LEAD BELLY TAKES MY FIRST ALBUM CHART HONOURS. The 51 year old folk singer with a chequered past sits proudly in 1939 with a great album to his name; the first of two that he would record for the Musicraft label out of New York.
ENTER STAGE LEFT, WOODY GUTHRIE. It's a rather sparsely populated chart. Ok, there’s only Woody Guthrie. But I’m pretty sure he’d still be No.1 if I owned every album that was ever released in 1940.
THE YEAR OF THE ALMANACS. Pictured are 4 of The Almanac Singers in 1941. L-R: Woody Gurthrie, Lee Hays, Millard Lampell and Pete Seeger.
FARE THEE WELL ALMANACS. Having been filed under “Gramophone Records of a Seditious Nature” by the F.B.I., America’s, ahem, “public enemy no.1” had one last glorious hurrah before succumbing to the hostile press and calling it quits for the Almanac Singers brand.
TALKIN’ REVOLUTION. Pete Seeger is pictured here on the 2nd February 1944 leading the crowd in “When We March into Berlin”.
BLOW THEM FASCISTS ALL TO HELL. With musician bans and wartime restrictions on Shellac really kicking in, the number of albums being produced was in decline, and small Indies like Asch were feeling the pinch more than anyone.
MASSACRED CITIZENS REMEMBERED. Pictured are children of striking miners who had been at a party; The Christmas Eve Calumet massacre, 1913.
SONGS FOR ‘LIL CATHY, AGE 3½. Pictured in 1943 on the streets of NYC is Woody Guthrie and his amazing machine - when it wasn't busy killing fascists it was put to good use by entertaining children.
THE END OF AN ERA. The era of the 78 album sets was just about to come to a dramatic and sudden end, and this coincided with the last year in which Woody Guthrie was productive in the grown ups album market. It was a busy year for the artist, pictured here in a March session for CBS Radio. He issued two album sets in ’47 – and there really should have been a third, but, alas, his January recordings which came to be known as “Ballads Of Sacco And Vanzetti” were mysteriously (and criminally) shelved until we were well into the LP era some 13 years later.
THE DAWNING OF THE LP ERA. For the first time ever, the United States were not represented at the top of my album chart. But there was a much bigger story than THAT going on…
THE GREAT ALBUM SPEED WAR OF 1949. The flag of France flies at the top of my album chart for the second year running - her most beloved export was winning hearts and minds across the Atlantic. Meanwhile, for album fans in general, there was one major talking point in 1949 - the great speed war between the industry giants, Columbia and RCA!
LA MÔME PIAF EST NUMÉRO UN. The littlest rebel tops my album chart for the third year running – Columbia were making the most of the market appetite for their new microgroove LPs, and there was a great deal of material from the late 40s from which to compile song selections from the popular Miss Piaf.
HANK'S EX-JUKEBOX CUTS MAKE UP DEBUT ALBUM. By 1951, the LP still had a long road to travel as it strove to find its place as the foremost outlet for an artists recorded works.
TRAD FOLK REVIVAL PROPELLED. Despite the insane cold-war paranoia of the period, the “lefties” associated with the folk music scene continued to build strong underground roots, defying blatant media blackouts and discrimination.
HANK LIVES ON. A little boy lost his Daddy at the start of the year – and country music lost one of its greatest stars. Hank Jr. was watching and learning from an early age – he was destined to keep the family name alive well into the 21st century. His Daddy would’ve been proud.
BONJOUR DE BELGIQUE. It’s an indisputable fact that the United States dominated the album releases from the 1930s to the 1950s but there were one or two exceptional talents who made sure there was some sort of European representation on the world stage – at least retrospectively if not immediately apparent at the time. Brussels-born Jacques Brel was one such talent and the confident debut from the 25 year old singer-songwriter is the stand out for 1954, according to Rebel sensibilities.
ONE EYED CAT PEEPIN' IN A SEAFOOD STORE HITS POP CHARTS!. Ken Nordine’s disorientating tale of an unbelievable friendship takes top spot in this sparsely populated chart, but the headline story is provided by the band who, in July, 1955, broke new ground by taking a Rock n Roll song – “Rock Around the Clock” – all the way to No.1 in the pop charts.
FATS RULES THE ROOST. With his first three LPs all making my Top 5 for 1956, there's little doubt as to my top dog in this years album chart. Pictured in November 1956, the great man looks quite pleased with himself.
THE FIRST ALBUM MASTERPIECE. In the world of the Jukebox Rebel, diminished fifths and compound augmented fourths do not a masterpiece album make. Soul, passion, attitude, character, awesome songs, no filler – that’s what I’m talking about. Woody Guthrie got very close away back in 1940 but, for me, it’s Little Richard who delivers the first masterpiece album – and they’re about as rare as hen’s teeth.
AMERICAN ROCK n ROLL DOMINATES. Bo Diddley's new Rock n Roll beat finally comes to the album market; so good that even the mighty Little Richard must take second best this year.
IVOR CUTLER - THE EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD. Art Rupe squeezes out another Little Richard album set from the Specialty vaults – it’s effortlessly album of the year. I can’t help but wonder though – what would the King of Rock n Roll have delivered had he not prematurely abdicated his throne in 1957? The Howlin’ Wolf, a visceral force of nature, finally gets his name on an album as Chess slowly and surely continue to expand their long-play catalogue.
ELMORE JAMES IMMORTALIZED ON LP. “I believe my time ain’t long” sang Elmore James on “Dust My Blues”, the top track from my album of the year. From his mid 20s he had known that he had a serious heart condition. Thankfully, the Bihari brothers with their Crown label had the good sense to make sure that there was at least one LP issued in the man’s lifetime, issued this year when he was 42; he would die young from a heart attack just 3 years later. It’s a real classic set, comprised of single sides from 5 years earlier.
WORLD ACCLAIM FOR THE BIG O. The seismic musical shift from the 1950s to the 1960s was never more perfectly encapsulated than with the work of Roy Orbison, as those wide-eyed 12 bar shooby-doo-wops gave way to something altogether more elegiac, melodramatic and sophisticated. Pop music was growing up right before your eyes. Producers everywhere were experimenting with new techniques and ideas – the close-mike vocals and the lush pop strings of the “Nashville Sound”, showcased this year in the albums of both Roy Orbison and Patsty Cline, was one shining example of innovative studios at work.
RESPECT. Hey hey Woody Guthrie I wrote you a song, ‘bout a funny old world that's a-coming along, seems sick and it's hungry, it's tired and it's torn, and it looks like it's a-dying and it's hardly been born
AN EARTHQUAKE IS ERUPTING. Just last year, American artists accounted for the entirety of my Top 30 “A-list” albums chart.
DYLAN & THOMAS RESIST THE ENGLISH INVASION. At long last there was a credible alternative force in the album’s world, as the young English beat groups, teenage fans themselves several years earlier, paid homage to the American Rock n Roll scene.
ELECTRIC DYLAN STILL BOSS HOSS. Despite some rumblings of discontent from certain quarters within the Folk fraternity, Bob Dylan’s shift to electric elevated his work to yet a new level of greatness. As if wary of a new puritan revolt, “Bringing It All Back Home” (March) started the process gently with an electric / acoustic compromise, before “Highway 61 Revisited” (August) maxed out. Quite frankly, anyone who didn’t dig “Like A Rolling Stone” must have been tasteless beyond comprehension.
A PROGRESSIVE YEAR FOR MUSIC - AND THE FIRST DOUBLE ALBUMS IN “ROCK”. “We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity” ~ John Lennon, London Evening Standard, 4 March 1966.
THE VELVET REVOLUTION. “Things were wonderful in the 60's, because it was an era of intense experimentation. Everyone was trying to out-hip each other” ~ Paul Rothchild
WALDO JEFFERS R.I.P.. Mindless, pointless death was everywhere in 1968, from Vietnam to Martin Luther King to Waldo Jeffers. Was there any sane sanctuary? Transcendental Meditation in Rishikesh anyone?
REJOICE – WE’RE ON THE MOON!. Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, The Velvet Underground and The Stooges might have nudged ahead of them in my album chart of this year, but Silver Apples have the greatest Rock n Roll story to tell in 1969.
NICO'S ARTISTRY SKY-HIGH. Andy Warhol’s so-called “pop girl of ‘66” seemed like a dim and distant memory by the dawn of the 70s. Nico, a nomadic citizen of the globe, was back on European soil, and was, at this stage, a creative tour-de-force – in 1970 yet another fruitful association with John Cale easily set her apart as the world’s most intense and compelling artist from the alternative music scene. From the European avant-garde, she has cosmopolitan spirits this year in Köln's trance-rockers The Can, as well as Brittany's Brigitte Fontaine who unleashed the astonishing and wholly unique “Comme À La Radio” unto the world.
THEY WERE ONLY 27. Following the recent tragic losses of Brian Jones, Al Wilson, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison becomes the latest in a freakish line of 27 year-olds to suffer deaths by mis-adventure, all being linked to some sort of substance abuse. Just 10 weeks had passed since the release of “L.A. Woman” when he was found dead in July, in his new Parisian apartment by his girlfriend, Pamela Courson. What was it with these young people? Playing dice with your life through hard drugs – it doesn’t get much un-cooler than that.
BEEFHEART’S GONNA MAGNETIZE YA. He don’t care who ya are or what size ya are, he gonna magnetize ya.
THE RISE AND RISE OF JA MUSIC. Pictured at the BBC in May ’73 are (L to R): Earl Lindo, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, Carlton Barrett (hidden), Bunny Wailer and Aston Barrett. The Jamaican recording industry had come a long way since it all started barely 20 years before, however, many of the key artists were still battling to break down that final barrier; namely to win recognition and gain credibility for Reggae as a serious art form in the World’s consciousness. Neither Mento, Ska, Rocksteady nor, thus far, Reggae had managed to break through amongst the taste-making critics, and thus the album markets, of the western world. Some insular Jamaicans would rather it stayed that way too – but not your Jimmy Cliffs, your Toots Hibberts, your Ken Boothes or your Bob Marleys. They were out to push Jamaican music on to the next level, and were looking to win over those chin-stroking journalists that were oh so influential in the UK and the USA. The Wailers were at the forefront of the offensive from the island, and both of their 1973 long-players were available on an international basis, in a professionally co-ordinated fashion. They toured incessantly at this time and in ’73, they played in New York alongside Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and opened for Sly and the Family Stone in Las Vegas. Nyabinghi drums and chants echoed around college campuses on both sides of the Atlantic. With the Wailers on their very doorstep, the critics sat up and took notice – the rock world could no longer ignore this irresistible force.
THE LION OF SOWETO ROARS. Small in stature, but a giant in the townships, it’s the great Mahlathini who rules the roost in my album chart of the year. By this stage, South Africa’s mbaqanga king is revelling in his new home at Satbel, and the glorious hits are flooding out, hard and fast. Apartheid effectively dictates that the world is oblivious to this phenomenon.
DO YOU KNOW HOW TO PONY, LIKE BONY MORONIE?. Thanks to folks like Patti Smith, the true teen spirit of rock n roll was still chipping away at the god-awful rock mainstream of the early to mid-70s.
SAVIOURS: JOHNNY • TOMMY • JOEY • DEE DEE. It's 1976 and the Ramones are GO on the albums front, generating steam heat, pulsating to the back beat. In Britain, the Sex Pistols have released their explosive debut single, declaring themselves to be the anti-christ, they are here to destroy Eagles and overthrow Queen. This is a two-pronged attack from both sides of the Atlantic. The explosion may only be underground, but this is THEE big bang. Scenes and ‘zines burst into life all over the western world; the D.I.Y. ethics of which will continue to reverberate into the next century. As well as Ramones, the New York scene is represented by fine long-players from the Patti Smith Group and Blondie. From Massachusetts, Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers deliver their long-awaited debut LP - it was a case of waiting four years and two coming along at once.
DEATH TO THE SEX PISTOLS. “More feared than Russian Communism”, Britain's Punk Rock movement – which essentially consisted of energetic adolescents with spiky hair and ripped jeans who were out for a laugh – were public enemy #1 in Britain ‘77.
MASCHINEN MÄNNER SIND NUMMER EINS!. Why put yourself through the hassle and boredom of album-launch photo-shoots when pretend-robots can do the job just as well? The Kraftwerk futurists from Dusseldorf dared to be different in many different ways, and this set them apart from the stars of yesterday and today. In 1978, they were at the peak of their mighty powers, capping a phenomenal 18 months for this most visionary of groups.
ENGLAND'S DREAMING. The so-called “British Invasion” of ’64 was a little bit of slap and tickle in comparison to the gigantic power-shift of the late 1970s, although the British scene was, at this time, largely Eurocentric. After the big-bang of ’76, there was absolutely no doubt as to where the alt-music strengths now lay. London had become well established as thee Jukebox Rebel hotspot in recent times, and remained so in 1979, albeit with some real heavyweight competition from Manchester.
STRAIGHT OUTTA CAMDEN. This was the year that Tommy McGloin and his combo – El Thommo, Bedders, Woody, Chrissy Boy, Chas, Suggs and Monsieur Barso – truly cemented their status as all-time legends of the British music scene. Not too far behind were Adam and The Ants, The Fall and Joy Division, as London and Manchester retained their grip as the leading hot spots.
WHA’PPEN BIRMINGHAM?. In comparison to recent years, it's not the strongest year for Jamaican Reggae, and the death of Bob Marley in May, aged 36, is a monumental loss to the world in general. Birmingham, England, is a hotbed of vitality in the genre however; a number of groups exist underground, but The Beat and UB40 rise as the standard bearers, each delivering career-best classics as working class discontent and race riots scar Britain in 1981. 2-Tone is on the wane already, but Madness continue to evolve and are looking good to outlast the fashion.
THE ASCENSION OF THE HIP PRIEST AND KAMERADS. Like a preacher possessed, Mark E. Smith cajoled his double-drumming troops into new territories, unleashing another unorthodox Fall masterpiece, much to the great bemusement of the world at large. Although a completely different beast, much the same could be said of Laurie Anderson this year; what fun to see the avant-garde go over-ground.
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