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HomeNewsOff the Beaten Tracks – My 100 favourite albums, Part 1

Off the Beaten Tracks – My 100 favourite albums, Part 1

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IT IS three years since I began this weekly column, based mainly  on my music collection but taking in a few side turnings along the way. Finally I have run out of subjects and decided, to quote Jim Morrison and Nico, that this is The End. Before I sign off, however, I would like to share with you my 100 favourite albums. This list, I would stress, does NOT purport to be the greatest records of all time; rather it is a thank-you to the acts who have given me the most pleasure over the past half century or thereabouts. So, as the appalling John Humphrys would say, let’s get on with it and have our first contender please.

100 Various Artists: Another Saturday Night (1974)

This was the brainchild of music journalist Charlie Gillett, who had his own show on Radio London, and his neighbour Gordon Nelki. It was the first release on their label Oval Records, named after the Test cricket ground near their homes in Kennington. According to the website, ‘almost all of the tracks were licensed from Jin and Swallow Records, an independent label based in Ville Platte, Louisiana, whose founder-owner Floyd Soileau made us very welcome on a scouting trip in 1972. At the time, there had never been an album released in the UK which combined French language Cajun music (featuring fiddles and accordions) with South Louisiana pop (sung in English and featuring saxophones, piano and electric guitar). In much the same way that the soundtrack album of The Harder They Come introduced a new audience to reggae, Another Saturday Night opened the door for UK listeners to the music of Louisiana.

‘The song that attracted most interest was the Cajun version of Chuck Berry’s Promised Land, sung by Johnnie Allan and featuring an accordion break by Belton Richard. Released as a single, it was playlisted by several commercial stations including Capital Radio in London. By cruel coincidence, Elvis Presley’s version of the same song was released a few weeks later to tie in with his fortieth birthday, and it was never going to be a fair fight.’

In 1990 Another Saturday Night was re-released as a 20-track CD by Ace Records. The first six songs are all belters. Before I Grow Too Old, by Tommy McClain; I’m a Lonesome Fugitive, by Belton Richard; Try To Find Another Man, by Tommy McClain and Clint West; Jolie Blon, by Vin Bruce; I Cried, by Cookie and the Cupcakes: and Belton Richard’s Oh Lucille.  (The title track, by Clint West, appeals to the wokester in me with its politically correct lyric: ‘Another fella told me, he had a sister who looked just fine. Instead of being my deliverance, she had a strange resemblance, To a cat named Frankenstein.’) This record is like having a Louisiana jukebox in your own home. Mama, frah me some catfish!

99 Bryn Haworth: Let The Days Go By

I wrote about Bryn here in late 2019. A lovely chap, and a Lancastrian to boot. The final track, Anywhere You Want To Be, was recorded at a beach house in Malibu, with Bryn strumming his guitar inside and another microphone stuck out of the window to record the sound of the ocean. Bliss.

98 Jackson Browne with David Lindley: Live in Philadelphia 1975

As I wrote here a couple of weeks ago, this was a much-bootlegged radio concert from a club called the Main Point in Bryn Mawr, which finally gained an official release 40 years later. Aside from some of JB’s all-time classics, there are delightful cover versions of Lowell George’s Long Distance Love plus Hank Williams’s I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,  plus many others and some rock and roll classics into the bargain. Well worth seeking out.

97 Neil Young: Greendale (2003)

While this hardly counts as a Neil Young classic, I play it a lot and am always glad I did. Described as a musical novel, it’s an everyday story of accidental cop-killing in northern California set to a grungy backing of Crazy Horse at their ramshackle best. There are some wonderful lyrics such as the poetic opening couplet of Carmichael, about the shot police officer. ‘Silk scarf and a napkin hidden in a drawer. Two hundred bucks in an envelope labelled Lenore.’ Young is particularly good in the character of Grandpa, bewildered by modern life and besieged by the media. ‘It ain’t a privilege to be on TV. And it ain’t a duty either. The only good thing about TV, is shows like Leave it to Beaver.’

96 Frank Zappa: You Can’t Do That On Stage Any More Vol 2 (1988)

Billed as the Helsinki Concert, this is an exception among the six You Can’t Do That . . . double CDs since it features only one Zappa band line-up and only one venue. It was recorded over two nights in the Finnish capital in September 1974. The classic line-up of Zappa on guitar and vocal, Napoleon Murphy Brock on sax and vocal, George Duke on keyboard and vocal, Ruth Underwood on percussion, Tom Fowler on bass and Chester Thompson on drums play speeded-up versions of songs from the Roxy & Elsewhere album, some original tunes and some old favourites. The liner notes say that the concert ‘was fun, in spite of the fact that Napoleon had pneumonia and our lighting director had been Maced in the face by a guard at the Hotel Hesperia. The ultra-fast tempos on the more difficult tunes demonstrate what happens when a band has played the material for a year and is so comfortable with it they could probably perform it blindfolded’. Highlights include the wonderful Inca Roads,  which appears in many versions among the Zappa catalogue, and Montana (Whipping Floss). This latter is FZ’s response to an audience member yelling a request for the Allman Brothers’ guitar workout Whipping Post, with the words of Montana, from the Overnite Sensation LP, adapted accordingly. Although this is apparently impromptu, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the ever-controlling Mr Zappa planned it all himself.

95 Small Faces: Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake (1968)

I wrote about this charming curio here in a profile of the great Steve Marriott. Side one includes the excellent Afterglow and Lazy Sunday while side two is the story of Happiness Stan and his search for the missing side of the moon. As I wrote, it is narrated by the avuncular comedian Professor Stanley Unwin in his unique brand of gobbledegook known as Unwinese. ‘Are you all seated comfly-bold, Two-square on your botty? Then I’ll begin.’

94 Warren Zevon: I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (1996)

One of my first columns in this series was about the great comedic rocker Warren Zevon. This double-CD anthology covers the first two decades of his career and includes such brilliant tracks as Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner;  Excitable BoyWerewolves of LondonLawyers, Guns and MoneyGorilla, You’re a DesperadoPlay it All Night LongThe Hula Hula Boys; Boom Boom Mancini and, my favourite, Let Nothing Come Between You

The accompanying booklet contains a selection of choice quotes about Wozza including the following: ‘I saw him drink vodka from a silver boot’ (Richard Gere); ‘I’m no linguist but I believe Warren Zevon may be the only man in the history of human communication to use the word “brucellosis” in a song’ (David Letterman); ‘The good, the bad and the ugly . . . a moralist in cynic’s clothing, he nails a part of the American character rarely captured in pop music’ (Bruce Springsteen); ‘He’s the first and foremost proponent of song noir’ (Jackson Browne); and finally, from Don Everly, ‘My fondest memory of touring with Warren was the time we were staying in a hotel in Canada and we had to be brought to our rooms on luggage carts. That’s where I woke up. We’d had a little too much to drink.’

93 The Feelies: The Good Earth (1986)

When I wrote about the Feelies in 2019 I suggested that though I liked them very much it was unlikely they would be anybody’s No 1 favourite band. Outraged comments duly poured in saying they were the world’s greatest group ever, so that was me put in my place. The Good Earth is their second and best album. As I said earlier, it opens with On The Roof and The High Road, and track four is Slipping into Something, with vocals sounding eerily like Lou Reed. Let’s Go, Two Rooms, the title track and Tomorrow Today all bear repeated listenings. 

92 Steely Dan: Katy Lied (1975)

I wrote in 2018 that Katy Lied is one of the patchier Dan albums but contains some of my favourite songs. The paranoid Bad Sneakers (Do you take me for a fool, Do you think that I don’t see; That ditch out in the valley
That they’re digging just for me?) and Rose Darling  are superb, while Doctor Wu is a masterpiece of elliptical storytelling: (You walked in, And my life began again; Just when I’d spent the last piastre I could borrow.)

91 Jimi Hendrix: Band of Gypsys (1970)

This is probably the LP I have played most in my lifetime, possibly because it was one of only half a dozen I owned at the age of 15 and also because every time you listen to Jimi you hear something new. Compare the version of Machine Gun with those on the companion double CD Live at the Fillmore East, recorded at the same series of concerts, and they are all quite different. What a genius he was. The original British sleeve of the album featured puppet figures of Hendrix, Brian Jones, Bob Dylan and John Peel. Following the death of Jimi in September 1970, there were complaints of bad taste since he and Jones were both no longer with us and the cover was changed to a picture of him playing at the Isle of Wight festival. 

So, that’s the first chunk of my 100 favourites (I have to say that the order of those in the lower regions is pretty arbitrary and completely interchangeable). More next week.

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells with the family dog Bingo. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to alanj126@yahoo.co.uk

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