52 Weeks of Music

The Beatles – Please Please Me

Posted in Uncategorized by Mark on March 9, 2009

I’m running a couple of weeks behind on this blog and it’s mostly because I haven’t been completely sure where to go next.

It’s tempting to look at a period of music as a watershed, but in reality music is constantly evolving – different areas may be regressing or stagnating while others leap forward. And often what seem to be great leaps are really incremental steps, a unique combination of influences or a uncommon talent taking things to that next level.

A few artists who first appeared in the late sixties have always stood out for me – they were giants who had a profound affect almost all the music I love from the decades since. This is my musical watershed and I’m kind of daunted by tackling it. I wanted to be sure I had all the pieces in place first. To look at it another way these posts are all part of one big story that I am writing one chapter at a time and once I’ve moved on from a chapter I can’t go back to edit, revise and fill in the blanks. I’ve been a little obsessed with setting the stage properly, introducing all the characters.

To make matters worse, for perverse reasons of my own, I’ve been trying  to avoid one particular character and haven’t been able to find a way to tell the story properly without them. But today I decided to give up, just include them in the story and move on. And so this week we have The Beatles…

Please Please Me was the Beatles debut album – recorded in a day when the single of the title track became a hit. It shows a group of solid musicians completely at home with their swag of tunes. The album is pure pop, but certainly not pulp – rich, complex harmonies, unexpected arrangements and loads of energy are apparent throughout. There is a depth here that goes way beyond the bubblegum lyrics and catchy hooks.

Allmusic Review

It’s no surprise that Lennon had shouted himself hoarse by the end of the session, barely getting through “Twist and Shout,” the most famous single take in rock history. He simply got caught up in the music, just like generations of listeners did.
allmusic ★★★★★


Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Posted in Uncategorized by Mark on February 24, 2009

Bob Dylan’s first, self-titled album contained only two original songs, the rest of the album was made up of covers of folk classics. The album only sold about 2500 copies and didn’t attract Dylan much popular success. It wasn’t until the release of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, in 1963 that Dylan really burst out of the Greenwich Village folk music scene and onto the national stage.


Bob’s folk music roots are still apparent throughout the album – however his approach, themes and attitude were already at the radical end of the genre. It’s not that folk music was a stranger to protest songs – it had long been rooted in life and hardships of the downtrodden – but somehow Dylan brought a new immediacy, a raw edge and a power. As one of the producers on this album, a young african american named Tom Wilson, put it:

I didn’t even particularly like folk music. I’d been recording Sun Ra and Coltrane…I thought folk music was for the dumb guys. [Dylan] played like the dumb guys, but then these words came out. I was flabbergasted.

The album was recorded across numerous sessions between April 1962 and April 1963. Dylan’s song writing abilities were improving so rapidly at the time that 20 odd songs recorded in these sessions were discarded as Dylan wrote new, better songs.

The songs themselves range from political protest songs of rare potency like “Master of War”, “Oxford Town” and “Hard Rain” to standards like “Corrina, Corrina” and “Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance” and passive-aggressive love ballads like “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”.

Many of the tunes are adaptations of traditional, folk and spiritual tunes, each with their own Bob Dylan twist – “Girl from the North Country” for instance is a unique take on “Scarborough Fair”. Like a true artist in his prime Dylan was begging, borrowing and stealing every bit of inspiration he came across and turning it to his purposes.

The most lasting artifact of the album, and purhaps Dylan’s entire career, is the opening song “Blowin’ in the Wind”. Shortly after Freewheelin’ was release Peter, Paul and Mary released a cover of the song which promptly rose to #2 on the Billboard charts and was a key factor in Dylan’s subsequent rise to prominence. The song comes in at #14 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

Allmusic Review

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, the record that firmly established Dylan as an unparalleled songwriter, one of considerable skill, imagination, and vision.
allmusic ★★★★★

Sample: http://blip.fm/profile/markstanton/blip/7097724

Chuck Berry – Chuck Berry Is On Top

Posted in Uncategorized by Mark on January 29, 2009

As the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame puts it “While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry comes the closest of any single figure to being the one who put all the essential pieces together.”

Chuck Berry was born in Missouri in 1926. By age 22 he’d spent several years in jail, got married and worked as a factory worker, janitor and beautician. In early 1953 he started playing with Johnnie Johnson’s Trio, covering Nat “King” Cole and Muddy Waters and mixing it up with some country or hillbilly songs.

“Listening to Nat Cole prompted me to sing sentimental songs with distinct diction,” said Berry. “The songs of Muddy Waters impelled me to deliver the down-home blues in the language they came from. When I played hillbilly songs, I stressed my diction so that it was harder and whiter. All in all, it was my intention to hold both the black and the white clientele by voicing the different kinds of songs in their customary tongues.”


In 1955 the band traveller to Chicago and Berry began stealing the limelight in his band with his outlandish showmanship.

Around this time Berry came to the attention of Muddy Waters who suggested he contact Leonard Chess of Chess Records, the label that Waters had recorded with throughout his career. Leonard was concerned about the decline in the popularity of Chicago blues and was beginning to look elsewhere for the next big thing.

Berry’s first track with Chess, “Maybellene” a reworking of a classic country & western hit, was released in August 1955. The song went to #5 and in doing so changed the course of music history.

The song was significant not just because its musical style hinted at the rock and roll that was to follow, but also because it signalled the start of “black” music gaining wide spread popularity with mainstream, young, white America.


Throughout the late 1950’s Berry continued to record with Chess with considerable success. This week’s album “Chuck Berry Is on Top“, Berry’s third album, was recorded at peak of his popularity in 1959.

During this period Berry’s band was made up for a number of blues legends and pioneers of the emerging rock and roll scene including Fred Below, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon and Johnnie Johnson. Their contribution to Berry’s success should not be discounted and the lack of credit passed on to them has been the subject of some dispute.

Beyond the catchiness of his tunes, much of Berry’s appeal lay in writing  lyrics that described the experience of being a teenager in the Fifties. As he put it “Everything I wrote about wasn’t about me, but about the people listening.” His broad popularity was at least in part because his music was truly of the time – girls, dances, riding in cars and getting in trouble at school are all regular themes.

The influence of this music is hard to overstate. The Ramones and the Beach Boys, not to mention half the top acts of the sixties and every Rockabilly band ever, are only a heartbeat away from these songs. It’s a fair bet that anyone who has played rock and roll learned these songs at some point and the list of people who have covered these songs ranges from David Bowie to NoFX, Queen to the Grateful Dead.

But while pioneering and influential, the album stands on it’s own above all as a fun collection of music. Enjoy!


Allmusic Review

While this may be merely a collection of singles and album ballast (as were most rock & roll LPs of the 1950s and early ’60s), it ends up being the most perfectly realized of Chuck Berry’s career.
allmusic ★★★★★

Sample: http://blip.fm/profile/markstanton/blip/7096481