Twelve songs that inspired me
It’s alright Ma I’m only bleeding – Bob Dylan, Bringing it on Home
Like many of my generation I loved the 60’s Dylan. He was so ahead of his time. The social and human insights especially about the “decay” of civilisation in this song have never been equalled. “Bent out of shape by society's pliers”. Plus, the elegant simplicity of one guitar .. as Miles Davis said “Less in more”
If you were mine – Level 42, Guaranteed
I believe this is probably the best and most perfect pop/rock song in my substantial 50 year plus collection. Mark King, Gary Husband (what a drummer & he wrote the song) Mike Lindup and Wally Badarou cook up a storm of awesome and clever chord changes and then Alan Holdsworth (God 2) just delivers an unbelievable rock, fusion lead at the end. The album was panned by most critics (hmmmm)
Still a fool – Muddy Waters, Muddy Waters Greatest Hits
Keith Richards also loves this song. This song and any of Robert Johnson’s ARE the blues to me. Any musician can learn from how Muddy’s voice (I wish I had it) and basic guitar, drum and second guitar can perfectly capture the world of love and pain.
Don’t interrupt the sorrow – Joni Mitchell, Hissing of the Summer Lawns
OK, I had to include Joni. From For the Roses through to Hejira, Joni began to experiment with jazz and other influences. The production and how it supports Joni’s experiments in sound on Hissing of the Summer Lawns is unbelievable as Joni really pushed the boundaries here. True fusion music .. challenging, difficult and entrancing. Hejira is my other favourite of this wonderful artist … Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius shine.
Carry on Wayward Son - Kansas, Leftoverture
You can listen any of the early Jethro Tull (up to Aqualung), Yes, early The Grateful Dead (especially Live Dead) Genesis and other late 60’s, early 70’s so-called prog bands. The emergence of virtuoso musicianship, harmonies with complex songs and great word images was life-changing for me. This Kansas song just seems to encapsulate all that is great about great playing and great composing. My alternative “up to date” version would be "Lines in the Sand" by Dream Theatre.. just awesome writing, playing, shades of light and dark.
Spirit of Eden - Talk,Talk
Boundary-breaking and awesome atmospheres. This album shows how labels such as pop, rock, emo are just bull-shit created by critics and marketing people. Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene created this superb example of production and mixing from hours of jams. Just listen to this album late at night with phones on .. it’ll really hit you. You can’t label it.
Weasel and the White Boys Cool - Ricki Lee Jones, Ricki Lee Jones
Producers Lenny Waronker and Russ Tielman show what great producers can do when they really understand the uniqueness of the artist they are working with. Any of the songs on this awesome album will give you great pointers on production. Unbelievable.
Wild is the wind - David Bowie, Station to Station. No question in my mind, his best! An amazing, prog album. His voice, his lyrics, the band .. wow! "Wild is the wind" is just beautiful. The whole album is a masterpiece.
Little Wing – Jimi Hendrix
What can I say except add "Castles made of sand" and "Drifting" to hear real genius, boundary-breaking and the perfect blend of guitar, chords, effects, vocals and feel. I don’t think anyone since has managed to so perfectly integrate the sound palate available to modern guitar with the underlying emotion of the words. OK perhaps Chris Whitley did.
Rocket House – Chris Whitley
The review on Allmusic says “Get this album and prepare for takeoff to a place that is like no other”. I agree totally. I love all of Chris Whitley’s work and he died way too young. The production by Tony Mangurian is mind-blowing especially if you had heard Chris on other albums with just a slide guitar, his foot keeping rythmn and his unforgettable voice and lyrics (I sometimes believe he was Robert Johnson re-incarnated). OK this is more than 1 song.
Crossings - Herbie Hancock
I cannot overemphasise how much this album influenced me. It was probably the first true fusion music I heard. In 1972, Rolling Stone reviewed this album together with the first Weather Report album and hailed them both a true break-throughs. While Miles Davis (where many of these musicians came from) had been tentatively experimenting with rock rhythms, it wasn’t until Herbie teamed up with Pat Gleeson on synths, Bennie Maupin (whose Jewel in the Lotus is one of my top 10 albums) on saxes, Eddie Henderson trumpet, Billy Hart, drums, Julian Priester, trombones and Buster Williams, basses that the “purity” of jazz really mixed with the emerging prog-rock movement. In 1974, I actually went to the Different Fur Trading Company in San Francisco where the album was recorded just to experience where it was made. Only 3 tracks so I'm counting as one.
I have realised that the list above missed what I consider to be two of the greatest songs ever written and recorded - Steely Dan's Aja and Gaucho. Everytime I listen to these two songs I am transported in awe by the music structure and flow, the musicians, the recording process and the amazing Fagan lyrics. No one has done better. "When my dime dancing is through"