A few years ago, this book came out, listing the best or most influential or something 1001 albums of all time. It’s almost certainly full of rubbish, misses out all sorts of left-field greatness and about as much objective use as a chocolate teapot, but even so – I thought I’d give them all one listen each, five at a time…
Obviously, if it gets too rubbish, I’ll give up and listen to something else – but I do love a list…
1001 – In The Wee Small Hours – Frank Sinatra (1955)
I’m not a Sinatra fan. Best to get that out of the way at the start. That big band, bloke dressed like a waiter strolling about the stage with a mic held loosely in his hands is – along with very violent shouty grime rap – about the only sort of music I’ve never been able to engage with, and so I’ve tended to give Ol’ Blue Eyes a body swerve.
Which goes to show what a grade one twat I can be.
Because this is fantastic. This isn’t an old bald guy belting out ‘New York, New York’, this is a proper torch singer, bleeding all over a chunk of vinyl. This is smoky bars and whisky, too many cigarettes and too many women walking out the door. This is a revelation!
‘Why can’t we be friends?’ Sinatra sings on the finest track on the album – oh, we can, Frank, we can now!
1000 – Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (1956)
Perversely, I love Elvis, but I’ve never really cared for this, his début album.
Don’t get me wrong, the voice is there from day one, but the early days of rock and roll more than any other musical period I can think of suffer now from a lack of being there – it’s impossible to grasp the impact this sound had on contemporary ears. Take something like ‘One Sided Love Affair’; presumably it blew listeners away in 1956, but to me it’s a pretty dull and formulaic slab of pedestrian rock and roll, full of scatty sounding piano and exaggerated vocals, or ‘I Got a Woman’, which is allegedly a classic but which seems to be so because it’s a white guy doing Ray Charles. And Christ but I hate ‘Tutti Frutti’.
I’m doing this a disservice, though, I know. Historical importance aside, even to my 21st century ears, there’s some gold on here – the best ever version of ‘Blue Moon’, the proto-Elvis balladry of ‘I Love You Because’, which has some great guitar work holding it up, and, most of all, ‘I’m Trying to Get to You’, which – slowed down, admittedly – Sinatra could have covered without shame on ‘In the Wee Small Hours’.
For me, Elvis achieved greatness in the sixties, after returning from the Army, but there are moments, even as early as this, when I can hear the brilliance to come. Just not all the time.
Tragic Songs of Life – The Louvin Brothers (1956)
Sure, they sound like the Everley Brothers (not the worst thing ever, to be clear, but not exactly dangerous), but don’t be fooled – if Nick Cave had been recording in 1956, this is the album he’d have put out. Murders, suicides, God, serial killers and dead soldiers – all of Cave’s familiar obsessions are here.
To be honest, the fact that Gram Parsons loved them is literally the only thing I know about the Louvin Brothers, but a glance at the cover of this album and then the title would have had me picking it up in a record shop.
I doubt I’d have played it all that much, though. At their best – on ‘Knoxville Girl’, say. or ‘Katie Dear’ – they’re certainly listenable enough, but generally speaking even a ‘Murder Ballads’ lp from 1956 is still pretty tame stuff.
The Wildest! – Louis Prima (1956)
The notes for this claim that jazz fans have called Prima a poor man’s Duke Ellington, and – having about as much knowledge of jazz as I do of quantum mechanics – I’ve no idea if that’s true, but if he is, then Ellington must be amazing!
Because this is brilliant from beginning to end – the most FUN record I can remember hearing. The title’s no exaggeration – it’s wild, bouncy and exuberant, never letting up for even a second, full of mad horn playing,scat singing, laughter and great tunes. I’d never heard any Prima before now – but I hope there’s more as good as this…
This is Fats – Fats Domino (1956)
It’s fine, maybe even good. It’s Fats Domino and it’s not ‘Blueberry Hill’, so that’s a positive. And ‘Valley of Tears’s sounds a tiny bit different from the others, so that’s also a good thing.
Eh..and that’s it. Harmless enough, pleasant enough, never likely ever to be played again by me…