After 1973’s uncharacteristically upbeat There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, Paul Simon’s next release was the enjoyable but inessential single live album Live Rhymin’ (1974). But his subsequent studio album stands among his very best work — an anthology of ten very different songs that nevertheless cohere around Simon’s underlying theme: a growing concern that, at the age of 34, he had passed his creative peak, couldn’t successfully settle in a relationship, and had tied himself into decisions that he might now make differently.
As I write this at age 46, Simon has just released Stranger to Stranger at age 74. The idea that he was once 34 seems impossibly distant; and the idea that he could have worried then about being past his prime nothing short of absurd. Yet that concern, treated in Simon’s distinctively whimsical and self-deprecatory manner, gave rise to a masterpiece.
It’s not like I haven’t tried. I’ve listened through The Times They Are A-Changing 1964) twice, John Wesley Harding (1967) twice, Bringing it All Back Home (1965) four times, Blood on the Tracks (1975) eight times, and Slow Train Coming (1979) maybe half a dozen times. So a decent selection of Dylan albums from most of his major periods, all given a real chance, and I have been waiting and waiting for the “Oooohhh … I get it” lightning to strike. It’s not happened, and after twenty opportunities I am beginning to despair that it ever will.
One week ago:
Dear Theresa May,
You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
Now, having seen the plan:
Dear Theresa May
You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
Here is my now-traditional top-ten list of the albums I’ve listened to the most in the previous calendar year. (See this list of previous entries.) Also in accordance with tradition, it’s ridiculously late.
I listen much more to whole albums than to individual tracks, so each year I pick the ten albums that I listened to the most (not counting compilations), as recorded on the two computers where I listen to most of my music. (So these counts don’t include listening in the car or on my phone.) I limit the selection to no more than one album per artist, and skip albums that have featured in previous years. Then from each of those ten objectively selected albums, I subjectively pick one song that I feel is representative.
The wretched summer of 2016 has not offered us much good news. But for me at least, that’s about to change. Next Saturday (16th July) is the 2016 Mitcheldean Folk Festival, and our prog-rock back Crooked End will be closing the show from 8:30 till 9pm.
Crooked End playing at the 2014 festival. Left to right: Fiona (flute, keyboards), Mike (guitar), Dan (drums), Mario (bass).
Sergeant Pepper or Revolver? Revolver or Sergeant Pepper? It’s so tempting just to say “both”, but I’ve only allowed myself ten slots in the Desert Island Albums series, and it would seem unfair to give 20% of all the space to a single band. [Previously: Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, Rainbow’s Rising and Blue Öyster Cult’s Fire of Unknown Origin.]
I’ve been vacillating between these to albums (with an occasional thought for Abbey Road) for some time. Now, with the death of George Martin, I’m pushed into actually writing this piece, and as it happens the dial is currently in the Pepper region. Continue reading
In this very occasional series, I am writing about the ten albums that I would take with me to a desert island. The idea is based on the long running BBC Radio series Desert Island Discs, of course; but I am giving myself entire albums rather than individual tracks, and I am having ten of them instead of the regulation eight. Hey, it’s my series, I can do what I want. [Previously: Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, and Rainbow’s Rising.]