Least to Most: Aerosmith, Part 1

The Bad Boys of Boston, the Toxic Twins: Aerosmith. They’ve been around so long that JC was probably humming ‘Dream On’ from his lofty perch and yet are still packing in the crowds. Having kicked off from 1325 Commonwealth Avenue in 1970 their career has had a couple of dizzying peaks and some very seedy* lows. You can neatly slice their output into three decades and almost dismiss the rest, given that since 2000 we’ve had just two proper studio albums and there’s not that many acts out there that have had such success in each.

I’d been mulling over how I’d rank Aerosmith’s albums in my notebook of lists for sometime but John over at 2Loud2Old Music got straight in with both an album by album review series and his own ranking. So I thought it time to sit down and spit out my own Least to Most ranking of Aerosmith’s fifteen studio albums – a number that neatly divides into three – based on nothing scientific other than personal preference.

So let’s get started with the least favourite – and there’s no prizes for guessing that we start with….

Just Push Play

I mean it’s a fucking dog of an album from its cover to its contents. It came after yet another successful decade with plenty of great tunes and the band reaching the dizzying heights of chart-topping with that tosh from Armageddon but Just Push Play was a massive misfire from which they never really recovered. Forget hitting self-destruct with drugs, this time it was self-destruct with an album that relied on computer production, co-writes galore and a huge lack of genuine band interaction.

There were no demos left at the end of this record to be able to say ‘well there are the bones of a good album here’ because everything was plugged into ProTools and layered up like a wedding cake. There’s a song called ‘Trip-Hoppin’ for fuck sake. There’s not a single Tyler / Perry joint on here that isn’t also shared with other song-writers as Tyler, by all accounts, was so desperate for another monster hit that he wouldn’t work alone with Perry. Instead of the rawer power of Nine Lives we got over-glossed balladry and over-produced, gimmicky attempts at rockers that sounded like what it was: a group of blokes in their fifties trying to appeal to a dynamic that wasn’t interested in a group of blokes in their fifties. Instead of playing to their strengths they indulged in the wrong stuff. Thankfully ‘Jaded’ did the business in the charts enough to keep them going and playing the hits to large audiences but this really killed their momentum.

Music From Another Dimension

And, in two hits at the bottom of the list we’ve covered the only albums of original material the band have put out in this millennium. I was really rooting fro Music From Another Dimension when it came out – all the right ingredients were in place: the band were recording in the same room again, Jack Douglas was back on board. Hell, when it came out I really dug it…. for a while. Yet time and comparison to the rest of their catalogue doesn’t do it any favours.

There a lot more better songs on here than on Just Push Play yet there are also some utter howlers. I / you / we couldn’t expect the band to out an album this late into their career that sounded ‘like the old days’ and yet it seems they tried to do that. Only instead of going back to the 70s, say, they went for the kitchen-sink approach of Get A Grip only without the tunes or the edge. For every great riff attack like ‘Out Go The Lights’ there are two turds like ‘What Could Have Been Love’ or ‘Can’t Stop Lovin’ You’ – featuring Carrie Underwood for fuck sake! Why? Probably because Tyler was still thinking that this is how you make a hit.

Here Aerosmith managed to both play to their strengths and their weaknesses in an effort to cover every possible base. Unfortunately there are too many of the weaknesses and a little too much filler to make this the album it could have been – at least the sound is more organic and suited to Aerosmith than it had been in a while.

Rock In A Hard Place

Come back, Joe: all is forgiven. There’s no Joe Perry on Rock In A Hard Place, he’d left to return some video tapes. Brad Whitford also left during the recording of the album. Jimmy Crespo filled in on guitar. ‘Bolivian Ragamuffin’ and ‘Lightning Strike’ bring home the goods and ‘Jailbait’ has got to be one of those songs Perry heard and thought ‘why the fuck am I not on this?’ – it’s a real strong Aerosmith song. There’s not a lot more though.

Crespo and, later, Rick Duffay may have tried to inject some new momentum into the band but with addiction sucking the life and creativity out of Tyler, Rock In A Hard Place feels like a plaster over a gaping wound rather than an attempt at real damage control – management pushing for another album and to keep the thing rolling as long as they could rather than taking a much-needed pause. If Night In The Ruts was sounding like the beginning of the end, Rock In A Hard Place sounds like the batteries have run dry.

There are a few pleasant surprises and what remained of the band could sting bring the power but the overall feeling is of a rudderless ship. They even put bloody Stone Henge on the cover to give Spinal Tap plenty of ammo.

Night In The Ruts

And here we go – a band running out of steam. More appropriate this is a band falling apart. Night In The Ruts was started early in 1979 with Jack Douglas and a full band. It was finished late in 1979 with Gary Lyons. In between was a lot of conflict, a lot of stalling and a whole fucking lot of drugs.

With basic tracks laid down Tyler couldn’t come up with lyrics. For months. During which time Perry discovered he owed $80,000 in room service bills (that’s a lot peanuts and cable porn, Joe) and was encouraged to cut a solo album to pay it off. The band’s management, desperate to get another hit as Draw The Line hadn’t cut the sales figures they wanted – and to get the band back on the road – and their pockets lined fuller, decided Jack Douglas couldn’t control the band and fired him. It was true; he couldn’t. But then nobody could. Substance abuse had control. This was the blow-up point for Aerosmith and by the time the album came out Perry wasn’t in the band anymore and Brad Whitford was sauntering slowly toward the exit.

But for all that – Night In The Ruts has it’s fair share of good cuts. ‘Cheese Cake’, ‘Bone to Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)’ have all the right moves and ‘No Surprize’ is an outright Aerosmith classic. Unfortunately – and telling of Tyler’s issue with lyrics – three of the album’s nine tracks are covers, though both ‘Reefer Head Woman’ and ‘Remember (Walking in the Sand)’ are both worth tuning in for. Night In The Ruts may be Aerosmith’s worst of their first decade but the good stuff here is still really good, giving it the riffs even as it all falls down around them.

Honkin’ On Bobo

The start of ‘the naughties’** were a weird time for Aerosmith. After serendipity lead them to the sweet spot in each of the previous three, it was eluding them in this decade. With the taste of disappointment from Just Push Play lingering even after judicious application of topical cream attempts to get back into the studio for a new Aerosmith album were failing.

Instead we got another compilation with ‘new’ songs – one of which was so bad and obviously cloying attempt at a hit the rest of the band refused to be in the video for it – and soundtrack contributions. There was talk of an album made up of previously discarded tracks (I’ve got a feeling some of them ended up on Music From Another Dimension), Tyler wouldn’t write alone with Perry. Perry didn’t want to be tied to writing with Steven’s ever-present co-writer Marti Frederikson who, like Tyler, wanted to make more attempts at pop hits. Somehow the idea of a ‘blues’ covers album was floated and jumped on. Tyler wouldn’t have to worry about writing lyrics and a sense of letting off steam can be heard in the finished result.

Jack Douglas was back on board and the sound here is a welcome step away from the polish of Just Push Play. It was never going to be a blues album proper – Aerosmith always leaned to blues rock vs pure blues so no Blue and Lonesome revelations here, just Aerosmith giving it some juice to eleven covers and one pretty tepid original. The band are tighter than a duck’s arse and while there are no big surprises on the track listing, they’ve come up trumps here.

Why doesn’t it sit higher? It’s a covers album, essentially. The sole original track doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot and sounds a little contrived in the company of those that it’s clearly aping and the album feels a little overdone still in the way that they seem to have become stuck in. A blues album should’ve been the opportunity to loosen up a little, feel free to roughen up the sound and production a little and get raw, but they didn’t subscribe to that notion.

*I’m not going to go into it but convincing your under-age girlfriend’s parents to give you legal guardianship so you can take her on tour, get her addicted to drugs, pregnant and into an abortion clinic is pretty fucking seedy, Steven.

**I fucking hate that phrase too

Hey hey, rise up: Friday’s spins

As I seem to be slipping back into the habit of posting more frequently, it feels like a fitting time to drop one of those ‘this is what I’ve been listening to’ posts that have peppered this blog previously as we head giddily into the weekend.

Pink Floyd – Hey Hey, Rise Up

Is this cheating? It only came out today but I’ve listened to it a good half dozen or so times already and it grows on me more each time. The first new Pink Floyd song in 28 years (songs from The Endless River were re-heated leftovers after all) is real grower – a gentle very-Floyd strum accompanying a powerful vocal from Ukrainian singer Andriy Khlyvnyuk giving way after a minute or so to a suitably screaming solo from David Gilmour that seems to be more an anguished scream of a protest song and keeps reaching those glorious notes so associated with the guitarist and Floyd. I’ve got a feeling that this song – a reaction to extraordinary times with added fuel as a result of Gilmour’s personal connection – is likely a one-off though.

The War On Drugs – I Don’t Wanna Wait

It took me until this year to fall head over heels with The War On Drugs’ I Don’t Live Here Anymore because Atlantic Records are one of those major labels who seem to enjoy taking the piss with prices. The album was going for close to £40 on my preferred format and the fact that I could usually pick up a double on a lesser money grabbing label for half that meant I didn’t add it to my collection until I picked up the CD for under a fiver this year. It’s a brilliant album that’s been in the car pretty solidly over the last month or three. ‘I Don’t Wanna Wait’ is both a highlight and representative of the album as a whole – it builds from a deceptively simple very-80s beat before expanding into a much more involved, seemingly boundless song that’s dripping in that sun-kissed AOR vibe circa ’87 (think Tunnel of Love) underpinned by a guitars whose tone and fluidity leave me feeling sticky and satisfied.

The Mysterines – Hung Up

I’ve mentioned this group before and have been digging every song they’ve released thus far as they were on of those bands oft-played on 6Music during my commute. I’ve been spinning and loving their debut Reeling this week after I was able to make it to my usual dealer to collect my pre-order and I’m looking forward to where they take it next.

Loop – Heaven’s End

I have to wonder if the guy that owns my usual record shop has one of those ‘I will now sell five copies of “The Three EPs” by The Beta Band’ moments before I visit because when I stopped by to pick-up The Mysterines’ record he was playing an album to which both my wife and I both said “who is this?… it’s good!” As a result Loop’s debut Heaven’s End from 1987 is nestled in my collection and has been played quite a bit since. Think raw, Detroit-punk imbued trance-rock with hypnotic, discordant guitars and you’re on the way. I thought it was early Mudhoney at first but there’s elements of shoegaze in the mix with these drone-like soundscapes. I read a review that referred to this as “sound(ing) like the soundtrack to a missing hallucination scene from Easy Rider.”

Monty Python – I Bet You They Won’t Play This Song on the Radio

My son has been discovering and generally enjoying Monty Python of late. Given that he’s only 8 there’s plenty that gets skipped or simply not shown but he was so loving ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ that the ’45 was added to the collection. This one was on the flip side and has probably been played more as it seems to hit the same mass enjoyment buttons shared by 8 and 41 year olds.

Dire Straits – News

I went to a record fair last weekend and all I got was this lousy t-shirt the only record I walked away with was Dire Strait’s Communique. A nice, clean and well-kept copy for a fiver hits about right for me. I think Communique gets a bit of a bad rap – it was a bit of a rush job after their first album took off and doesn’t have a hook akin to ‘Sultans of Swing’ and isn’t a patch on Making Movies but in ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’, ‘News’, ‘Where Do You Think You’re Going?’ ‘Angel of Mercy’ and ‘Portobello Belle’ does has have five cracking Dire Straits song and it’s more laid-back, subdued style is perfect for a certain vibe.

Ten of ten for ten

Apparently it’s my ‘WordPress Anniversary’ today. Well, at least with this blog. I say this only to make those of you who have failed to send gifts my way feel guilty.

To mark this most important of events I thought I’d be achingly original and put together a list – Ten great Track Tens.

Ten. In the seventies some couldn’t keep it up that long whereas by the nineties’ era of CD bloat some went on much longer. Some use it as a ‘leave them wanting more’ final track while for others it’s the point at which they’re in the midst of their second wind. For many, though, it’s just filler.

Anywho, without further prattle, ceremony here’s a sweep of some pretty solid tracks that also happen to be the tenth tune on an album – while a little bit of a sausage-fest* – also serves to cover most of what this blog has in the last ten.

Pearl Jam – Present Tense

Bob Dylan – The Man In Me

Bruce Springsteen – Darkness On The Edge of Town

Noir Desir – Lost

Snail Mail – Mia

Tom Petty – Alright For Now

Pink Floyd – Lost for Words

Weezer – Only In Dreams

The Replacements – Skyway

Mogwai – Mogwai Fear Satan

*only down to the lack of stand out tracks that happened to sit between the ninth and eleventh ones.

Self-compiled: Led Zeppelin

“They are an immovable force in music... I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like them.” Jack White

Jack White may be many things but wrong about Led Zeppelin isn’t one of them.

Often imitated, never bettered. They burst out of the gate white-hot and tighter than a duck’s arse, delivering jaw-dropping rock with a capital ROCK and never really slowed down. Their last few albums may have suffered from the shadows of personal tragedies but even then they could bring it like few others. I can’t write anything about them or better than what has already been written.

But… as a result of prepping a room for redecoration I did come across a pile of old cd compilations that I must have made some ten years gone and – while they’ve travelled and been spun here and in Romania before picking up dust and scuffs that cause the dreaded skip just as you’re getting your head bang on – it was a real pleasant surprise to find my old self-compiled Led Zeppelin cd again.

I know… why would I want such a thing, it’s not like there are already several Led Zeppelin compilations on the market but we all know that those compilations are invariably altered based on Jimmy Page’s preference at the time, there’ll be a little too much focus applied to later tunes that don’t really stand shoulder to shoulder, suffer a little from CD bloat etc…. besides: this is my single-disc all killer, no filler blast of my favourite Led Zeppelin tunes (well, as they were back when I made it) that – I think – covers every aspect of what made them great, get in, hit em hard and get out compilation. It’s probably also the only Led Zeppelin compilation with no ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and without a trace of ‘Stairway to Heaven’. I know: denied.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot…

Despite another morning of waiting for the ice to dissolve from its windscreen before blasting the Ferrari’s mighty engine off of my drive and into the school-run and commute, the steady bead of afternoon sunlight in my eyes and the calling of the blogging urge has pulled me from my hibernation.

Where have I been? Fucking nowhere there’s a pandemic on and the rules change as much as that cockwomble-in-charge’s excuses do, triple-jabbed or not.

What have I been doing? The break wasn’t intended it just happened, maybe I’d lost my mojo, maybe I just needed to switch off a little. I’ve been reading a lot (potentially to be detailed later but Franzen’s latest was as excellent as expected, The Passenger is an amazing ‘lost’ novel rediscovered and Anna Karenina is proving the Russian beauty I wish I’d read sooner), using the festive break to watch films old (unlikely to be detailed later so Bad Boys 2 was as awful as I thought it would be, Face-Off has not aged well at all while Beverly Hills Cop is still a time-capsule joy) and new (Don’t Look Up suffers from split-personality only one half of which is very good, the other shite) of an evening instead of falling asleep in a cattle-truked daze. Oh, and watching Get Back*.

Of course, I’ve also been consuming music across as many formats and mediums as I can including catching up with some 2021’s finest. As Aphoristic Album Reviews points out in his fine summary of the year: putting together a list of a best albums during the year in question always feels a bit weird. What if your favourite artist surprise released a new album on Christmas Day? There’s also the fact that I don’t always get to absorb ‘new’ albums until that end of year break. Anywho, with that in mind and keeping it short and sweet, here are my five favourites of 2021.

Mogwai – As The Love Continues

Mogwai came out swinging in February with As The Love Continues. After the restrictions of 2020 (especially tougher in Scotland than here) gave them an opportunity to work distraction-free on their album, they produced one of their finest ever some 24 years after their debut and a very early and easy contender for AOTY. It bristles with great tunes, a warmth and thrust that they’ve not exhibited in a decade. A big hit with critics and fans alike it actually hit the top of the album charts here (surely that’s the first post-rock album to do so?),it felt too good to be true at the start of 2021 and, tens of plays later, still feels too good to be true at the start of 2022.

Snail Mail – Valentine

I was already hooked on this album on Spotify but after finding the vinyl under the tree this year I’ve fallen ever deeper under its spell (more reason to leave those lists until the year has passed). ‘Sold’ to me as a midway point between Hole and Lucy Dacus, Snail Mail’s second album is a glorious slab of 90’s inspired, emotionally fuelled alt-rock with real range and power.

Dinosaur Jr – Sweep It Into Space

The reunited Dinosaur Jr ‘classic’ lineup have now put out more albums than the three of their original run and one more than the various iterations of the band put out during its major label run. What’s surprising is that they’re still bitingly keen and putting out solid and inspired albums that always have plenty of great tunes on them and a lot of J Mascis’ always dazzling guitar solos. The addition of Kurt Vile as co-producer and occasional rhythm and acoustic guitar player has yielded one of their most sonically interesting and just plain-fucking-great-to-listen-to albums thus far and has been a regular spinner since it dropped in April.

Lucy Dacus – Home Video

I loved Lucy Dacus’ 2018 Historian. Why, then, it took so long for me to pick up Home Video is beyond me.. perhaps it was too much to listen to and too little time but, when my local announced a re-stock I made sure one of them had my name on and I’m glad I did: Home Video is just brilliant: Dacus goes from strength to strength here with an album richer in sound and more personal in lyrics – a compelling mix of alt-rockers and gut-wrench ballads.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – God’s Pee AT STATE’S END

Two post-rock giants releasing great albums in the same year? Yup. Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress and Luciferian Towers were ok but didn’t move me in the way that ‘old’ GY!BE and even ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend did… yet AT STATE’S END is a powerful return to that earlier form. Reintroducing found recordings and, like Don’t Bend… delivers two monumental slabs of post-rock with the band’s glorious build-ups from scratchy, static transmissions to crescendos that make your soul go ‘oh fuck YES! interspersed with a couple of drone tracks as if to cleanse the palate.

If this were a Top 10 it would also have included The War On Drugs’ I Don’t Live Here Anymore (a brilliant album that’s way too over-priced on vinyl to have been added to my collection and made the Top 5), Explosions In The Sky’s Big Bend (three post-rock albums in the Top 5 would be pushing it though), The Weather Station’s Ignorance and My Morning Jacket’s self-titled album while Ben Howard would’ve taken an honourable mention for his Collections From The Whiteout.

My favourite ‘Old Stuff Revisited’ release of 2021 is a tie between Tom Petty’s Finding Wildflowers and the re-cast Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture ‘She’s the One’) – that Rick Rubin helmed era of tunes from ’94 thru to 99’s Echo was a rich seam for Petty and these archival releases and new versions are like visiting a golden era and finding it even better than you remembered.

That was 2021… 2022 already has some promising releases on the horizon. I’m eagerly anticipating new albums from The Mysterines, Big Thief, Eddie Vedder (of course), Placebo (for the first time in a while) as well as ‘it could still happens’ like Springsteen’s Tracks 2 to name a few.

*Finding a way to summarise my thoughts on Get Back is likely to take a while

Let the music do the talking… Five from Joe ‘fucking’ Perry

Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’ was the first band ‘auto-biography’ book I’d read back when it dropped in back 1997 and the well-thumbed hardback on my shelves is testament to how many times I’ve either re-read or consulted it since. I also picked up Steven Tyler’s ‘Does The Nose in My Head Bother You’ at, I think, an airport or similar some years back so I was keen to read to read Joe Perry’s ‘Rocks’ when it was published yet, somehow, hadn’t.

Until, that is, while hitting up the local library with my son to stock up on books for him to read (it gives me a massive sense of pride that he takes joy in sitting down and reading to himself already) I saw Joe Perry’s ‘Rocks: My Life in and out of Aerosmith’ waiting for me to pluck from the shelves – it’s probably worth pointing out that the music and biog sections sit close by the children’s section, this tale of excess wasn’t nestling alongside the Hilda or Roald Dahl books.

An expectedly calmer read than that of Mr Tyler’s prose – though Perry too was assisted in his auto-bio – while ‘Rocks’ offers a counterpoint to some of his singer’s arguments as well as picking up on the tumult within the band since 1997 (numerous fallings out, injuries, Led Zeppelin auditions and finding out about X-Factor gigs via the internet) as well as just how excessively manipulated by the toxic approach of their manager Tim Collins. Perry gives an insight into his personal life, how event recent addictions to pain pills nearly derailed his marriage and, of course, his relationship with Tyler.

One of the biggest take-homes though is the Perry’s dissatisfaction with his working relationship with Steven Tyler and his singer’s seeming reluctance to write with him alone anymore despite supposedly seeing them as a Jagger / Richards songwriting team. While Tyler – even as recently as Aerosmith’s last studio album Music From Another Dimension – seems inclined to keep trying to write a ‘hit’ single, Perry would rather stick to what the band is good at. If ‘Rocks’ is truth then he and the rest of the band were so appalled at ‘Girls of Summer’ as a song so non-Aerosmith they refused to be in the video.

While Tyler may think that a band into its fourth decade has another chance at a massive hit (likely the reason the last album was so dampened by the cheesiest of ballads), one thing’s clear – Joe Perry has a love for and a real knack for the dirty blues (as opposed to ‘pure blues) rock riffs that make up the band’s finest work.

In fact whenever he hasn’t had an outlet for them in Aerosmith, or when he’s not been in the band, he’s put out a good body of solo work that’s stuffed with great tunes. While there’s something missing in the lyrics or vocals that only Mr Tyler can provide, so many of these could well have been more of a massive Aerosmith song than the schmaltz the group-writing sessions stuffed their later album with.

Here are five of which:

Let The Music Do The Talking

Perry walked away from Aerosmith in 1979. There’s plenty of reasons as to why but it was a glass of thrown milk that proved the final straw. While Perry would later discover that his / Aerosmith’s management team were working to hinder his solo career, the Joe Perry Project’s first album Let The Music Do The Talking shifted well enough, went down nicely with the critics and made it clear that Perry had the riffs that could’ve kept Aerosmith going for a lot longer (by 1980, Aerosmith were playing increasingly smaller venues and Tyler was collapsing on stage more frequently). So clearly an Aerosmith song that when the group reformed it was their first single, albeit with altered lyrics.

South Station Blues

Perry may have had the riffs but he still had an active addiction, a wife that was spending his money as though he were still drawing down Aerosmith payola and as the years went by the Project’s output decreased in quality though, with a new album a year after his first, Perry was already outpacing his former-band’s output. This, from the group’s second, is a pure belter.

Shakin’ My Cage

Years…. decades in fact after his last solo output, Joe Perry decided to ditch the Project element for his first proper ‘solo’ album in 2005. With Aerosmith on another rest period, Perry seemed determined to keep on the bluesier side that had leant itself to their last album Honkin’ On Bobo and put out an album on which he played everything but the drums. It’s not a very varied album but Perry showed he’d still got a fuckload of those classic heavy riffs in his bag even if Tyler didn’t want ’em and if you happen to dig those crunchy guitar workouts then it’s a pretty strong album.

Mercy

Also from Joe Perry and one that was up for a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance – fittingly Perry lost out here to Les Paul.

We’ve Got A Long Way To Go

With Aerosmith’s plans in the toilet after illness, injuries and strife called their tour with ZZ Top to be cancelled, Perry pulled together Have Guitar Will Travel – billed as a solo but much more of a band album and a lot less ‘produced’ than his previous album, feeling more like a warm, home-studio rave-up than polished, it feels like a relief in that respect but doesn’t hold together too well. Still, he also had songs like this which were clearly written with his usual singer’s pipes in mind and would’ve gone down well as an Aerosmith tune.

Getting the band back together…

During the final planning stages of our wedding a hair over ten years ago now, aside from the song for our first dance and a few specific requests and genre preferences, our DJ was given only one hard and fast rule: “no fucking ABBA”.

Now, I know I’m in a minority here and I’ve read plenty of posts within my ‘blogging circle’ to cement that knowledge, but I can’t stand them.

So imagine my chagrin when I had the misfortune to hear the tail-end (enough to leave a bitter aftertaste) of the ‘new’ ABBA song on the radio recently, or the twitching of my eye when the approach of their new album release means I’m hit by sponsored ads on the one social media site I still use, or posts from record stores I frequent promoting the opportunity to pre-order said pile of festering shite in a multitude of colours.

However, rather than turn this into a rant about the evils of septuagenarian Swedes phoning it in (I mean, they’re not even gonna bother going on their own tour, they’re asking people to pay to watch fucking holograms!) to grab cash to feather their retirement beds one last time… I got to thinking of those bands which would make me cry hallelujah should they decide to get the band together, even for just one more ride round the block.

So, without wanting to overstay my welcome I’ll keep it at five though I’m sure I’ve missed a good few

REM

They went out on a high with Collapse Into Now which seemed like the perfect way to end it but didn’t tour that album, instead leaving us with a reminder of just how great they were. They needed to do it after Around The Sun saw them floundering. but their last album and the recent re-releases of their seminal albums (including the soon-to-hit New Adventures In Hi-Fi) are proof positive that the Athens, Georgia band had bags of the good stuff and with all members still around and involved in music (save for Bill Berry who has stuck with his retirement from the music industry since 1997) it feels like this is one that really could still happen and live albums such as Live at the Olympia demonstrate their concert draw.

Led Zeppelin

It’s a no-brainer, right? News of a Led Zeppelin reunion, even without the whisper of new material, would be lapped up like nothing else. They, too, would be minus their original drummer but it’s been done since: 2007’s show at the O2 Arena as part of The Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert saw John Bonham’s son Jason fill the stool for a roof-devastating sixteen-song blast that’s easily stated as the best final concert they could have given…. except of course it’s left everyone clamouring for more. Even the band wanted more. Except, that is, Robert Plant. Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham were rumoured to be working on new material together and with Plant not having it, auditioned singers including Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler (which, according to Joe Perry’s ‘Rocks’ was not only a shambolic performance but caused further havoc one strained relations in his own band) but nothing came of it.

While it used to be a case that rumours would fly up regularly, Plant’s decisive and inarguable statements that it won’t happen (“I’ve gone so far somewhere else that I almost can’t relate to it. It’s a bit of a pain in the pisser to be honest. Who cares? I know people care, but think about it from my angle – soon, I’m going to need help crossing the street.”) and his desire to keep working on new material has meant they’re less frequent now. Still, as new documentaries and re-releases of their back catalogue prove, the public desire is as strong as ever… it’s a slim one but we can dream.

Sonic Youth

I know… this isn’t gonna happen. They had a brilliant run but with Kim and Thurston’s divorce it was curtains. Thurston has kept schtum on it but Kim’s ‘Girl in a Band’ seemed just as much as a way of airing their dirty laundry in public as it did her emphasising everything in her life non Sonic Youth as though and draw as clear a line under it all as possible and comments over the years but it as a done deal.

But.. hey; this is a ‘we can dream’ list after all and there are bands out there with divorced members (probably best not to mention the on-going drama that is Fleetwood Mac but the list still includes the White Stripes) and all members are not only still putting out some great music but often working together to do so… hell, Thurston Moore’s latest By The Fire shows he’s got Sonic Youth style tunes for days.

Screaming Trees

Of all those albums I forgot back in my post about great last albums, Screaming Trees’ Dust has got to be one of the biggest ‘d’oh’s. It’s such a strong album it’s pretty much perfect, easily their best effort. And yet… The album was already four years on from their previous – Sweet Oblivion – and Dust stalled on the album charts. Following another hiatus for Lanegan to work on his third solo album, the band went back into the studio in 1999 but couldn’t find a label with interest in the demos the sessions yielded. A few shows in 2000 still failed to garner label interest in the group and they called it day.

Always seemingly the undercard of the scene, Screaming Trees have a back catalog that’s stuffed with great tunes and even the recent-ish Last Words – The Final Recordings had plenty of solid contenders and it a reunion would be welcome, except that like so many bands Screaming Trees too seem pretty dysfunctional and relationships have only strained since.

Mark Lanegan recently sent an angry retort to a tweet suggesting he was up for just such a reunion: “I don’t know how many different ways I can say it but any Screaming Trees reunion, show, rehearsal, lunch or fistfight will not include me” which has lead Gary Lee Connor to ponder: “I really question what his motives were the whole time, though. Did he just use us to get famous? I thought it was about making great music.”

Still, if bigger hatchets can be buried I’m sure there’s still a chance…. right?

Dire Straits

Yep, I’d love to see this one but chances are it ain’t gonna happen. Mainly because I’m quite specific here: I’m talking the ‘classic’ Dire Straits lineup so chances are even slimmer.

Mark Knopfler couldn’t take the grief that came with touring on the scale that the last Dire Straits go-around had reached- after a break of five years, the On Every Street tour seemed determined to play on every street with 229 shows across a year and a half into 1992 and an era where the radio landscape was very different to that in which Dire Straits had their peak. For all its strengths both the album and the live document On The Night felt like it was time to stop and so you can’t fault Knopfler for doing so – it was too big to live.

But that was almost 30 years ago and I can’t help but think that a new Dire Straits tour done on a scale akin to Knopfler’s solo outings, where he’s not exactly playing garden sheds, might not seem so objectionable anymore and would be a much better way of saying ‘thanks and goodnight’ – especially if it were to feature Pick Withers who drummed for the band from formation through to Lover Over Gold (their finest) on a few tracks. It’d be unlikely that Mark’s brother David would be involved, though, but I kinda hope those two can at least get back on speaking terms… just take a listen to the difference in quality between their two live albums On The Night and Alchemy and the case for a better send-off is clear.

The 20 Guitarists List

Lists can be such a pain in the arse sometimes… and yet I’m seemingly addicted to making them. Take the whittling down – this one has taken an AGE to get together since seeing Jim over at Music Enthusiast’s some time ago now along with that of Aphoristic Album Reviews‘ slightly shorter list, especially when combined with my procrastination.

Then there’s the ordering – how do you get around that? Simple – this list isn’t in any order what so ever.

What about the title – well this isn’t a ‘Greatest’ list, there’s no way I’d ever attempt to claim that, so the less snappy title for this is actually ’20 Guitarists That I’ve Dug for Years and Will Always Tune In For’. Which is what it is, it’s 20 of my favourite players – not always the most technically proficient or even considered as a virtuoso types but those that nonetheless make the music I enjoy consistently great through their playing. That would make an even less snappy title though.

As is always the way there are plenty that don’t make the list but continually skirt the outside like non-ticket holders hanging around an outdoor show’s fence trying to grab a sonic snatch of their favourite song. Players like Mike Campbell inject a gorgeous sound into some of my favourite songs while the fluidity and wash of sound from the likes of The War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel and his pal Kurt Vile are happy mainstays in my ears lately and if I could make this longer they’d be on the long list for sure as would Wilco’s Nels Cline or even Joe Perry or John McLaughlin… you get the point. But I needed to pick an arbitrary number and stick to it or this would never leave the notebook where I make these lists let alone spend the wrist power typing this thing up….

So, with that in mind, let’s get going so that I can think about that ‘Drummers list thing’:

Nils Lofgren

A list has to start somewhere even one that’s not in any particular order. So I’ll start off with sideman extraordinaire, a warm and extremely talented dude: Nils Lofgren.

Nils came to attention as a teenage prodigy having played on Neil Young’s After the Goldrush at just 17 and while the emergence of punk and the shift in musical tastes may have put pay to his burgeoning solo stab at stardom, he continued to put out high quality albums before joining Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band for the ‘Born In The USA’ tour. He’s worked with the Boss solidly since the E Street Band’s reunion (as well as the Greatest Hits reunion of sorts) as well as regular stints in Neil Young’s band Crazy Horse and continuing to record and tour as a solo player.

He’s a ridiculously gifted player – capable of pulling out searing leads and picking out tender acoustic work, whether he’s setting fire to other people’s songs (see his reading Springsteen’s ‘Youngstown’) or his own.

He caught my attention as a solo artist when I heard the acoustic take on ‘Black Books’ on the Sopranos way back in 2000, I could hear his solo on that (from about two and a half minutes thru to the end) daily and still love it.

Mike McCready

Mike McCready may not be on a lot of lists but the dude should get more credit for sure… he toned down his theatrics and finger-tapping to bring a blues-influenced tone and ability to the Seattle scene in a subtle but important way that no other ‘grunge’ band did.

Often referred to as Pearl Jam’s ‘secret weapon’, McCready had just begun moving away from the 80’s metal sound having gotten into Stevie Ray Vaughan just as the band got going and it’s his beautiful tone and leads that set Pearl Jam apart for me and got my ear immediately.

His songwriting contributions to the group are always worth tuning in for as his ability to take another member’s song ‘Nothing As It Seems’ and take it to a whole new level with his guitar work while live he absolutely let’s rip whether it’s absolutely rinsing the arse off ‘Even Flow’ or tearing through a perfect take on ‘Eruption’ into ‘Yellow Ledbetter’.

David Gilmour

So I have this memory… must be before my teens, before I got a CD player even so I’d put that to when I was 11… it gets foggy in the timeline.. anyway this much is concrete: I’d got one of those old midi-systems of the 80’s, you know a black plastic Aiwa thing with a twin tape deck and radio and turntable up top all in one block as opposed to the hi-fi separates of old (which, fittingly, I’m now back to). At some point I decided to get the turntable working – even buying a new cartridge for £1.50 – that’s how vividly I remember it, if only they were that cheap now.

Once I’d got it working – fuck knows why I’d done so or what I tested it on – my Dad used the opportunity to blow the dust off a couple of LPs to get me to listen to – Led Zeppelin’s IV (don’t worry, we’ll get to Jimmy) and The Dark Side of the Moon. Hearing that and David Gilmour’s guitar work was pretty mind blowing. Then, a few years later, I heard ‘Comfortably Numb’ and that second solo… fuck, I still have to stop what I’m doing and listen to it intently – what Gilmour can do with just a subtle bend. Floyd a heavy mainstay in my ears ever since.

Gilmour’s playing elevated Pink Floyd and drove their direction after the departure of Syd Barrett as much as Waters’ songwriting – without Gilmour’s playing the Pink Floyd sound we now all know wouldn’t exist. His own songs may veer toward the floatier stuff (see ‘If’ or ‘Fat old Sun’) but his playing is transportive – hugely melodic and often sprawling solos with perfect tone that I can never can get enough off.

Mark Knopfler

Imagine the brass balls on Mark Knopfler; laying down your band’s first album full of guitar-hero moves at a time that punk was ascendant and adored by the music press, and then laying down its last at a time when alt-rock and grunge was taking over. A foolish move that would’ve failed spectacularly but for one thing: Knopfler’s unassuming and quiet confidence in his guitar playing prowess.

Surely everyone by now knows ‘Sultans of Swing’ – that solo and that tone are unmistakeable and no matter how good that street performer you’ve seen doing it on YouTube is, nobody can play it in the same way and with the same feel. I read that Knopfler arrived at the famous tone by mistake – his pickup getting stuck between settings -but there’s no getting away from his sheer skill as both a songwriter and player. That tone changed in later Dire Straits records – probably as he switched to using PRS and Les Pauls as much as his red Strat – and evolved into a much warmer, enveloping tone that I could just bathe in.

I grew up with those first four Dire Straits records on heavy rotation and I’ll still pick em up and play em regularly now (Love Over Gold is easily their finest) but then I’ll also just as happily put on one of his solo records because while – some nine studio albums in – they’re no-longer as ‘all gold’ as they used to be, through those Dire Straits albums, the soundtracks, the side bands, guest spots on Bob Dylan albums and solo records the common thread is a guitar tone and fluidity that’s always worth tuning in for.

Eddie Van Halen

Oh man… Eddie Van Halen is surely on so many of these lists it’s insane. I’m not a Van Halen fan by any stretch (I’d stick my flag in the Van Hagar camp, mind, as I can’t stand ‘Diamond’ Dave) but Eddie’s playing is something else… as I’ve said before, a real ‘light the touch paper and stand back’ player who could dazzle like no other.

VH’s brand of riff-heavy stuff isn’t my cup of coffee but EVH’s playing… what he could do in terms of harmonics, building textures and then pulling out a solo with so many ‘how the fuck?’ moments stood both his band and him apart and always worth listening to especially later when it became more song-oriented than blowing open a bag of tricks and would never fail to through in a staggering solo even if the song was less than stellar (see ‘Humans Being’ below). That I’m writing about the dude in past-tense now still seems shit.

Bruce Springsteen

Given how Springsteen seems permanently associated with his butterscotch telecaster, his first album didn’t hint at a solid guitar player at the helm. But while he may well have been signed as a thesaurus-swallowing ‘new Dylan’ acoustic singer / songwriter, but before Clive Davis signed him to Columbia, Bruce Springsteen had been honing his guitar chops for years with hours upon hours of daily practice and playing “loud guitars and a Southern-influenced rock sound” in Steel Mill. Since the emergence of those chops on record – ‘Kitty’s Back’ kicking in on The Wild The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle – Springsteen’s guitar playing has been at the centre of some of his best songs. Which seems like an idea for another Springsteen post…

He might not be the most technically proficient of players but he’s all about soul and feel and his guitar lines on songs like ‘Born To Run’ are as iconic as the guitar on that album’s cover. Whether he’s picking out an acoustic melody line on ‘Blood Brothers’, chiming teak-like tone on his later ‘other band work’ or those gorgeous twangy lines of ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ or pretty much all of the guitar work’s bite and crunch throughout Darkness of the Edge of Town, Springsteen’s guitar work always gives his songs – and live performances – the edge.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

You know how sometimes you can hear something and, for reasons unknown, it’s just the wrong time, wrong place for you to get into it? Like your receptors are tuned in to the wrong frequency or something? Happened to me with Stevie Ray Vaughan: I’d heard about the dude being a guitar player of excellence, bought The Essential and just… it didn’t click there and then. BUT a few years later, holy fuck did it click. Can’t remember when but I was sitting chowing down a burger and I heard ‘Empty Arms’ and I just saw there not chewing for four minutes, how had I not paid that cd any attention… I picked that Essential album up as soon as I got home and I’ve been getting as much SRV as possible since. That monster tone and skill; sit up, shut up, pay attention and pick your mouth up off the floor.

Jimmy Page

I mean, fuck: Jimmy Page… do you even need to explain? I remember hearing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in that same sitting as Dark Side of the Moon as being revelatory… John Bonham sitting around for the best part o five minutes and as soon as he begins to get going Jimmy switches to solo mode and unleashes and absolute fucking beast. He’s gotta be the master of dynamics – ‘Ramble On’ is a benchmark – and can swing from great acoustic rhythms to monstrous riffs and scorching solos, not just on the same album but often on the same song.

Jeff Beck

And it’s hi-ho silver lining, and away you go now baby…

How Jeff Beck ever released that is beyond me but I’m sure he gets plenty fed up with it now… as Jim over at Music Enthusiast pointed out – it’s impossible to think of a rock player ‘that’s dabbled in so many genres’. Whatever genre he goes for though, one thing that’s constant is that Jeff Beck is an astoundingly great guitar player.

Prince

Back when I was starting to pay attention more to music the radio was doing a massive disservice to Prince – wasn’t helped by the whole T-A-F-K-A-P / Squiggle thing, sure – and my only real exposure was to songs like ‘Kiss’, ‘Gold’ or ‘1999’ ‘Little Red Corvette’. I mean good songs all (except for ‘Kiss’) but nothing that made me go ‘holy fuck that guy can play’ and not just because using language like that would get my mouth washed out with soap. BUT, man when I heard Purple Rain…. sure it’s his most guitar-heavy album but holy fuck that guy can play! Rock balladry can be a mixed bag but the solo on ‘Purple Rain’ is easily the benchmark by which all others are judged and can’t hit.

I’m not a huge Prince fan – not all his music blows my mind but when he strapped on his guitar it was because he knew not only could he break out in the middle of a song and play the arse off of it, but he could integrate it into a song like few others even when it’s not the strongest thing in the mix. His playing was not only versatile and inventive in style but he could go from from 0-100 in seconds flat – take how he turned the usual circle-jerk Rock n Roll Hall of Fame jam of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and blew it into the stratosphere with no rehearsal!

Johnny Greenwood

Imagine trying to wreck a song and having your guitar’s ‘eh-eh. eh-eh’ stuttering sabotage attempt sounding so good it not only makes the mix but makes the song? That’d be Johnny Greenwood and ‘Creep’. A hugely talented player – equally adept at picking up the bass, piano, viola or drums – it’s Greenwood’s versatility and skill that’s helped push Radiohead from their early days skirting the very edges of Britpop to pushing the definition of alt.rock with OK Computer and then pushing further still with each subsequent album with Greenwood always weaving something brilliant around a song’s parts.

Peter Green

No discredit to Lindsey Buckingham, he’s a fine player for sure, but for me Fleetwood Mac and their ultimate guitar sound is the glorious Peter Green and Danny Kirwan era. Green, specifically (or ‘The Green God’ as he was briefly referred to having replaced Clapton in John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers) had something special, from creating and tearing through blues-based tunes like ‘Oh Well (Part One)’ to those gorgeous instrumentals like ‘Albatross’, I can listen to *that* Fleetwood Mac and Peter Green’s playing until the cows come home.

J Mascis

There are some artists and bands that I’ll be jumping on that ‘pre-order’ link the second a new album is announced and Dinosaur Jr and Mascis’ own solo work is top of that pile and it’s all down to J Mascis’ guitar playing. Having burst onto that noise-rock scene with Dinosaur Jr’s take on ‘ear-bleeding country music’ with melodies buried in fuzz-tone up to their arse, Dinosaur Jr’s sound shifted slightly as they signed to a major in time to capitalise (well, to a limited extent) on the praise being heaped on them by the era’s alt-rock champions.

Mascis’ playing has continued to evolve and swing from epic riffs to soft melodic tunes but all with one thing in common: it’s only ever a matter of time before Mascis detonates them with a scorcher of a solo, and I’ll never get tired of that.

Chuck Berry

I can’t lay any claim to being schooled on rock and blues history from a young age, I was born in 1980 – most music on the radio while my hearing was developing was tosh. My first exposure to a Chuck Berry riff was probably the same as so many others of my generation – “Chuck, Chuck! It’s MarvinYour cousinMarvin Berry! You know that new sound you were looking for? Well, listen to THIS!”

But then you go back and hear the original and find out what Chuck was doing with Chess… man, it was like finding the skeleton of the missing link. I’ll put on a comp his first ten years and hear the blueprints for everything I dig now right there: he took the soul and tone of blues licks, sped em up and strapped em to the burgeoning rock n roll sound and seemingly invented rock guitar. More than being able to come up with a wicked lick, Chuck’s songs and lyrics can be fucking spot on too and the fact that live he’d play with pick-up bands and still bring the heat… there’s a reason he’s the legend he is.

Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore rubbing shoulders with Chuck Berry… such is the joy of these lists. What Thurston (in combination with Lee Ranaldo) bought to the front with their playing is a pretty unique sound that I dig on so many levels – experimentation with tunings, prepared and altered guitars, jams that cascade into feedback before pulling back the threads into the melody and thrash-like strumming to build hypnotic rhythms. This isn’t guitar playing of the ‘guitar hero’ style but it never pretends to be either. Standing up front with Thurston’s stack next to me probably cost me a percentage of hearing in my right ear but I’d give it again.

George Harrison

Yes, I know, George didn’t play the solo on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, but he did write the damned thing and write and play on those gorgeous tunes like ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’. Not to mention his multitude of contributions to the Fab Four’s songs and a plethora of amazing solo tunes too. Deceptively uncluttered in it’s beauty and always hitting the sweet spot in tone.

Stuart Braithwaite / Barry Burns (Mogwai)

It wouldn’t be my list if there wasn’t a nod to post-rock in here somewhere and the guitar work of Stuart Braithwaite and Barry Burns has always been what sets Mogwai apart for me in a genre that’s stuffed with great players.

Perhaps down to their influences in early genre pioneers like Slint or Kevin Shields’ My Bloody Valentine, developed a sound of their own built on towering, repeating riffs that were deceptively simple while weaving intricate melodies to build this massive sonic space that they could either explode and pick up again or find a hidden gear somewhere and blow your speakers out.

As the band have evolved to incorporate an increasing away of sounds and influences over their 25 years the guitar work has remained the powerful heart.

Doug Martsch (Built to Spill)

Bringing guitar-hero moves and freakouts into alt. rock style with Built to Spill, Doug Martsch creates these brilliantly arranged guitar-centric songs that I just fucking lap up – there’s always something new I discover on repeating listens from those odd timing signature changes, odd structures and mid-song breakdowns that dissolve into unashamed guitar heroics before bouncing back in. And he does it all with the same guitar he’s used for the last couple of decades (a Fender Super Strat with wiring modded to a single pick-up for those that are curious) and without any theatrics – Built To Spill went from being indie-rock down the middle with their first couple of albums to Martsch’s inspired move to bring jam-band style workouts into the genre and made it seem an effortless combination, becoming one of indie-rock’s essential guitarists in the process.

Jack Rose

I came to Jack Rose’s music by pure chance and too late. Hearing Rose’s guitar pieces was like being hypnotised and I’m still gobbling up as much of it as I can.

He took the experiments and sound of players like John Fahey as his base and created these brilliant acoustic pieces on 6 and 12 strings that took that finger-picking style, blended it with dissonance and Eastern elements that just blew my mind and opened me up to a whole new genre and way of playing that I’ll often get lost in.

Thurston Moore was a big fan – when Rose died of a heart attack in 2009 at 38 years old, Moore recorded and released an album 12 String Mediations for Jack Rose as a tribute.

Jimi Hendrix

I mean, come on, it’s a no-brainer, right? If Chuck Berry invented modern rock guitar then Jimi, literally, set fire to it and kicked it into a whole new game.

And, should those videos not load and the list is preferred in digestible Spotify-flavoured chunks:

“During the war…” Ten ‘Essential’ WW2 Reads

These days I find myself questioning the teaching methods / teachers I had back in secondary school. I know I always liked to learn about history but back then it was a case of ‘the eight Henrys and two world wars’ and even then it was pretty dry stuff and mostly dates from what I recall.

Cut to a fair few years later and while my wife and I were dating we wanted a little getaway, drove up from Paris to Normandy to a little B&B we booked online only to discover that we were staying in Coleville-sur-Mer, just up the literal track from what had once been code-named Omaha Beach.

Coming face to face with the scene of the bloodiest of landings and standing where those German gun encampments once sat was a pretty strange sensation only matched by the cemetery up the road. It re-awakened my interest in that particularly tragic and yet inspiring periods of our history. Inspiring in terms of what ordinary people are capable of when placed into the most extraordinary of circumstance. It was this element that does and still interests me a lot more than sheer dates and stats ever could and there’s no interest from me in the “guys and glory” style or “we killed all those Jerry bastards from here to Berlin” approach – it’s the personal that counts.

As this part of history takes a good percentage of the non-fiction part of my library, second only to the ‘music’ section and already having done so for that section, I thought I’d list out (this one’s been in the making for a while) those 10 books I’ve found the most essential during my ‘re-education’. After all, if we ignore history and it’s lessons we’re doomed to repeat its mistakes.

Max Hastings – All Hell Let Loose

Finding one book that manages to convey the vast depth and sweep of a global conflict in one volume is never easy but Max Hastings was always gonna be a safe bet and All Hell Let Loose does a great job of while still managing to focus on individual accounts and the impact of the war on the personal levels rather than simply get lost in stats and dates.

Alan Deere – Nine Lives

Alan Deere was a New Zealander who joined the RAF in 1938. He flew Spitfires in both the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain and fought throughout the war – a fighter ace with 22 confirmed victories who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His account of his time, Nine Lives, is written with a real warmth and charm while not flinching from the reality that faced the men – some little more than boys only a year or two out of school – during those dark times.

See also: First Light by Jeff Wellum and Stormbird by Hermann Buchner for a take from the ‘other side’ as it were.

Andrew Williams – D-Day to Berlin

A smaller focus than Hastings’ All Hell Let Loose but nonetheless detailed and with more insight as a result of the tighter arena, Andrew William’s D-Day to Berlin looks, as the title suggests, at the Allied arrival on the beaches, the fight for Normandy, the breakout and fight on to Berlin. It was one of the first I books on the subject I picked up and it remains an oft-referred to one. There was a BBC documentary based around it, though buggered if I can find it all these years later, and it’s written with both an eye to the overall campaign as well as the personal accounts and it’s always those that make these books worth reading to me.

Herbert Werner – Iron Coffins

Without a doubt one of the finest WW2 diaries and a real eye-opener. There weren’t many U-Boat commanders that made it through the war, such were the odds against them in the final half of the war when the tables were turned and the wolf packs became hunted with greater accuracy and techniques. Werner’s account is written with insight and with the use of his own diaries and records for accuracy and is a real eye-opener: in the space of those years Werner went from officer candidate in 1939, to the early victories the U-Boats scored in the Atlantic to fighting for survival and barely escaping the same fate that sent so many other crews to the seabed. Beyond the facts and figures, what makes Iron Coffins such a favourite on my shelves is the personal insights – while Werner is fighting for survival below, the war is destroying his home in Germany and the increasing – its important to remember the German Navy were not all Nazis – frustration in their orders and their direction.

Stephen E Ambrose – Band of Brothers

An obvious choice really but it doesn’t make it any less a great read. Of course I saw the series before reading the book, it was one of the first things I did on my return from France that summer and it spurned me on to find more hence the inclusion of this book and the next couple too. There’s so much more in Ambroses’ book than could ever be captured by HBO’s series (it’s always the way, there’s nothing new here) – such as how, in Bastogne, sat staring at the same tree line day after day, Darrel ‘Shifty’ Powers, was convinced there was a tree – a mile away – that hadn’t been the day before. Turned out it hadn’t – it was camouflage that the Germans had put up for their anti-aircraft battery, which was promptly taken out. Ambrose’s Band of Brothers is an essential read for all the obvious reasons – it’s the true story of those ordinary guys thrown into the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Major Dick Winters – Beyond Band of Brothers

Of course, reading or seeing Band of Brothers will leave you wanting more and appreciating what a damn fine leader of men Dick Winters was. His own Beyond of Brothers delivers more insights into both Winters as a man and leader as well as Easy Company’s campaign. A more personal account than Ambrose’s book and his guide to leadership is one I try to incorporate into my own life.

Robert Leckie – Helmet For My Pillow

Watching HBO’s The Pacific was a real eye-opener for me in much the same way as my recent watching of Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War was – and identified the next area of history to read up on. The operations in the Pacific theatre were pretty unknown to me but I soon realised that was home to some of the grizzliest and barbaric fighting and conditions. Robert Leckie’s account served as part of the series’ source material and makes for a harrowing but vital and very well-written and detailed read that gives a real look at the impact of some of the most inhumane conditions coupled with the horror of intense fighting has on people.

See also: With The Old Breed by E.B Sledge

Stuart Hills – By Tank Into Normandy

My paternal grandfather served in a tank regiment during the Second World War though spoke precious little about it to me. Aside from the closeness of Stuart Hills’ surname, the fact that he came from just down the road in Tonbridge and found himself in fierce tank combat in European fields that, while geographically close, must have felt like a million miles away from the security of Kent made this a real connection for me. These personal and individual accounts of the war that are printed by smaller publishing houses and take a little finding are all the more interesting to me and reveal so much more than statistics on the number of tanks that “brewed up” ever could and gave me a real eye-opening look at just what my grandfather may have faced when his tank rolled across those fields.

Matthew Cobb – The Resistance

You know these days you’d be forgiven for thinking that every French person has relatives that fought as part of the Resistance movement and were involved in either hiding and ferrying allied airmen to safety or blowing up German trains… the truth is that only a very small percentage of the population were involved in the French Resistance movement and of those even less in such movie-style acts of sabotage. Cobb’s book is not only a great account of the movement but also of life in occupied France which appealed both the historian and Francophile in me.

See also: Americans in Paris by Charles Glass.

Ben Macintyre – Operation Mincemeat

After success in North Africa the allies needed to open a new front in the European theatre and liberate Europe. But where would and could they land first? In April of 1943 a fisherman found a corpse floating in the sea – the body was identified as that of the Royal Marines’Major William Martin and his attached case revealed to the Germans the Allied invasion plans.

Except this was Operation Mincemeat. The body that of a tramp and the documents all perfect fakes with one aim in mind – fooling Hitler and making him believe the Allied landing would take place somewhere other than Sicily.

Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat reads like one of the greatest spy novels but it’s all true – the level of detail involved in planning and carrying out the campaign, the now-available insight into how the Germans swallowed it and how it was handled their side make for real jaw-droppers. There were so many things that needed to work and so many details that could cause it all to fail.

But it worked: Hitler informed Mussolini that Greece, Sardinia and Corsica must be defended “at all costs” and transferred panzer regiments, planes and troops to that affect so that when the allies landed on Sicily it was comparatively unopposed – even hours later Hitler remained convinced it was a rouse. So much so that similar deception methods would be employed to dupe the Führer into believing Calais to be the landing point for D-Day.

See also: Double Cross by Ben Macintyre.

 

Yes and I had a little time to kill…. a Tom Petty twenty

Tom Petty was born in Gainesville, Florida in 1950. When he was ten years old his uncle, who was working on the movie,  invited him onto the set of the Elvis Presley flick ‘Follow That Dream’ to watch the shoot. Petty was awestruck and became an instant fan, trading his slingshot for a stack of Elvis 45s. Less than 4 years later Petty knew he wanted to be in a band when he saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan show, per Wikipedia: “The minute I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show—and it’s true of thousands of guys—there was the way out.”

For Petty, that band was The Epics which would evolve into Mudcrutch – a band which included Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench. When Mudcrutch split Petty looked at a solo career but still felt the need for a band so, essentially he and Mike Campbell, co-opted  Benmont Tench’s new band and formed The Heartbreakers. Their first album would drop in 1976, Damn The Torpedoes would catapult them to multi-platinum status three years later and they continued to shift a shit load of records and rake up the hits as the years went on until the mid 90s where they slipped from the mainstream though would continue to shift massively respectable numbers, prove a great live act and retain a dedicated following and critical appeal.

It felt like the shine had worn off Petty’s songwriting around the time of The Last DJ (even if it did get him a spot on ‘The Simpsons’) and solo album Highway Companion. There’s some good stuff there, of course, but the consistency and freshness had waned. Perhaps Petty felt it too as he reformed Mudcrutch and the band released it’s first album in 2008 (a second followed in 2016)- the same year that Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers performed at the Superbowl’s half time show. Tellingly, none of the songs they played were from after 1989.

Then, with the release of 2010’s Mojo and 2014’s Hypnotic Eye a few years later, it felt like The Heartbreakers had found a second (or fourth? I’ve lost count) wind – changing up their sound and approach to embrace a much more bluesy sound that unlocked a new gear and they sounded fresh and invigorated on record again for the first time in decades. Then, in the early hours of October 2nd 2017, Tom Petty was found unconscious at his home in Santa Monica, California. He’d suffered a cardiac arrest and wasn’t breathing. There were, as always in this shitty media world in which we’re forced to live, rumours about his state almost immediately. But he was resuscitated and taken to hospital where, at 8:40pm, Tom Petty died. He was 66. During his recording career he released 13 studio albums with The Heatbreakers, 3 ‘solo’ albums and 2 albums with Mudcrutch, and 2 albums with The Travelling Wilburys, selling more than 80 million records worldwide.

I’d been into Tom Petty’s music for some time – his cds were on heavy rotation and the great compilation Anthology: Through The Years was often in my car. The news of his death really surprised me and took me some time before I could listen to his music again. My ongoing Albums of My Years series has set me back into his collection.

So, with that in mind, I thought I’d put together a list of my favourite Tom Petty songs. I’m counting both ‘solo’ and Hearbreakers albums together but nothing Mudcrutch as I’ve spent no time with those albums (and precious little with Mojo and Hyptnotic Eye).

This list isn’t necessarily order-specific or concrete as I may discover more as I listen to those Mudcrutch albums or spend more time with Hypnotic Eye.  But, right now….

Even The Losers – Damn The Torpedos was the album that changed it all for Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers but this standout for me was only released as a single in Australia despite how fucking good it is. Love the line “Well it was nearly summer, we sat on your roof.”

Wildflowers – Petty’s first album for Warner Bros. and first with Rick Rubin is an absolute gem. Essentially a Heartbreakers album – only Stan Lynch was missing but he’d be out of the group shortly and future Heartbreaker Steve Ferrone sat on the drum stool – and one of their finest.

The Waiting – come on, you know this song is gold.

Angel Dream (No. 4) – After Wildflowers, Petty and The Heartbreakers teamed up with Rick Rubin again for the soundtrack album Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”. I don’t know how this ended up as a soundtrack album (for a pretty ‘meh’ film’ but it’s a great Heartbreakers album – with some tracks from Wildlflowers sessions being developed, a looseness and charm that makes for some great tunes. If it wasn’t for the ‘soundtrack’ association and the repeat / variation of a few tunes as a result – this could’ve really changed the bands fortunes for the 90s.

Room at the Top – By the time Rick Rubin and The Heartbreakers got to work together on a Heartbreakers album ‘proper’, Petty was in the midst of a divorce and Echo feels more like a solo album given its subject matter. But it’s a bloody good disc that’s oft overlooked – including by me. This is just a beauty and, of all of his songs, it’s this one that I find hard to listen to in light of his passing.

Straight Into Darkness – Balls to the wall classic for me. “I remember Bruce Springsteen saying something about the song at a time when I felt like that album was kind of lost on people,” Petty said. “That meant a lot.”

It’ll All Work Out – The band’s last album before Petty went solo and they shifted gears again is a weird one and Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) is probably better known for ‘Jammin Me’ but I love this chilled out, delicate song – a type for which Petty had a real knack for.

Southern Accents – I love this song, no two ways about it. Southern Accents feels like an album of two halves, with original ‘concept’ songs mixed with class A hits but this, one of the ‘concepts’ is gorgeous. I love the lyric and delivery of ” For just a minute there I was dreaming,for just a minute it was all so real, for just a minute she was standing there, with me.”

Something Big – I’m a sucker for a ‘story’ song even if it is as deceptively dark as this one. Scratch that: ESPECIALLY if it’s as deceptively dark as this one.

Hope You Never – Another great from the She’s The One soundtrack, really dig the way this one builds and the beat.

Rebels – Another of Southern Accents‘ ‘concept’ songs and while the keyboards are very of the time it’s so well written it doesn’t hurt it none. The keyboards may be due to the fact that Petty was so high that he got so angry over arrangements he punched a wall and broke his left hand (causing pretty severe nerve damage). I guess it served as a wake up call as he called up Jimmy Iovine and asked him to come help finish the song and several others from this then-troubled ‘concept’ album.

You Wreck Me – a harder hitter from Wildflowers that just kicks. Even if Petty did feel it was a throwback: “I thought, ‘Man, this sounds just like the Heartbreakers about 1980’ – that style [that tells you] exactly who that is. So I got into it, to do a nostalgic song – ‘All right, we’ll go as far back as high school.”

Runnin’ Down A Dream – Petty’s first ‘solo’ album was a relaxed recording that featured all but one Heartbreaker (Stan Lynch again) and Petty’s friends George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne – who also co-produced and wrote seven of Full Moon Fever‘s songs with Petty. For such a low-key album, Full Moon Fever went bonkers: hits like ‘Free Fallin’ and ‘I Won’t Back Down’ and their MTV staple vids helped it sell millions of copies and become Petty’s commercial peak. Of the 5 singles released from it, this is still my favourite.

Alright For Now – while this little Petty ditty is, oddly, my favourite on the whole album. I guess it’s the ‘for now’…. sometimes, most, that’s enough.

The Wild One, Forever – even on their first album The Heartbreakers showed they have a real knack for this not-quite-a-ballad slow blazer, yearning sorta thing.

American Girl – there’s no way of getting around it, the band’s first ‘hit’ is a classic.

Something Good Coming – The sole selection on here from Mojo, there’s something captivating about the vibe of this one for me.

Saving Grace – for his last solo album, Tom Petty worked again with Jeff Lynne and Mike Campbell, though no other Heartbreakers appear on Highway Companion. It’s not a bad album but lacks the consistency of his previous two. This is one of the highlights.

Waiting For Tonight – Oddly, this was recorded with the Heartbreakers during the a break from the Full Moon Fever sessions and put away until 1995’s Playback box set (which was one of the first things I got hold of when getting into Petty which is strange considering it’s a 6cd box set). Apparently it’s The Bangles on background vocals… why this was overlooked – it’s all hook much like ‘The Waiting’, it’s stuffed with great lyrics and is catchier than one of those contagious things…. were it not for Spotify having the ‘Nobody’s Children’ disc from Playback I think it would remain missed by many.

Don’t Come Around Here No More – Another gear and game change for Petty and the Heartbreakers. Stolen from Stevie Nicks who, having felt that Petty nailed the vocals, declined to use it on the album she was working on with Jimmy Iovine. The title is, according to Dave Stewart, a phrase he heard Nicks shout at Joe Walsh with whom she was throwing out of her house after a long drink and drug-fuelled party. The video for this put the band into MTV heavy rotation and all that came with that but…. it’s a great moment when the gears shift around the four minute mark.