Song of the Day, December 23: Walking Through A Wasted Land by Richard Thompson

rtcrowdedwastedToday’s song is a standout from the album that launched the third phase of Richard Thompson’s career. He left Fairport Convention — a band he helped found — after five albums, moving on to an early solo disc and a series of recordings with his wife, Linda. As their marriage disintegrated, he went solo again for a couple of indie releases.

In 1985, he signed with Polydor and recorded Across A Crowded Room with old friend Joe Boyd producing. It’s a great set that finds him leading a smart band with new confidence. One of the finest moments is the snarling rebuke of Thatcher’s Britain, Walking Through A Wasted Land.

Thompson turns his trademark lyrical smarts toward greed and corruption. He leads the band with one of his finest vocals and a wonderful guitar line. Rollicking horns and energetic backing vocals from Gregson and Collister keep the track moving.

Enjoy this delightful song today.

Album of the Week, March 27: Robert’s Desert Island Discs

RBHSJDIDBadgeToday’s entry is something a little different. As I was looking over the almost 200 albums I have featured over the years, I asked myself the question that drives the famous BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs: If I were stranded on an island, which discs would I be sure to have with me?

The task proved more daunting than I imagined, so I established a few guidelines and started over. These parameters made the selection a little bit easier.

  1. Original, legitimate releases only: no bootlegs, re-issues with bonus tracks, or any other chicanery to pad the offerings.
  2. Enjoy every track: If this is all I ever get to listen to, it had better be great. A perfect test case is Rubber Soul: it’s an unquestionably brilliant album, but if I had to listen to Michelle or Girl more than once a month, I’d throw myself into the shark-infested waters.
  3. Balance, balance, balance: I tried to embrace the breadth of my tastes and represent a good cross-section of the artists I love.
  4. When in doubt, favorite artists win: My collection includes several acts represented by one great album. In order to represent the artists whose whole catalogs I appreciate, I dropped the one-only artists. That included the hard decisions to eliminate Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, London Calling, Rumours, Blood On the Tracks, and I Am A Bird Now.
  5. Greatest hits: I pondered banning these as a corallary to rule 1, but decided to take them on their own merits. As it turns out, I didn’t wind up with any of these on the list, although I looked closely at a couple. In the end, rule 2 trumped them.

I set my album allowance at 13. Why that number? I could say that it represents the bad luck of being stranded on a desert island, but honestly trying to get to eight — the BBC number — was maddening. My list, my rules, so if this Gilligan-adjacent experience includes a weatherproof sound system, it has room for 13 discs.

Without further ado, here they are, in the order in which I finalized their placement on the list.

Richard & Linda ThompsonShoot out the LightsHIGH RESOLUTION COVER ARTShoot Out the Lights (1982, Hannibal) Richard & Linda Thompson
Surprising no-one, I’m sure, this was my first choice — brilliant lyrics, stellar playing, solid band, two of my favorite artists on one disc. Harrowing but hopeful, it captures the human spirit better than anything else for me. Linda delivers some of her best vocals and Richard some of his finest solos. If I had to pick 25 songs to take to the island (please, no!), at least four of them would be from this album.

DifferentKindofLoveSongA Different Kind of Love Song (1983, Appleseed) Dick Gaughan
Another easy choice for me, with some of the best protest music ever written. Gaughan is in fine voice and his guitar work is impeccable. It’s a collection of often dark songs with a shining heart beating at its core. The title track sums things up brilliantly, and inspired me to write an essay for Michael’s blog on the importance of looking at the darkness if we want to get to the light.

AbyssiniansAbyssinians (1983, Topic) June Tabor
June Tabor had to be on the list, but picking the album was tricky. This is my favorite by a narrow margin, and includes a stunning cover of a Waterson song, so it won the day. As Elvis Costello has famously observed, if listening to June Tabor’s voice doesn’t move you, give up music. (Bonus fact: She has worked as a librarian and restaurateur, so she covers the bases of my passions nicely…)

Robyn_Hitchcock_-_I_Often_Dream_Of_TrainsI Often Dream of Trains (1984, Hannibal) Robyn Hitchcock
Another artist I had to have on the island, but a tougher choice. The Soft Boys’ Underwater Moonlight and the Egyptians’ Element of Light are co-equal with this disc for me. It came down to the essence of the album. The spare setting of Trains lets Robyn shine through in all his eccentric glory.

LastWordThe Last Word (1992, RNA) Gregson & Collister
Another nice package, with two of my favorites on one album, both at the height of their powers. Clive Gregson’s observations about life and love are timeless, and this set includes a couple of tracks written with Boo Hewerdine, another favorite. Christine Collister has a wonderful voice that sometimes gets over-emphasized on her solo discs. Here, the production is flawless.

MitchellC&SCourt and Spark (1974, Asylum) Joni Mitchell
One of the few commercial successes on my list, it’s a little jazz, a little pop, a little folk, all tied together by the singular talents of Joni Mitchell. It also features her finest vocals, not as airy and bright as her earlier work and not as Cohen-adjacent as her later. All of that, and songs about David Geffen and James Taylor! What could be finer?

Til_Tuesday-Everythings_Different_NowEverything’s Different Now (1988, Epic) ’til tuesday
A sentimental favorite, this is an album I play when I’m feeling lost. It’s a powerful look at relationships and how they go wrong — and right. It landed at just the right time for me, providing insight and outlet as I worked through my own issues. Aimee Mann found her lyrical voice, presaging her later solo work. The band is crisp and smart, lending power to the songs. This is as close to flawless as 80s pop gets.

yaz-you_and_me_bothYou and Me Both (1983, Sire) Yaz(oo)
Speaking of 80s pop… A quick look at my Songs of the Day reveals my fondness for the music of my teen years. As I’ve aged, my favorites tend to be the more obscure music, especially synth-pop and smart dance tracks. Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke perfected both. Their brief collaboration as Yazoo (Yaz in the States) turned out two fine albums. This is the better of the pair by a safe margin. Creative synth work, good lyrics, and Alison Moyet’s rich, wonderful voice — magnificent!

FogelbergInnocentThe Innocent Age (1981, Full Moon / Epic) Dan Fogelberg
Not quite the first album I ever bought — an honor that goes to Helen Reddy’s Long Hard Climb — I consider this the launch of my serious music collecting. It’s also a great collection of songs, singer-songwriter magic at its most compelling. Fogelberg gets pigeonholed as an AC balladeer, but his songs could rock, jig, or soar as well. This beautiful song cycle, created as a cradle-to-grave series, shows off all his talents to great effect. A sentimental and musical favorite, packed with hits.

watersonlOnceinaOnce In A Blue Moon (1996, Topic) Lal Waterson & Oliver Knight
The only reason the extended Waterson family shows up this late is that it was nearly impossible to pick one album. While a stay on Waterson:Carthy island would be delightful, Rule 3 demanded a choice. In the end, a dash of Rule 2 combined with the fact that Lal Waterson is one of my favorite songwriters ruled the day. A brilliant set of songs told in her distinctive style with sympathetic support from her talented son, it’s one of the rare albums that I’ll sometimes put on repeat. As an added bonus, Some Old Salty wraps up the album with a good old family sing-along, sneaking some talented relatives onto the island. Family runners-up included Martin Carthy, Bright Phoebus, Norma Waterson, and Red Rice.

Fairport_Convention-Liege_&_Lief_(album_cover)Liege & Lief (1969, A&M) Fairport Convention
Another tough choice. Fairport belonged on the list (although the Richard Thompson double-dip almost got them cut), and What We Did On Our Holidays is my favorite of their albums. This is a close second, however, and Rule 3 brought it home. A pioneering disc, creating the trad-rock genre, it shows the band at the peak of their powers and adds more traditional British music to my island mix.

FearingIndLulIndustrial Lullaby (1997, True North) Stephen Fearing
Another Rule 3 decision, made with great difficulty. I encountered three very different modern folk talents in the same year (1993) and they form a musical trinity for me. Stephen Fearing, Patty Larkin, and Ellis Paul have unique voices but could easily share a stage. (I’d pay to see that!) Since they weren’t here to play rock-paper-scissors, the decision came down to the sheer poetry — lyrical and musical — of Fearing’s album and its astounding cohesion.

TriffidsCalentureCalenture (1987, Island) The Triffids
I had five albums left on my list, and the Triffids dark masterpiece won the final spot. This album is the least like anything else on the list (with Yaz coming in a close second), a strong rock sound with a uniquely West Australian perspective. Urgent and compelling from start to finish, it’s one of the strongest Rule 2 albums in my collection. It didn’t hurt that the title refers to hallucinations caused by too much time at sea.

There you have it, my island playlist is complete. Before I close, I’d like to acknowledge the many amazing artists that bring me musical joy who stayed safely on dry land: The Bats, Peter Blegvad, Nick Drake, the Finn Brothers in all their incarnations, Jethro Tull, the extended McGarrigle – Wainwright family, Stephin Merritt and his many projects, Oysterband, R.E.M., Spirit of the West, those mentioned above, and many more. I’m VERY glad that I don’t have to make this choice as anything but an interesting exercise.

Finally, a note of farewell to my Album of the Week feature. I truly enjoy writing these pieces — and there are certainly more albums to explore — but the limits of my time, collection, and budget demand closure. It seemed fitting that I bookend the regular features with two Richard & Linda Thompson albums and close out these posts as my Jukebox celebrates its fifth anniversary. I will continue my Song of the Day every weekday and Saturday Time Capsules; I may also add an album now and then as inspiration strikes.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the music of my island is calling…

Song of the Day, March 2: How Weak I Am by Gregson and Collister

G&CChangeWeakToday’s song is a brilliant collaboration. Clive Gregson and Christine Collister met while working in the Richard Thompson band. They had instant chemistry, and began working as a duo. After a charming live album and a solid studio debut, they hit their stride with A Change In the Weather, a sterling disc that shows off their individual and collaborative talents. The centerpiece is the Gregson-penned How Weak I Am. A dark ballad of loss and surrender, it’s a perfect fit for Collister’s amazing voice. Gregson opts for spare production, allowing the singer to own the proceedings. It’s a smart decision, and the deep, torchy feel is just the right well for the despair of the song.

Enjoy this amazing track today.

Song of the Day, November 26: Romance by Any Trouble

AnyTroubleRomanceToday’s song is Romance from Any Trouble’s amazing debut Where Are All the Nice Girls? Clive Gregson and company created one of the finest post-punk dissections of emotional gambits, and this is one of the highlights. Over a propulsive beat, Gregson looks at the rituals of romance questioning both their effectiveness and sincerity. With all the effort to be cool and present the perfect facade, where is the honest needed to make a real go of things? He implicates himself with bracing honesty:

Love’s the only promise I could never keep.

It’s a smart package, saved from sheer bitterness by the real sense of humanity that holds the song together. Enjoy this smart bit of cynicism today.

Song of the Day, August 13: Always Better With You by Gregson and Collister

G&CStrangeBetterToday’s song is a fascinating cover version. Paul Carrack is best known as the Man with the Golden Voice, an amazing blue-eyed soul singer who has recorded with a wide array of bands. His vocals have graced hits by Ace, Squeeze, and Mike + the Mechanics. He’s also a talented keyboard player and songwriter.

Guitarist and singer Clive Gregson is a talented musician and songwriter; vocalist Christine Collister has an astonishing vocal power, range, and control. Their decade-long partnership featured many wonderful songs, usually written by Gregson. For their fourth album, Love Is A Strange Hotel, however, they picked twelve songs by other artists to cover. It works well, with their obvious passion for the material shining through.

The highlight is Always Better With You, a Carrack original from his 1982 solo album Suburban Voodoo. It’s a delightful celebration of love, originally realized as a smart New Wave track. Gregson & Collister folk it up, with a simple acoustic base that allows their sunny duet vocal to shine. It’s a perfect marriage of song and style, breathing new life into a good tune.

Enjoy this fun song today.

Album of the Week, June 21: Where Are All the Nice Girls by Any Trouble

Any TroubleAny Trouble formed in Crewe, England in the late 70s, initially working as a covers band in local pubs. When their vocalist left, guitarist Clive Gregson took charge, assuming vocal duties and writing original songs for the group. With the amazing Phil Barnes providing a propulsive bass line, drummer Mel Harley keeping things nicely on track and guitarist Chris Parks rounding out the tight-knit sound, the group began to get noticed. Gregson — a bespectacled singer who wrote wry songs — was plagued by Elvis Costello comparisons. While there were similarities, his view of romance was more similar to that of Joe Jackson. As a bandleader, he could also be compared to Graham Parker, whose band the Rumour were second to none on the pub circuit. Gregson and Any Trouble were very much their own band, however, crafting energetic pub-punk songs with wistful observations and smart lyrics, usually pounded out fast and melodically. Signing to Stiff records (which fueled  the Costello comparisons), the quartet released a debut album that stands up proudly in the company of its peers.

Title Where Are All the Nice Girls
Act Any Trouble
Label Stiff Release Date 1980
Producer John Wood
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. Second Choice
  2. Playing Bogart
  3. Foolish Pride
  4. Nice Girls
  5. Turning Up the Heat
  6. Romance
  7. The Hurt
  8. Girls Are Always Right
  9. Honolulu
  10. (Get You Off) The Hook

The band blast out of the gate with Second Choice. Bitter but restrained, it’s a flawless song of romantic resignation. Gregson’s vocals are amazing and the band crank out the music with power and passion. It’s an amazing single and one of the finest moments in Gregson’s long career. Somehow he manages to up the ante on track two. Playing Bogart is a magnificent song of hope against hope, a look at the “dreaded singles game”. Trying to be tough and tender like the title character, the singer notes that if if fails, “you’re better on your own.” The images are sharp and clear, the music is smart, and the vocal is aching with just the right edge of hope.

After that powerful one-two punch, the band keep up the energy. Foolish Pride moves the onus from circumstance and bad romance to the actions of the central character. It’s a good conceit that enriches the lyrical territory of the album nicely. Nice Girls is a slow song, a meditation on the challenges of idealizing romantic partners. What is an ideal? What makes a “nice girl”? What do we really want, and will it lead to happiness? A thoughtful analysis, it changes the pace but maintains the lyrical integrity while showing off the band at a different tempo.

Side one wraps up with Turning Up the Heat, an energetic number that looks at the mating rituals of the urban male. It’s a fun song that scorches by. Side two picks up with almost as much power as side one, with Romance wondering just how well those rituals pay off. It’s rare that a pub band singer would acknowledge that he cries himself to sleep, and Gregson makes it work as the bravado crumbles.

The Hurt picks up where Romance leaves off. It’s a solid song, continuing the album’s narrative and energy well. Girls Are Always Right features great harmony vocals and reads a bit like a Four Seasons look at life. Spiced up with a dash of irony, it’s a great number that changes the pace again. Honolulu is the disc’s lone throwaway, a fine bit of fantasy that continues the narrative but doesn’t stand out musically.

Things wrap up on another high note, however. (Get You Off) The Hook features a wink-and-a-nod title and a breakneck delivery. Collecting all the lessons learned in the previous songs, Gregson and company decide to make the best of things and find a good romance rather than a perfect one. Ten songs fly by, each building on the other and showing off a fun, amazing band. Where Are All the Nice Girls? is a nearly perfect song cycle and a should-have been hit that ranks among the finest hidden gems of the end of the punk era.

ALTERNATE TRACKS: When released in the US, the album featured a different set of songs. Re-releases and a long-delayed CD release created even more versions of the disc. Honolulu was frequently dropped, while two covers and two stunning originals showed up on various versions. The US vinyl version featured a great live cover of ABBA’s Name of the Game, with the band making the song truly their own; for licensing reasons, it has not appeared on any later version. They also recorded a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Growing Up as a b-side. It’s another smart choice that works well and fits onto the album. The definitive release opens with Yesterday’s Love, the band’s first single. While it isn’t as powerful as Second Choice, it’s a great song and works as a prequel to the proceedings. Another b-side, No Idea, is one of Gregson’s best early lyrics and a wonderful fit for the disc.

FURTHER LISTENING: Any Trouble recorded three more albums with minor lineup changes and a couple of long breaks during which Gregson recorded demos and pondered ending the group. Wheels In Motion is a very good album that suffers only by comparison to the debut. Any Trouble is a spotty album with moments of true brilliance and one of Gregson’s finest ballads, Touch and Go. Wrong End of the Race loses steam, offering a mixed bag of songs including a couple of needlessly reworked tracks. If you like Clive Gregson, all four are fine releases. Gregson recorded a solo album, joined Richard Thompson’s band, and had a long career with Christine Collister. When they called it quits in 1992, he began a long, quiet solo career, continuing his sharp observations and wonderful singing.

Song of the Day, May 20: Comfort and Joy by Clive Gregson

GregsonC&JAfter splitting with musical partner Christine Collister in 1992, Clive Gregson began a proper solo career. A decade later, he had hit a nice groove — never a rut — with simple, lovely songs that he wrote and produced himself, typically playing all the instruments. His warm voice and keen eye for detail, combined with his compassionate but realistic sense of the perils of modern love and life, resulted in great sets of songs each time out.

2002’s Comfort and Joy is one of his finest, and its title track is a standout in his long career. Opening with a sly nod to the lyrics of Matty Groves, it’s a bittersweet look at neglected lives and quiet regrets. His characters are sad but never tragic, and his delivery somehow makes the title seem hopeful and faintly possible rather than just ironic. It’s a wonderful construction, beautifully sung, by a master of understated music.

Enjoy this glorious little song today.

Song of the Day, November 25: All the Time In the World by Gregson and Collister

G&CH&ATimeToday’s song is All the Time In the World. As Clive Gregson’s band, Any Trouble, was breaking up, he heard Christine Collister singing in a local pub. Entranced with her powerful voice, he offered to work with her on future projects. As it happened, Richard Thompson was looking for an additional vocalist for his live band, which included Gregson on rhythm guitar and backing vocals. The pair became a regular part of the Richard Thompson Band on tour and in the studio for a few years. They also began working on their own projects, starting with a Gregson solo disc.

Their live shows were well-regarded acoustic outings. They captured the spirit of these shows on a tape that they sold at concerts. It sold so well that it became their first formal album together, sold as Home and Away, a mix of originals, covers, and old Any Trouble tracks. One of the standouts is All the Time In the World. A quiet, sad tale of domestic abuse, it shows off Gregson’s delicate guitar work and the magical union of their voices.

Enjoy this sad but beautiful song today.

Song of the Day, August 28: You Don’t Say by Richard Thompson

ThompsonBandYDSayToday’s song is You Don’t Say. Richard Thompson wrote it for his 1985 return to the major labels, the excellent PolyGram release Across A Crowded Room. The album is filled with tales of broken relationships and a determination to move on. This track is no exception, with Thompson responding to tales and gossip about an ex with a biting

Do you mean she still cares?
Oh you don’t say.

The female lead is taken by the amazing Christine Collister, who makes the lines her own; rhythm guitarist Clive Gregson provides strong harmonies. The pair became regular fixtures in the touring Richard Thompson Band for a few years launching their own career as a potent folk-pop duo at the same time.

The studio version is quite nice, but the live version released with the tour video is outstanding. Gregson and Collister’s vocals are moved up in the mix where they belong, Thompson’s growing confidence as a solo vocalist is evident, and the guitar solos have just the right vicious energy.

Enjoy this terrific live treat today.

Song of the Day, June 4: I Shake by Gregson and Collister

G&CShakeToday’s song is I Shake another standout track from Gregson & Collister’s brilliant final album, The Last Word. Written by Gregson and frequent collaborator Boo Hewerdine, it’s a potent song of frustration and determination. As an added bonus, it may be the only song to convincingly use the word “wheelbarrow” in its lyrics, something Gregson delightedly notes when introducing the song at live shows. The duo are in fine voice, moving through the powerful, painful lyrics with compelling urgency.

Enjoy this great song today.

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