelic-afro'ed sleeve, Feelin' Good is, for the most part a fairly slick and old-fashioned showbizzy series of smooth jazz covers of pop songs like 'Rainy Days and Sundays' - not bad, but certainly not very exciting. The version of Alan O'Day's (in the hands of some performers, rather cheesy) 'Easy Evil' on the other hand is almost unique in Vaughan's career for its non-trad jazz-funk sound. The arrangement is sparse and effective, allowing her powerful and expressive voice to take centre stage. A near-perfect 3 minutes and 4 seconds.

Ian Michell Band - 'Jailbait' from Lonely Nites (1979)

This post-glam pop album  from ex-BCR guitarist Ian Mitchell has some punky moments, but mostly it's disappointingly slight and wispy, despite the (one might expect) earthy presence of future porn star Lindsay ('Ben Dover') Honey on drums. The exception is the uber-catchy 'Jailbait', an incredibly sleazy stomp with a punk-meets-disco flavour which, crucially, was (unlike most of the material) written by Mitchell himself.

Dwight Twilley Band - 'Looking For The Magic' from Twilley Don't Mind (1977)
Twilley Don't Mind is the disappointing second album by power-popsters Dwight Twilley Band, and although the album feels a little tuneless and bland in comparison with, say, The Raspberries, this song is catchy and atmospheric and notable for the odd, pulsing, 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' style effect on Twilley's voice. Although in a way quite a cheesy song it stands out amidst the not-greatness of the rest of the album.

Black Sabbath - 'Never Say Die!' from Never Say Die! (1978)

Never Say Die! is the album that critics usually say that the classic Technical Ecstasy is; the album where the original Sabbath lineup audibly ran out of steam. That said, there are a few decent songs on the album - and the title track is an absolute classic, not to say surprisingly upbeat and optimistic for the usually lumbering doomsters.

Blondie - 'Island of Lost Souls' from The Hunter 1982)

This surprisingly lacklustre album has its moments, but compared to every other Blondie album it is severely lacking in good tunes. Even this single, with its steel drums and generally exotic atmosphere did not please many fans of the band's more angular post punk pop, but the wistful atmosphere and catchy tune make it a worthy inclusion on the band's peerless singles collection.

Buster - 'Sunday' from Buster (1977)

Buster were one of many noticeably post-Bay City Rollers teenybopper bands who came along just too late to cash in on the BCRs' massive success (to say the least, since punk was now in full swing). Their debut album contains a lot of dross, a stupifyingly weak version of 'Born To Be Wild', one nearly great song ('Saturday Night', sadly lacking the chorus the verses deserve) and this one schmaltzy teeny pop classic.

Britny Fox - 'Long Way To Love' from Britny Fox (1988)

Britny Fox stood out among hair metal bands for their superb 18th century-inspired image, but although their debut album has its moments, only this very Cinderella-like song really stands out as a classic hair metal anthem, although follow-up Boys In Heat is pretty ace.

Cheap Trick - 'I'll Be With You Tonight' from Dream Police (1979)

Cheap Trick are simply one of the greatest pop/rock groups of all time, but bizarrely, Dream Police, the first non-classic album they made is their best selling release. On the other hand, it's worth having just for the slightly Kiss-like 'I'll Be With You Tonight', not the only good song on the album but far and away the best.

Elvis Costello - 'The Invisible Man' from Punch The Clock (1983)

To be fair, there are at least 4 really good songs on Punch the Clock, but 'The Invisible Man' is by far the best; one of Elvis Costello's best pop songs, though often overlooked.

DiAnno - 'Tales of the Unexpected' from DiAnno (1984)

Even Paul Di'Anno himself thinks this album is crap, but it definitely has a certain charm. The atmosphere of a UK pub rock type band trying to recreate a glossy American hard rock sound on a very tight budget makes for some likeable would-be anthems like 'Heartuser' and 'Antigua' with their tinny little versions of stadium riffs (plus of course the immortal sleeve credit stating that the band are wearing Wranglers' 1984 spring collection), but the more considered 'Tales of the Unexpected' has a great tune and one of Paul Di'Anno's best vocal performances outside of the first two Iron Maiden albums.

Flamin' Groovies - 'Shake Some Action' from Shake Some Action (1976)

Most of the Flamin' Groovies best songs are not on this album, which largely consists of pastiches and covers of early-mid 60s rock/pop. But, the title song is the band's best ever track, beautifully produced, 'retro' but still of its time, a catchy masterpiece with one of the best guitar riffs ever, both uptempo and rock-ish and yet strangely hushed - perfect.

King Kobra - 'Take It off' from King Kobra III (1988)

Hair metal heroes King Kobra seriously faltered post-Iron Eagle, with their third album, featuring new singer Johnny Edwards in place of Mark (now Marcie) Free. Edwards is good, but the songs mostly aren't, except for Gene Simmons' 'It's My Life' (though Wendy O Williams' version is far better) and this classic (necessarilly quite sleazy) anthem for strippers, also featured on the superb soundtrack to dodgy horror movie Black Roses.

Giorgio Moroder - 'Putting Out Fire' from Cat People OST (1982)

Disco master Giorgio Moroder's soundtrack to the  not-bad remake of classic horror movie Cat People is mostly pretty weak and dated, but the single, crucially featuring legend David Bowie is simply a great, moody song. There's another good version where the electronic backing is replaced by hard rock (featuring blues/rock genius Stevie Ray Vaughan, but to be honest the electronica is far more in keeping with the sultry atmosphere of the movie and suits Bowie's voice better.

Ice-T - 'Reckless' from Breakdance (AKA Breakin') OST(1984)

As you might expect from the cover photo and date of release,the soundtrack to Breakdance/Breakin' is dominated by what is mainly lame more-or-less disco music (and the incredibly irritating "classic" 'Ain't Nobody' by Chaka Khan), the exception is this fairly early Ice-T song, where he hadn't yet formed the gangster-ish persona that he debuted on 1986's '6 In The Morning'. Nevertheless, 'Reckless' is (not unlike early Run DMC) a fairly hard sounding rap song by the standards of 1984, with some good, primitive-ish scratching. Ice-T's vocal doesn't have the authority he would develop later, but compared to the generally good-humoured sound of overground rap in 1984 'Reckless' stands the test of time pretty well...

The Selecter - 'Everyday' from Too Much Pressure (1980)

Too Much Pressure may be considered a classic 2-Tone album, but the fact is that most of the songs are either a bit forgettable ('Out on the Streets'), or catchy in a slightly annoying, unsatisfying way ('3 Minute Hero'). 'Everyday' on the other hand is a bouncy, heartfelt ska classic and the only song on the album to be as good as (or better than) their hit single 'On My Radio'.

Warp Drive - 'Stay On, Stay On' from Gimme Gimme (1989)

Gimme Gimme  is an insubstantial hair metal album; full of impressive guitar playing but somewhat short of good songs; except for 'Stay On, Stay On', a catchy, anthemic rock song where, for once, the tune is more important than the skill with which it's played.

Pete Shelley - 'Yesterday's Not Here' from Homosapien (1981)

The former Buzzcocks frontman's debut solo album is a strange mix of synth-pop and new-wave pop. Mostly pretty forgettable though, except for this catchy, affecting song with a classic Shelley vocal.

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