Barbra Streisand & Kris Kristofferson - A Star Is Born: OST
We’d had the summer of ’76 when it felt like the sun would never stop shining and the pavements were melting. Some of our friends could sense something was going on in London but for most of us that would have to wait until 1977. Meanwhile as my birthday and Xmas approached in December 1976 a film was released that was so up our parents street it could very well have been made for them alone.
We grew up in a house where the soundtrack swung from Classical music to Reggae but mostly it was Jazz, the great Swing bands and singers (Sinatra, Crosby) and songs from the great musicals which is probably the first time I would have heard the incredible voice of Barbra Streisand.
When “A Star Is Born” was released I’m sure we all trooped off as a family to see it at the cinema and I gotta admit I was quite taken with it, but most of all I was captivated by Barbra Streisand’s voice. The whole film is worth watching and the soundtrack has some great songs in it. Kris Kristofferson’s “Watch Closely Now” & “Crippled Crow” are great examples of 70’s US FM rock.
As it’s just been re-made starring Lady Ga Ga it’s in the news again. But if Lady GaGa even gets close to Streisand’s imperious vocal on the closing medley of “With One More Look At You/Watch Closely Now” on any of the new films soundtrack then she’ll have worked miracles. This one performance can bring a lump to my throat just by thinking about it. Give it a go, it might just surprise you…
Jeff Wayne’s War Of The World’s
I am absolutely sure the first thing I heard from this album would have been Justin Heywards “Forever Autumn”…and it’s fecking awful. The sort of drippy hippy ballad that I take an instant dislike to.
I’ve no idea when or why I heard the whole thing as the very premise of it would have put me off in those Punk Rock days of 1978 when it was released. It’s an opera, It’s basically Prog Rock, it features David bloody Essex for sanity’s sake ! I suspect my schoolfriend Andy Barnett would have had something to do with me hearing it in full, it was definitely him that was responsible for my love of Queen’s album “News Of The World”, and honsestly, I thank him for that cos I love it.
I don’t think I’ve ever played it when anyone else is around, it’s something I don’t think I would suffer on anyone else, it’s just for me. But Richard Burton’s voice is quite soothing, I love the repeating themes and whichever genius decided to cast Phil Lynott as a crazed priest deserves much kudos, Julie Covington as his desperate wife trying to calm him down knowing he is disappearing into some psychosis deserves much praise.
It’s got some bloody good songs in it too, “Thunder Child” and “Brave New World” in particular. Ridicule away, I’m over it…
The Carpenters - The Singles 1969-73 (Another one I should probably blame my parents for…)
There are certain records that, when you are buying collections of records, turn up all the time. These are records that obviously sold in vast numbers and were incredibly popular at the time. But honestly, I don’t care if I never again see a copy of anything by Rod Stewart after 1973 (particularly “Atlantic Crossing”), Anything by Elton John after 1976, Roxy Music “Flesh + Blood”, Sting’s “The Dream Of Blue Turtles”, Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” or anything by Sky…AT ALL ! Copy after copy of these things turn up, even in collections where the rest of it is generally cool stuff. Usually they go straight in the £2 bin to give us any chance of getting rid of them. But one doesn’t…
The Carpenters Singles 1969-1973 is worth 3 of anyone’s finest English pounds…We’ve Only Just Begun, Yesterday Once More, Hurting Each Other, Close To You, the quite wonderful Goodbye to Love and the sometimes overlooked Superstar.
They had a way when it came to interpreting a song, Richard was no slouch as a songwriter and Karen’s voice was as smooth as silk. Stop sniggering at the back…
Dire Straits - Romeo And Juliet
My interest in Dire Straits really should have ended at “Sultans Of Swing”, once we found out they weren’t some New Wave band from London but a bunch of guitar-noodlers of the “old school” reaching out from somewhere betwixt Eric Claptout and the other late 60’s “Blues Rock” types.
But a few years after, I heard a gently twanging guitar introduce the opening line:
“A lovestruck Romeo sings a street-suss seranade…”
If Springsteen had opened a song with a line like that you wouldn’t be surprised and you’d be looking forward to a classic. But it was Dire Straits so the lyrical content didn’t quite adhere to that stellar opening line. But it’s a helluva tune and over the years I’ve come to commit to memory every lyric.
There’s a great “bit” where Mr Knopfler sings the line “All I do is keep the beat…and bad company” and he clicks his fingers after it, very much off the beat! I remember being very impressed with myself when I managed to get the finger click in the right place finally.
Oh, and the single is 6 minutes long ! (they’ll never play it on the radio…)
I wouldn’t give you tuppence for anything else Dire Straits have done, it always strikes me as the kind of music created to show off how proficient you are with your instrument rather than for the purpose of writing great songs, but if we apply the adage that “everyone has got one in ‘em” (two if you factor in “Sultans Of Swing”), here’s theirs.
All Saints - Pure Shores
I couldn’t tell you anything else All Saints have done. Apart from somehow knowing one of them was once involved with a Gallagher brother (may still be for all I know) I couldn’t tell you anything about them. I am no fan of the film in which this song most famously features either so that’s not an influencing factor, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen said film, and I’m actually surprised to find out that one of the band members was a co-writer along with producer William Orbit.
It just so happens that every time I hear this record I have to stop whatever I’m doing and listen. The vocal arrangement on the chorus is incredible. It’s a perfect piece of pop music. I also have a very stripped back cover version of it by a combo called the Cock ’n’ Bull Kid which stands up well.
Pack up yer prejudices and give it a try…it might just surprise you…
Merle Haggard - Down Every Road
This is a bit of a cheat as “Down Every Road” is not really an album but a 4-CD career spanning box set. And I’m using Merle as a bit of a place marker for my long held appreciation of Country music. You may notice I say Country music and not Country & Western, the two things are quite different to my ears, Country being a natural extension of a myriad of American Folk music styles whereas Country & Western is some kind of garish “pop” music churned out by the Nashville production line.
Merle is one of what is known as the Outlaw Country singers, alongside Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, and a leading light of what is known as the Bakersfield Sound, Country music from California made as a reaction against the sickly productions coming out of Nashville in the ’50’s. Merle is also a songwriter of great prowess and, to me at times, great confusion.
His best known songs would be things like “Okie from Muskogee”, “I Take a Lot of Pride In What I Am” and “The Fightin' Side of Me” which if you read the lyrics of the latter song could pretty much be Donald Trump’s manifesto ! I’d like to think Merle was being ironic but I’m not so sure.
But then he’s capable of writing songs like “Irma Jackson” (the tale of a white man in love with a black woman and the prejudice they encounter as a result), “I’ll Be A Hero When I Strike” and the quite beautiful “Today I Started Loving You Again” which has been covered by many a Soul singer (check out Bettye Swann’s wonderful version).
So there’s the confusion…as there is with a lot of Country music but if you dig around you’ll find music by Merle and Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons that might just change your whole view of what Country music is…