FEATURE: A Cure for the PiL: Why a Lack of Good Images, Poor Band Names and Lacking Visibility Can Shorten a Music Career

FEATURE:

 

 

A Cure for the PiL

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PHOTO CREDIT: @anniespratt/Unsplash 

Why a Lack of Good Images, Poor Band Names and Lacking Visibility Can Shorten a Music Career

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THIS is something I have touched on before…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @wbayreuther/Unsplash

but I am particular enraged and baffled so many artists continue to make the same mistakes. I must admit that I am not perfect when it comes to my blog. There could be a few snaps of myself and I need to get the social media buttons/links sorted; there could be a few tweaks made here and there but, as I am here to represent other musicians and feel I promote myself pretty well, I am not going to be beat myself up. The ‘PiL’ in the headline stands for ‘Public Image Limited’ - the John Lydon-fronted band and, in an ironic way, it tackles two things I want to talk about. We are at a time where people are photographing everything that moves and they can make their photos look all shiny and colourful, it always baffles me why musicians are among that select group who seem to struggle with providing great photos. It sounds like a personal gripe but it is general and sage advice that all journalists will echo. It can be exciting hearing a great song from an artist and you want to put in a review or interview. You get ready to contact them and check out their social media channels. One loses that passion as soon as you see another grainy, crappy and tiny images. More often than not, you get a slew of phone-taken photos that are piss-poor in clarity or you have a couple of professional shots and nothing more.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @hivadotme/Unsplash

More and more, I am finding artists do not have a selection of high-res photos and, as such, I am turning them away! You might think that is a harsh policy but, as I say, we have the capacity to take professional-quality photos with affordable technology. It only takes a little while to set up your own shoot and get some great pictures online. Failing that, music photographers are not that pricey and you can find plenty of willing and hungry people who would jump at the chance for work and would not charge you a fortune! A single session, which is all it would take, varies in price but it is not a ruinous cost! That investment pays for itself because you look more professional on the page and there is something eye-catching to lure fans, journalists and potential venues/backers in. I see way too many artists with either very few photos of any kind of so many bad ones that are, if you’re lucky, interspersed by a few decent ones. I am not suggesting either artist out there needs to run to the best local photographer and get their wallets out! A fairly regular – once every six months or so – a new set of snaps would be affordable and you can intersperse that with photos of your own. That gives journalists like me a chance to pick some great shots and make pieces look professional and attractive.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @rawpixel/Unsplash

The excuses I get usually fall into three categories: People either say they can’t afford it; the P.R. company that are looking after them limit what they can provide or they feel photos are not that important. It might seem costly getting photos done but, as I say, you can shop around find something affordable. Making music and touring costs money so artists need to think of it as part of their business plan and, after you get a nice set done, you do not need to worry for a while. It is like an M.O.T. or a trip to the dentist – making this sound attractive! – but it will make a big difference and, in a visual age, you cannot afford to be lacklustre. I see artists have Instagram accounts and post endless photos there so I do not buy the excuse they cannot afford to get photos taken – the evidence speaks for itself! I know there are P.R. companies that, annoyingly, limit photos depending on campaigns. They want a particular ‘look’ for that single or whatever is promoted so they can shackle people like me. I have lost count of the times I have seen an artist with a load of top photos but the company wants to limit me down to four or five because they are part of this cycle.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @sarandywestfall_photo/Unsplash

Even if the rest of the photos are a few months old, they want these exclusive shots and get annoyed when you try and add to that. I can understand an artist would want a particular theme for an album or single but it seems foolhardy to limit yourself in terms of photos. A certain preciousness and limitation can be a real issue and I wonder whether musicians have an idea how irritating that sort of behaviour can be. I digress but I do worry about that third point: artists feeling images are not important. Music is as much about visuals as it is anything else. You can be a super-genius innovator or the next-big-thing-of-the-world but, if you have no images or shoddy examples then that looks really bad! The first thing you see in an interview or a review is a photo. That comes before the music and your eyes are engaged and stimulated before your ears! We, as it is said, have short attention spans so, if you have grainy images or none at all, are people going to look further and stick around?! I wouldn’t. The reason I am so insistent regarding high-res images is because I want to capture the mind and hook people in. Too many times, I have been a pacifist and published pieces with terrible images or low-resolution ones. I look back and wince and wonder why I did not reject that artist!

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @nicolasjleclercq/Unsplash

This article, published four years ago, shows there is ignorance among the music community:

Our findings showed that out of 2,000 artists, only 4% thought promoters took the quality of pictures and videos into account when selecting artists as opportunity winners.

The reality is, almost every promoter that we talk to mentions how important photographs and album covers are in their selections. A great photograph is what immediately separates you from anyone else at first glance. You’ve worked hard to make sure that your music is as good as it can be, so why not invest some time in making sure that first visual hook is just as good?

Victor Alfieri, Founder, Owner and Editor-in-Chief, wordkrapht.com

“A high quality photo or album cover shows that the artist is taking their craft seriously and that this isn’t some weekend hobby. While I understand that funds are always tight, there are ways to produce high quality stuff that help the artist get noticed.”

Vaughn Lowery, President, 360 Magazine

“Captivating artwork is everything. Because we live in a visual world, artists should have photos that expresses the message points of their band. However, there is a clear distinction between quality and quantity”.

To be honest with you; if you do a quick Google search and you will find countless articles that underline the point: you need to get good photos and image is everything!

This article I discovered talks to photographers and how important images are:

Nashville-based photographer Kyle Dean Reinford is a specialist in music portraiture, documentary and live photos, who spent years learning his trade in New York. He feels image plays an integral role—especially on the business side.

Yeah, the music is obviously the main product, but in the age of the internet, image means a lot. If I see a terrible photo of a band, I'm less inclined to listen—even more so if they have a bad name. It's hard for me to get past those things on a personal music-loving level and I expect it's the same for others. We don't just hear music on the radio the way we used to.

I'd also say that having good photography is key for getting signed. Labels don't develop bands the way they used to. They want to see a band that looks cool and marketable and has everything worked out”.

The music itself is, of course, the main thing and if you feel image – as in sexiness and fashion – is what sells you best then you need to ask yourself whether you are in the right industry! I am not talking about coolness, selling your body and commercialism. Great photos, as has been outlined, sell the music as much as the artists themselves so there is no reason to think you can have a successful career without some good-quality shots – ignore that advice at you peril.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @shs521/Unsplash

The last two point I want to relate to names and social media. Again, like photos, you need to sell yourself and be visible and, if people struggle to find you online then you are shooting yourself in the foot! I know it has having a great band name and standing aside but you would not believe the number of times I have come across Google-proof bands that you spend ages trying to locate! I have come across solo artists called ‘Sophie’ or ‘Gemma’ and try typing that into social media sites and Google and how many options you have! If you called your band, let’s say, ‘Wealth’, then how am I meant to narrow that down?! In the way people will look elsewhere after seeing some poor photos; they will do the same if they cannot locate you or there are other bands with the same name. Similarly; having weird characters and letters in your name is irritating and unnecessary. If I saw a band called ‘summariZe1’ or ‘TurNINgReed’ or something silly then I would  lose my patience. I have taken artists with complex or hard-to-find names and I always regret it. There are articles out there that give you advice regarding names and getting it right. This illuminating piece reflects some common advice that is worth taking to heart:

Before you go crazy, there are a few things we would like you to keep in mind. A good (and legal) band name must be:

1. Unused – No one likes a copy cat
2. Short – 1-3 words is standard and works with the psychology of memory
3. Timeless – You don’t want to end up hating your out-of-fashion name in three years
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Google friendly – Make sure when people search your name, they find you and not a bunch of pictures of Snooping Dogs or porn
5. Consider avoiding ‘The [something]’ – Starting with “The” has been done and is officially dusted (for the time being)

Animal names

The Internet loves animals.

Google ‘bands with animal names’ and you can get about 13,700,000 results. Check out the comments on Brad Frost’s list of bands with animal-themed names, people are enthusiastic. You surely can’t go wrong with this category unless you strongly insist in using names of the world’s ugliest animals. They could be cute to you but might not be for everyone else. And no Blobfish please.

Looking back from the 60s, the list of animal-inspired band names is endless. Here we have the ’The (Animal Name)’, mostly classic rock bands from the old days such as The Monkees, Animals and The Beatles; On the contemporary side we have bands like Arctic MonkeysCat PowerGrizzly BearModest MouseThe Mountain Goats and Birds of Tokyo, which are descriptive or a combination of an animal with something with a ring to it...

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images  

In saying this, we’d highly recommend you go for a descriptive animal name.

Not only that the ‘The (Something)’ is out, it is also more recognisable and creative than a plain animal name. Think storytelling. Alien Ant Farm is much catchier and funnier than plain old Ant Farm. And Snoop Dogg / Lion / Werewolf / Unicorn / whatever’s next is much better than ordinary Snoop. That’s just creepy.

Objects, Nature, Places & Events

If you’re still stuck, get some inspiration from the things around you.

Where are you? Literally. Where were the New York Dolls or the Alabama Shakes? Look around the house. Take the famous example of AC/DC who chose their name from the back of a sewing machine. Open your fridge. Think Vanilla IceLemonheadsPeachesRed Hot Chili Peppers or Salt n’ Pepa”.

This article adds to the mix:

2. Want to use your actual name? Make it unique and more descriptive

If you're compelled to use your personal name, just be prepared to make it more hip, memorable, unique, and descriptive if needed. Case in point: David Bowie (born David "Davy" Jones) adopted "Bowie" – after his favorite hunting knife – to sound more edgy and to create more distinction from Davy Jones of the Monkees.

Alternatively, if your goal is to make it clear that you're the leader of your band, don't be afraid to say precisely that in your name! The Dave Matthews Band is a name that implies that there is one leader, Dave Matthews, but we can also expect – with some flexibility – that the same group of musicians will be working on every recording and performance

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PHOTO CREDIT: @gaspanik/Unsplash

3. Consider how it'll fit on your merch…

Your name should be short enough (or look cool enough when turned into an acronym) to fit on merchandise, including T-shirts, hats, and stickers. Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails denies any deep meaning to the name – he claims to have just wanted a name that abbreviated easily!

4. Be sure it's easy to read, pronounce, and spell

Remember what a name is intended to do – make you memorable and recognizable. A name with an overly strange spelling that no one can read may be defeating the purpose. Could you imagine if your parents gave you a name no one could pronounce correctly? Each day of school would be a nightmare as each teacher constantly messes up your name!

Korn spelled with a "K" is fine, for instance, but just be careful not to make your own name's spelling too weird. Though the band Lynyrd Skynyrd has been hugely successful for decades, I literally couldn't find them on the web when researching this article because I couldn't spell their name correctly. Even Google had no idea what I was trying to do. (I'm laughing, but I'm serious.) For a brand new band in this day and age, you might as well not exist if your name can't be easily searched online”.

Given the number of artists who respond to my emailed interview questions and I spend more time correcting the thing than they took to write it…we are less connected to the written word and spending a lot of time text-speaking.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @nesabymakers/Unsplash

We want a band that is easy to recall and we can tap into a search engine easily. I am not saying you need to dumb-down but you don’t want to have the caps lock on and off, on and off; typing in a number and then put in an apostrophe! Similarly, if you have a very common name you will take so long to find the band you want that you get annoyed and move on. Also; boring and obvious names can put people off just as much. Take advice from the articles above and bolster it with the search results you can find. It is a bit late for bands out there saddled with crap names but when it comes to naming your next single, E.P. or album, you can avoid similar pitfalls. Again; why do artists feel it is okay to name their latest piece something so common and over-used?! I can understand songs have a theme but I see so many songs that I think I have seen before – look through Spotify and you find a dozen other artists who have named their song the same! This ties together image and naming. Whilst cover art and photos are there to catch the eye and sell the product; if you are lazy regarding titles or give a song/E.P. a stupid name that can have a very detrimental effect! Bands/artists have so much navigate and consider when they are established – making mistakes right from the off means you might not have a long career at all!

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PHOTO CREDIT: @andrewtneel/Unsplash

If you have your name and images all sorted and, essentially, ensure people are enticed enough to listen to/promote your music then you’ll want to be visible online! I am not 100% sure whether an official website is vital but it certainly helps! I am not big on Instagram but I feel, if you want to spread your music and get it to the biggest names in music then you NEED to be on Twitter! I have mentioned this before but cannot underline how baffling it is when musicians are not on there! This article provides a lot of reasons why Twitter is essential – I have picked a few:

2) It’s where things happen first

Not all things. But, increasingly, news happens first on Twitter.

This point may not be so relevant to musicians in terms of publishing content via the medium, but keeping abreast of what is happening in the music world on Twitter and taking an active part in those discussions is one of the ways in which you will gain followers and by extension increase your fanbase. If you only use Twitter once a day or once a week to send updates, instead of using it as a means to engage and communicate with others, you will not be getting the best from the service...

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IMAGE CREDIT: Twitter/Getty Images 

6) It’s a fantastic form of marketing

You’ve written your piece or blog. Now you can let them all know it’s there, so that they come to your site. You alert your community of followers.

The primary reason for a musician to use Twitter is to communicate with your fans and promote your music. As I’ve mentioned, if all you do on Twitter is spam your followers with BUY BUY BUY messages, you won’t have them for long. But if you use Twitter well, and tweet about non-commercial content for the most part then fans will respond to messages about buying your music and merchandise. And don’t forget that your followers will be excited about your next concert or music release so tweeting about these things will build up enthusiasm and anticipation.

8 ) It’s more diverse

Traditional media allowed a few voices in. Twitter allows anyone.

In the similar fashion to Facebook, Twitter allows you to capture audiences which previously would have been considered niche. In the vast oceans of the world wide web nice groups can clump together into significant audiences (and market) for your music”.

Another feature, from DIY Musician, makes some interesting points and provides useful advice:

Facebook might be amenable to a few updates per day, but the more posts you write, the less likely your followers are to see them.

When you want to say something with words, when you want to say a lot of things with words, there’s Twitter!

A string of tweets can show you building a larger story over a short time. A tweet every 15 minutes can reveal the random misadventures of your life. The one-off tweet can share a revelation…

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PHOTO CREDIT: @rawpixel/Unsplash 

Whether you want to let your fans in on your stream-of-conscious mind or you prefer to schedule 50 tweets ahead of time in HootSuite, Twitter doesn’t hold you back.

Being a member of a larger music community is important, but when you want to share info about a friend’s new music, or thank a blogger who covered your latest release (on the same day your video goes live on YouTube), or just ask your fans what they thought of that cool article about your favorite artist,… you might be reluctant to do so on Facebook if it hurts the reach of other important posts you need to make that day.

Who comes to the rescue? Yep, once again, Twitter.

Twitter has zero barriers to being a good community member. You can tweet, retweet, reply, and like things whenever you want. When there’s no cost to being a supporter of others’ work, generosity follows. Sure, Twitter is the digital home to plenty of trolls, but it can be a really supportive place as well”.

You can get so much attention being on Twitter and it means, with a single tweet, you can get your music to radio stations, labels and whoever you want! Maybe you feel your music can grow and market itself based on radio and Facebook but the reason so many artists get their songs played on big radio stations is because of Twitter! There is no logical reason to avoid the site and it is so incredibly simple to promote and accrue the right fans; get a big audience and remain visible. If you think you are too ‘cool’ for Twitter then you are wrong. Not only will people miss your music but you are limiting yourself being off of Twitter.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @reeneyjenkins/Unsplash

The last piece I will bring in introduces a new dynamics and thoughts:

I think you lose a lot if you outsource your social communication to third parties,” says Mike More, CEO of Headliner.fm, a social marketing platform for musicians. “It only takes a few minutes a day. There’s a very big upside for artists that invest their time in getting it right.”

“One of the main advantages Twitter has for artists is that it’s more open than Facebook or any other social platform,” says More. “Artists can follow any band they’re into and connect with them easily. This is a big plus.”

This lends itself to the possibility of connecting with like-minded artists and if one possesses the right blend of luck and relevance, getting followed or retweeted by a band with a massive following.

But it also makes that artist-to-fan communication much easier than it ever was before, and different artists utilize it in different ways. Some are impersonal and almost broadcast-esque, while others choose to get a little more intimate”.

I would not exist and be able to do what I do were it not for Twitter! Facebook is okay for personal contacts but limited for music and promotion. I can add musicians and contact them directly; I can get my pieces shared more easily and widely and it is an essential marketing tool!

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @mparente/Unsplash

I cannot emphasise those who ignore it and do wonder why! These concerns of mine might seem niche and personal but, honestly, journalists and every corner of music feels the same. The best and most long-lasting artists take pride in images and realise their worth; they have a great name that is not off-putting and they are visible on Twitter. There is a lot more to consider when it comes to forging a successful career in music but avoiding pitfalls regarding name, photos and Twitter visibility is paramount. You need to ensure people can find your band/music and you have a visual edge – not just musical – and, when they do like that they see, they can point others your way. It is all about that fan-to-musician relationship and an intimacy that goes with it. One reason I am tuning away a lot of requests is because of things like lacking photos or poor quality; those not on Twitter or something like that. There is no need to make these errors and be lazy. If you are an artist – and culpable when it comes to my concerns – then think about it from the fan’s/journalist’s viewpoint. We want to bond with you and share your music so it is essential you are visible and easily locatable. Image-wise; we want to see what you look like and what you are about – photos are as much about your personality and unique edge as they are anything else. These tips and guidelines may seem rather minor and slight but trust me, if you follow them and take them to heart, it can all make…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @jeshoots/Unsplash

A huge difference!

FEATURE: Sisters in Arms: An All-Female, Autumn-Ready Playlist (Vol. XI)

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Bang Bang Romeo/PHOTO CREDIT: Holly Rose Stones

An All-Female, Autumn-Ready Playlist (Vol. XI)

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HERE is another female-led playlist…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: IDER/PHOTO CREDIT: Lottie Turner  

that should suit the rather autumnal weather we are having! I will produce another selection by the weekend and am always keeping my eyes and ears open for the best female-fronted sounds around. It is a drizzly and rather cloudy day so it is a good excuse to get the headphones on and listen to some great music - great new cuts and a few songs that go back as far as last year. I am excited and immersed into the playlist and the variety included. From Pop and R&B; covering different nations and showing the depth and quality of female-made music; it is another bold and fascinating playlist. Have a listen to the collated songs and I am sure there will be something in there that turns the head and gets you interested.  As the weather turns a bit crap and we are all looking for something warm and safe; here is an assortment of top-quality songs that will keep you protected whilst…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Alice Chater 

BRINGING the heat.

ALL PHOTOS (unless stated otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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LCMDF Glitter

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Thandii Another One

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The New Respects - Trouble

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PHOTO CREDIT: @kramerdoingbits

After LondonCeremony Waits

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PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Carson Photography

Jealous of the BirdsMarrow

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Salt AshesGo All Out

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Lucy May WalkerMy Help

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Sofi de la TorreRun That Back

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Dolores HazeFLIP

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ElheistMatter of Fact / Not That Easy

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Lucy SpragganHey William

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PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Bridgland

IDERYou’ve Got Your Whole Life Ahead of You Baby

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Dominique TeyLet It Out

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La ForceMama Papa

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S.O.SLike a Flower

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PHOTO CREDIT: Ellie Mitchell

Bang Bang RomeoChemical

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Tori SheardTreading Water

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Laura GibsonDomestication

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Alice ChaterHourglass

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ANNALIACycles

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PHOTO CREDIT: Luke Nugent Photography

NAATIONSHistory

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MAWDWandering Eye

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PHOTO CREDIT: Tanya Voltchanskaya

Bri ClarkGiving Up

FEATURE: Embrace/Retune: BBC Radio 6 Music in 2018: The Future Is Very Bright

FEATURE:

 

 

Embrace/Retune

IMAGE CREDIT: BBC/Getty Images 

BBC Radio 6 Music in 2018: The Future Is Very Bright

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ONE of my prurient distractions (that I constantly need to itch)…

is listening to BBC Radio 6 Music! I tend to write a couple of pieces about the station a year because, as much as anything, I hope it gets shared and new listeners turn on! I will be covering some older ground but I wanted to revisit the station because, as we head to the New Year; I have been looking back at the station and how important it is to me, personally. It has been a turbulent and eventful year for the station. One of my favourite D.J.s, Mark Radcliffe, is currently on a ‘sabbatical’/sick leave dealing with cancer and I will be very excited hearing him back on the airwaves next year. Radcliffe presents the afternoon show during the week with Stuart Maconie and their repartee/banter is one of the reasons why I love BBC Radio 6 Music so. They have been, as part of a New Year shuffle, moved to the weekends (during the morning) and that decision garnered its fair share of indignation! I was among those who protested – in the form of mild grumble – and asked why that decision was made. It is sad to see two stalwarts of radio taken from a slot they seem so comfortable and content in – Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe have both said they have a good working relationship and no desires to go their separate ways. With Radcliffe battling cancer; it seems sad his return to radio will be in a reduced role...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Shaun Keaveny with Jodie Whittaker/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC

In any case; among the negativity and unwelcomed change are some new appointments. Shaun Keaveny has moved from the breakfast show to afternoon and, whilst I will miss him sorely in his usual slot; he has been breaking rocks and entertaining those weary-eyed risers for over a decade and, well…it is time the Leigh-born D.J. gets a bit of a kip in the morning! Mary Anne Hobbs is becoming a regular weekday D.J. and, alongside Lauren Laverne taking over the breakfast show; I am glad female D.J.s are getting bigger recognition and there is that move. Whilst I am going to take a while to adjust to someone more positive taking over breakfast – that 7 A.M. grumble and gripe is something I will miss, man! – I am glad Keaveny gets a chance to bed into a new slot. I love his partnership with Matt Everitt and it is good to see them travel together. I get a lot of my music news and discoveries from Everitt and his work is a big influence on me (from his music news to his in-depth and compelling interviews with big names). I wonder whether his regular features will go with him (Small Claims Court and his usual morning routine…) and whether, in that early slot, Laverne will be able to bring her much-loved features along – Desert Island Disco, Memory Tapes and Biorhythms are great fixtures and I always discover new music listening to them. She is a great interviewer and hosts live sessions and one would imagine, when that shift happens, Mary Anne Hobbs would take live sessions on?! I am a huge fan of Chris Hawkins too and, whilst he is on before Keavney - and a bit too early for me! - I catch him on the iPlayer. Hawkins’ hard work and endless commitment takes my breath. An exceptional D.J. and pivitol figure on BBC Radio 6 Music!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne with John Grant/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC

I was slightly aggrieved at Laura Snapes’ reaction to the BBC Radio 6 Music ‘cabinet reshuffle’. Writing in The Guardian; she was pleased women were/are getting more exposure but felt, aside from that, it was same-old-same-old at the station:

“…Otherwise, it’s a classic 6 Music cabinet reshuffle. It speaks to the station’s core contradiction: its remit is to “celebrate the alternative spirit in popular music from the 1960s to the present day” yet its presenters are all firmly establishment. The average age of its 22 DJs is 52. Only one is under 40 – Tom Ravenscroft, at 38. For all its praiseworthy emphasis on new music (apparently a key doubling-down of the reshuffle), 6 Music struggles to introduce new presenters because it relies on stable brands – largely pegged to the very white history of British indie culture – rather than minting new stars.

There’s no shortage of potential 6 Music DJs: Jon Hillcock has been filling in on the station for years with one of the most inclusive and inquisitive new music shows going, yet has never progressed to a regular slot. A DJ like 1Xtra’s omnivorous Jamz Supernova would fit well, as would NTS’s Bullion, and they could do more with Huw Stephens than Radio 1 make of him. I’m surprised they’ve not poached the fairly new but eminently adept Matt Wilkinson from Beats 1, nor opened up their cohort of musicians to younger performers: off the top of my head, Lily Allen, Dev Hynes, MIA, Metronomy’s Joe Mount and Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan would all create exciting radio...

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IN THIS PHOTO: Mary Anne Hobbs/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC 

Yet the station’s complacency makes a certain sort of sense: the lack of room for new talent indicates the success of 6 Music’s well-established brands. Note that Steve Lamacq, the station’s most popular broadcaster outside of the breakfast show, is the only untouched daytime slot. Rajar figures released in May show that 6 Music now attracts a record 2.53 million weekly listeners aged 15 and over (from 2.34 million in the previous quarter and 2.35 million last year), with all of the daytime shows reaching more than a million listeners weekly for the first time. Why fix what isn’t broken – especially when listeners baulk at change? Who can forget the horror at George Lamb’s short-lived show? Attempts at GLR-style quirk (Natasha Desborough on weekend breakfast, Jon Holmes at the weekend) were similarly brief”.

I can abide by a couple of points. There is a pool of talent who do occasional shows on BBC Radio 6 Music, like Jon Hillcock, who I would like to see moved to a more permanent slot! I will come onto this a bit later but, your honour, I must get to my point! Like a lawyer making a case who has suddenly been distracted by a squirrel frolicking by a tree outside the courthouse; I need to regain some focus and clarity! I wanted to write this piece to state why BBC Radio 6 Music has been especially important to me this year – a look at where I think it could go in 2019...

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @josephbalzanodev/Unsplash

The past few weeks have seen me locate to London in search of work, dreams and all of that and I, to be honest, have found it very hard going. The phone is not ringing as much as I’d like; the Tube is being delayed more than I’d imagine and the bank balance is becoming ever-more malnourished and sickly! I am a bit concerned about that aspect but, if anything, BBC Radio 6 has been a trusted and forgiving companion. It does not scoff at my rather lacklustre riches nor snort in derision when looking at my plans for any given week! Instead, I have turned to the station like a mute confessional box and have let the music/D.J.s balm and soothe me. I am looking forward to changes and evolution next year but I have been blown away by the quality and brilliance of the station. It is getting stronger each year and that, in no small part, is because of the loyalty of the staff and the passion they exude! Say what you want about changes at BBC Radio 1 and 2 – some high-profile names going elsewhere – but BBC Radio 6 Music, to me, is a station that warrants a lot more love (more on that anon). I love the holy trio of Shaun Keaveny, Lauren Laverne and RadMac (Radcliffe and Maconie) and have discovered so much new music from them.

The enthusiasm, humour and passion you get from these D.J.s is infectious and (they have) buoyed me at a time when I need it most. Some people talking about mental illness like two pigeons fighting over a discarded condom in an alleyway – or something less revolting! – and turn their noses up. I, as a journalist, am not alone when it comes to mental-health. I suffer from depression and anxiety and ‘conventional’ medicines/talk have not made a dent through the years. Listening to these familiar and reliable voices each day, in an odd way, provides me with more spirit, determination and hope than nearly anything else. It may seem strange – as I have not met any of them – but I have become a more ambitious writer and a stronger-willed person because of them! I am tuning into Steve Lamacq during the afternoons and discovering what he is all about. I have always been aware of ‘Lammo’ but am spending more time with his show. He, aside from Tom Ravenscroft, Lauren Laverne and Mary Anne Hobbs, is one of the most ardent truffle hounds of new music. His nose is pressed to crates and his ears never more than a few feet from some sweaty, beer-scented and explosive gig; his mind never far from projecting florid and delighted words about some band we need to hear. The same is true of Marc Riley - who provides live sessions and is one of the most passionate and committed D.J.s at the station.

That sort of passion and love is, again, what makes BBC Radio 6 Music such a perennial banquet of delight! D.J.s on the station give a voice to new artists and so many musicians I interview have been featured on the station. It means so much to them and puts their music into new hands; it boosts their career and is an invaluable asset! I am listening more to Craig Charles, Tom Ravenscroft and Huw Stephens (a new name to the BBC Radio 6 Music roster) and dipping in to Cerys Matthews and Gilles Peterson – that sounds a bit wrong but you know (I hope) what I mean – and becoming less reliant on three or four D.J.s to satisfy my thirst. The quality and variation I have discovered by spending more time with the station is mind-blowing! I am discovering new things and qualities about BBC Radio 6 Music - and the station provides an alternative for those who want to escape the commercial rivals and discover D.J.s who are genuinely excited about music – so many smaller stations hire D.J.s for comedy/entertainment rather than a love of music. If you are new to the station and want to find that hard balance of excellent music and D.J.s who are likable and know what they are on about…you need to tune in to BBC Radio 6 Music. The station marked National Album Day and is always involved in every aspect of music. The documentaries they put on – like Martin Freeman, last Sunday, paying tribute to The Beatles’ eponymous album turning fifty – are fantastic and you get so much more than the same old shows week in, week out.

From shining a light on a special album to opening our eyes to issues around gender and race; BBC Radio 6 Music has a social conscious that is refreshing and inspiring to see! I disagree with something Snapes said in that Guardian piece:

“…It trades in comfort and familiarity, new versions of old sounds, rather than pursuing a genuine cultural “alternative spirit”. The “alternative” it celebrates is the mainstream – look no further than David Cameron’s festival selfies for proof. In essence, 6 is the old Radio 1 evening slot writ large for people who, due to jobs and kids, can no longer listen to the radio between 7pm and midnight. Sloughing off older presenters would force listeners of a certain age to reckon with their identity – and mortality – and the fact that what was once their youthful alternative now simply … isn’t”.

I think a reason why BBC Radio 6 Music continues to snap, crackle and pop the underwear of curiosity and slake the perversity of the musical imagination is (because of) the way it remains fresh and does not stick with rigid guidelines. I feel the fact there are slightly older D.J.s at the station is not a sign of mortality or a depressing thing: you have years’ experience and are not reliant on the usual plethora of overly-cheerful yoofs (sic) who are all about the ‘coolest’ and most commercial sounds. It seems, despite some dimples on the motorway; BBC Radio 6 Music is looking in fine shape as we head into 2019…

 

Aside from thanking BBC Radio 6 Music and recommending people tune in; I feel there are exciting possibilities that can be explored in 2019! I am not sure whether it is possible to bring a digital station - which BBC Radio 6 Music is - to the normal airwaves and turn it F.M. BBC Radio 2 and 1 have such a big audience, among other reasons, because they are not digital-only and, as such, it is easier to find them and stay with them. I know BBC Radio 6 Music has this cool and slightly exclusive edge but one of the reasons a lot of people I know have not discovered the station is because it is digital. Maybe it is not possible to do that but I feel like there is this chance for BBC Radio 6 Music to go a bit more mainstream and I think it could recruit a lot of listeners from BBC Radio 2 and 1 – they would find much to love and discover and it could create a new army for BBC Radio 6 Music. I am pleased Lauren Laverne and Mary Anne Hobbs are moving to new slots and there is a conscious effort to promote women and make changes. I still feel like there is an opportunity to bring more women into the station and tip the balance. There are more men at the station than women – this is true of most bigger options – and I feel like BBC Radio 6 Music could be one of the first station to bring about parity in terms of gender.

I mentioned how part-time BBC Radio 6 Music faces like Jon Hillcock could be promoted and new blood brought in. There is great loyalty at the station but there are chances for new shows a slight shake-up. I wonder how the breakfast and afternoon shows will change; who the music news presenter will be in the morning and whether all the much-loved and familiar features will find a new home. I am confident everything will settle and it will be great but I know there is that chance to bring the brand to a bigger audience. The station does that itself but there are many more (uninitiated) out there who could benefit from the warm and chocolatey tones of BBC Radio 6 Music. In my last BBC Radio 6 Music-related piece; I mooted the possibility of an award show that can be run by the station. With the Mercury Prize gaining negative scrutiny and other options like the BRITs designed for a rather commercial market; I feel like BBC Radio 6 Music could provide that essential and sought-after award that genuinely reflects tastes, variety and geography – with the Mercury Prize being very London-centric. Whereas The Cardigans, back in the 1990s, urged us to Erase/Rewind; I think BBC Radio 6 Music should be embraced but, in terms of personnel and bringing it further to the masses, a slight retune could be in order. I have a lot to thank them (everyone at the station) for what they have produced this year and I am sure so many people out there have been enriched and harnessed by the station. It continues to resonate, grow and shine and I think next year will be a huge one for the station. As I look back and encapsulate what the station has provided me (and so many others) this past year; I look forward and seeing how, with changes and shifts, it can move forward and who it can reach. If you are unaware of BBC Radio 6 Music and the loyal army – from the D.J.s and producers through to music news presenters and everyone who makes the machine work – then make sure tuning in is one of your…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @piensaenpixel/Unsplash

NEW Year’s Resolutions!

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Follow BBC Radio 6 Music

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IN THIS PHOTO: Héloïse Letissier (Christine and the Queens) alongside Lauren Laverne/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC 

Official:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/6music

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/BBC6Music

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/BBCRadio6Music/

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/bbc6music/

YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqV-eYI6gwAYxQowEWosBkA

FEATURE: Llais Hyfryd: The 2018 Welsh Music Prize: The Nominees

FEATURE:

 

 


Llais Hyfryd

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IN THIS PHOTO: A shot of Llanberis, Wales/PHOTO CREDIT: @fotios_photos/Unsplash

The 2018 Welsh Music Prize: The Nominees

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SO much energy was expended earlier this year…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The flag of Wales/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

when the nominations for the Mercury Prize were announced that we forget there are nation-specific awards for Scotland and Wales. It is great the nations get to mark the best of their indigenous talent and I feel the Welsh Music Prize does not get the coverage it warrants. That said; I have been hearing a couple of radio stations mention it and a few of the music magazines/websites have listed the runners and riders! Wolf Alice won this year’s Mercury and, again, it was a year with some notable omissions and a London winner! Many have become aghast at the predictable let-down and slight annoyance you get with the Mercury whilst others feel it has a lot of potential and is giving a platform for artists who really need the exposure. I flip-flop but was irritated a few great albums were omitted from the shortlist this year – among them was Gwenno’s Le Kov and Boy Azooga’s 1,2, Kung Fu! Both of those records are Mercury-worthy but I guess you need to draw a line somewhere! Each of the nominated albums for the Welsh Music Prize are fantastic and I think there is greater depth and strength in this award than there was for the Mercury. It seems like Wales (and Scotland) are leading the way when it comes to running a balanced and quality-packed award!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: A shot of Borth, Wales/PHOTO CREDIT: @xientce /Unsplash

Before I present the nominees and a little bit about each record; it is probably worth letting DORK give you some information about this year’s Welsh Music Prize:

The nominees have been revealed for this year's Welsh Music Prize.

With a ceremony planned for Cardiff's Coal Exchange on 7th November, artists up for the gong include former winners Gwenno and Gruff Rhys, Manic Street Preachers, Boy Azooga and Astroid Boys.

There are also nods for Alex Dingley, Bryde, Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks, Catrin Finsh & Seckou Keita, Mellt, Seazoo and Toby Hay.

Co-founder of the award Hew Stephens explains: "It’s another eclectic and electrifying nominations list that the jurors have put forward. The judges will now listen to the twelve excellent albums and decide on a winner. These albums have found audiences worldwide, the musicians are incredible talented ambassadors for Wales and this year’s Welsh Music Prize proves that creativity in music from Wales is at an all time high”.

It is a rich and exciting time for Welsh music and, as many of the mainstream music sites ignore stuff outside of Wales; this list of juicy albums shows what colour, talent and nuance is coming from the proud and noble nation! I have had the pleasure of reviewing some of the albums below – and interviewed artists associated with them – and can attest to their power and hard work. Take a look and listen through the nominated twelve and, to all of the artists nominated, all the very…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @florenciaviadana/Unsplash

BEST of luck!

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images/Artists

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Astroid BoysBroke

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Release Date: 29th September, 2017

Label: Sony Music Entertainment Inc.

Standout Track: Dirt

Review:

But ultimately – as has been said numerous times in this review alone – Broke isn’t a rock album, rather a grime album proactively brought forward to try and give rock its swagger and edge back. And if, off the back of this, Astroid Boys do continue to be embraced within those circles, that’s only a good thing, as Broke is the sort of incendiary, crucially modern project that’s well and truly needed. Whether Astroid Boys will be the ones to unite the two camps for good remains to be seen, but for what has been a long time coming, an album has crossed over into the rock world with the firepower to potentially make some huge changes down the line” – The Sound Board

Boy Azooga1,2, Kung Fu!

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Release Date: 8th June, 2018

Label: Heavenly

Standout Track: Jerry

Review:

The sense that (Davey) Newington has poured everything into this significant debut ensures an emotional resonance at the heart of songs like ‘Waitin’, with the spiralling repetition of its weary chorus set to cause all kinds of borderline obscene tingles within festival-goers over the coming months.

The love for his craft that Newington clearly possesses is writ large across these eleven songs and the bloated Sabbath crescendo of closer ‘Sitting On The First Rock From The Sun’ is a bizarrely fitting finale. It feels like a release, entirely lacking cynicism, simply the right thing for that moment in the song. It’s a philosophy that Boy Azooga lives by on ‘1, 2 Kung Fu’ to often giddying effect” – CLASH

Bryde - Like an Island

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Release Date: 13th April, 2018

Label: Bryde

Standout Track: Fast Awake

Review:

Bryde’s tone and voice inflections in Transparent are so elegantly captivating, and drastically differs from the nostalgically grungy tunes that precede it, with more of an organic feel that accentuates the angelic facet of her voice. If Alanis Morissette and Jewel wrote a lullaby together, it may sound something like this.

The delicacy of Bryde’s vocals works perfectly in accordance with minimal instrumentals or heavy electric guitars, and first time listeners will be enamoured with her sound straight away, whether she is in a whisper or singing angstily. The singer-songwriter has a newfound attitude that shines brightly in this solo project, and it’s always refreshing to see the rise of a strong indie female artist” – Thank Folk for That

Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks - Pontvane

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Release Date: 29th September, 2017

Label: Bubblewrap Records

Standout Track: Yonderer

Review:

The majority of the tracks lilt along in an acoustic or semi-acoustic reverie. ‘That’s Who’ is full of pain and understanding. The addition of the harmonica reinforces the impression of being alone on the plains of Wales, enhanced by a pensive instrumental outro. There are clear Americana references such as on ‘Yonderer’. In contrast, on ‘Sophie’s Song’ the slide guitar makes it sound more like it’s on a land-locked Hawaii. In this sparse track, ‘cigarettes don’t calm me down’ is half-sung, half-narrated over a waltz rhythm. On ‘Please Do’, the slide guitar glides like a slow dance at a wedding. It is a South Pacific lullaby. Sing this to your loved one by a campfire or even a gasfire. It’s about taking off your boots and staying in.

Pontvane has a number of additional collaborators all which contribute to its quality. Of special note is ‘Scary Shoes’ which features Girl Ray. Psych-lite, it is a bit of toe-tapping deliciousness, ‘my heart doesn’t beat like it used to’. ‘Kingsland Road’ also benefits from the addition of a female vocal. What should be the prettiest of songs, though, is disturbed by the disorder of a radio interruption midway” – God Is in the TV

Alex Dingley - Beat the Babble

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Release Date: 2nd December, 2016

Label: Birth Records

Standout Track: Butterfly Corpses

Review:

There are highlights in the ten tracks - the rolling piano and mix of yearning and regret that defines Between the Sheets, the affecting simplicity of If I Asked You to Dance, the melancholy of Lovely Life to Leave - but the overall impression whilst listening from start to finish is of being somewhere else entirely, spirited away from the humdrum into someone else's imagination. The music flows and dances by like an extended hypnagogic dream.

The reason for this is straightforward. The record (it is still available at the time of writing on blue vinyl) lives and breathes in a space bound on one side by the intuition of The Velvet Underground, another by the music The Cure appear to be making in the claustrophobic wardrobe in Tim Pope's film for their classic single Close to Me, and on a third by the liminal magic of an Edwardian fairground at dusk.

This is Beat the Babble's first UK issue - but it is Dingley's third LP and was originally released three years ago in the US. The last time I owned an album as singular and individual as this was Clash cohort Tymon Dogg's Relentless, and I wore the brilliant music out of the grooves of it. Where Relentless was often angry and political, Beat the Babble is intensely personal, but just as essential; this is one of 2018's albums of the year, and of any other year you might care to pick” – From the Margins

Catrin Finch & Seckou KeitaSOAR

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Release Date: 27th April, 2018  

Label: bendigedig

Standout Track: Clarach

Review:

The exultation of flight is captured on opener Clarach, kora and harp cascading around each other intricately, while the enforced migration of slavery is addressed in 1677, a darker, bluesier piece referring to the infamous slave station of Goree – though even here the playing is gloriously airborne. Bach to Baïsso begins as an extract from Bach’s Goldberg Variations before flipping into an antique Senegalese tune with griot chants; a daring but successful leap. The pair take turns to supply an underlying riff or play lead, but the interplay between their instruments is seamless, and testimony to their years working together. Hypnotic and ethereal, Soar is a unique marriage of cultures” – The Guardian  

Gwenno - Le Kov

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Release Date: 2nd March, 2018  

Label: Heavenly

Standout Track: Eus Keus?

Review:

Gwenno effortlessly glides between styles on ‘Le Kov’ – the seamless transitions between forlorn piano and frosted beats (Aphex Twin was an inspiration) to pristine drums and discordant brass evoke a Cornwall that’s as easily accessible as it is steeped in tradition and folklore…

Like her debut, ‘Y Dydd Olaf’, delivered in her native welsh (the Cornish comes from her parents, it was spoken around the house, and her father is a Cornish poet), the fact that the majority of people won’t understand the lyrics matters not. ‘Le Kov’ would be a wonderful album even if it were sung in Gallifreyan” – Loud and Quiet

Toby Hay - The Longest Day

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Release Date: 21st June, 2018   

Label: The state51 Conspiracy

Standout Track: Leaving Chicago

Review:

This is music that proves powerfully potent at evoking crystal-clear images of the places and moments that may have inspired it. Both parts of the string-enhanced, majestically swirling “Curlew” bring to mind a more spontaneous take on the luxuriously orchestrated epics on sometime musical partner Jim Ghedi’s recent gem A Hymn for Ancient Land. The pull of Hay’s music is not reliant on ornamentation, however. The contemplative closer “At The Bright Hem of God” features little beyond Hay’s guitar but proves the most moving moment on an album not exactly short of highlights, a deeply resonant, beautifully built piece worthy of comparison to Michael Chapman’s greatest guitar compositions” – The Line of Best Fit

Manic Street Preachers - Resistance Is Futile

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Release Date: 13th April, 2018    

Label: Columbia Records

Standout Track: International Blue  

Review:

The true character of this 13th album probably lies on ‘Distant Colours’ and ‘Broken Algorithms’ – lamenting how transient culture has become, how social media and fake news have diluted knowledge in the echo chamber of digital hiss and zeroes and ones. The band who once told you to know your enemy now realise that the enemy is omnipresent, yet also invisible and unknowable. Still, the Manics are kicking against the pricks just as hard as ever. In their existence alone they continue to fight the good fight – but the sheer scale, pop-pomp and balls on show here render their survival an absolute victory. Resistance may be futile, but the Manics continue to advance” – NME

Mellt - Mae’n Hawdd Pan Ti’n Ifanc

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Release Date: 20th April, 2018    

Label: Recordiau JigCal Records

Standout Track: Tex  

Review:

Since ‘Cysgod Cyfarwydd’ appeared on their first EP back in 2014, Mellt have been rated as one of the best chorus writers around, and they seem keen to remind us of that ability on songs such as ‘Rebel’ and ‘Tex’. However, their strikingly humorous and healthy lyrical ode to being young threatens to steal the show as the album’s main attraction. Both of those features help to create an album where an unashamed pop sensibility doesn’t necessarily lead to a compromise in edginess and authenticity.

Stylistically, the Mellt formula is somewhat stretched in the steadier wails of ‘Gwên Werth Mwy na Bwled’, and in the Blur-meets-Libertines bed to guest vocalist Garmon’s classic old school Welsh alt-rock rants. However, as last track ‘Glan Llyn’ halts towards the chorus, the band’s use of the album’s title reminds us all of why we’re here in the first place, and how we’ve listened to a well-constructed half hour of pure indie hookiness” – Let It Happen

Gruff Rhys Babelsberg

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Release Date: 8th June, 2018    

Label: Rough Trade Records

Standout Track: Frontier Man  

Review:

Babelsberg, you soon realise, is a kind of primer of those pleasingly eccentric, non-youth-oriented mainstream pop styles that flourished in the States from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, somewhere between Glen Campbell’s first flush of success and AOR’s first incursions, via MOR’s heyday. ‘Limited Edition Heart’ has a lovely, smooth Carpenters swirl and depth to it. There is more than a touch of early Steely Dan to ‘Take That Call’. ‘Architecture of Amnesia’ might have Father John Misty checking his wallet, but Rhys has been craftily plundering the same sources for a good while now. A duet with Lily Cole, ‘Selfies In The Sunset’, makes a poignant coda, as though Nancy and Lee replaced their archness and menace with a meditative, wistful air of acceptance.

Throughout it – as throughout his career, with others and solo – flows Rhys’s gift for melody, which seems to rise from him as easily, naturally and endlessly as water from a spring. In the end, you can’t beat a good tune or ten. And when they carry this much imagination with them, it becomes a form of gentle wizardry. Any enchantment is bound to fall on deaf ears, at times; mine remain tuned in to Rhys, and I’m glad of it” – The Quietus

SeazooTrunks

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Release Date: 2nd February, 2018     

Label: Seazoo

Standout Track: Dig  

Review:

Recorded in bedrooms and the aforementioned bunker above, Trunks is the debut album from this up-and-coming act. Having previously received love from BBC’s Huw Stephens, Lauren Laverne, Steve Lamacq, Mark Radcliffe, as well as a handful of notable online tastemakers, this handful of charming numbers is sure to expand on the impressive reach this young band has already made.

Without digging too far into these cats, you’ll quickly see the outlined comparisons to the long-standing indie rock legends, Yo La Tengo. And, those associations are pretty spot on. The playful and carefree nature easily brings you fully into that frame, and it’s something that you don’t see too often. There are wonderfully poppy moments throughout — catchy hooks, unique vocal cadences, and grin-inducing harmonies — but it never feels forced, or overdone. It comes off with a nonchalant air that’s simply intoxicating and downright addicting” – The Music Ninja

FEATURE: Three Dreaded Words? The Concept Album: Ten Fine Examples

FEATURE:

 

 

Three Dreaded Words?

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PHOTO CREDIT: @elijahsad/Unsplash 

The Concept Album: Ten Fine Examples

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WHEN artists release concept albums…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @sunnystate/Unsplash

there is that sharp intake of breath and people cower for shelter! Look back at some of the bloated Prog-Rock efforts and it is all wild solos and pretentious songs. The concept album has not died and, in fact, it is providing modern artists the chance to tell a complete story. Musicians like Janelle Monáe are embracing the concept album with aplomb and finding they can write about affecting and challenging subjects and tie it to a narrative/story. A lot of modern concept albums do not have to involve a straight run of songs that are blend into one another and do not give artists the chance to explore and expand. Maybe that view of the concept album being pretentious and boring stems from older days when artists would talk about something rather weird, random and daft. I don’t know…

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PHOTO CREDIT: @verstuyftj/Unsplash

Maybe there is that narrow-minded approach to the concept album but, with BBC Radio 6 Music dedicating a show to the modern-day concept album; it seems like we are more willing to embrace it - contemporary artists are able to remain true to themselves and write an album that has a unifying theme. There have been some great modern concept albums but I was interested looking back at the all-time finest and showing, when artists got it right, the concept album could be a glorious and memorable thing! Have a look of the rundown of wonderful examples and I am sure you will agree with me when I say rank alongside any other album you can name! What I love about concept albums is there is that arc and narrative that keeps you hooked; a theme/suggestion that sucks you in and takes you along with the ride. The concept album is far from dead and is being evolved and updated for new audience and proves that, what was once a rather dirty and embarrassing thing, is actually…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @almosbech/Unsplash

PRETTY damn beautiful.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images

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Pink FloydThe Dark Side of the Moon

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Release Date: 1st March, 1973

Concept:

The Dark Side of the Moon built upon experiments Pink Floyd had attempted in their previous live shows and recordings, but lacks the extended instrumental excursions which, according to critic David Fricke, had become characteristic of the band after founding member Syd Barrett left in 1968. Gilmour, Barrett's replacement, later referred to those instrumentals as "that psychedelic noodling stuff", and with Waters cited 1971's Meddle as a turning-point towards what would be realised on the album. The Dark Side of the Moon's lyrical themes include conflict, greed, the passage of time, death, and insanity, the latter inspired in part by Barrett's deteriorating mental state.[7] The album contains musique concrète on several tracks.[3]

Each side of the album is a continuous piece of music. The five tracks on each side reflect various stages of human life, beginning and ending with a heartbeat, exploring the nature of the human experience, and (according to Waters) "empathy".[7] "Speak to Me" and "Breathe" together stress the mundane and futile elements of life that accompany the ever-present threat of madness, and the importance of living one's own life – "Don't be afraid to care".[22] By shifting the scene to an airport, the synthesizer-driven instrumental "On the Run" evokes the stress and anxiety of modern travel, in particular Wright's fear of flying.[23] "Time" examines the manner in which its passage can control one's life and offers a stark warning to those who remain focused on mundane aspects; it is followed by a retreat into solitude and withdrawal in "Breathe (Reprise)". The first side of the album ends with Wright and vocalist Clare Torry's soulful metaphor for death, "The Great Gig in the Sky".[3] Opening with the sound of cash registers and loose change, the first track on side two, "Money", mocks greed and consumerism using tongue-in-cheek lyrics and cash-related sound effects (ironically, "Money" has been the most commercially successful track from the album, with several cover versions produced by other bands).[24] "Us and Them" addresses the isolation of the depressed with the symbolism of conflict and the use of simple dichotomies to describe personal relationships. "Any Colour You Like" concerns the lack of choice one has in a human society. "Brain Damage" looks at a mental illness resulting from the elevation of fame and success above the needs of the self; in particular, the line "and if the band you're in starts playing different tunes" reflects the mental breakdown of former bandmate Syd Barrett. The album ends with "Eclipse", which espouses the concepts of alterity and unity, while forcing the listener to recognise the common traits shared by humanity[25][26]” - Wikipedia

Label: Harvest

Review:

By condensing the sonic explorations of Meddle to actual songs and adding a lush, immaculate production to their trippiest instrumental sections, Pink Floyd inadvertently designed their commercial breakthrough with Dark Side of the Moon. The primary revelation of Dark Side of the Moon is what a little focus does for the band. Roger Waters wrote a series of songs about mundane, everyday details which aren't that impressive by themselves, but when given the sonic backdrop of Floyd's slow, atmospheric soundscapes and carefully placed sound effects, they achieve an emotional resonance. But what gives the album true power is the subtly textured music, which evolves from ponderous, neo-psychedelic art rock to jazz fusion and blues-rock before turning back to psychedelia. It's dense with detail, but leisurely paced, creating its own dark, haunting world. Pink Floyd may have better albums than Dark Side of the Moon, but no other record defines them quite as well as this one” – AllMusic

Bon IverFor Emma, Forever Ago

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Release Date: 8th July, 2007

Concept:

There may be no more mythic origin story in all of indie rock than the tale of Justin Vernon decamping to his father’s hunting cabin in the dead of winter and emerging with For Emma, Forever Ago. You probably know it by heart, but for posterity’s sake: Aching from the end of a romantic relationship and a band breakup that he believed to mark the death of his music career, Vernon holed up in remote northwestern Wisconsin for three months and spent his days hunting game and strumming an acoustic guitar. As inspiration struck, he traded the straightforward alt-country sounds of his previous project, DeYarmond Edison, for a more elemental yet sophisticated take on folk music — spare, trembling, otherworldly — ultimately coming away with a set of songs that crackled and glowed like a wood stove in the midst of a snowstorm” - Stereogum  

Labels: Jagjaguwar/4AD

Review:

As the second half of its title implies, the album is a ruminative collection of songs full of natural imagery and acoustic strums-- the sound of a man left alone with his memories and a guitar. Bon Iver will likely bear comparisons to Iron & Wine for its quiet folk and hushed intimacy, but in fact, Vernon, adopting a falsetto that is worlds away from his work with DeYarmond Edison, sounds more like TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe, not just in his vocal timbre, but in the way his voice grows grainier as it gets louder.

Vernon gives a soulful performance full of intuitive swells and fades, his phrasing and pronunciation making his voice as much a purely sonic instrument as his guitar. In the discursive coda of "Creature Fear" he whittles the song down to a single repeated syllable-- "fa." Rarely does folk-- indie or otherwise-- give so much over to ambience: Quivering guitar strings, mic'ed closely, lend opener "Flume" its eerily interiorized sound, which matches his unsettling similes” – Pitchfork

 

Green DayAmerican Idiot

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Release Date: 20th September, 2004

Concept:

concept album dubbed a "punk rock opera" by the band members, American Idiot follows the story of Jesus of Suburbia, a lower-middle-class American adolescent anti-hero. Through its plot, the album expresses the disillusionment and dissent of a generation that came of age in a period shaped by many tumultuous events like the Iraq War. The album was inspired by several musicals and the work of The Who. Recording of American Idiot was split between two California studios between 2003 and 2004. Its album art depicts a heart-shaped hand grenade” – Wikipedia

Label: Reprise

Review:

“…But Green Day — namely, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong — make the journey entertaining enough. At various times, American Idiot evokes football-game chants, ’50s greaser rock, military marches, classic rock (hints of ”Strawberry Fields Forever” and ”All the Young Dudes”), and the band’s own past (”Wake Me Up When September Ends,” an elegiac bookend to their own ”Good Riddance [Time of Your Life]”). As often happens with concept albums, the disc tends to rely on lyrics over music, so some of the songs are forgettable. But Green Day are now slinging mud not at their audience but at America’s pumped-up military-industrial complex — where ”a flag [is] wrapped around a score of men” and war rages ”from Anaheim to the Middle East” — without losing their bratty humor or power chords” – Entertainment Weekly

The Streets A Grand Don’t Come for Free

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Release Date: 17th May, 2004

Concept:

In the story, the protagonist loses £1,000, or a "grand" in slang terms, and strives to recoup the money.

In his book The Story of the Streets Skinner explained his decision to create a story that ran through the album:

"The reason I decided to write A Grand Don't Come for Free as episodes from a single unfolding narrative was because I'd got so into my songwriting manuals and books by Hollywood screen-writing gurus – not just Robert McKee but Syd Fieldand John Truby as well – and I wanted to try and put what I'd learnt from them into practice. Every song needs a drama at the centre of it, and once you have the drama, the song writes itself – that's what I firmly believed, and still do believe. I'm not alone in this convicition, either. It's something pretty much all rappers seem to be sure about."[2]

In the first track on the album, "It Was Supposed to Be So Easy", Skinner attempts several tasks during a day but they do not go according to plan. When he comes home he cannot find the thousand pounds he has saved and his television is broken. In the process of trying to recover the money he:

·         Starts seeing a girl called Simone who works in JD Sports with his friend Dan. ("Could Well Be In")

·         Tries to recover the thousand pounds by gambling on football. After a series of wins he frustratingly cannot get to the bookmaker's in time to make a big gamble. Fortuitously, the prediction is wrong — it is his lucky day. ("Not Addicted")

·         Is stood up at a nightclub by Simone, but passes the time drinking alcohol and taking ecstasy. He thinks he sees Simone kissing Dan but the drug induced high distracts him before he can think about it properly. ("Blinded By the Lights")

·         Moves into Simone's house and finds himself comfortable smoking marijuana there, rather than drinking with his friends at the pub. ("Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way")

·         Argues with Simone and she kicks him out of her house. ("Get Out of My House")

·         Poses to impress a girl ("Fit But You Know It") in a take away restaurant during a heavy night drinking on holiday.

·         Flies back from the holiday and remorsefully reviews the events of the previous night during a phone call to a friend, realising he still wants to be with Simone. ("Such a Twat")

·         Suspects his mate Scott of stealing his coat, money, and girlfriend but discovers that Simone is actually having an affair with Dan. ("What is He Thinking?")

·         Tries to cope with his girlfriend breaking up with him. ("Dry Your Eyes")

·         Deals with the events of his life in one of two ways; the final track, "Empty Cans", features two endings to the plot, a bitter ending and a happy ending (the former where he and a TV repairman get into a fight over the repairman's fee, and the latter in which he reconciles with his mates and finds the thousand pounds had fallen down the back of the TV, making it malfunction)” – Wikipedia

Label: 679 Artists

Review:

The whole album is so lyrically skilful and emotionally endearing that it allows Skinner to get away with murder at the finale. The much-vaunted plot "twist" stretches your credulity to the limit: suffice to say that in order to believe it, you would also have to believe that Skinner is woefully unobservant. Given that he has just spent the best part of an hour demonstrating that he is the most observant man in pop music, that's a preposterously tall order” – The Guardian

 Pink FloydThe Wall

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Release Date: 30th November, 1979

Concept:

The Wall is a rock opera[27] that explores abandonment and isolation, symbolised by a wall. The songs create an approximate storyline of events in the life of the protagonist, Pink (who is introduced in the songs "In the Flesh?" and "The Thin Ice"), a character based on Syd Barrett[28] as well as Roger Waters,[29] whose father was killed during the Second World War. Pink's father also dies in a war ("Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)"), which is where Pink starts to build a metaphorical "wall" around him. Pink is oppressed by his overprotective mother ("Mother") and tormented at school by tyrannical, abusive teachers ("The Happiest Days of Our Lives"). All of these traumas become metaphorical "bricks in the wall" ("Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)"). The protagonist eventually becomes a rock star, his relationships marred by infidelity, drug use, and outbursts of violence. He finally becomes married and is about to complete his "wall" ("Empty Spaces"). While touring in America, he brings a groupie home after learning of his wife's infidelity. Ruminating on his failed marriage, he trashes his room and scares the groupie away in a violent fit of rage. ("One of My Turns"). As his marriage crumbles ("Don't Leave Me Now"), he dismisses everyone he's known as "just bricks in the wall" ("Another Brick in the Wall (Part 3)") and finishes building his wall ("Goodbye Cruel World"), completing his isolation from human contact.[24][30]

Hidden behind his wall, Pink becomes severely depressed ("Hey You") and starts to lose all faith ("Vera"). In order to get him to perform, a doctor medicates him ("Comfortably Numb"). This results in a hallucinatory on-stage performance where he believes that he is a fascist dictator performing at concerts similar to Neo-Nazi rallies ("The Show Must Go On"), at which he sets brownshirts-like men on fans he considers unworthy ("In the Flesh" and "Run Like Hell").[30] Upon realizing the horror of what he has done ("Waiting for the Worms"), Pink becomes overwhelmed and wishes for everything around him to cease ("Stop"). Showing human emotion, he is tormented with guilt and places himself on trial ("The Trial"), his inner judge ordering him to "tear down the wall", opening Pink to the outside world ("Outside the Wall"). The album turns full circle with its closing words "Isn't this where ...", the first words of the phrase that begins the album, "... we came in?", with a continuation of the melody of the last song hinting at the cyclical nature of Waters' theme.[31]

The album includes several references to former band member Syd Barrett, including "Nobody Home", which hints at his condition during Pink Floyd's abortive US tour of 1967, with lyrics such as "wild, staring eyes", "the obligatory Hendrix perm" and "elastic bands keeping my shoes on". "Comfortably Numb" was inspired by Waters' injection with a muscle relaxant to combat the effects of hepatitis during the In the Flesh Tour, while in Philadelphia[32]” – Wikipedia

Labels: Harvest/Columbia

Review:

This was the last great album by Pink Floyd, and any fan of the band should own a copy , as it displays the band's most remarkable album, and one that contains all the hallmarks that made them great; ethereal, haunting at times, uplifting at others music, lyrical genius, and instrumental work, particularly from Dave Gilmour, that makes the ideas reality. The band's best album" Probably not. However, there's a definite case for saying that it may be the one that people are most interested in, and with very good reason. Although some people will disagree, this gets 5/5 from me” – Sputnikmusic

 

The WhoTommy

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Release Date: 23rd May, 1969 

Concept:

British Army Captain Walker goes missing during an expedition and is believed dead ("Overture"). His widow, Mrs. Walker, gives birth to their son, Tommy ("It's a Boy"). Years later, Captain Walker returns home and discovers that his wife has found a new lover. They murder the Captain in an altercation as Tommy watches. Tommy's mother convinces him that he did not see or hear the incident and must never tell anyone about it; as a result, he becomes deaf, dumb, and blind to the outside world ("1921"). Tommy now relies on his sense of touch and imagination, developing a fascinating inner psyche ("Amazing Journey/Sparks").[2]

quack claims his wife can cure Tommy ("The Hawker"), while Tommy's parents are increasingly frustrated that he will never find religion in the midst of his isolation ("Christmas"). They begin to neglect him, leaving him to be tortured by his sadistic "Cousin Kevin" and molested by his uncle Ernie ("Fiddle About"). The Hawker's drug addicted wife, "The Acid Queen", gives Tommy a dose of LSD, causing a hallucinogenic experience that is expressed musically ("Underture").[2]

As Tommy grows older, he discovers that he can feel vibrations sufficiently well to become an expert pinball player ("Pinball Wizard"). His parents take him to a respected doctor ("There's a Doctor"), who determines that the boy's disabilities are psychosomatic rather than physical. Tommy is told by the Doctor to "Go to the Mirror!", and his parents notice he can stare at his reflection. After seeing Tommy spend extended periods staring at a mirror in the house, his mother smashes it out of frustration ("Smash the Mirror"). This removes Tommy's mental block, and he recovers his senses, realising he can become a powerful leader ("Sensation"). He starts a religious movement ("I'm Free"), which generates fervor among its adherents ("Sally Simpson") and expands into a holiday camp ("Welcome" / "Tommy's Holiday Camp"). However, Tommy's followers ultimately reject his teachings and leave the camp ("We're Not Gonna Take It"). Tommy retreats inward again ("See Me, Feel Me") with his "continuing statement of wonder at that which encompasses him[2]” - Wikipedia

Labels: Decca/MCA

Review:

The full-blown rock opera about a deaf, dumb, and blind boy that launched the band to international superstardom, written almost entirely by Pete Townshend. Hailed as a breakthrough upon its release, its critical standing has diminished somewhat in the ensuing decades because of the occasional pretensions of the concept and because of the insubstantial nature of some of the songs that functioned as little more than devices to advance the rather sketchy plot. Nonetheless, the double album has many excellent songs, including "I'm Free," "Pinball Wizard," "Sensation," "Christmas," "We're Not Gonna Take It," and the dramatic ten-minute instrumental "Underture." Though the album was slightly flawed, Townshend's ability to construct a lengthy conceptual narrative brought new possibilities to rock music. Despite the complexity of the project, he and the Who never lost sight of solid pop melodies, harmonies, and forceful instrumentation, imbuing the material with a suitably powerful grace” – AllMusic

The Beach BoysPet Sounds

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Release Date: 16th May, 1966  

Concept:

Commentators and historians frequently cite Pet Sounds as a concept album, and sometimes as the first concept album in the history of rock music.[32] Academic Carys Wyn Jones attribute this to the album's "uniform excellence" rather than a lyrical theme or musical motif.[33] Even though Pet Sounds has a somewhat unified theme in its emotional content, there was not a predetermined narrative.[34] Asher said that there were no conversations between him and Wilson that pertained to any specific album "concept", however, "that's not to say that he didn't have the capacity to steer it in that direction, even unconsciously".[18] Wilson stated: "If you take the Pet Sounds album as a collection of art pieces, each designed to stand alone, yet which belong together, you'll see what I was aiming at. ... It wasn't really a song concept album, or lyrically a concept album; it was really a production concept album."[35] He added that the album may be considered an "interpretation" of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound recording methods.[36]

For Pet Sounds, Wilson desired to make "a complete statement", similar to what he believed the Beatles had done with their newest album Rubber Soul, released in December 1965.[33][nb 8] Wilson was immediately enamored with the album, given the impression that it had no filler tracks, a feature that was mostly unheard of at a time when 45 rpm singles were considered more noteworthy than full-length LPs.[39][40]Many albums up until the mid-1960s lacked a cohesive artistic goal and were largely used to sell singles at a higher price point.[39][nb 9]Wilson found that Rubber Soul subverted this by having a wholly consistent thread of music.[39][40][nb 10] Inspired, he rushed to his wife and proclaimed, "Marilyn, I'm gonna make the greatest album! The greatest rock album ever made!"[43] He would say of his reaction to Rubber Soul: "I liked the way it all went together, the way it was all one thing. It was a challenge to me ... It didn't make me want to copy them but to be as good as them. I didn't want to do the same kind of music, but on the same level"[44][nb 11]” - Wikipedia 

Label: Capitol

Review:

Forty years after release, then, while the album's initially disappointing (at least to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys) chart showing has been vindicated by a perpetual reservoir of new fans and adoring critics - not to mention still being commercially viable enough to support recent live productions and similarly perpetual ways of reissuing the music-- talking about the music, or how the music makes you feel isn't much easier than it was in 1966. Very famous people waste no time in offering testimonials to Pet Sounds' greatness, but (probably wisely) stick to short statements about how important the record was to them as artists and musicians, or just how beautiful its music is” – Pitchfork

 

David BowieThe Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

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Release Date: 16th June, 1972

Concept:

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars is about a bisexual alien rock superstar, called Ziggy Stardust.[18][19] Ziggy Stardust was not conceived as a concept album and much of the story was written after the album was recorded.[20][21] The characters were androgynousMick "Woody" Woodmansey, drummer for the Spiders from Mars, said the clothes they had worn had "femininity and sheer outrageousness", and that the characters' looks "definitely appealed to our rebellious artistic instincts".[22] Nenad Georgievski of All About Jazz said the record was presented with "high-heeled boots, multicolored dresses, extravagant makeup and outrageous sexuality".[23] Bowie had already developed an androgynous appearance, which was approved by critics, but received mixed reactions from audiences.[24] His love of acting led his total immersion in the characters he created for his music. After acting the same role over an extended period, it became impossible for him to separate Ziggy Stardust from his own offstage character. Bowie said that Ziggy "wouldn't leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour ... My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity."[25] Fearing that Ziggy would define his career, Bowie quickly developed the persona of Aladdin Sane in his subsequent album. Unlike Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane was far less optimistic, instead engaging in aggressive sexual activities and heavy drugs[26]” - Wikpedia  

Label: RCA

Review:

It was mostly recorded before Hunky Dory was released; it purports to be a concept album, but doesn't actually have a coherent concept. ("Starman", "Suffragette City" and "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" were all late additions to its running order.) It is, nonetheless, a fantastic set of songs, overflowing with huge riffs and huger personae. "Five Years" opens the album with Bowie's grandest sci-fi apocalypse yet, Mick Ronson shreds his way to the guitar pantheon, and the band's flamboyant performance of "Starman" on Top of the Pops famously gave the next generation of British pop musicians a bunch of funny tingling sensations. The whole album, in fact, is as erotically charged as an orgone accumulator: Bowie was probably the only person who could have remained sexually ambiguous after declaring "I'm gay, and always have been” – Pitchfork  

 

The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

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Release Date: 26th May, 1967

Concept:

In November 1966, during a return flight to London from Kenya, where he had been on holiday with Beatles tour manager Mal Evans, McCartney had an idea for a song that eventually formed the impetus of the Sgt. Pepper concept.[16] His idea involved an Edwardian-era military band, for which Evans invented a name in the style of contemporary San Francisco-based groups such as Big Brother and the Holding Company and Quicksilver Messenger Service.[22][nb 2] In February 1967, McCartney suggested that the Beatles should record an entire album that would represent a performance by the fictional band.[25] This alter ego group would give them the freedom to experiment musically. He explained: "I thought, let's not be ourselves. Let's develop alter egos."[26] Martin remembered:

"Sergeant Pepper" itself didn't appear until halfway through making the album. It was Paul's song, just an ordinary rock number ... but when we had finished it, Paul said, "Why don't we make the album as though the Pepper band really existed, as though Sergeant Pepper was making the record? We'll dub in effects and things." I loved the idea, and from that moment on it was as though Pepper had a life of its own[27] ”- Wikipedia

Label: Parlophone (U.K.)

Review:

It is where the Beatles really exploit the studio as the instrument, forgoing live playing for sonic adventure. It is impossible to overstate its impact: from a contemporary Sixties perspective it was utterly mind-blowing and original. Looking back from a point when its sonic innovations have been integrated into the mainstream, it remains a wonky, colourful and wildly improbable pop classic, although a little slighter and less cohesive than it may have seemed at the time.

Some songs, such as Lovely Rita, When I’m 64, Good Morning, Good Morning, Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite and Harrison’s dour, droning Within You Without You, seem undernourished excuses on which to hang florid ideas. But the title track is an improbable scorcher, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds a glittering gem, Fixing a Hole and She’s Leaving Home lovely chamber pieces, and the concluding A Day in the Life one of the strangest and most beautiful recordings ever, an inner-space odyssey juxtaposing Lennon’s ethereal surrealism with McCartney’s prosaic energy and wrapping it all up in an apocalyptic orchestral climax” – The Telegraph

 

Kendrick Lamargood kidm.A.A.D city

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Release Date: 22nd October, 2012

Concept:

In an interview for XXL, Lamar said that the album would not sound like Section.80, but will return to his Compton roots: "I couldn't tell you what type of sound or where I [will] be in the next five years as far as music... Back to the neighbourhood and [going] back in that same space where we used to be, got [me] inspired. So this album won't sound like Section.80."[5]

Lamar also said that the album will showcase the influence of his hometown: "The kid that's trying to escape that influence, trying his best to escape that influence, has always been pulled back in because of circumstances that be".[4] Before the album's title was officially revealed, fans had already been calling Lamar's major label debut Good Kid, Mad City or Good Kid in a Mad City, as it was a nickname Lamar had given himself. The album's title mainly refers to Lamar's childhood innocence, and how Compton affected his life. After keeping the album title's acronym concealed, Lamar later revealed M.A.A.D is an acronym with two meanings: "My Angry Adolescence Divided" and "My Angels on Angel Dust", with Lamar stating: "That was me, [and it's] the reason why I don't smoke. It was just me getting my hands on the wrong thing at the wrong time [and] being oblivious to it [6]”- Wikipedia

Labels: Aftermath/Interscope/Top Dawg

Review:

Lamar second-guesses himself, introduces a host of characters and rakes through internal conflicts – but it's all in the service of a neat whole, complete with cornily redemptive closing curtain. Perhaps Lamar's greatest gift is his ability to pull the listener inside the action while retaining an alienated detachment, most arrestingly evident on the album's double centrepiece, the eerie Good Kid ("Me jumping off the roof/ Is me just playing it safe") and the urgent M.A.A.D City. Still, the album isn't quite a classic: Lamar's depiction of downtrodden women is unnecessarily prurient and unconvincing. Oddly, two of the strongest moments are bonus tracks: Black Boy Fly's thoughtful examination of aspiration and jealousy, and Collect Calls, with its gut-punch of a final twist” - The Guardian

FEATURE: A Star Is Reborn: The Glory and Gamble of the Music Biopic

FEATURE:

 

 

A Star Is Reborn

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IN THIS PHOTO: Amy Winehouse (the late star will have her life/career turned into a forthcoming biopic)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The Glory and Gamble of the Music Biopic

__________

I was going to pencil this one in for tomorrow…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Charles Moriarty

but I have been compelled by a news report that states Amy Winehouse will be brought back to life - or have her life brought to the cinema - in the form of a biopic. It comes hot off the heels (of the news) Winehouse will be resurrected and going on tour in the form of a hologram. It is clear Winehouse’s family want her music to live on and reach new audiences but the idea of her going around the country as this sort of ghost-like project…it sort of creeps me out a bit. It is not the first time this has been done. Roy Orbison, recently, was turned into a hologram and performed, I think, with an orchestra. You wonder how far it will go and it is strange to think an artist can make money from touring – or their estate can – after they have died! In any case; it seems like new Winehouse projects are springing up. The Guardian has reported the news of the as-yet-unnamed biopic:

The family of Amy Winehouse has signed a deal to make a biopic about the late singer. Monumental Pictures’ Alison Owen – mother to Lily and Alfie Allen – and Debra Hayward will produce the film. Winehouse’s life story will be adapted by Kinky Boots writer Geoff Deane, and shooting is due to start in 2019.

The Winehouse family will act as executive producers. Proceeds from the film will benefit the Amy Winehouse Foundation. Winehouse’s father Mitch said the family had been repeatedly approached regarding a biopic but previously felt “the time was not right”.

“We now feel able to celebrate Amy’s extraordinary life and talent,” he said in a statement. “And we know through the Amy Winehouse Foundation that the true story of her illness can help so many others who might be experiencing similar issues.”

Owen and Hayward affirmed their commitment to telling the stories of “amazing women, both real and fictional”, such as Queen Elizabeth I, Bridget Jones, Jane Eyre and Mary Poppins author PL Travers. “We’re proud that Mitch Winehouse has entrusted us with the story of amazing Amy, an icon whose songs have provided the soundtrack to a generation,” they said in a statement.

Mitch Winehouse denied suggestions that Lady Gagaacclaimed for her performance in the new remake of A Star Is Born, would play his daughter. “I wouldn’t mind betting it would be an unknown, young, English – London, cockney – actress who looks a bit like Amy,” he said.

He told the Sun: “What we want is somebody to portray Amy in the way that she was … the funny, brilliant, charming and horrible person that she was. There’s no point really me making the film because I’m her dad. But to get the right people to do it, that’s very important, and we will.”

The news comes days after the Winehouse family unveiled plans for a hologram of the singer to tour the world in 2019. Her father said the tour will raise money and awareness for the foundation in the late singer’s name”.

There is that moral and ethically debate when it comes to a biopic. I am sure, if Winehouse were alive, she would be reluctant to have anyone play her. Following the acclaimed and revered Amy Winehouse documentary, Amy, back in 2015; it is understandable, given the bittersweet nature of the film, we would want to see more of Amy. New photos and songs are still being uncovered but this would be a way of presenting Winehouse’s rise to stardom in a very honest and filmic way. I am a bit torn regarding the news. Although Winehouse would probably object to the project; the fact she is no longer with us means it can go ahead and her family’s involvements means, at least, there can be honesty and some personal control. My problem lies when it comes to emotional revelation and how much is given away. I read a recent article that bemoaned biopics because, more often than not, we get a lot of the music but nothing personal or scandalous. Consider the upcoming Elton John biopic which has been described as a fantastical look at John’s career – his low moments and darker side, I guess, will not be explored:

It is “based on a true fantasy”, which is already a hint that it’s not going to be an unflinching study of the troubadour’s darkest extremes (“Freddie Mercury could out-party me, which is saying something,” Elton once said). Another hint is that it is co-produced by Elton and his husband David Furnish. The trailer alludes to moments of crisis – 70s Elton daytime-drinking in his dressing gown, winding up in hospital – but, as its star Taron Egerton has explained, Rocketman is more fanciful musical than conventional biopic, with “his songs used to express important beats in his life”.

That is not to say we demand to see our music icons at their most debauched, merely that the involvement of band or close family can mean skeletons remain in the closet. It happened with NWA’s Straight Outta Compton, which counted Dr Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy E’s widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, among its producers. The movie was great, but you would never guess that NWA often had less-than-progressive views about gay people, or a history of assaulting women”.

Biopics can be great because they tell more than interviews and, in the case of the best ones – which  I shall end with – they can be eye-opening and bring new life to artists. The fact biopics skip stuff like assault, criminality and drug abuse might be to preserve the artist’s name and reputation – even if we know about it; do you want to see that on the screen?! It is all very well hankering after some Elton John drug-taking and one of his legendary strops being brought to life but the biopic is a chance to celebrate the music and the person who made it. Would ‘honesty’, in that sense, sour the name and leave a bitter taste by the end?! Maybe there is the feeling that (that artist) will be subject to backlash if all was known or we might be less inclined to listen to their music. It will be interesting to see what they do with the Elton John biopic – when it arrives – because he is an icon and there is a lot of story to tell!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Sir Elton John/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There are subjects I feel will follow – David Bowie, surely, must be primed for a biopic soon?! – and Elton John is a fantastic artist whose music has endured for decades. One of the reasons why I am itchy about the Amy Winehouse documentary is the way some things will be held back. The fact her family are having a hand in means Winehouse’s drug and alcohol abuse, her torrent relationships and tabloid scrutiny will probably be omitted. How much are we going to see of the Winehouse who would often come to gigs inebriated or would be hounded by the press?! It is hard to see that on the screen but a biopic should be a true, warts-and-all study of an artist. One of the reasons why Sacha Baron Cohen withdrew from the Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, is because Mercury’s life is not being explored in that much depth. Rami Malek has taken the role of the icon but it seems like Mercury’s hedonism and somewhat ‘free-spirited’ side is not being given an outing. How much will the film going into Mercury’s death and his sexual life?! It seems like the film highlights Mercury’s genius and peerless voice but there is not a lot of attention paid to his personal life and how he spent time away from the stage. This article – sorry to keep quoting The Guardian but they seem to be across it all! – talked to the new star of the project and revealed why Baron Cohen departed:

A couple of years ago, after he’d left this production, Sacha Baron Cohen gave an interview in which he explained that it was the chance to explore Mercury’s darker side that made the idea of a biopic appealing. “There are amazing stories,” Baron Cohen told Howard Stern in 2016, “the guy was wild… There are stories of little people with plates of cocaine on their heads walking around a party.” Baron Cohen’s suggestion was that he left the film because of his unease at the pricklier stuff being left out. He went on to tell a cruel story about how the surviving members of the band did not believe that any movie about Queen should culminate at the point of Mercury’s death, in 1991; instead they thought a better movie would carry on to show how the surviving members went on to grow the band without him”.

Malek chooses his words carefully here, but he does not shy at all from addressing the subject. “It’s an arduous thing to tell someone’s life in just two hours,” he says. “What’s the nature of celebrating a life? Definitely not avoiding his death in any way, or what caused his death, which is the Aids virus. But I think if you don’t celebrate his life, and his struggles, and how complicated he was, and how transformative he was – and wallow instead in the sadness of what he endured and his ultimate death – then that could be a disservice to the profound, vibrant, radiant nature of such an indelible human being”.

It is interesting there are three biopic coming out – Freddie Mercury now; Amy Winehouse and Elton John fairly soon – where the stars had vivid personal lives!

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IN THIS PHOTO: Rami Malek (who stars as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody)/PHOTO CREDIT: Mario Sorrenti (styled by Edward Enninful) for W Magazine

Drugs and drink, to an extent, is a common link but one can see a certain controversy and darker side with all three artists. I want to end on a positive note and celebrate music biopics that have worked and revered but, if you do not set the right tone or pick the right lead actor; it can go down in history as a  turkey – that artist, then, loses some of their credibility and people become less interested. Some of the less successful and acclaimed biopics – 1991’s The Doors and 2004’s Beyond the Sea (where Kevin Spacey plays Bobby Darin) – have been written off and showed that the music biopic can be a risky and flawed concept. Whilst it would be good to see the likes of David Bowie, Prince and others brought to the big screen; it is tricky to avoid pitfalls and obstacles along the way.

This Washington Post article is packed with information and really opened my eyes when it came to biopics that ‘miss’ and those more successful:

The musical biopic has become such a cliche-riddled genre that it’s already been suitably parodied, in the 2007 comedy “Walk Hard,” in which John C. Reilly plays Dewey Cox, a singer who falls prey to the usual rock-star depredations of drugs, fame and petulant self-indulgence. “Walk Hard” goes broad in its comedy, but it aptly calls out what has become the audience’s morbid fascination with watching talent and promise being summarily extinguished: In “I Saw the Light,” Tom Hiddleston’s able portrayal of country singer Hank Williams is all but swamped in a drab, “Behind the Music”-like rehash of Williams’s history of alcoholism, drug abuse and marriage troubles. Viewers may leave the film impressed with Hiddleston’s physical resemblance to Williams, but with no deeper perception of what made his writing and singing so achingly powerful.

But when an actor plays a familiar cultural figure, some degree of impersonation isn’t just necessary — it’s welcome. For viewers to become immersed in the reality being portrayed on screen, the actor must deliver a carefully calibrated collection of externals — how the person they’re playing looks, walks and talks — and psychological internals, a subtle mix of playacting and psychic merging. The result, at its best, is not only an uncanny depiction of someone audience members instantly recognize and accept as the person in question, but also represents a new creation, a third character born of the actor’s own emotional truth and transparency. When a performance is constructed merely of externals, however accomplished, it becomes an exercise in camp: Rather than new or meaningful insight into the person being portrayed, the audience gets the relatively cheap pleasure of novelty and technical achievement — the “trick” of the portrayal itself”.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams in I Saw the Light/PHOTO CREDIT: Sam Emerson/Sony Pictures Classics

When it comes to our most cherished icons, oblique is better than straight on. Characterization surpasses caricature. Interpretation transcends impersonation. The more abstract the aesthetic choices — the more the audience is encouraged to acknowledge rather than ignore the gap between performer and subject — the better the chances that a movie will avoid Wiki-ready narratives and “Walk Hard”-worthy cliches and become a thoughtful, densely layered, vividly specific portrait. After all, the artists these biopics celebrate were never content with on-the-nose homages to their influences”.

Whether a music biopic is an interpretation of any artist or a straight-on study of a musician; there is so much to take in and remember. Rolling Stone put together their essential guide to the very best music biopics and, among the top-ten, was 8 Mile (2002):

Loosely inspired by Marshall Mathers' life as a struggling rapper in Detroit, 8 Mile is a 21st-century Rocky, with the man who dubbed himself Eminem bobbing and weaving through his first starring role. But there's no point worrying over the biographical details: What matters is that Em's naturalistic performance as the scrappy, blue-collar Rabbit embodied the same raw vulnerability and edgy candor that powered his music”.

Straight Outta Compton (2015) was highlighted and praised for its storytelling and how it mixed truth and hard-hitting with something less controversial:

Produced by the surviving members of N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton is the authorized biography of the hip-hop trailblazers, and the worst thing that could be said about it is that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have made a glossy monument to their own importance. But that's the best thing about it too: For inner-city black men forced to work with powerful white gatekeepers in the music industry — and getting ripped off most of the time — it's a triumph that they'd be the ones to print the legend nearly three decades later”.

 

Sid and Nancy (1986) is a lauded biopic that deals with a lot of excess, recklessness and tragedy but, rather than dedicate the film to something deeply unpleasant or skip the details altogether; it is a beloved film because it strikes the balance and does not obfuscate and disguise:

Alex Cox's account of ex–Sex Pistol Sid Vicious' descent into drug addiction, culminating with the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, and his fatal heroin overdose, now looks less like punk than prog: It's a movie of grand, orchestrated gestures rather than guttural immediacy. (See the slow-motion shot of Vicious and Spungen kissing against a dumpster while trash rains from the sky above them.) But Gary Oldman's incarnation of Vicious' self-abnegating charisma is so magnetic than even the Pistols' John Lydon, who told Cox after seeing the film that he ought to be shot, was moved to praise the performance. And Chloe Webb's glass-shattering Nancy is the perfect soul-sucking Bonnie to his malignant Clyde”.

Perhaps the best of recent times – I’m Not There from 2007 – is a study of one of music’s most complex, fascinating and influential figures: the genius that is Bob Dylan:

How do you possibly try to encapsulate the life of Bob Dylan — one of the rock era's greatest shape-shifters — in a single film? If you're Carol director Todd Haynes, by splitting that life into different eras and influences, casting everyone from Cate Blanchett to Richard Gere to Heath Ledger to Christian Bale to portray separate shards in Dylan's rich, confounding mosaic. I'm Not There is both thrilling and inquisitive, staying away from chronology and straight biography to grasp, in a larger sense, how Dylan remade the world while constantly reinventing himself over the years”.

Write a fantasy list of those artists you’d like to see on the big screen and I am sure their lives involved some upheaval or excess. From Oasis and Janet Joplin through to Chris Cornell and Michael Jackson – you cannot truly represent these artists without delving into their private lives and getting a complete picture. I am not sure how Bohemian Rhapsody will be perceived but I have my fingers crossed. I have yet to come round to the idea of Amy Winehouse’s live being brought to the screen but I hope it does not glaze over the hard times or paint people in a false light! The same can be said of Elton John: Will he be painted as this pure and God-like figure or will it be a semi-factual fantasy?! It is tempting to make a film about an artist/band because we love the music and their lives are fascinating but there are so many gambles and problems to navigate. If everyone can consult and ensure Amy Winehouse is treated with respect then it could work. I think the best music biopics have not shied away from those darker moments but they have not focused too heavily on them. Getting the tone right is important you need to ensure your lead actor/actors are right and fit the bill – there is a rumour someone like Lady Gaga could be lined up to play Winehouse.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Lady Gaga (who is one name being suggested to play Amy Winehouse in a forthcoming biopic)/PHOTO CREDIT: Inez and Vinoodh for Vogue

I, personally, love a biopic and think it is a worthy endeavour but there have been some mishaps through the years. Given the fact there is a clear demand and appetite to see loved artists on the screen is great and it is a fantastic way of preserving the music and making it reach new audiences. I think Amy Winehouse and Queen will get renewed interest and fresh fans following their biopics and both, in their own way, will be successful. If you get the biopic wrong then it can take something away from the music and we have seen enough examples of subpar and derivative attempts. If they are perfected and you can strike the right emotional, visual and intellectual tones then the results can be spellbinding. I do not think any artist is too precious to have their stories told but it is that key consideration – how MUCH do we go into their personal lives and revealing demons?! – that needs to be handled, managed and explored.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Charles Moriarty

Whilst I am sceptical, at this early juncture, about an Amy Winehouse biopic (Frank for the title, do you think?!); I look back at the very best music biopics – artists like Sid Vicious and Bob Dylan given a very good film – and feel there is that potential to create something wondrous. The Freddie Mercury biopic has had its problems and delays and I hope those issues do not blight the Winehouse biopic. If they are both successes then that could open the doors for other artists, gone or still with us, to have their lives explored on screen. If it brings their music to new audiences and is done in the right way then who can complain?! It is always risky when embarking on a music biopic but, if you nail everything and that perfect balance is struck, then it can lead to something…

TRULY epic.

FEATURE: Learn How to See Me: Racism in the Music Industry and the Influence of Black Artists: Black History Month: The Playlist

FEATURE:

 

 

Learn How to See Me: Racism in the Music Industry and the Influence of Black Artists

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IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé (August 2018)/PHOTO CREDIT: Tyler Mitchell for Vogue

Black History Month: The Playlist

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YOU do not need me to tell you…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Prince/PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Parke

that there has been racism in music for decades - black artists being overlooked and given less attention than anyone else! We are midway through Black History Month and I have been thinking about black artists who have changed music…and continue to do so. I am not able to include all the fantastic black artists working today – most of my playlist is of established artists – but I know for a fact there are so many terrific examples working in the underground. Cover most genres and showing immense talent; I wonder whether their path to the mainstream will be fraught. I know things have improved over the past few years in terms of award show nominations and visibility but we only need go back to the 1980s to realise how black artists like Michael Jackson struggled to get on music T.V. It was okay for black musicians to have their music heard but when it came to having their faces on the screen…that was a different matter!  I wonder how far things have come and whether there has been any genuine movement. Back in 2015, when the VMA nominations were announced; Nicki Minaj was omitted. There was a lot of talk, Minaj among them, of a racial bias regarding nominees:

When the VMA 2015 nominations were announced on Tuesday 21 July, we figured we already knew the results. Sure, Taylor Swift would need to accessorise her designer dress with one of those shopping bags on wheels to cart about all of her awards, and of course Ed Sheeran would rack up two or three (or four, or five, or six) nominations for himself, too. And obviously Nicki Minaj – whose video for Anaconda broke the VEVO record for the most views in 24 hours when 19.6 million people watched it in the space of a day – was a dead cert too”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Nicki Minaj/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

But despite the video’s undeniable impact, Anaconda was only nominated for two awards – Best Female Video and Best Hip Hop Video – missing out on the Best Music Video of the Year category. And Nicki’s collaboration with Beyonce, Feeling Myself, didn’t make the cut at all.

Of course, this is the 21st century, so Nicki took to Twitter to question MTV’s judging process. ‘Hey guys @MTV thank you for my nominations. Did Feeling Myself miss the deadline or…?,’ she tweeted, before adding: ‘If I was a different “kind” of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year as well…If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year.’

And the depressing thing is, she’s not wrong. She’s not being a sore loser, and she’s not making a fuss about nothing. Because whatever you think of Nicki, or of her music videos, there’s no denying the fact that racism is still rife within the music industry (and the rest of society).

To put it simply: When Britney Spears got naked and covered herself in sequins for Toxic, she was nominated for Best Music Video. When Emily Ratajkowski got naked next to Robin Thicke in Blurred Lines, he was nominated for Best Music Video. When Miley Cyrus stripped off and broke a million health and safety rules by riding a piece of construction equipment, she wasn’t just nominated for Best Music Video of the Year – she won it. All of the above videos have been controversial, but they were acknowledged by the industry for their impact nevertheless”.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Rihanna/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

That news story generated a lot of talk regarding racism in music and whether black artists are being overlooked. A lot of the heavy press and debate occurred in 2015 and there followerd black power/rights anthems from the likes of Kendrick Lamar (which I shall talk about). Another artist who was speaking about racism in the industry (in 2015) was Rihanna. Like Minaj and many of her peers; she had to (and still does) fight against racism and getting less attention than her white peers:

I have to bear in mind that people are judging you because you’re packaged a certain way – they’ve been programmed to think a black man in a hoodie means grab your purse a little tighter,” said Rihanna. “For me, it comes down to smaller issues, scenarios in which people can assume something of me without knowing me, just by my packaging.”

With regards to the music industry, the ‘Umbrella’ performer claimed the racism “never ends”.

“When I started to experience the difference – or even have my race be highlighted – it was mostly when I would do business deals… That never ends, by the way. It’s still a thing. And it’s the thing that makes me want to prove people wrong. It almost excites me; I know what they’re expecting and I can’t wait to show them that I’m here to exceed those expectations”.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Kendrick Lamar/PHOTO CREDIT: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Given these stories that came up in the press; a lot of protest and anger came from black artists who felt they were being snubbed and put down. In fact; one can look back earlier than 2015 in regards that vocalisation and anger. This article in The Guardian highlighted artists like Kendrick Lamar and how they responded to race issues in music – and racism in wider society in the U.S. It is an illuminating read:

The sound of Kendrick Lamar’s Alright rang out like a clarion call this year, from clubs, cars and house parties to police harassment protests. With prevalent, uncompromising lyrics like “Nigga, and we hate po-po/Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho,” the standout moment of To Pimp a Butterfly was quickly established as the year’s definitive political anthem.

In the months following Killer Mike’s impassioned pre-show speech that went viral after the Ferguson grand jury decision in 2014, discussion of US race relations in popular culture has amplified, with many artists politicising their music with renewed urgency. To Pimp a Butterfly was a visceral outpouring of this pain, which, in some cases, provided the language in which to fight back. It’s an album that uses nuance to deal with complex emotion , and its humour rewrites the mono-narrative of the NWA-era angry black male. That the hip-hop group’s biopic Straight Outta Compton came out in August affirmed the timelessness of these issues.

It was, however, D’Angelo’s release of Black Messiah at the end of 2014 that ignited an explosion of musically charged revolts. The album carefully moves between uncontrolled rage and considered production; a political shift for the artist, who wrote many of its tracks as a reaction to watching the Ferguson protests. His first album in 14 years touched on themes of systemic racism (1,000 deaths) and structural power (The Charade) through country funk, silky R&B and metronomic basslines”.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Aretha Franklin/PHOTO CREDIT: RB/Redferns

I think there have been some minor changes and steps but I feel like there is still a long way to go. I grew up around so many great black artists. Everyone from Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin to Michael Jackson and Prince made their way into my ears. Now, I listen to a lot of Hip-Hop and Rap and fantastic R&B; brilliant black Pop artists and, in truth, I never see skin colour as an issue. It is stilly to have to say that but I cannot understand why there are these prejudices and stereotypes when it comes to black artists! I cannot get to grips with all the brilliant black artists who are pushing boundaries, changing the scene and breaking ground. I will end with a playlist but, as this article shows, black artists are evolving music and subverting expectations – from the surprise album drop through to mixtapes; they are among the most compelling, original and inspiring artists around:

Black musicians today continue to experiment. New subgenres of music, such as drill, footwork, and trap, have made gains in the hip-hop and electronic music world. Last year’s Billboard charts featured both black and white artists making trap or trap-influenced music. Derived in the late 1990s and early aughts from Southern black hip-hop artists, trap has proven to have immense staying power, with artists in such disparate genres as pop (Miley Cyrus), R&B (Jeremih), and EDM (Diplo, Hudson Mohawke) experimenting with its sonic textures.

The most consistent change to the music distribution model is the surprise album drop. First popularized by Beyoncé, the practice gained traction in the early to middle part of the current decade through artists like D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Kendrick Lamar. Artists establish themselves in the consciousness of music listeners, simultaneously surprising and delighting”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Erykah Badu/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

“I didn’t want to release my music the way I’ve done it,” Beyoncé told Vogue on the day her self-titled fifth album dropped. “I am bored with that.” In the online documentary Self-Titled: Part 1—The Visual Album, the singer expresses frustration over the current release-hype structure that prioritizes singles over complete albums. It would take a performer with a keen visionary sense to attempt to redirect the conversation surrounding album releases, and someone like Beyoncé, newly liberated from previous management and revered enough by a consistent and loyal fan base to take a risk with something new, would have be the one to do it. 

Like their rejection of structured release cycles, many black artists are now bypassing labels entirely. Frank Ocean released his visual album, Endless, which technically fulfilled his contractual obligation with Def Jam Recordings, one day before he self-released Blonde, his second proper studio album, to critical and commercial acclaim. “While the credits at the end of Endless name Def Jam, the metadata on Blonde simply credits ‘Boys Don’t Cry,’ which is also the title of Ocean’s new magazine,” wrote Pitchfork about the release. Since then, Ocean has rejected other musical institutions, namely the Grammys, which he claimed in an interview with the New York Times’ Jon Caramanica, “just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from and hold down what I hold down”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @chrisbair/Unsplash 

Can black musicians remain revolutionaries? From the creation of music genres such as blues, jazz, and rock and roll to the utilization of the mixtape for creative experimentation, black musicians are not afraid to experiment stylistically, sonically, or structurally to express themselves. History and our very understanding of American music and pop culture have proven the success of black musicians as genre creators and genre breakers. From capitalizing on the surprise album drop to rejecting music labels altogether, black musicians prove they have as much room for creative freedom as ever — as long as they pursue it. The future of music was black. The future of music will always be black”.

You only need look back through the years – and the fantastic artists in music now! – to understand how pivotal black music is. Many assume it is a genre but there are genius black artists playing in nearly every genre. Maybe it will take a while longer before there is equality and stereotypes are replaced with respect; award shows and festivals take a look at their racial breakdowns and greater respect is provide to black artists. As it is Black History Month; I have compiled a playlist contained inspiring and fantastic black artists. Spanning decades, genres and tastes; it is a playlist that, to be fair, only scratches the surface. There are so many brilliant black artists making music today and it is rather dizzying. My biggest hope, following Black History Month, is those in the music industry look at how black artists are perceived and celebrated – less fervently than white acts – and they make changes…

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images 

SOON enough.

FEATURE: The Class of '68: The Other Albums Which Were Delighting Fans and Critics the Year ‘The White Album’ Was Released

FEATURE:

The Class of '68

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IN THIS IMAGE: Jimi Hendrix/IMAGE CREDIT: enricovarrasso 

The Other Albums Which Were Delighting Fans and Critics the Year ‘The White Album’ Was Released

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IN a series that looks at The Beatles’…

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eponymous album - and why it is being heavily promoted and celebrated -; I am breaking away from the album itself and looking at the other albums released in 1968. It is clear The Beatles was a hard album to top in that year but, look at what else was released, and you can see a wealth of brilliance – some genius album that are hugely loved to this very day. 1968 was a year that saw the first on-screen interracial (in Star Trek); the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy; two black U.S. athletes taking a stand against racism and discrimination at the Olympics - Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon. I have collected together the ten biggest albums from 1968 that helped define a wonderful year for music. Maybe you will disagree with my rundown or you might be unfamiliar with some of them. In any case; there is a lot of brilliance among the list and it is clear The Beatles was in good company! Have a look at these ten huge albums and realise what a tremendous year for music…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @pear/Unsplash

1968 was.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images

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The Jimi Hendrix ExperienceElectric Ladyland

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Date of Release: 16th October, 1968

Producer: The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Standout Cut: Voodoo Chile

Simon & Garfunkel - Bookends

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Date of Release: 3rd April, 1968

Producers: Simon & Garfunkel/Roy Halee

Standout Cut: Mrs. Robinson  

Otis ReddingThe Dock of the Bay

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Date of Release: 23rd February, 1968

Producer: Steve Cropper

Standout Cut: (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay

Van MorrisonAstral Weeks

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Date of Release: 29th November, 1968

Producer: Lewis Merenstein

Standout Cut: Cyprus Avenue

Aretha FranklinLady Soul

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 Date of Release: 22nd January, 1968

Producer: Jerry Wexler

Standout Cut: (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman

Small FacesOgdens’ Nut Gone Flake

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Date of Release: 24th May, 1968

Producers: Steve Marriott/Ronnie Lane

Standout Cut: Lazy Sunday

The Rolling StonesBeggars Banquet

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Date of Release: December 1968

Producer: Jimmy Miller

Standout Cut: Sympathy for the Devil

The KinksThe Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society

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Date of Release: 22nd November, 1968

Producer: Ray Davies

Standout Cut: Picture Book

Johnny CashAt Folsom Prison

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Date of Release: May 1968

Producer: Bob Johnston

Standout Cut: Folsom Prison Blues

The BandMusic from Big Pink

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Date of Release: 1st July, 1968

Producer: John Simon

Standout Cut: The Weight

FEATURE: Hard Work Needed in the Volunteer State: Why Are Country Music Stations Ignoring Women?

FEATURE:

 

 

Hard Work Needed in the Volunteer State

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kacey Musgraves/PHOTO CREDIT: Eric Ray Davidson for GQ 

Why Are Country Music Stations Ignoring Women?

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MY eye has been caught be an article that…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: A shot of Nashville, Tennessee (the centre for Country music in the U.S.)/PHOTO CREDIT: @theexplorerdad/Unsplash

is being shared on social media. It was written by Jessica Hooper (for ELLE) and looked at female artists in Nashville standing up against a blatant ignorance of Country artists. The piece centres around a ‘Song Suffragettes’ event that collates Nashville’s premier and preeminent weekly showcase for female songwriters. The reason why this event is gaining traction and attention is because of shocking statistics regarding the male-female ratios on Country music stations. The piece brings us into that world and the event. Candi Carpenter and four other women take to the stage and sing each other’s choruses; there is that connection and the night is explained clearly – getting women in Nashville heard and ensuring there is an equal grounding. There are so many great female artists coming out of Nashville but Country music is, perhaps, the biggest genre celebrated there. Tennessee music tends to focus on Nashville and at the centre of the centre is Country. The genre gets a bit of a kicking from music snobs but it has evolved over the years and incorporates so many others sounds. It is not about the plaintive strumming and drawling vocals; the same old heartbreak and something rather cheesy. Modern Country steps in various directions and is a whole lot more accessible, varied and appealing than you might think.

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

I do not need to defend the genre – because it is great – but the issue relates to women being overlooked. The reason I chose Kacey Musgraves as the ‘cover star’ of the article is that her acclaimed album, Golden Hour, debuted at number-one with very little support from Country radio! Listen to the album and you get so many different sounds and angles coming in. There is heartbreak and contemplation but a whole lot of fun and captivation. It is a record that sees Musgraves co-write every track and in control throughout. She shines and bursts and shows what an immense talent she is. Musgraves impressed with her previous studio album, 2015’s Pageant Material, but Golden Hour is s step-up and a bigger statement. Musgraves co-produced the album alongside Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk and ensures it is a much bigger and more eclectic record. It is the sound of a wonderful female artists remaining in the Country genre but putting in Blues-Rock, Pop and other genres. A lot of the lyrics and themes are familiar to those who like their Country pure and uncomplicated but the performances and compositions are incredibly detailed, huge and impassioned. In essence; it is a fantastic album that should go down as one of this year’s very best! It was released in Marc but has gained its acclaim and chart positions through the label and Musgraves, I guess. Transitional Country radio, who should support Musgraves, gave it relatively little support and affection!

It is a shame that this occurred but listen to Country radio, especially in Nashville, and it is not a shock. I guess radio in this country should do more to promote female artists and I do not feel there is a fifty-fifty balance at all. Male artists are always favoured but the issue is especially pronounced in the U.S. Nashville is a hub where so many tremendous female artists are out there playing at local gigs and trying to get their music to the masses. I have been following the music coming out of the so-called ‘Volunteer State’ for a while and know how many fantastic female songwriters are striking my mind. Artists like Jess Williamson, Lacy Cavalier and Tenille Townes are among the new breed of Country/Country-tinged artists who, one suspects, has to fight a lot harder than their male peers. I hear from people there is a rule where they space-out the gap between male and female artists on Country stations. You would be hard-pushed hearing two female songs together. I am not sure whether there is this assumption female artists are inferior and do not have that commercial appeal – maybe they are not what traditional Country fans want to hear – but it seems completely idiotic. I look at the ELLE article and the facts speak for themselves:

In the past few years, the number of female artists on country radio has been steadily declining. According to trade publication Country Aircheck, in 2016 female artists made up 13 percent of radio play; by 2017, that figure was down to a meager 10.4 percent. The country radio programmer quota–cum–excuse that fuels this inequity is that “one woman an hour” is plenty. In response, labels have grown reluctant to sign female talent, knowing that radio won’t support them. Festival and tour promoters excuse the dearth of female country acts on lineups by pointing fingers at radio and labels, insisting that there are not enough bankable female artists to draw from—just superstar headliners like Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood”.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Tim McGraw/PHOTO CREDIT: BMLG

Women are being systematically locked out of the scene and having to graft and grind to get their music heard. That assumption that they (the female artists) are not bankable and lack that real star quality is rubbish! Listen to artists like Kacey Musgraves and what she is putting out and you will find a lot of similar, if inferior, artists who are taking Country to new heights. I have followed the genre for years and always hear about the successful male artists. From my childhood being fed Garth Brooks to the slightly new acts like Tim McGraw, Florida Georgia Line and Keith Urban. There are female-fronted Country acts like Lady Antebellum but, considering the solo artists, and it is the men who get the most attention. Ashley Monroe, Ashley McBryde and Brandi Carlile are among the new breed offering scintillating work but there is that heavy focus on the men.

The issue has been in plain sight in Nashville for years, though efforts to address gender inequity are more recent. Change the Conversation, an organization founded by CMT executive Leslie Fram, industry stalwart Tracy Gershon, and journalist Beverly Keel, began holding meetings with industry leaders in 2015 to raise awareness and advocate for change. The organization—and also Shorr’s career-launching anthem “Fight Like a Girl”—gained momentum in the wake of “SaladGate,” a 2015 incident in which radio consultant Keith Hill told Country Aircheck that female artists are the tomatoes, and not the lettuce, of the country music salad, and should be programmed sparingly. His evidence: In 1997, spotting a downward trend of listenership on 35-plus country stations, Hill theorized the issue was too many female artists. He tested the hypothesis with four stations, who he says saw a ratings boost after cutting the number of spins of female stars”.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Carrie Underwood/PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Kacey Musgraves resists the assertion female Country artists are not popular and women do not like hearing other women sing. There have been some who say female Country stars are best played sparingly because it is better on the ears and rating stay higher. The male voice, it seems, is more varied and palatable and female artists can be sprinkled in to add to the pot. Musgraves is among those calling out stations and asking whether this years-lasting discrimination is based on any fact or sensible explanation. It all comes back to that false claim: women do not like hearing female Country artists perform. Maybe they assume they’ll sound like Dolly Parton or Patsy Cline. Maybe that was okay years ago but now, when Pop/R&B artists are more soothing on the ears, do we want to embrace female Country artists who will be slightly atonal and grating?! That is not my view and I think there is that falsehood being perpetuated. I keep coming back to Hooper’s findings and wonder why great artists like Carrie Underwood have to fight so hard – considering she is a huge success and has an enormous fanbase:

Carrie Underwood, whose total global sales of 65 million records have made her the biggest artist in the history of country music, agrees with Musgraves’s assessment. “I think it’s really great that there’s fan advocacy and social media support around women in country music, because there are so many incredible female artists who, for some reason, are not being given a chance,” she says. “We are told time and time again that the women listeners who make up the majority of country music radio listeners don’t want to hear other women on the radio, which I think is not true. Growing up, it was incredibly important to hear strong, amazing, talented women on the radio. It let me know that I could do that, too”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Members of the Song Suffragettes backstage before a performance/PHOTO CREDIT: Paul McGee

One of the positive movements that has been born from this discrimination and exclusion is WOMAN. That stands for The Nashville Women of Music Action Network and this comes in the wake of #MeToo and Time’s Up. Whilst other genes have seen campaign and action; Country has been lacking and nothing has come up to speak for female artists. Women, in Country, are not seen as leaders in the same way someone like Beyoncé might be seen in R&B. If you look across all of music and how often do you see the media and radio promulgating female artists and heralding them as leaders?! You see plenty of attention for male bands and Popstars but rarely will you find journalists highlighting women as leaders. Maybe female journalists will do their part – I have seen great articles about Christine and the Queens and Neneh Cherry where they are spoken about as goddesses – but it is a rarity.  Country music is a genre with so many incredible female examples who are being overlooked for no reason. It seems like WOMAN is much-needed and determined to make change:

Nashville WOMAN’s tactics are a strategic pivot from the way Change the Conversation and others have been operating so far; the group is public-facing in its presentation of solutions. They tweet screenshots of what Hot Country weekly playlists would look like without male artists, often highlighting a lone female artist in rotation—naming and shaming dozens of stations directly. They’ve had some success with request campaigns and have offered research to Country Radio Seminar and advocated for Time’s Up messaging at the Country Music Association Awards. What has gotten the most notice, though, is Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty Tour 360, specifically, her decision to bring an all-female lineup—Maddie & Tae and Runaway June—on the road with her. Underwood says her choice was based on her desire to give young talent a boost, adding, “It’s really wonderful to see female artists supporting each other. That is one amazing thing that has come out of the lack of females being supported in country music: We are all rallying together”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: One of Country music’s rising names, Jess Williamson/PHOTO CREDIT: Chantal Anderson

Spaces and systems like Hot Country have excluded women for a while and modern musicians like Kacey Musgraves and Carrie Underwood are rebelling and taking matters into their own hands. They might have to work harder than you’d expect but they are pushing hard to get their music heard and prove, when it gets huge acclaim, that the ‘rules’ and cultures in Country is denying the world of so many great musicians. There are great events and nights in Nashville where women are taking to the stage and showing what unity and talent there is.

A growing number of female artists have begun taking matters into their own hands. For Brandi Carlile, whose By the Way, I Forgive You debuted at number five on Billboard in February with negligible support from Hot Country radio, this means being the change. In July, she announced Girls Just Wanna Weekend, a destination festival with an all-female, country-leaning lineup co-headlined by Carlile and insurgent hitmakers Maren Morris, Margo Price, and the Indigo Girls, scheduled to take place in January in Riviera Maya, Mexico. Carlile’s inspiration for the festival comes from Lilith Fair, founded in 1996 by Sarah McLachlan to refute radio programmers’ refusal to play female artists back to back. That touring festival grossed over $60 million in its initial three-year run, and Carlile seeks to create a similar space of inclusion for her fans. “We want to be in the conversation—to see the pendulum swing in our direction. We want to be in the headlining slots on festivals because we’ve earned it, and to be played on radio, not as a niche or a novelty, you know?” Carlile says. “We don’t want to hear, ‘Well, we’ve got our woman on this festival lineup’ or ‘We’ve already played a woman in this hour.’ We’re not a genre. We’re half the world”.

Every genre and area of music can do more to promote women and I feel, as feminist movements come through, we can no longer avoid the nonsensical guidelines and exclusions that mean men get most of the exposure. Country is a genre that can only exist, thrive and diversify with female artists and look at modern artists like Musgraves, Underwood and their peers and you can hear what talent is there! God knows how many rising female artists there who are playing in bars around Tennessee – and states like Texas – that want to get their music played on Country radio! In this country, we have stalwarts like Bob Harris who gives a fair airing to female Country stars and is passionate about promoting equality and talent-based exposure. He, in fact, has provided a platform for a number of female artists through the years and is someone who never considers gender when it comes to picking songs – so long as it sounds great then it has its place. It seems U.S. radio needs to take this approach and have champions like Harris in control of playlists and shows! Modern Country playlists in the U.S. are not based on talent and quality: it seems men, whatever they are putting out, will get the most focus. This bent and broken system is so bowed to the desires of big labels and the sexist practices that need to be eroded. Some good work is being done from the ground in Nashville but I wonder how far the problem spreads. There are great Country artists around the U.S. – and in the U.K. who also want their music played here – and the Country stations like WSIX-FM and WSM are largely beholden to male artists. I was not fully aware how severe the situation is and how hard big Country artists like Kacey Musgraves have had to work to get on some sort of equal footing. I think the problem extends beyond Nashville itself but the heart of Country seems to be there so it is the most pronounced example. Country, as a whole, has a countrywide illness that needs curing. A lot of work needs to be done but, as the likes of WOMAN and Song Suffragettes are showing; there is a huge problem and stations/labels are not helping. It is a huge shame to see female Country artists ignored and pushed away but let’s hope, very soon, some positive changes…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @daniel_von_appen/Unsplash

ARE made!

FEATURE: Long, Long, Long: The Beatles’ Eponymous Masterpiece at Fifty: An Album That Continues to Reveal Magic and Mystery

FEATURE:

 

 

Long, Long, Long

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IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles during the summer of 1968/PHOTO CREDIT: Don McCullin

The Beatles’ Eponymous Masterpiece at Fifty: An Album That Continues to Reveal Magic and Mystery

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THERE is a lot of celebration and anticipation…

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

regarding the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles’ eponymous album. With its iconic white cover – hence its nickname – and four sides (when it came out on vinyl); it is a record that continues to amaze people and compel discussion. I am listening to a three-hour investigation of the album by Martin Freeman on BBC Radio 6 – studying the songs and speaking to high-profile figures about the record and the impact it made on them. It is a fascinating thing and it is good to see an album – a double-album, I know – get such a thorough going-over. Every Beatles album deserves that sort of acclaim and given the fact we are talking about their work this far down the line shows how much they mean to us! 22nd November is the official fiftieth anniversary of the album but it is good to get in there and get the party started. Billboard have outlined what we can expect and, to promote the remastered version of The Beatles that is coming up, spoke with Giles Martin (Beatles producer George Martin’s son) about the work and some interesting facts:

The Beatles’ longest, strangest work is about to get a new look. Ahead of its 50th anniversary (Nov. 22), a greatly expanded edition of 1968’s The Beatles (widely known as The White Album) -- helmed by producer Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin -- will see release on Nov. 9.

The set contains revealing mixes of the original double LP, refreshed versions of its acoustic demos, and unreleased recordings from George Harrison’s bungalow in Esher, London, fresh from the band’s fabled Rishikesh trip.

According to Martin, The White Album sessions weren’t exactly the volatile trip that has been fossilized into Beatle lore. Sure, there were spats, including Starr leaving the group in a huff and heading to Sardinia on Peter Sellers’ yacht, or George Harrison recording over 100 takes of a song allegedly about McCartney’s controlling, repressive effect on him”.

I am going to get the remastered version but there will be vinyl versions and DVDs released. Keep an eye out in the coming weeks and make sure you treat yourself to a real bumper package! Looking at the Billboard interview and it was the question as to why Giles Martin (and co.) decided to look through the vaults and bring the album back to life:

This isn’t the first repackaging of The White Album, and the story of its making — drama, discord and Maharishi — has long been codified into myth. Of course, the reality of it was more complex. Did you still feel there are undiscovered corners of this album and its legend that could still beguile longtime listeners?

In all honesty, I think what beguiles listeners is the songs themselves. The story behind the record is what people write about, but at the end of it, you don’t listen to a song thinking about that. For me, what was surprising about The White Album was how cohesive it is as an album, as far as its creation. My dad was never a fan of it because he had such a tough time making it. He went on a holiday halfway through because he was just sitting in the studio listening to the band jamming for hours on end”.

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images 

I am amazed the album managed to get recorded and The Beatles actually have it out in the world! Things started quite positively and normally but it started to go wrong and cracks appeared. There were tensions and personal disputes but the music stands out. I will talk about the songs themselves in a bit but it is quite funny Paul McCartney was drumming on songs for The Beatles. Ringo Starr drummed on most of the songs but there was a bit of a bust-up and Starr left – he would return to find his drum kit adorned in flowers with a sweet message from his bandmates. It seemed McCartney had drumming ambitions in 1968:

Did Paul have drummer dreams in 1968?

I think lots of bands’ members have drummer dreams. Steven Tyler joined Aerosmith because Joe Perry liked his drumming. The drummer on “Walk This Way” was Steven Tyler, originally. So, that really annoys drummers. Ringo left, not because the Beatles were breaking up, but because he was pretty pissed off. But then when he went, they realized they weren’t the Beatles. There were four of them, and then he was gone. And when he came back, they filled the studio with flowers.

So much is written about things. I mean, even when I hear Yoko on the recordings, she sounds sweet, and they’re having a laugh; it’s not just her with John. I know it became difficult; it became difficult at Abbey Road as well. There was a bust-up because she ate George’s biscuits -- just a stupid thing. But it gets written about, and written about, and it becomes this big thing”.

 

When we get the remastered songs and demos; it will bring together dialogue snippets and bring The Beatles to life. This article gives more life and colour – as to what we can expect – and I know many people who are keen to explore and investigate the hidden depths of the fabulous ‘White Album’. I am going to get involved because I am compelled to find out whether there was this myth regarding the stresses in the studio. I have read about the arguments and how each Beatle recorded some of their material alone. It is clear they were not the focused and together band that arrived years before – did the introduction of Yoko Ono and her larger role in the camp play a decisive role?! A fascinating article from LOUDER took a look at the album and how things were faring at the time. It was a rather fraught road into the studio:

Bound together by the captivity of fame, The Beatles came to resent their essential closeness. And by 1968, as they set about recording their eponymous double White Album, they were pretty much sick of the sight of each other. Just as telepathic harmony between the four Beatles had facilitated the creation of perfect pop, so growing disharmony bred the raw, discordant fury of rock”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: John Lennon and Yoko Ono during the recording of The Beatles/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Imges

Personal problems and romantic splits were playing a role in the lives of The Beatles. Lennon, especially, was suffering a lot and in need of someone he could feel safe with and adore:

Trapped in a loveless marriage, obsessed with thoughts of Yoko and unable to sleep (an insomnia diarised in the White Album’s I’m So Tired), he wrote Yer Blues. Reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac and the other blues boomers, the song was indicative of the fact that Lennon was far from happy. “When I wrote ‘I’m so lonely, I want to die’,” he admitted, “I’m not kidding. That’s how I felt, up there, trying to reach God and feeling suicidal.”

Having travelled to India in search of direction and wise counsel from a parental figure, Lennon found only disillusionment. He left Rishikesh in a huff, accusing the Maharishi (falsely, as it turned out) of making a pass at Mia Farrow, an incident chronicled in the accusatory Sexy Sadie. “I was rough on him,” he said. “I always expect too much. I’m always expecting my mother and I don’t get her. That’s what it is.”

Within a month John and Cynthia’s marriage had ended and he was in a relationship with Yoko”.

Even if marriages and changes in their lives was making the business of making music tough; it seems each Beatle wanted to work individually and create, essentially, four different solo albums:

When the four Beatles finally took their individual songs into Abbey Road Studios in May 1968, they worked more autonomously than ever before. Abandoning the meticulous crafting that had served them so well on Sgt. Pepper, they jammed out a few backing tracks collectively, but generally worked individually.

The majority of the White Album was recorded as if four solo albums were being made simultaneously. McCartney was no longer editing Lennon and vice versa, Harrison was left to his own devices, and Ringo spent entire days twiddling his sticks in the studio’s reception; each songwriter took care of his own overdubs separately. A frustrated George Martin eventually abandoned production duties to go on holiday. His position as omnipresent fifth Beatle had been usurped”.

You should read the entire article but it is clear there was a point when The Beatles, as a functioning band, went past the point of no return. They would finally split a couple of years later but there were regrets and unhappiness present in 1968. In an interview long after The Beatles was released; John Lennon talked about his experiences:

I was too scared to break away from The Beatles, which I’d been looking to do since we stopped touring [in ’66],” Lennon revealed in 1980. “I was vaguely looking for somewhere to go, but didn’t have the nerve - so I hung around. And then I met Yoko and fell in love: ‘This is more than a hit record. It’s more than everything…’”

Lennon was hypersensitive to any negative reaction to his newly attached Siamese twin. The indignation of his fellow Beatles was at least understandable, but the negative press and public reaction to Yoko was not. It was this undue criticism (partly born of racism) that particularly rankled. A dormant hard-man persona came to the fore in Lennon. The moptop-era puppy fat was gone forever, now replaced with a lean, mean demeanour: Lennon the Peace Yob. It was the template for Liam Gallagher 25 years later, and a role Lennon himself would inhabit for the remainder of the decade.

Angry John was easily mistaken for Political John. Resentful that nobody liked his new girlfriend, he started ranting about peace, furiously planting acorns and shouting at journalists from bed. In so doing he inadvertently supplied the blueprint for Bono and every other rock star who assumes that just because they can sing in tune they’re Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Jesus Christ rolled into one.

There is a lot to unpack there but I feel, like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, one could make a film about the album and how it was made – given the fact there was a cyclone of drugs, struggles and band members warring. It is a fascinating snapshot into a band who were fresh-faced and brothers in 1962/1963 but, a few years later, they were starting to fray and that love was missing. They did manage to make peace and create more cohesive work but what is astonishing is how GOOD the music on The Beatles is! The final snippet of that fascinating article I want to bring in seems to sum up the album perfectly and what was achieved:

The Beatles were a leviathan, a cultural colossus whose influence on their musical contemporaries was wholly unprecedented and remains unsurpassed. They were the first four-piece guitar band to smoulder moodily in leather jackets and shades; the first to grow their hair, to fly their freak flag, to tune in, turn on and flaunt it in the tabloids; the first to India; the first to soundtrack a Revolution; and the first to fall out over the first – and still the very best – Yoko.

With the White Album, The Beatles delivered all the necessary components for what we now know as classic rock, but the disharmony that facilitated its birth proved fatal. As John Lennon himself acknowledged: “The break-up of The Beatles can be heard on that album”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

All of the tensions and sarcastic remarks being made at various recording sessions could give the impression the band were not bothered about music and wanted to get through quickly. The reason why we are still enticed and addicted to The Beatles is because of the passion exuded in every note! The fact the band decided to release a thirty-song album – almost unheard of at the time and something risky in today’s culture! – is a bold and extraordinary move. If they were out of love with music itself then they would dash off a short album but, as it was, there was influence and inspiration working through the blood of each band member. Maybe their sojourn in India had sparked endeavour and genius but, whatever the catalyst was, the boys were keen to record these varied and brilliant songs. Although George Harrison and Ringo Starr were writing and part of the process; the main songwriters were Lennon and McCartney! There is this feeling that McCartney was the slightly cheesy one who was writing disposal ditties whilst Lennon was the strict and tempestuous rival who was penning more serious music. McCartney had written a couple of sillier songs on 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club BandLovely Rita and When I’m Sixty Four, for example – so it was no surprise that he would have a few on The Beatles – Maxwell Silver Hammer (for Abbey Road) would show he was not willing to drop that line of enquiry after the 1968 drama.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles during the summer of 1968/PHOTO CREDIT: Don McCullin

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da is not one of the most serious and memorable songs from McCartney but Lennon provided the equally-silly The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill and, to be fair, both of these titans created a lot of hugely important work. From McCartney’s Blackbird, Helter Skelter and Back in the U.S.S.R. to Lennon’s Sexy Sadie, Happiness Is a Warm Gun and Glass Onion – some of the best work either songwriter had come up with was on this album. It is the sheer variety and consistency of the work that amazes me. Maybe Lennon was being inspired by Yoko Ono and his creative attitude was being inspired by hard changes and new discovery: McCartney, maybe, was funnelling tensions and a sense of dislocation into new adventures. Whilst those songs I have mentioned are the best from both; they had a load more songs on the album and it is a great window into their mindset and world. Maybe Lennon just shades it in terms of quality and those memorable cuts but The Beatles allowed Lennon and McCartney to go wild and come up with material that, for any other album, might have been questioned or nixed. As a child, when I discovered the album; songs like The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill and Wild Honey Pie were keener to my ear but, as I cry older, I understood the layers of Glass Onion and the hidden delights of Long, Long, Long – a song that gets some criticism but I actually like! Scrappy, less-memorable songs like Piggies (Harrison) and Why Don’t We Do It in the Road? (McCartney) all make sense of are part of an important documentation. Nothing is expendable and you are hooked by the incompleteness and wackiness of some moments!

I love the charm of Martha My Dear and Harrison’s epic, While My Guitar Gently Weeps. The Beatles is a scattershot statement of intent from a band who, for much of the recording, were tense and divided. At a time when we are straying away from albums as a format; the likes of The Beatles are essential and engrossing artefacts. I hope, on 22nd November, everyone spins the album and unravels all the quirky asides, intense songs and incredible moments. If you can get the remastered and re-released spread – with its demos and rarities – that will give you a much more complete and interesting look at The Beatles. Even if you do not like every track on the (double) album; you have to concede that there is so much to take away and treasure! One can only imagine the daily reality of making such a challenging piece of work but, if it was a disaster in terms of quality, we might have reduced ‘The White Album’ to the level of an interesting footnote. As it stands; fifty years from its release, we are still engrossed and moved by this incredible and nuanced slice of wonder from The Beatles. It may be fifty years since the record arrived in the world but, I wonder, can you think of another record as intriguing, sprawling and fantastic…

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

AS The Beatles’ eponymous work of genius?!

FEATURE: 3:33: National Album Day: The Album I Will Be Listening to at That Time This Afternoon

FEATURE:

 

 

3:33

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IN THIS IMAGE: The album cover for the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique (1989)/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images 

National Album Day: The Album I Will Be Listening to at That Time This Afternoon

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THE decision wasn’t all that easy…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @luana_dmc/Unsplash

because I was also toying with Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill. That album is one I fondly remember - and the reason I was considering it for a special spin was because of the perfectionism exuded by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker – two fastidious and masterful writers/composers who ensured, even at their loosest, the songs had layers and fine details. I love the whole album and you can go from the crooned and ‘professional’ vocals of David Palmer on Dirty Work and Brooklyn (Owes the Charmers Under Me) to the exhilarating riffs on Reelin’ in the Years; the underrated gems of Kings and Midnite Cruiser and the sheer perfection of Do It Again. I would chose Steely Dan over Beastie Boys in a fight over material – whose records I would like to listen to – but, on National Album Day, we are being asked to select a record that will be played at 3:33 P.M. – an iconic and appropriate time if you know your vinyl and why the ‘3s’ are important! To be fair; I will play Can’t Buy a Thrill in its fullness later today and end the day with a beer and a fine listening experience but, when singling it down to one record, I had to go for the Beastie BoysPaul’s Boutique. Everywhere on social media, people are nominating the albums they will be playing. I can imagine the sort of disruptions and concentrations being vibrated across the land as 3:33 comes and we all fall silent for specific amounts of times!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The Beastie Boys/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

I am not sure whether a double-album (is it strictly a single album?!) is allowed but, as it IS an album, I am going to spend that bit longer letting the Beastie Boys’ masterpiece unfold and unfurl. You might ask why I am choosing this record – even if you couldn’t care less I am going to explain anyway – and why not someone like Kate Bush…who I adore beyond words and is an artist who loves albums to death! I could go with The Kick Inside or Aerial but I feel, as I play them a lot, there is not a special reason to select one of them. I chose Paul’s Boutique because, to me, it is the definition of what an album should be. You cannot choose a single song and leave things there: you are so engrossed by all the samples, cutting lines and wonderful images to leave things alone! The only problem being where I am right now is the fact I do not have the vinyl and a record player available. I could run somewhere in the vain hope someone will but that is a remote possibility I am not willing to entertain. Instead; I am hunkering by a laptop with my headphones on and will spin the album on Spotify. It lacks a certain romance and purity but, as I have no choice, it is better than nothing!

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

I first encountered the album not that long after its release. Paul’s Boutique came out in 1989 and I was about six at the time. I think I encountered it in the early-1990s and a lot of my school friends were getting into U.S. Hip-Hop and it was seen as THE thing to listen to! I was aware of the Beastie Boys and, looking back, License to Ill, their 1986 debut, remains my favourite. The reason I plump for Paul’s Boutique is because of its fullness and how daring it is! Look at a song B-Boy Bouillabaisse and you have a distinct nine-part suite that unfolds throughout the hypnotic swansong. I will come to explain why the album is going to be my choice for today’s celebration but it seems people cannot get enough of Paul’s Boutique. When it was released in 1989; many critics were put off because it was unlike the Beastie Boys’ debut. Those expecting Fight for Your Right or No Sleep Till Brooklyn – accessible and easy-to-understand songs – were in for a shock. Shake Your Rump and Hey Ladies are, I feel, the equivalent songs on their follow-up albums. Maybe the Paul’s Boutique cuts are more complex and sample-laden but they are still quite easy to digest and get on-board. The remainder of Paul’s Boutique gets inside your head and soul with its multiple samples and insane world...

The boys lost none of their wit and intelligence but stepped things up in terms of sonics and storytelling. Paul’s Boutique is named for a fictional clothing store that was suggested by band member Mike D. It is ‘located’ on Manhattan’s Lower East Side – the location for ‘Paul’s Boutique’ was an existing clothing store on the corner of Rivington and Ludlow Street called Lee’s Sportswear. Featuring production by the Dust Brothers; the album was recorded in Matt Dike’s apartment and the Record Plant in Los Angeles. Aside from the vocals themselves; Paul’s Boutique is composed of samples and people did not know what to make of it back then! When the Beasties started work on their second album, they were in self-imposed exile in L.A. and were being written-off as a novelty act. They were seen as a joke and many were not expecting a second record. In any case; it was an opportunity for Ad-Roc, Mike D and MCA to throw out the rulebook and make the record that they wanted! Back in 2009; Pitchfork – who usually crap over every album! – gave the twentieth anniversary reissue of Paul’s Boutique a perfect ten! Although I am listening to the original version – albeit, through Spotify… - the review makes some excellent observations:

It’s impossible to hear the vast majority of this album as anything other than a locked-tight group effort, with its overlapping lyrics and shouted three-man one-liners, and it’s maybe best displayed in the classic single “Shadrach.” After years of post-Def Jam limbo and attempts to escape out from under the weight of a fratboy parody that got out of hand, they put together a defiant, iconographic statement of purpose that combined giddy braggadocio with weeded-out soul-searching. It’s the tightest highlight on an album full of them, a quick-volleying, line-swapping 100-yard dash capped off with the most confident possible delivery of the line “They tell us what to do? Hell no!

 

As reissues go, the 20th Anniversary re-release of Paul’s Boutique is relatively bare-bones. There’s a richer, cleaner audio mix remastered by the band, a tracklisting that splits “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” into its separate parts, and a sharp mini-gatefold package highlighting the iconic cover photo. That so little has been changed is more of a relief than a problem; between the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd samples, you’d think the clearance issues would be prohibitive. Just the fact that this album’s being reissued with all this care and attention should be enough. After Paul’s Boutique failed to move units, it wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility that the Beasties would wind up like the protagonist of “Johnny Ryall”—with “a platinum voice/But only gold records,” reduced to obscurity while their most ambitious work faded into cutout-bin purgatory. As it turned out, they created an album we’ll probably never hear the likes of again—good thing it’s deep enough to live in forever”.

The reason I love the album and feel it is perfect when it comes to this special day; I can understand why it was a bit overlooked in 1989. At the time – and even now – music was a lot more accessible and had never seen an album as dense with samples. The Beasties were on full-on attack-mode when it came to jokes and vocals but it is the samples and the way they spliced them into the songs that excites me. One ca say albums like Paul’s Boutique inspired other sample-heavy masterpieces from DJ Shadow, The Avalanches and Beck but, to me, Paul’s Boutique is the ultimate combination of Hip-Hop confidence; brilliant jocular and memorable songs and sounds that blow your mind! The Vinyl Factory, last year, wrote an excellent piece that looked at the samples used on the album and broke things down:

At the time of its release Paul’s Boutique was a relative commercial dud for the Beasties, given that the success of Licensed To Ill had taken the trio from middle-class punk kids to rap poster boys overnight. In Licensed To Ill the Beastie Boys came to disturb the peace, at least for the white, middle-American music market Def Jam were looking to break into. They succeeded in that. “I’m real mad at the Beastie Boys, they definitely messed up a lot of things for me,” said LL Cool J in a 1987 interview. But the Licensed To Illformula was not built to last. You can only play the teenage rebels for so long.

Anything from “100 to 300” samples lie within Paul’s Boutique according to one of its creators, Mike Simpson of The Dust Brothers. With production partner John King the duo crafted Paul’s Boutique from their LA studio armed with an MPC and a near-encyclopaedic knowledge of funk, soul, rock, rap, jazz and everything in-between. For the Beasties, Paul’s Boutique was their unabashed ode to ’70s funk and bravado, an album as lyrically potent as it was tongue-in-cheek and one that helped set the tone for rap music throughout the ‘90s.

Marking 28 years of Paul’s Boutique, we scratch the surface of the samples that epitomised this landmark LP from one of Brooklyn’s greatest exports”.

It is shocking noticing the major acclaim and recognition the album has received after its release – it is seen as one of the most influential and best albums ever – compared to the muted and dismayed response it garnered back in 1989! It is a surprise the boys had commercial backing and a label to support them for their third album: 1992’s Check Your Head was a critical success and gained huge reviews! Beastie Boys changed directions again but they did not drop their ambition and continued to keep the samples flowing and thick! There were some reviewers, back in 1989, who loved Paul’s Boutique and realised it took a while for it to settle. Maybe it was a bit complex and deep to please those who want something easy and straight-forward but I am glad people gave the album a chance and it has been so important. Another interesting article looked at the situation Beastie Boys were in after their debut and how Paul’s Boutique was received:

By the time Beastie Boys convened to record the follow-up to their debut, Licensed To Ill, they’d painted themselves into a corner. That first album boasted rock hooks, hard raps and explosive singles that helped push the record to platinum status in no time flat. But MCA, Mike D and Ad-Rock’s send-up of frat-boy culture threatened to become a self-sabotaging millstone heavier than the Volkswagen chain Mike D wore around his neck. Three years later they’d left Def Jam, signed with Capitol, and pitched up at The Dust Brothers’ place looking to create a follow-up that would shake the one-hit wonders tag they’d been lumped with. As luck would have it, the production duo had been working on a complex patchwork of beats, songs, dialogue snippets and anything else they could lay their hands on. Beastie Boys saw their future in its gleefully anarchic collage: the basis of what would become Paul’s Boutique.

“A lot of the tracks come from songs they’d planned to release to clubs as instrumentals,” Ad-Rock later told Clash magazine in the UK. “They were quite surprised when we said we wanted to rhyme on it, because they thought it was too dense.” The Brothers offered to strip the tracks to their bare beats, but the Beasties demurred and quickly got to work writing additional songs with their new collaborators”.

 “Released on 25 July 1989, and named after a fictional clothing store, Paul’s Boutique (actually Lee’s Sportswear, located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side; the vinyl sleeve folded out to reveal a panoramic photo of the corner at Ludlow and Rivington Streets) initially confused punters looking for more of Licensed To Ill’s jock bravado. In the years since, however, it’s been rightly hailed as one of the cornerstones of hip-hop.

Gleefully racing through samples by everyone from The Beatles to Johnny Cash (the album has spawned entire websites devoted to tracing the sources, variously estimated at between 100 and 300 samples), Paul’s Boutique made clear exactly what was possible with hip-hop at a time when the number of lawsuits issued by disgruntled songwriters was on the rise. Though everyone involved is adamant that the samples were cleared, the $250,000 allegedly spent on doing so is nothing compared to today’s licensing fees. Just as soon as the Beasties and co opened the floodgates, they were pushed shut again. It would be impossible to make Paul’s Boutique today”.

New York Post wrote an article that explained how Paul’s Boutique changed Hip-Hop and changed the game. It showed white guys could rap – in a genre that was largely composed of black artists at the time – and sampling was taken to the next level! The Dust Brothers (who would become The Chemical Brothers) came to the fore and music videos were reinvented. The Beastie Boys, again, broke ground and released these stunning and immersive videos. Artists sampled on the record – including The Beatles – were brought into a new genre and, for others, new generations were discovering music they would not have otherwise have heard.

I love Paul’s Boutique because you cannot skip a track and do not want to leave any tracks out! Hey Ladies and Shadrach were released as singles but, given the length of some songs and how dense they were, it was never going to be a record with loads of singles and radio-friendly cuts! From the casual and modest opener, To All the Girls, you settle in and experience an album like no other – the only sample on the song is Loran’s Dance (Idris Muhammad). Shake Your Rump starts a brilliant 1-2-3-4-5 that is busy and addictive; crammed with samples a perfect combination between Beastie members trading verses and disparate samples aiding and abetting their mischief! Johnny Ryall, Egg Man and High Plains Drifter, among them, sample Pink Floyd, Jean Knight; Curtis Mayfield and Ramones – it is staggering how many diverse and unconnected artists seamlessly blend and collaborate! Hey Ladies arrives in the middle of the pack and welcomes a second-half display that mixes short snatches (5-Piece Chicken Dinner is twenty-three seconds of magic) to the twelve-minute-plus finale! Car Thief ingeniously fuses Donovan with Trouble Funk (naturally!) and Shadrach – my favourite cut – has everyone from James Brown and Rose Royce at the table! You listen to the fifteen tracks are dizzied and exhausted. You come back time and time again and it is one of those records you keep picking new stuff from. I have been excited by the album since I discovered it as a child and now, in 2018, I am going to mark National Album Day with a special play. Other people are celebrating and marking 3:33 P.M. in their own way but, for me, there is only one album I could play: the majestic and divine…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

PAUL’S Boutique!

FEATURE: The October Playlist: Vol. 2: It’s More a Metaphor for Love Than a Hostage Situation, Mind!

FEATURE:

 

The October Playlist

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Bilie Eilish/PHOTO CREDIT: Ben Hassett for PAPER 

Vol. 2: It’s More a Metaphor for Love Than a Hostage Situation, Mind!

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THERE are some great songs out this week…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Thom Yorke/PHOTO CREDIT: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

and ones that, to me, dig deep and stay with you! I guess that happens a lot but there is something about this week’s selection of tracks that goes further and remains in the mind longer. Among the fresh cuts are songs from Billie Eilish, Thom Yorke and Jon Hopkins. St. Vincent, ALMA and CHVRCHES are here with some fantastic material and it is a eclectic and bold week for music! I have been looking through the assortment of releases and put together, what I think, are the very best and most interesting. Even if you do not like everything in there; I am confident you will get a lot to take away and keep you occupied. It is another strong and fascinating week of music that will get into the heart, mind and body.

ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Thom Yorke Volk

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PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Mendoza/Recording Academy

Billie Eilish hostage

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CHVRCHES Graffiti

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Run the Jewels Let’s Go (The Royal We)

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Mahalia Surprise Me

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Yak Bellyache

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St. Vincent - Savior (Piano Version)

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ALMA Cowboy

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PHOTO CREDIT: Pooneh Ghana

POND Sixteen Days

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PHOTO CREDIT: Amber Pollack

Sundara KarmaIllusions

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Jon Hopkins Feel First Life

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Cloud Nothings So Right So Clean

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Boy George & Culture Club God & Love

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Jacob Banks Slow Up

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Kurt Vile Yeah Bones

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Loyle Carner (ft. Jordan Rakei)Ottolenghi

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Little Mix (ft. Nicki Minaj) Woman Like Me

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Maggie Rogers Light On

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Paloma Faith Loyal

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The Prodigy (ft. Ho99o9) Fight Fire with Fire

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Sia I’m Still Here

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PHOTO CREDIT: Rory Barnes

YONAKAOwn Worst Enemy

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Ella Mai Good Bad

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Jess Glynne 123

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Áine Cahill Water Into Wine

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Shawn Mendes Under Pressure

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Theresa Rex Wild Ones

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Middle Kids Salt Eyes

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Ady Suleiman Rise Up

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PHOTO CREDIT: Shawn Brackbill

John Grant Preppy Boy

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Rosie Carney - Orchid

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Dani Sylvia Miracle

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RAT BOY INTERNATIONALLY UNKNOWN 

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Liv Dawson Good Intentions

FEATURE: Sisters in Arms: An All-Female, Autumn-Ready Playlist (Vol. X)

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Siena Liggins 

An All-Female, Autumn-Ready Playlist (Vol. X)

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BEFORE the weekend comes in…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Grace Carter

I wanted to put out another list of female-led songs that should get you in the mood and bring the contrasts of autumn to mind! I am excited seeing what is out there and the range of music being made by some incredible artists. This playlist features a selection of just-released songs and some slightly older cuts; bringing together a variety of genres and songs that, once heard, demand more attention and affection. I am prepared for all autumn has in store but, here, we have rain and something darker with sunny and warm bursts – perfect for an autumnal playlist! If you need some uplift and energy to get you through; make sure you get your ears around this selection of songs and let them seep…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: YONAKA

INTO the blood.

ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Shervin Lainez

Speedy OrtizBigger Party

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FOURSEven in My Dreams

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Ralph Dark Clouds

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Millie TurnerNight Running

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PHOTO CREDIT: Nathan Russell

Lauran HibberdWhat Do Girls Want?

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Jodi GuthroShots Fired

 
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PHOTO CREDIT: Ryan Saradjola

YONAKAOwn Worst Enemy 

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @noranordfromnorway

Lilly AhlbergNeeding You

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Grace CarterWhy Her Not Me

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Siena Liggins - Naked

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Valerie BroussardHold on to Me

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Bibi BourellyWriter’s Song

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PoppyFashion After All

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PHOTO CREDIT: Metaxia Coustas

Meg MacGive Me My Name Back

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SVRCINACome Together 

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Haley Heynderickx (ft. Max Garcia Conover)Little Wind

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Arctic LakeNight Cries

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Steady HolidayTrapping Season

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VISTA - Born for Blood

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Martha HillWallflower

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Sofie WintersonHalf Asleep

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Leah CapelleWalking with Giants

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Miya FolickThingamajig

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PHOTO CREDIT: Savannah van der Niet

San MeiHeaven

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Blood Red ShoesMexican Dress

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Paloma Ford4 the Fame

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ECKOESHurricane of Storms

FEATURE: Sisters in Arms: An All-Female, Autumn-Ready Playlist (Vol. IX)

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Maggie Rogers/PHOTO CREDIT: Howl & Echoes

An All-Female, Autumn-Ready Playlist (Vol. IX)

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WITH the weather being a bit all over the place…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Koko Clay

it is time to settle down with some music from the best underground female artists around. We all need sounds that soundtrack autumn and put the changeable conditions in mind. I have been looking out for the best new – and slightly older – female-led tracks that showcases an immense amount of skill and variation. It is an exciting time for music and it is hard to keep a track of all the brilliant offerings emerging! Take a look and listen through this female-scored rundown and I am certain there will be something in there that will stick in the mind and lift the mood! Autumn is all about colour and that mix of warm and slightly cooler. Here, with the music setting the mood, it is the perfect playlist to…

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IN THIS PHOTO: SASAMI/PHOTO CREDIT: Alice Baxley

EASE you into the weekend.

ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Lauren RocketDiamond Nights

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 ART CREDIT: Kim Van Vuuren 

EMERGERNomadic Love

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PHOTO CREDIT: Melissa Chu

Nina LunaRed Flags

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PHOTO CREDIT: Hillary Olson

JØUR - The War Inside

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Middle Kids - Salt Eyes

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PHOTO CREDIT: Maria Stijger Aramburu

Jo Marches Clearing

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PHOTO CREDIT: Howl & Echoes

Maggie RogersLight On

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Liv DawsonGood Intentions

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Desperate JournalistIt Gets Better

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PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Jamer

Christina MartinImpossible to Hold

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PHOTO CREDIT: @abaxley

SASAMI Callous

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Arc IrisIcon of Ego

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PHOTO CREDIT: @stoyanovjones 

Koko ClayMotherland

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Jess McAvoy (ft. Alicia Madison)All Alone

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HAVVK - Glass

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Sizzy RocketJuicy Fruit

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PHOTO CREDIT: @bambivader

Norma Another Red Day

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Ibeyi Rise Up Wise Up Eyes Up

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PHOTO CREDIT: Nata Moraru Photography

Mersey WylieGiving Myself Away

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IAN SWEET Hiding

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PHOTO CREDIT: Ania Shrimpton Photography

She Makes WarDear Heart

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CRAY Peaches

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Deanna Devore Fuels

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Emma Danelon (ft. Renzo) - Questions

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RedDangerous Love

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Emilie Brandt - Grey

FEATURE: We’ve Got It Covered! National Album Day: My Ten Favourite Album Covers Ever

FEATURE:

 

 

We’ve Got It Covered!

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PHOTO CREDIT: @nataliedivine/Unsplash 

National Album Day: My Ten Favourite Album Covers Ever

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THIS is a visual piece that…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @lensinkmitchel/Unsplash

celebrates National Album Day and shows how important the visual side of music is. I guess we always associate musical history with the physical product and vinyl. Being able to hold a piece of art in your hand is so important and pleasurable and it seems that thrill is being lost more and more I have been thinking about what defines a great cover and how it grabs you. Whether it is a stark, single image or something busy and iconic – I have made some suggestions and picked my favourite ten. Many people might disagree but there have been some incredible album covers since the record was introduced seventy years ago. Have a look at this list and reveal in the visual quality on offer. Maybe you will be compelled to go out and buy that album, on vinyl, and get the real thing in your hand. In any case; I am going to revisit the albums and see if there is a link between the cover image and the music within – just a theory I have. Take a look at this awesome ten and I am sure you will agree how essential and integral the album cover is…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @mikeferreira/Unsplash

TO this very day.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images

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The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers

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Date of Release: 23rd April, 1971

Fact:

In early 1969, Andy Warhol agreed to design an album cover for the Rolling Stones.

The band’s frontman, Mick Jagger, wrote Warhol a letter about the project, telling the famed artist, “The more complicated the format of the album, e.g., more complex than just pages or fold-out, the more f–ked-up the reproduction and agonizing the delays.”

Warhol ignored this, creating one of the most complex and memorable album covers in rock history for “Sticky Fingers,” the 1971 album that took the Stones from stars to legends” – New York Post

The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

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Date of Release: 26th May, 1967  

Fact:

This was a period when McCartney was asserting himself more and more when it came to the Beatles’ career decisions, a trend that would continue for the remainder of their time together. He produced ink drawings of the cover concept and shared them with Blake and his wife Haworth. “I did a lot of drawings of us being presented to the Lord Mayor,”
Paul explained in Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now, “with lots of dignitaries and lots of friends of ours
around, and it was to be us in front of a big northern floral clock, and
we were to look like a brass band. That developed to become the Peter Blake cover
” – Rolling Stone

FKA twigs - LP1

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Date of Release: 6th August, 2014

Fact:

Just before and during the release of her debut album LP1, there was a flurry of impressive song snippets and videos, and then the cherubic album cover was finally revealed. It was all over the Internet, pasted on city corners, and had an exhibition at Wallplay in NYC with accompanying images by Jesse Kanda. It's both a strong audio and visual presentation for what promises to be an exciting, long-term career for FKA twigs”  Complex

The ClashLondon Calling

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Date of Release: 14th December, 1979    

Fact:

Two people were responsible for the striking black and white image on The Clash’s London Calling. The first was the band’s statuesque bass player, Paul Simonon, who is shown driving his bass guitar into the stage of the New York Palladium on September 21, 1979.

“The show had gone quite well,” he recalls, “but for me, inside, it just wasn’t working well, so I suppose I took it out on the bass. If I was smart, I would have got the spare bass and used that one, because it wasn’t as good as the one as I smashed up. When I look at it now, I wish I’d lifted my face up a bit more” – LOUDER

 Patti SmithHorses

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Date of Release: 13th December, 1975   

Fact:

The simple black and white portrait gracing the cover of Horses was taken by Smith’s good friend, and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Smith had met Mapplethorpe on her first day in New York City in 1967, when she accidentally wandered into his apartment looking for someone else. The two became close friends, even sharing the smallest room at the Chelsea Hotel (as it was all they could afford), where they would stay up all night and work on their respective art forms. Mapplethorpe has described his collaborations with Smith “like taking drugs; you’re in an abstract place and it’s perfect”.

At the time Horses was recorded, Smith was becoming well-known in the New York underground circuit, along with other bands such as Blondie and The Ramones”- lomography

Nirvana Nevermind

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Date of Release: 23rd September, 1978   

Fact:

Take the now-infamous image of a naked underwater baby floating across the cover of Nirvana‘s ground-breaking “Nevermind” — arguably among the most eye-catching album covers ever produced. It was “a fluke,” said photographer Kirk Weddle .

Kirk completed the “Nevermind” assignment over three shoots on location in Southern California. Working at a public pool in Pasadena, he convinced friends to press their four-month-old boy into the service of rock n’ roll. “The mom was on my left, and blew a puff of air into the child’s face,” Kirk recalls. “Then we dunked him in and, bang bang, pulled him out. We did it twice and that was it.” The record label’s art department added the fish hook and dollar bill as finishing touches” – Huffington Post

 Hole Live Through This

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Date of Release: 12th April, 1994    

Fact:

Courtney Love stated in an interview that she

“Wanted to capture the look on a woman’s face as she’s being crowned… this sort of ecstatic, blue eyeliner running, kind of ‘I am, I am— I won! I have hemorrhoid cream under my eyes and adhesive tape on my butt, and I had to scratch and claw and fuck my way up, but I won Miss Congeniality!'” – Feel Numb

Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon

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Date of Release: 1st March, 1973     

Fact:

None of the band members offered an explanation, leaving it up to fans to add their own meanings, a process that required repeated album listens and discussion with other fans. (In an interview with Ed Lopez-Reyes of Floyd news site Brain Damage, I likened Pink Floyd to magicians who don’t explain their tricks.) It’s no wonder that the album turned Pink Floyd into major stars, sold 50 million copies and remained on the Billboard charts 741 weeks.

The Dark Side of the Moon design is another product of the fertile creative team of Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis, who are responsible for creating some of rock’s most memorable album covers, such as Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. As discussed in Mark Blake’s Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd, the original design emerged from Powell’s and Thorgerson’s practice of conducting brainstorming sessions that stretched from late evening until 4:00 a.m. (Hipgnosis had been given minimal creative direction by the band other than a suggestion by keyboardist Richard Wright to “do something clean, elegant and graphic.”)” – Medium

The Beatles Abbey Road

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Date of Release: 26th September, 1969      

Fact:

In keeping with the pencil sketch that Paul McCartney had given to photographer Iain Macmillan, the sleeve simply shows the four Beatles walking across the zebra crossing outside Abbey Road Studios in North London.

The famous cover shot was one of six taken by Macmillan at 10am on August 8, 1969. As a policeman held up the traffic, the photographer had just 10 minutes to balance on a stepladder and get the shots. The result was striking and iconic. But few could have imagined the reaction it got.

Shortly before the release of the Abbey Road album, an American newspaper ran a story that claimed Paul McCartney had died in a car accident in 1966, and that the current ‘Paul’ was actually a lookalike called William Campbell. The rumours gathered pace and when Abbey Road arrived that October, its sleeve was pronounced by conspiracy theorists as final proof of Macca’s demise” – Louder

 David BowieAladdin Sane

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Date of Release: 13th April, 1973      

Fact:

What is the first image that comes to mind when you hear the name David Bowie? For many millions of fans, it’s one of the musician, bare-chested, with a bold red lightning bolt scrawled across his ethereally white face and a mystical pool of water nestled in the nook of his collarbone. The photograph is one of the most famous ever made by photographer Brian Duffy, taken for the cover of the pop icon’s album Aladdin Sane in the second of five sessions which the pair conducted together, and has become one of the most recognised photographs ever taken.

The famous red and blue lightning bolt which is painted across Bowie’s face was, in fact, inspired by the logo on a rice cooker in the studio kitchen. “In the studio we had a sort of mobile make-up table with mirrors on it, and on wheels,” Duffy's studio manager Francis Newman recalls. “I remember David sitting in front of that with Pierre Laroche, and they had obviously talked about using this flash. Well, Pierre started to apply this tiny little flash on his face and when Duffy saw it he said, ‘No, not fucking like that, like this.’ He literally drew it right across his face and said to Pierre, 'Now, fill that in.' It was actually Duffy who did the initial shape – I’m not saying he did the actual make-up. It then took Pierre about an hour to apply properly. The red flash is so shiny because it was actually lipstick” – AnOther

FEATURE: The Shame on You: Why Spotify Streaming Records and Music Statistics Paint a False Picture Regarding Gender and True Quality

FEATURE:

 

 

The Shame on You

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IN THIS PHOTO: Ed Sheeran/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Why Spotify Streaming Records and Music Statistics Paint a False Picture Regarding Gender and True Quality

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ONE of the biggest curses in music…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @dotgrid/Unsplash

is how numbers-obsessed and focused it is! It seems, as opposed any other form of quantification and definition; numbers and statistics dictate what constitutes ‘good’ music. Every time you go onto a site like YouTube or Spotify; there are those streaming numbers and you feel like you are watching a company’s accounts being opened rather than listening to music! The same is true when you look at statistics being put out into the world – I shall concentrate on that more later. I am  huge advocate of gender-equality and rights in music. I can see there is a divide out there in many areas but you can never genuinely claim there is a gulf in terms of quality. A worrying report came out regarding Spotify and the most-streamed artists of the past decade:

Spotify has revealed the most-streamed artists in the platform’s 10-year history. Drake, followed by Ed Sheeran and Eminem lead its rankings – while Rihanna and Ariana Grande are the only women in its top 10 list.

The streaming giant, which launched in Sweden, the UK, France, Spain and Norway in October 2008, has also listed its users’ favourite songs and albums. It named Sheeran’s 2017 single Shape of You as its most-played track. Sheeran’s 2014 single Thinking Out Loud also features, in fifth place. Drake’s 2016 single One Dance comes second, while the Chainsmokers’ Closer, also released in 2016, comes in third.

Justin Bieber effectively has three tracks in the top 10. He features on Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s 2017 Despacito remix (coming in at 7), and as a solo artist with Love Yourself (8) and Sorry (9).

No female artists have songs in the top 10, however Rihanna became the first artist to reach 1bn streams on Spotify, in 2013. She is the most-streamed female artist globally, followed by Ariana Grande and Sia. Adele and Taylor Swift’s initial resistance to putting their music on Spotify may have contributed to their respective placings at six and seven”.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Halsey/PHOTO CREDIT: Jenn Five for NME

I do wonder how damaging streaming figures and these sort of reports are. On the one hand, you do wonder why it is so male-dominated and how come fewer female artists are being promoted and backed?! Great current artists like Halsey and Dua Lipa are popular and write great music but they are struggling against the more commercial artists – it seems men are still dominating when it comes to streaming statistics. This, as the article continues, is a big problem that is not exactly new:

The lack of women on Spotify’s 10-year streaming charts correlates with recent research by Baffler critic Liz Pelly, who found the platform’s “most popular and visible playlists to be staggeringly male-dominated”.

Spotify’s high-profile editorial playlists are immensely powerful. A high placement on a playlist such as Rap Caviar or New Music Friday can change a song’s fortunes. Playlist culture has also changed song structure, with verses and choruses hitting sooner to avoid being skipped by listeners.

Pelly concluded that the platform’s algorithmic recommendations meant that “when a user listens to mostly male-dominated playlists, what is produced are yet more male-dominated playlists”.

Whilst there is pull and power associated with playlists and what is being streamed on Spotify; I do wonder whether this pointless numbers game blurs lines. You can look at the report and, rightfully, detect there is sexism and an imbalance that suggests male artists are being promoted too heavily or consumers are being directed to music created by men.

It is shocking to see but it does not really tell the real story. I have mentioned a couple of female artists who are currently popular but, in truth, look at some of this year’s best albums and you will see some serious female talent behind them. From Kali Uchii and Kacey Musgraves to Christine and the Queens to Florence and the Machine; look at Courtney Barnett and Mitski and gander Anna Calvi and Cardi B. That is just a few names who are jostling to be among the very best from this year – their albums have enflamed and engrossed; they are seriously awesome and have, in my mind, created music more stirring and impactful than their male peers. It seems there is that assumption that streaming figures equates to quality. I am not sure how male artists are marketed and why they are outstripping women but you can certainly not claim quality is the reason. Again; maybe someone like Ed Sheeran has a bigger fanbase or his music is more digestible. He is not taxing on the brain and, in a lot of ways, his audience are attracted to him as a person as opposed his music. Drake and Eminem are in the top-ten of the most-streamed but, again, one needs to look at why Hip-Hop artists are trending more and why they are promoted more fervently. 

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Drake/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I am not saying their music lacks validity and quality but I look at artists like Drake and Ed Sheeran and then match them against, say, Christine and the Queens and Janelle Monáe. If you did a track/album-by-album comparison I am pretty sure, in terms of reviews and consistency, you would see the victory going to the female artists. That might sound random and specious but Spotify records and figures do not correlate to quality and talent. It might be frustrating to learn that the more talented female artists are overlooked why more mainstream and Spotify-friendly artists are being heralded and highlighted! Artists like Rihanna are making a charge but you wonder why the likes of Beyoncé and Taylor Swift did not crack the top-ten! The former, especially, has been producing exceptional, groundbreaking music since Spotify began and, for me, has been much more consistent and surprising than Eminem and Ed Sheeran. You look at any measure of artistic strength and quality and, in every case, I can find female artists who can easily overtake and replace those male artists in the chart. What bugs me is how much importance is placed on streaming figures and followers. I get a lot of requests for interviews and so many P.R. companies put Instagram, Twitter and Facebook followers in there – as if that should bowl me over and wow me! New artists are not allowed the same luxuries when it comes to popularity and many artists cannot get their music featured on Spotify. There are so many factors that skew reality and highlight this gender divide.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Rihanna/PHOTO CREDIT: Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott/Vogue

It is great you have a sense of popularity and appeal but numbers do not mean quality or promise. So many artists who have millions of followers and break streaming records do so because they are cool, fashionable and hot. Maybe their music appeals to a certain demographic who is more concerned with hooky choruses and generic lyrics. So much of music, now, is based on how many streams you get and how many playlists you can get your music on! Sure; there are female artists who are as commercial and unchallenging as the most-streamed men but you have to wonder why they are not receiving kudos. I am not a big fan of Taylor Swift, Katy Perry or Dua Lipa – or someone like Rihanna and Jess Glynne – but they write music that has its market and, look at YouTube and the sort of figures they pull in and you wonder why that does not translate to Spotify! One feels playlists and their sway is muddying the waters and creating an imbalance. I feel there is sexism at work but many might, naively, assume the men in that most-streamed list are there because they are superior. There are articles like this that gather women’s voices and showcase the fact there is sexism in the industry.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @tompottiger/Unsplash

I was reading an article from earlier this year that looked back at 2017 and the disparity between men and women – how many men were credited when it came to big hits and how few women there were in the industry:

After researching the lack of diversity in Hollywood, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the leading global think tank studying issues of inclusion across entertainment mediums, has set its sights on the music world. The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism division just released its inaugural report on inclusion in popular music and the results reveal that just like in the film and television industry, there is a strong need for more females in the music industry.

The report showed that:

In 2017, 83.2% of artists were men and only 16.8% were women.

2017 marked a six-year low for female artists in popular content

Of 2,767 songwriters credited, 87.7% were male and 12.3% were female.

73.8% of female songwriters only worked once in 6 years, 7.9% worked twice, and 4.3 percent worked three times. Less than 6% of female songwriters had 6 or more credits across the sampled time frame.

Nine male songwriters were responsible for 1/5 of the songs in the sample.

Out of the study’s 651 producers, 98% were male and only 2% female.

A total of 899 individuals were nominated for a Grammy Award between 2013 and 2018. 90.7% of those were male and 9.3% were female”.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It makes for worrying reading but, again, we forget how many fantastic women there are in the industry and the sort of work they are putting out there. Beyoncé recently topped a poll conducted by Woman’s Hour that sought to find the most powerful women in music. We are seeing figures that show most top-forty songs are written by men and most producers are men. It seems all the sides of the industry are male-led and women are in the minority. I agree a lot needs to be done when it comes to employment and redressing the balance of producers/engineers etc. but my mind keeps coming back to this Spotify list. I think the most compelling and fantastic artists at the moment are women and yet, more and more, it is male artists you see promoted on the site. I am not sure whether there is a connection but how is a true balance across music going to happen when the world’s most-popular and talked-about platform for music are putting the men first?! We have these powerhouses like Beyoncé and artists like Halsey who speak out against injustices and make their voice heard. In terms of political and social awareness; female artists are much more potent and prolific; my favourite albums from this year, largely, have been created by women and I feel the Pop mainstream is seeing artists like Ed Sheeran being overtaken by Dua Lipa, Sigrid and their peers.

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify

In order to see some real change and improvement happen in the industry as a whole, we need to change the way platforms like Spotify do things and how much of a role playlists play. You go onto the site and most of the new playlists have men heading them up. I do not believe there are more men making music than women as a whole. There might be a slight advantage to the men but not as large as many suggest. Perhaps more girls are streaming than women and men so that is something that needs to be questioned. Talk to those buying albums and the non-preteen demographic and there will be a different picture painted. We are in a golden age for female songwriters and look at the mainstream and underground and I can see that revolution happening. I realise the Spotify top-ten looks back at the last decade but, again, fantastic female artists have been in the business since then and you get this misleading sense of popularity/quality. Is it true women market more to other women whereas men market to everyone? Perhaps that is true in terms of mainstream Pop but it is not the case with the wider market! Many might say this latest report is irrelevant and who really cares – so long as you support female musicians in your own way then that should be enough. I understand that but I also know how much power and influence Spotify holds and how the young generation are swayed by it. Their schematics and marketing needs to change, that is for sure.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @brucemars/Unsplash

I am not saying a change at Spotify will lead to improvements regarding females headlining at festivals and getting more women into studios. I am fully aware of the sheer quality out there and how many world-class female producers, artists and songwriters there are. I would like to see THEIR voices and talent recognised and inspire future generations. Spotify’s most-streamed list would lead you to believe artists like Ed Sheeran and Drake are the best from the last decade but, if anything, they are the most consumable, marketed and easy on the mind. That appeals to a certain sect but it is taking so much away from so many extraordinary female artists who, if they were given the same props, would be able to affect real change in the industry. If we start looking at the way huge influencers like Spotify tabulate and promote their artists then the service can be amended to that it goes away from the commercial and chart-bound and reflects the true nature and brilliance of modern music. Statistics and streaming figures suggest men are dominating and hold the most power but when it comes to the most important thing of all, the music itself, I feel women are the ones…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Maggie Rogers (one of the most interesting and engaging voices in new, modern music)/PHOTO CREDIT: Jennifer McCord for DIY

WHO have the most powerful voices!

FEATURE: Stronger: World Mental Health Day: Remaining Focused and Resolute

FEATURE:

 

 

Stronger

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PHOTO CREDIT: @daesign/Unsplash 

World Mental Health Day: Remaining Focused and Resolute

__________

TODAY is a very important and busy day…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @aliyahjam/Unsplash

that has got a lot of folks on social media sharing their stories and joining together. It is World Mental Health Day and, as you many have seen online; a lot of people are coming out and sharing their mental-health experiences. I am seeing a lot of people revealing their experiences with depression/psychological distress. Mental-health is a complex thing so being aware of its spectrum and how many people are going through tough times is important. Forbes have written a piece that states why we need to get involved with this special day and take messages away:

If you’ve ever heard the term ‘mental health’ and thought this isn’t for me, you may just want to keep reading.

While the language around mental health and mental illness has existed for decades, the conversation itself has become far more open and relevant to all (and rightly so). Mind, the UK’s leading mental health charity summarises it concisely by saying “mental health can affect anyone any day of the year”.

While there is a World ‘Day’ for almost everything, today – World Mental Health Day – feels particularly significant and worthy of attention.

·         Mental health problems are one of the main causes of disease burden worldwide.

·         In the UK approximately one in four people will experience a mental health problem each year.

·         And one in six report experiencing one of the most common problems, such as anxiety and depression, in any given week.

Days like today at the very least, bring global attention to an important conversation and provide an opportunity for people to share and speak up more publicly about their own experiences”.

This is the one day where you do not really mind hearing strangers/’friends’ talk about things. If they are recognising World Mental Health Day and being more open then it feels like, in a way, they are taking a big step and, if only for a day, social media is being used as a tool to connect and communicate effectively. In music, I am hearing a lot of tales of people taking leaps or relocating. It can be scary upping sticks and going somewhere new and, for me, that is especially true. I moved to London a few weeks back and, in order to be closer to the heart of the music industry, I feel like it is something I HAD to do. I was too far away from the action where I was and I had been meaning to make the move for years. You might assume happiness and contentment overcame me when I was settled in and had everything unpacked. Maybe that is the feeling for some but, for me, it is more like a business move. I don’t do ‘happy’ in any sense and, having suffered from pretty bad depression since I was in school; I am unable to get properly excited and overwhelmed by positive emotion. I have not been able to find work yet, which is a pain, but my money situation is not too bad. I am keeping a close eye on things but am itching to have something happen and find some employment. I have plenty of time to write but feel a bit isolated and tired at the moment.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @jpgbarbosa/Unsplash

When finances become a bit scant and it does get scary, I hope something will come along and, even though the city is packed and busy, it is really hard finding a well-paid job and getting your footing. I am tired all of the time and even a simple commute is exhausting and can involve a lot of being prodded and pushed about. I have met a few new people up this way but it is hard to escape the feeling of being alone and isolated. Even when you are in crowds of people and on a busy street; there is no point where I feel safe, together and part of a community. I guess that is the nature of the city and, through all of it, I have to keep reminding myself I am doing this – moving and staying here – to get ahead in music and make a life for myself. There are things about home and my old life I miss. I do miss family and my dog and I miss my car. Being able to get anywhere and have that freedom is a big loss. I miss being able to drive down to Brighton on a sunny day like this and my local area; having a job and being a bit more secure.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @fairytailphotography/Unsplash

There are bad days and things are pretty stressed but there are good moments and times when I can find solace and perspective. Just today, when traveling on Piccadilly underground; there was a busker playing a version of, I think, Radiohead’s No Surprises. It may seem appropriate/inappropriate on World Mental Health but he was playing the song on a ukulele. It was a quite meandering version but it made me smirk none the less. I did not spend too much time outside the station but, when I came back through fifteen minutes later, he was playing the same song! That made me smile and it is little things like that which get you through. I know the city existence will be a hard one and it might be a while yet before I find work but I am afforded time at the moment to write and not have to face the daily commute. Others on social media, I see, are experiencing doubts and finding adapting difficult. I am not sure whether it is the dreaming minds of musicians that are most prone but so many are dreaming of big things are tackling them head-on. Whether that is a move to London or recording an album; having this concept or an ideal for where their music will head. The creative mind is often prone to these big ideas and romantic notions and that is great.

Musicians are among the most ambitious and hardest working out there and I know few in the business who cut loose. There are many like me who have taken leaps or made changes in life and it is a bit of a struggle. It is natural, I guess, and the one thing we have to remember is things will improve and things will fall into place. Few of us aware of the extent of mental illness and how one’s mental-health is affected on a daily basis. I can share my story and see other people’s tales me it is hard to understand exactly what is happening and how they are feeling. Life gets busier and harder as we become more modern and immersed in technology. We have adverts that set this ‘ideal – whether it is beauty products, technology or something else. We are always bombarded with adverts and emails; our lives are more and more conducted online and it can be hard to find time to unwind. Even if we can get out; how much does a night out cost and do we have the energy?! I am not surprised our mental-health problems are making the news. Everyone sees successful and good-looking people online and someone else’s good news and achievements can make us feel inadequate and a failure.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @arstyy/Unsplash

That is especially true in music. There is a split between the established and popular artists with their gig demands and big audiences and those who have to slog and make their way with very little support. The thing is; even if you think a band or famous musician looks content and happy, often, they are struggling and go through the same things as us. I guess we all need to stop measuring ourselves against others and spend less time online. Today; I have seen some big artists speak about their mental-health problems and what they have to endure. A lot of articles are online that advise us how to look after ourselves and we all see messages/posts with platitudes and pieces of encouragement. Some of it can help, I guess, but it is a lot more complex helping someone cope with mental-health issues because we are all complex and have different minds. I think, on World Mental Health Day, we all need to take in as much advice as we can and spend some time away from the Internet. Whatever works for you; you need to do it and be aware that there are many people out there going through similar problems. Poor mental-health is a real concern for everyone and I am seeing more and more musicians express their anxiety and troubles. I think it is the demands of the profession and how much time they have to spend online. I am on the laptop most of the day and it can be very isolating and tiring.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @jp_photography/Unsplash

Rather than abandon that practice and way of working; all of us need to make small changes and be more conscious of how we are feeling. I hope the messages and awareness being raised today endures and everyone who feels sad/bad about themselves realises they are strong. It can be hard to feel like you are coping and mean something. I am in that boat and my sense of self-worth seems to wane and wax – I am not sure whether I am making the right choices and if things are going to work out for the best. Keeping that faith strong and focusing is a challenge but we need to keep resilient. Being unafraid to connect with someone in the same boat is a big step and getting out and socialising as much as possible is a positive move. A lot of articles released today and promoting exercise and fresh air; others are suggesting mindfulness and spending a couple of hours a day to relax and put away all the distractions. I am not sure how much these guides and articles help but it is important, however you are coping and making sense of your mental-health; ensure you follow as many steps as possible and do not measure yourself against others. Music is an industry where impressions of self-worth and ‘success’ are being measured against unrealistic standards. I suppose it is unavoidable but there is a link between this mindset and the rise in mental-health issues. Finding ways to get by and realise you are doing well is paramount. That might involve listening to music more or exercising; making big changes or altering the way you see yourself – today is a chance to start afresh or be reminded why you are around and what you have to offer. Things will get better, regardless of how bad they are now, and the future holds a lot of great things. World Mental Health Awareness Day is not meant to be a once-a-year occasion for discussion: we need to keep the spirit burning and understand how important good mental health is. If you are someone who is struggling or reaching a very low point; have a look at the great mental-health charities out there and reach out if needs be. Regardless of how impossible improvement is and how low you are; take stock, take a breath and understand…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @wildlittlethingsphoto

YOU are needed and are strong.

FEATURE: The Gift of Music: Some Brilliant Pre-Christmas Releases Worth Your Affection

FEATURE:

 

 

The Gift of Music

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PHOTO CREDIT: @freestocks/Unsplash

Some Brilliant Pre-Christmas Releases Worth Your Affection

__________

I will publish a feature that highlights…

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Reel Art Press

some great music-related items perfect for Christmas soon but, over the next few weeks, it seems like there are some fantastic treasures coming forth that could distract you before then! I have been looking at my bank balance and wondering whether I can afford all the goodness that is being unveiled. The first treat that appeals to me and I think should be on the minds of everyone who loves good music is Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin. In the absence of any Led Zeppelin gigs – those reunion talks never go away! – anyone with even a slight whiff of Led Zeppelin love (that should be EVERYONE) will be able to revel in a collection of photos that show the guys in their prime – a snapshot of what they were about and what the experience of being in Led Zeppelin was all about. For those who want a brief overview; here is a rundown of what you can expect:

Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin is the first and only official illustrated book to be produced in collaboration with the members of the band. Celebrating 50 years since their formation, it covers the group’s unparalleled musical career and features photographs of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham on and offstage, in candid moments and in the recording studio. This definitive 400-page volume includes previously unpublished photos, artwork from the Led Zeppelin archives and contributions from photographers around the world.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Led Zeppelin/PHOTO CREDIT: Neal Preston

If ordered before October 9th, an exclusive 19.7 x 27.8in poster will come with your pre-order from reelartpress.com or from selected independent retailers. To see the list of participating stores, click here”.

There are some fantastic shots in the book and you get a real understanding of who the band were and what life on the road was like. In an age where there are endless Instagram posts and musicians seem less interested in the visual side of things; having a passionate and authoritative collection of Led Zeppelin photos is a great treat! I know there are always Led Zeppelin products coming onto the market – including reissues and new rarities – but there are not many books out there about them. This volume is a definite must for anyone who wants to get inside the head of a great band and have their eyes opened. I am already putting my order in and, as I say, the next few weeks are going to be very pricey indeed! I feel like the music gods are sprinkling treasures before us in the run-up to Christmas in order to empty our wallets. Who am I to argue when there is such gold coming through?! If Led Zeppelin is not your bag then maybe Kate Bush is – an artist I talk about a lot and, rather unexpectedly, we have two Bush-related gifts we can get our money around!

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Faber & Faber

I keep mentioning money but, really, when you have these fantastic products in the market, they are more investments than anything else. I love streaming music and downloading tunes but they are disposal and rather throwaway in many ways. When artists bringing out hardware, whether it is a book or music, then it is a real chance to get excited and buy something, years from now, you will keep dear and hold onto. I have talked about Kate Bush’s lyrics book but, for those unaware, here is a bit of information:

Kate Bush writes some of modern music’s most gorgeous, literary, and complex lyrics, and now a portion of them will be collected in a new book, How To Be Invisible: Selected Lyrics. The cloth-bound book will be out December 6th via Faber, and will feature an introduction from Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell, a longtime fan of the singer.

“For millions around the world Kate is way more than another singer-songwriter: she is a creator of musical companions that travel with you through life,” Mitchell says in a press release. “One paradox about her is that while her lyrics are avowedly idiosyncratic, those same lyrics evoke emotions and sensations that feel universal.”

Mitchell, who contributed to Bush’s 2014 Before the Dawn performances, has previously spoken about Bush’s lyrics. “Her songs read like scenes from short stories, or the stories themselves (odd ones),” he wrote in 2011. “It’s hard to think of a novelist, let alone another singer-songwriter, who takes on such diverse narrative viewpoints with Bush’s aplomb: a foetus during nuclear war (‘Breathing’), a weather-machine inventor’s daughter (‘Cloudbusting’), a suicide bomber (‘Pull Out the Pin’) or a dancer whose partner turns out to be Hitler (‘Heads We’re Dancing’)”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush/PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush/Fish People

Aside from artists like Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan – whose lyric book I already own – there are not that many out there whose words captivate me enough to go out and buy a book. Bush is that exception and someone, right from the off, took everyone by surprise! Consider what she was talking about on her debut album, The Kick Inside, and you can understand why everyone fell for her way with language – she spoke about incest, mature love and something utterly beguiling. Her lyrics book, How to Be Invisible: Selected Lyrics will be out on 6th December and I am really excited. Bush’s and genius continued right through her career and even now we are still drooling and picking over Kate Bush’s lyrics. It is a bit hush-hush regarding the designs and which songs will appear – there are no pre-releases teasers – so we will have to guess what form the book takes. Even those who are not enamoured with Kate Bush will find much to love and be able to easily immerse themselves in her fantastic and beautiful world. I cannot wait to see what is included in the book and it will be a real treasure! Although I feel the book will be an incredible thing, The Guardian had some reservations:

Bush named her first hit after a school set text, which is a great way to get everyone to think you’re some kind of poet, the sort of person who reads for fun or something. She also wrote a lot of songs that need to be written down to be seen for their full oddness. Cloudbusting, don’t forget, is about a man struggling to recollect the time that his father was arrested for trying to build a rain-making machine. Yes. Breathing is written from the perspective of a foetus during nuclear war. Hounds of Love is about that picture of dogs playing poker. It isn’t, but you get the point. Even then, lines that work on record don’t always seem the same when written down. Her Mrs Bartolozzi is a deft sketch of the drudgery of the housewife, with dabs of Mrs Dalloway. But on the page, it’s hard to justify charging us £19.99 to read: “Slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy / Get that dirty shirty clean / Slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy”.

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IMAGE CREDIT: Kate Bush/Fish People

Maybe there is new Kate Bush music coming next year (I predict there will be) but, out of the blue, she announced she’s remastered her albums and is bringing them out in four different sets. Before her book comes out in December, you can get acquainted with her remastered reissues and it is a nice accompaniment. The four-box release, as CLASH show, brings together all her albums:

Featuring rarities and cover versions, the vinyl and CD sets will be released in two separate batches - the first two on November 16th and the second two on November 30th.

Contents of the boxes are as follows:

KATE BUSH REMASTERED IN VINYL 1
THE KICK INSIDE
LIONHEART
NEVER FOR EVER
THE DREAMING

KATE BUSH REMASTERED IN VINYL 2
HOUNDS OF LOVE
THE SENSUAL WORLD
THE RED SHOES

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PHOTO CREDIT: Kate Bush/Fish People

KATE BUSH REMASTERED IN VINYL 3
AERIAL
 DIRECTOR’S CUT

50 WORDS FOR SNOW

KATE BUSH REMASTERED IN VINYL 4
12” MIXES

THE OTHER SIDE 1
THE OTHER SIDE 2
IN OTHERS’ WORDS
”.

You can pre-order here but I am most looking forward to that fourth boxset! There are some great rarities and Christmas tracks, some B-sides and cover versions that, whilst maybe appealing to the diehard, it is a wonderful study of a complete artist who could tackle any song and make it her own.

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IMAGE CREDIT: Cassell Illustrated

I, like many, have struggled to obtain Kate Bush vinyl and, if you look around, there are few record stores that stock her stuff. You often have to pay a lot of money on Amazon and it is a rather frustrating process! Not only will the albums be remastered and have an even sharper sound; it is great to have the records all in one place so you can enjoy time and time again. I shall move on from Bush and pushing her work but it is exciting there are ‘new’ releases and she is still keeping active. I will mention two more pre-Christmas releases but, right now, another music-related photo collection has just been announced. Whereas Led Zeppelin have been involved in the collation and creation of their book; Amy Winehouse’s tragically short but brilliant life is being brought to our shelves. Here are some details (from DAZED)  that talk about the book and what it is about:

In an interview with Dazed last year, photographer Charles Moriarty shared memories of his friend, Amy Winehouse, as he spoke about his first photobook, Before Frank – which featured an introduction by Dazed’s Ashleigh Kane. Moriarty befriended Winehouse in 2003 when she was a 19-year-old local singer on the cusp of fame after being asked to take some photographs of her in London and New York for her debut studio album, Frank. Now, the photographer is releasing Back to Amy, which features a collection of unseen photographs of the late singer from those sessions.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Charles Moriarty 

“Back to Amy: An intimate portrait of the real Amy Winehouse brings the world a step closer to Winehouse’s unique energy and vitality. Alongside the new images, Moriarty has included a series of new sections, which include words from Winehouse’s mother Janis, as well as band members, and many others who were close to her.

Talking to Dazed about his first book, Moriarty brought up his memories with young Winehouse and said, “I remember asking Amy, ‘What do you want from this?’ and I do remember she wanted it to be as real as could be.”

Despite Winehouse’s confident and carefree demeanour, Moriarity says he had seen the singer’s vulnerability. Her sensitive nature, he believed is what was exploited by many and what led her to such a tragic end. He said, “Amy had things in her life that weren’t all correct and there were issues there, but to then use that as a weapon against her was just upsetting to see. Sadly, I don’t think the media will ever learn from that.” He adds that it’s through these books that he hopes to show the world the real Amy Winehouse.

Back to Amy: An intimate portrait of the real Amy Winehouse featuring rare and unseen photographs by Charles Moriarty – published by Cassell Illustrated – is available now. You can find more information here”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Charles Moriarty  

I love Amy Winehouse and the book is out now. I am holding off buying it for a few more weeks – need to give the credit card a brief rest! – but it is amazing to see Winehouse from different angles and in different settings. It makes her passing all that more sad and makes us realise what an immense talent she was. Many get that view of her with a big beehive and make-up; the excessive and derailed artist who was hounded by the press. Underneath everything she was this rather cheeky, shy and normal woman who wanted to make music and did not care about all the fame and attention. The book is an illuminating, charming and memorable collection of photos that paint a story of Winehouse and who she was away from the glare of the media. Ensure you get a copy when you can because it is another essential musical purchase. Staying on the theme of books and there is another essential buy you need to be aware of. Rather than a lyric or photo book; Matt Everitt has collated his interview experienced into The First Time: Stories & Songs from Music Icons. The hardback edition is out on 5th November and I would urge people to pre-order their copy about the book:

Taken from the cult BBC 6 Music show, The First Time invites you inside the lives of some of the music world’s most notable legends.

From Alice Cooper to Yoko Ono, Courtney Love to Elton John, follow their lives and careers starting with their first musical memories, first records and first gigs, finding out the songs that have shaped them along the way. With 40 compelling interviews, specially commissioned collage illustrations and a bespoke playlist for each musician, The First Time is a must-have for any music lover”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @matteveritt 

Music is becoming less visual and physical so here, in a rather spiffing book, we have something worth holding onto and pouring over! I love reading interviews online and hearing them on the radio but bringing them into a book gives us time to pause and reflect. I know Everitt has a lot of experience interviewing and you can feel the passion come through. I have heard a lot of the original interviews on his BBC Radio 6 Music show, The First Time with…, and I know there will be extra little details and additions. In any case, it is hard to find all the older shows and, here, we have this compendium that unites the most memorable and revealing interviews. Get a hold of it and you will not be disappointed.

I forgot to mention the Beastie Boysbook, as Consequence of Sound explains, it is a definite must-have:

Back in 2015, Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock and Mike D signed a deal with Random House to pen their memoir. Now, three years later, the book is finally ready for release on October 30th.

Based on the sheer size of the aptly titled Beastie Boys Book, it’s easy to see why it took the duo so long to complete. The behemoth book spans 592 pages and includes rare photos, original illustrations, a cookbook from chef Roy Choi, a graphic novel, a map of Beastie Boys’ New York, mixtape playlists, pieces by guest contributors including Spike JonzeWes Anderson, and Amy Poehler, and other surprises”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: The Beastie Boys/PHOTO CREDIT: Bruno Torturra Nogueira

description on the Beastie Boys’ website called Beastie Boys Book as “a panoramic experience” and “a book as unique as the band itself.” It will cover the entirety of the group’s career, “revealing and very funny accounts of their transition from teenage punks to budding rappers; their early collaboration with Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin; the almost impossible-to-fathom overnight success of their debut studio album Licensed to Ill; that album’s messy fallout; their break with Def Jam, move to Los Angeles, and rebirth as musicians and social activists, with the genre-defying masterpiece Paul’s Boutique.” No doubt the book will also touch on the Beastie Boys’ later years, including the tragic death of MCA in 2012.

Pre-orders for Beastie Boys Book are ongoing here”.

I definitely recommend you get behind the book and grab a copy. Again; even if you are not a Beasties fan – how dare you! – then it is a definite great read that shed light on the Hip-Hop scene in New York in the 1980s and 1990s and will give you a humorous and colourful take on the Beastie Boys and what made them tick. The last pre-Christmas music purchase I will mention – I may do a second part if more goodies come to life – is The Beatleseponymous album getting a workover.  I am a massive fan of that 1968 album and consider it to be one of the best from The Beatles! It is a magical, fractured and key work from them – at a time when the members were on different pages and cracks were showing. The thirty-song album mesmerised critics upon its release and has delighted fans ever since. Here, in a fantastic article; Rolling Stone have been looking at the release and what fans can expect:

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles in London on 28th July, 1968/PHOTO CREDIT: © Apple Corps Ltd.

Everything we know about the White Album is about to change. The Beatles’ 1968 masterpiece has always been been the deepest mystery in their story—their wildest, strangest, most experimental, most brilliant music. But as it turns out, the White Album is even weirder than anyone realized. Especially when you’re hearing it in Abbey Road, the fabled London studio where the band spent five long months making it. Over a couple of sunny days (and late nights) in Abbey Road, Rolling Stone got a one-on-one exclusive tour of the previously unheard gems from the new Super Deluxe Edition of The Beatles (due November 9), forever known as the White Album. Producer Giles Martin, son of George Martin, is a valiant guide, playing outtakes from deep in the vaults, often grabbing a guitar to demonstrate a chord change. “They were a band on fire,” he says. “It’s double or triple Sgt. Pepper—the four walls of this studio couldn’t hold them anymore.”

Part of the White Album mystique is all the drama that went into it—the arguments and bad vibes are the stuff of legend. So the big shock is all the humor, excitement, and camaraderie on display in the new set. Case in point: a previously unknown version of “Good Night” where John, Paul, George and Ringo all harmonize over folk guitar. As Martin admits, “You listen to them sing together and ask, ‘This is the White Album?” 

 

Yes, this is the White Album—and the stunning box set goes deep into the creative frenzy the Beatles surged through in 1968. There’s a new mix from producer Giles Martin and engineer Sam Okell, plus four discs of outtakes. The bonus material is full of revelations, especially the crown jewel of buried Beatle treasures: the acoustic Esher demos.

It follows in the wake of last year’s acclaimed anniversary edition of Sgt Pepper. But this is a deeper dive, since the album covers so much ground. With their batteries recharged from their India retreat, all four were hitting new peaks as songwriters—even Ringo, who contributed “Don’t Pass Me By.” They couldn’t wait to get back into the studio. They had no idea how much trauma they were in for. George’s “Not Guilty” went through 102 takes—and still didn’t make the album. Their long-suffering producer bailed after a few months. Ringo not only quit the group for a couple of weeks, he fled the country”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

“The outtakes defies the conventional wisdom that this is where the band split into four solo artists. “Do you think the perception of the Beatles history has been tainted by their own commentary in the early Seventies?” Martin asks. “That’s what I get. I think post-Beatles, when the champagne cork has flown out of the bottle, and they’ve gone their separate ways, they reacted against it. ‘Oh, to be honest we didn’t work well as a group,’ and that sort of thing. Yet they never slowed down creatively. I quite like the idea of them throwing cups of tea at each other in the studio. I’m mildly disappointed not to find it. But what they’re doing is making a record”. 

The Deluxe and Super Deluxe Editions finally unveil the Esher demos, which hardcore Beatle freaks have been clamoring to hear for years. In May 1968, just back from India, the group gathered at George’s bungalow in Esher (pronounced “Ee-sher”) to tape unplugged versions of the new songs they’d already stockpiled for the new album. Over the next days, working together or solo, they busked 27 songs. The tapes sat in a suitcase in George’s house for years. Seven tracks came out on Anthology 3; others have never been released in any Beatle version, including John’s “Child of Nature” and George’s “Sour Milk Sea.” The Esher tapes alone make this collection essential, with a fresh homemade intimacy that’s unique. Martin says, “They’re rough takes, but spiritually, the performances stand on their own.”

not to find it. But what they’re doing is making a record.”

The Deluxe and Super Deluxe Editions finally unveil the Esher demos, which hardcore Beatle freaks have been clamoring to hear for years. In May 1968, just back from India, the group gathered at George’s bungalow in Esher (pronounced “Ee-sher”) to tape unplugged versions of the new songs they’d already stockpiled for the new album. Over the next days, working together or solo, they busked 27 songs. The tapes sat in a suitcase in George’s house for years. Seven tracks came out on Anthology 3; others have never been released in any Beatle version, including John’s “Child of Nature” and George’s “Sour Milk Sea.” The Esher tapes alone make this collection essential, with a fresh homemade intimacy that’s unique. Martin says, “They’re rough takes, but spiritually, the performances stand on their own”. 

This edition has new versions of other songs from the same period: “Hey Jude,” “Lady Madonna,” “The Inner Light,” “Across the Universe.” (But not the B-side “Hey Bulldog,” since there aren’t any outtakes—they tried it only once.) They also have a bash at oldies like “Blue Moon” and “You’re So Square (Baby I Don’t Care).” It shows what should have been evident all along from the original record—they sound like a true band, four guys who can’t stop showing off for each other, too passionate about their songs to consider backing down. (Or to notice everyone around them cracking under the strain, even the stoic Mr. Martin. His son explains, “There was no schedule, and he loved a schedule.”)

Of course, the essence of the White Album is that everyone hears it differently—including the Beatles themselves. They clashed over what to include, what to leave out, whether it should have been edited down to a single record. (Years later, in the Anthology documentary, they were still arguing over it.) This edition will fire up those arguments. But even for fans who know the original album inside out, it’s a whole new experience—one that will permanently change how we think and talk about the Beatles”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

1. “Revolution 1”
The legendary Take 18, a nearly 11-minute jam from the first day of the White Album sessions. The other Beatles were surprised to see someone new at John’s side: Yoko Ono, who became a constant presence in the studio. It begins as the version you know from the record: John’s flubbed guitar intro, engineer Geoff Emerick’s “take two,” John’s “okaaay.” But where the original fades out, this one is just getting started. The groove builds as John keeps chanting “all right, all right,” from a low moan to a high scream. Yoko joins the band to add distorted synth feedback, while Paul clangs on piano. She recites prose poetry, fragments of which that ended up in “Revolution 9”: “It’s like being naked…if you become naked.”

The story of this jam has been told many times, usually presented as a grim scene where Yoko barges in, sowing the seeds of discord—the beginning of the end. So it’s a surprise to hear how much fun they’re all having. It ends in a fit of laughter—she nervously asks, “That’s too much?” John tells her it sounds great and Paul agrees: “Yeah, it’s wild!”

2. “Sexy Sadie”
As the band warms up, George playfully sings a hook from Sgt. Pepper: “It’s getting better all the tiiiime!” John snorts. “Is it, right?” Take 3 is an acerbic version of “Sexy Sadie,” with Paul doodling on the organ. Yet despite the nasty wit, the band sounds totally in sync. When George asks, “How fast, John?,” he responds, “However you feel it.”

3. “Long, Long, Long”
George’s hushed hymn has always been underrated—partly because it’s mastered way too quiet. In the fantastic Take 44, “Long, Long, Long” comes alive as a duet between George and Ringo, with the drums crashing in dialogue with the whispery vocals. Giles Martin explains, “I suppose, as is documented here, George was Ringo’s best friend, as he says. That song is kind of the two of them.” George starts freestyling at the end: “Gathering, gesturing, glimmering, glittering, happening, hovering, humoring, hammering, laquering, lecturing, laboring, lumbering, mirroring…” It closes with the spooky death-rattle chord, originally the sound of a wine bottle vibrating on Paul’s amp. “It still gives you the fear when it comes.”

4. “Good Night”
Of all the alternate takes, “Good Night” is the one that will leave most listeners baffled why this wasn’t the version that made the album. Instead of lush strings, it has John’s finger-picking guitar and the whole group harmonizing on the “good night, sleep tight” chorus. It’s rare to hear all four singing together at this stage, and it’s breathtaking in its warmth. “I do prefer this version to the record,” Martin admits. (He won’t be the last to say this.)

John plays the same guitar pattern as “Dear Prudence” and “Julia.” That’s one of the distinctive sonic features of the White Album—the Beatles had their acoustic chops in peak condition, since there had been nothing else to do for kicks in Rishikesh. In India, their fellow pilgrim Donovan taught them the finger-picking style of London folkies like Davey Graham. “Donovan taught him this guitar part. John was like ‘great!,’ and then in classic Beatle style, went and wrote three songs using the same guitar part.”

The other “Good Night” takes are closer to the original’s cornball lullaby spirit. In one, Ringo croons over George Martin’s spare piano; in another, he does a spoken-word introduction. “Come on now, put all those toys away—it’s time to jump into bed. Go off into dreamland. Yes, Daddy will sing a song for you.” By the end, he quips, “Ringo’s gone a bit crazy.”

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IMAGE CREDIT: Animal Care College 

5. “Helter Skelter”
This Paul song inspired endless studio jams, lurching into proto-headbang noise—they started it the day after the Yellow Submarine premiere, so maybe they just craved the opposite extreme. This take is 13 minutes of primal thud—remarkably close to Black Sabbath, around the time Sabbath were still in Birmingham inventing their sound”.

6. “Blackbird”
Paul plays around with the song—“Dark black, dark black, dark black night”—trying to nail the vibe. It isn’t there yet. He tells George Martin, “See, if we’re ever to reach it, I’ll be able to tell you when I’ve just done it. It just needs forgetting about it. It’s a decision which voice to use.” He thinks his way through the song, his then-girlfriend Francie audible in the background. “It’s all in his timing,” Martin says. “There’s two separate things, a great guitarist and a great singer—he’s managed to disconnect and put them back together. He’s trying to work out where they meet.”

7. “Dear Prudence”
Of all the Esher demos, “Dear Prudence” might be the one that best shows off their rowdy humor. John ends his childlike reverie by cracking up his bandmates, narrating the tale of Prudence Farrow that inspired the song. “A meditation course in Rishikesh, India,” he declares. “She was to go completely berserk under the care of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Everybody around was very worried about the girl, because she was going insaaaane. So we sang to her.”

8. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
There’s an early acoustic demo, but Take 27, recorded over a month later, rocks harder than the album version—John on organ, Paul on piano, lead guitar from special guest Eric Clapton. (George invited his friend to come play, partly because he knew the others would behave themselves around Clapton.) The groove only falls part when George tries to hit a Smokey Robinson-style high note and totally flubs it. “It’s okay,” George says. “I tried to do a Smokey, and I just aren’t Smokey”.

9. “Hey Jude”
Recorded in the midst of the sessions, but planned for a one-off single, Paul’s ballad is still in raw shape, but even in this first take, it’s already designed as a 7-minute epic, with Paul singing the na-na-na outro himself. Another gem on this box: an early attempt at “Let It Be,” with Paul’s original lyric showing his explicit link to American R&B: “When I find myself in times of trouble / Brother Malcolm comes to me.”

10. “Child of Nature”
Another treasure from Esher. “Child of Nature” is a gentle ballad John wrote about the retreat to India: “On the road to Rishikesh / I was dreaming more or less.” He scrapped it for the album, but dug it back out a few years later, wrote new words, and turned it into one of his most famous solo tunes: “Jealous Guy.”

11. “JULIA”
One of John’s most intimate confessions—the only Beatle track where he’s performing all by himself. You can hear his nerves as he sits with his guitar and asks George Martin, in a jokey Scouse accent, “Is it better standing up, do you think? It’s very hard to sing this, you know.” The producer reassures him. “It’s a very hard song, John.” “‘Julia’ was one of my dad’s favorites,” Giles says. “When I began playing guitar in my teens, he told me to learn that one.”

12. “Can You Take Me Back?”
The snippet on Side Four that serves as an eerie transition into the abstract sound-collage chaos of “Revolution 9.” Paul toys with it for a couple of minutes, trying to flesh it out into a bit of country blues—“I ain’t happy here, my honey, are you happy here?

13. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
Paul spent a week driving the band through this ditty, until John finally stormed out of the studio. He returned a few hours later, stoned out of his mind, then banged on the piano in a rage, coming up with the jingle-jangle intro that gets the riff going. This early version is pleasant but overly smooth—it shows why the song really did need that nasty edge. A perfect example of the Beatle collaborative spirit: John might loathe the song, Paul might resent John’s sabotage, but both care too deeply about the music not to get it right.

14. “Sour Milk Sea”
A great George highlight from the Esher tapes—“Sour Milk Sea” didn’t make the cut for the album, but he gave it to Liverpool pal Jackie Lomax who scored a one-shot hit with it. (It definitely deserved to rank ahead of “Piggies,” which remains the weakest track on any version of this album.) “Not Guilty” and “Circles” are other George demos that fell into limbo—“Not Guilty” sounds ready to go at Esher, yet in the studio, it was doomed to over a hundred fruitless takes.

15. “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”
A tricky experiment they learned together in the studio, with John toying with the structure and his mock doo-wop falsetto. “Is anybody finding it easier?” he asks. “It seems a little easier—it’s just no fun, but it’s easier.” George pipes in. “Easier and fun.” John replies, “Oh, all right, if you insist.” It’s a moment that sums up all the surprising discoveries on this White Album edition: a moment where the Beatles find themselves at the edge of the unknown, with no one to count on except each other. But that’s when they inspire each other to charge ahead and greet the brand new day”.

This should be enough to exhaust and satisfy the music appetite before Christmas and, as I say, shall keep an eye out and report any new releases that are worth snapping up! This might sound like an expensive rundown but I think everything I have listed is worth getting involved with – not just my tastes and personal recommendations influencing! Have a look through these marvellous musical treasures and I know there is enough in there…

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IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles recording their eponymous album in 1968/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

TO make you part with some pennies.

FEATURE: Gimme Some Truth: John Lennon at Seventy-Eight: The Ultimate Playlist

FEATURE:

 

 

Gimme Some Truth

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IN THIS PHOTO: John Lennon/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

John Lennon at Seventy-Eight: The Ultimate Playlist

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TODAY would have been John Lennon’s seventy-eighth birthday…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: John Lennon with Yoko Ono/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

and it seems extra-poignant he is not around and putting music into the world. I feel, given the state of affairs right now, he would have plenty to stage and, most likely, would be allying with his Beatles mate Paul McCartney in protesting – at least speaking out and making sure he was being heard! Lennon was murdered on 8th December, 1980 and, for someone who promoted peace and togetherness throughout his career; it is always hard looking back and the way he departed the world. Rather than dwell on the bad aspects and the tragedy; I have been thinking about his extraordinary career and how his music always remained pivotal.

Maybe his focus waned a bit during his later, solo period but you could never accuse the master of being boring or predictable! He is rightly regarded as one of the greatest songwriters ever and, at a time when we need that noble truth, peace and leadership; I feel John Lennon’s messages and songwriting genius are required so much! As we remember the icon and wonder, if he were alive, just what would he be writing about; let’s mark his seventy-eighth birthday by enjoying his very finest songs. From the debut album from The Beatles through to his final studio efforts; there are few songwriters as inspiring, mindblowing and treasured…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: John Lennon with The Beatles/PHOTO CREDIT: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

AS John Lennon!

FEATURE: A Single Voice: The Influence of Musicians in Politics

FEATURE:

 

 

A Single Voice

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IN THIS PHOTO: Taylor Swift/ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Press 

The Influence of Musicians in Politics

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THE role of the musician in political life is nothing new…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @lukemichael/Unsplash

but there seems to be this guarded approach to speaking out when it comes to democracy! It is not the case with every gene/nation but, I don’t know…something is lacking. I am not sure how many big artists are told when to speak about politics and whether they can have their say but I get the impression some of the mainstream’s elite and carefully marketing and manoeuvred so that they do not make a faux pas. The same cannot be said of Kanye West: the man seems to have no filter and he does tend to run his mouth whenever the moment strikes him. He is a big supporter of President Donald Trump – no shocks when you stand them side-by-side – and I wonder how much of an impact that makes on his sales figures. I am sure a lot of his hardcore fans support Trump and back everything he says but I know a lot of former Kanye West fans have turned away and been put off by his political views. He is reprimanded when he makes a stupid comment – which is quite a bit – but his ego and freedom of speech and, for the most part, allowed to run and indulge as they see fit. I feel the rules are slightly different for the Pop market. Taylor Swift made the news recently because she has come out in support of the Democrat candidate in Tennessee – where she is registered to vote – and, because of that, there has been a leap in terms of the number of young voters...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Kanye West

The Guardian reported the story:

The US voter registration service has experienced a spike in numbers after Taylor Swift – long silent on partisan issues – expressed her support for two Democratic candidates and encouraged her 112 million Instagram followers to register to vote in time for next month’s US midterm elections.

Kamari Guthrie, the director of communications for vote.orgtold Buzzfeed News there were 65,000 registrations in the 24-hour period after the singer posted her statement to Instagram on Sunday.

Swift focused her post on the Senate race in Tennessee, where she is registered to vote. She stated that although she had previously voted for women in office, she felt unable to support the Republican Senate candidate, Marsha Blackburn. “Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me,” she said, adding that she would be voting for the Democratic candidates Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for House of Representatives.

In her post, Swift affirmed her commitment to the fight for LGBTQ rights and described the “systemic racism” towards people of colour in the US as “terrifying, sickening and prevalent”. She encouraged her young fans to educate themselves on their local candidates and “vote based on who most closely represents your values”.

The reason I have raised this post is because a lot of commercial musicians are told to keep away from politics and not really engage that side of things. Maybe there is a fear that coming out in support of one party would damage their popularity: labels want artists to be neutral so, that way, they can appeal to all sides.

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One may feel politics and music have no link and connection but just look at how Taylor Swift has galvanised and incentivised many young people who, before, were undecided voters or passive. Swift is a lover of those ignored by the U.S. Government and, in her music, she has spoken about gay rights and liberty; she is a conscientious writer and performer who wants her young audience to think more deeply about their country. Many might say that, by coming out in support of the Democrats; she is guiding her fans to them and making them decide. The thing is, Swift hasn’t come out in firm support of one candidate or another. Instead, she has encouraged many to vote and has revealed a lack of trust in a Republican candidate. It can be hard speaking about politics when you have a high-value record deal that makes millions – there is a nervousness when their big stars voice their politician preferences. I know many popular personalities in the U.K. are told to remain neutral – especially when it comes to T.V. and radio talent – but, for musicians, there is this platform to have a big say. Swift has increased the number of young voters and I feel her peers should follow suit. Artists like her hold a lot of sway and influence and, rather than push their fans to one party or another; that desire to see them vote and participate in the democratic process is crucial.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump/PHOTO CREDIT: John Lamparski/WireImage/Getty Images

We all know Donald Trump is leading America into a colonial black pit of despair and dictatorial rule; he is unconcerned with anyone but himself and, whilst Taylor Swift knows this, she has not come out and been that explicit. Musicians are potent and inspiring people who are listened to, bought and followed by armies (of fans). There is a certain rule and commercial sense of caution when it comes to the material some can produce and what they talk about in interviews but I feel, more and more, artists are having their say and keen to express their opinions. Swift’s recent statement is a breakthrough that I would like to see firmly supported. Depending on the genre, I guess, depends on how much an artist can vocalise their political preferences. Take Hip-Hop and Rap artists like Kanye West and Eminem: on different sides of the fence but both definitely unafraid to speak out and get their voices heard! Pop might be a different game and, to be fair, a lot of the traditional demographic might not be that involved or aware of politics. That is a generalisation but it is harder to motivate and connect with certain people. (I don’t know). What I do know is that the musician is key when it comes to highlighting concerns and inspiring. In the U.S., there are those opposed to Trump and unafraid to have their say…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @clemono2/Unsplash

Others talk about black lives and gun violence; some sing about environmental concerns or what is happening regarding immigration. Artists write about the society they live in so, naturally, politics plays a big part. Another reason why Taylor Swift ‘breaking a silence’ – so to speak – is so important and big is because it shows artists her age are concerned with what is happening and not remaining passive. I would like to see Swift, in future, funnelling her politics and activation into her music more. I feel she can make a genuine difference and, given her influence and status in the U.S., she can reach a lot of people and help affect betterment. From Hip-Hop pioneers and legends like N.W.A. directly aiming their anger at U.S. politicians and pointing the finger; there has always been that link between music and politics. This interesting article from Live for Live Music gives a chronology regarding musicians and encouraging others to vote:

The tumult of the sixties was a direct result of a generation born from the returning soldiers of the second World War.  The horrors endured by their parents turned them against the conflict, but after an entire decade of railing against the military industrial complex and unjust wars abroad, a sense of disillusionment came over the country and the era of the protest song slowly faded away. It’s no wonder that John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance” became such an anthem at the end of a difficult decade”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @christianw/Unsplash 

The American counterculture war veterans were slowly getting lost in the so called “Me Decade” of self indulgence that was the seventies. Though the flames of protest seemed to cool after the conflagration of the sixties, the fires still burned bright overseas.  In England, a wave of anarchic music gave voice to the growing sentiment of disillusionment and distrust among the increasingly angry youth. Jobs were scarce, especially for the young and untrained.  The combination of youthful energy and lack of any positive release turned the country into a simmering stew of resentment.  Protesters took to the streets, as an increasingly radical populace carried out acts of building aggression towards the elite.  Punk rockers the Sex Pistols were born of that rage, and vented it in their seminal hit “God Save The Queen.”

In 1990 Rock The Vote, a new, non partisan non-profit was founded to promote voter registration among the America’s youth.  Their marketing snazzy blend of big name band and artist endorsements and political activism worked well out of the gate with their debut PSA featuring Madonna in dressed only in her underwear and the American flag.

In 2004, Disco Biscuits bassist Marc Brownstein and his friend Andy Bernstein founded the nationwide non-profit HeadCount. In many ways, HeadCount was the next logical step forward along the path started by Rock The Vote. This new activist group takes registering to vote to the people, setting up shop at concerts and festivals around the nation. Keeping themselves non-partisan, HeadCount has set up registration booths at concerts and festivals all across the country, using an ever growing army of volunteers who see the value of a politically vocal population”.

It is not only U.S. artists like Taylor Swift who have been compelled to become more involved in political concerns. Here in the U.K., Sir Bob Geldof has penned a letter that has been signed by a number of high-profile musicians. Here is how the story has broken:

Ed Sheeran, Damon Albarn and Brian Eno are among the musicians who have co-signed a letter written by Bob Geldof to Prime Minister Theresa May warning that Brexit is "serious madness" and threatens "every aspect of the music industry".

The letter, backed by dozens of big names from pop, rock and classical music, calls on May to rethink her plans for leading Britain out of the European Union.

"We are about to make a very serious mistake regarding our giant industry and the vast pool of yet undiscovered genius that lives on this little island," says the letter, published in The Observer newspaper on Sunday.

"We have decided to put ourselves inside a self-built cultural jail! The very opposite of wall-destroying, prejudice-denying, ideas-generating that is the very essence of contemporary music."

Britain voted narrowly to leave the EU in a divisive 2016 referendum and is set to leave in March next year.

May has repeatedly said that the EU's freedom of movement rules, which allow its citizens to live and work across the 28-member bloc, would no longer apply to Britain after Brexit”.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Sir Bob Geldof

The U.K., post-Brexit – if it will ever come… – will become a very different place for music. One feels the plight of foreign musicians will be a lot harder and how easy will it be for international artists to make their way here?! Exporting and import music out to the world and the way the music industry has operated for generations in the U.K. will change and be constricted. It is good artists are concerned and compelled to get involved. Rather than sit back and be afraid any sort of political leaning will cost them fans; they know what is right and realise they have a role to play. The sort of action taken by the likes of Albarn and Sheeran will inspire their fans and, let’s hope, help provoke action. A lot of modern-day artists are eschewing political opinions and reacting to what is unfolding in Britain. From IDLES talking about immigration and change on Joy as an Act of Resistance to Nadine Shah speaking about immigration and hostility on Holiday Destination; newcomer Sam Fender addressing meaty topics on Dead Boys and Skepta blasting Prime Minister Theresa May regarding her stances and actions concerning Grenfell – the music industry in this country can hardly be accused of being passive and inactive! I feel musicians can provide greater influence than politicians because their messages are not being doctored and mired in subterfuge.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Nadine Shah

Even the ‘good’ politicians out there are being drowned out or having their words scrutinised by the press. You are never sure who to believe and, even when a politician is speaking about the pitfalls of Brexit or the plight of global warming; there are contradictions, press intrusion and a certain sense of guarded honesty – what they are told to say by spin doctors and how they actually feel! T.V. personalities and D.J.s are less able to be explicit regarding their views because of their contracts and the organisations they work for. There are so many important figures out there who are not truly able to say what they believe. Aside from a few musicians who are closely watched by labels and risk losing their fanbase if they are too political; the industry, largely, is less oppressive regarding protest and opinion. Taylor Swift has managed to instantly increase voting numbers in the U.S. How long would it have taken a news station, radio D.J. or actor to get that same sort of ball rolling?! I feel it would have taken longer for them to compel awareness and the same can be said in the U.K. regarding Geldof’s letter. I am hearing musicians in this country blast the Government and speak out against everything from Brexit and immigration rules to their handling of the Grenfell tragedy and what little money is being assigned to the NHS.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @rawpixel/Unsplash

Music, in a way, is this more open and less bias channel that is not being interfered with by broadcasters and made murky by sneaky political figures – rehearsed speeches, false statistics and a general amount of bullsh*t. For decades, musicians have got involved in politics but I feel the world is more divided, in trouble and fearful than it has ever been. That might sound hyperbolic but I feel, what with global warming, political insanity and the divisions we are feeling; have we ever been a more fractured, troubled and less-well-off people?! D.J. Chris Hawkins spoke to bands for his brilliant series, Band Politics, and it was a chance for us to hear from artists like Cabbage and Nadine Shah about their views and how they are addressing politics and British society through their music. I feel, in a way, musicians have a much more honest, powerful and impressive voice than any political figure out there. If there was a way of setting up an organisation or body whereby artists would unite and, in a sense, form their own political alliance; just how far could they go and how quickly could they force politicians to act?! It is interesting to think but not a thought I am comically tossing out into the world. A lot of the musicians speaking out are working-class and know what it is like to feel isolated, struggle and troubled by what is happening in the U.K. – how many of those elected know that or have ever had to struggle in their lives?! I feel a music-led coalition of resistance would be a great thing and could help move the country forward.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: N.W.A

In any case; we are living in a time when musicians play a bigger and more important role in politics than ever before. I look back at Folk artists like Dylan who rebelled in the 1960s and Hip-Hop artists in the 1980s and 1990s that attacked their leaders. It seems like all the problems they vocalised are present today and there are more alongside them. We have fewer political bands/singers in the mainstream but now, in 2018, there are plenty of artists willing to get involved with politics – whether it is songwriting and talking about various issues or signing letters, for example. I have often bemoaned the lack of political voices high-up in music and wonder whether the mainstream should attune its big artists to be more socially-aware and involved. Maybe there is that fear politics is not their place or there is that risk of bias when it comes to voting but I feel it is possible to be partisan and morally-conscientious without imposing personal politics and brainwashing. Big labels need to loosen the strings and realise how integral politics and music have always been. The movements we have seen from artists like Taylor Swift, Rita Ora and Ed Sheeran are just the start of things – I wonder what more is to come! There are fantastic and bold artists out there who are making more of an impact on my mind and awareness of the world than any politician I am hearing! A musical platform is a very special and privileged thing and, away from the mass of artists bleating about heartache and their own lives; shining a light on the wider world and documenting something much more important should be top of the agenda. One might feel a few words from Taylor Swift is quite insignificant but when you see what an immediate and visible impact they have ALREADY made; you then realise just how influential, necessary and powerful…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: @kslupski/Unsplash

MUSICIANS truly are.