Discography Guide: The Beatles Solo Years 1970-80

22 01 2012

Everyone knows that together, The Beatles were largely brilliant. Apart? Like so many bands that followed in their wake, they were sporodically brilliant, but never reached the consistant level that they had done together. The Beatles break up was hardly acrimonious, and there are plenty of veiled (and otherwise in the case of John) references to one another over the course of the following ten years. If you don’t really know anything about the solo work, there is some great stuff, but you have to be careful, because some of it, as we shall see, is a real mess.


In 1970, Paul released McCartney, and in the press for the album officially announced what the music press already suspected (George and John had already got their albums out)  that The Beatles had broken up, like Bryan Adams in the Summer of 69. This incensed John as it was he who had left the group, but it did him a favour in a way, as it briefly turned public view against Macca for breaking up the world’s biggest band. His first solo effort is an enjoyably low-fi affair, featuring some of his genuinely great work – Maybe I’m Amazed stands up to anything he ever recorded. Every Night is also great and deals with him being at a loss as to what to do post-Beatles. Most of the rest of the songs are thumbnail sketches of his love for The Lovely Linda.

By contrast, George released All Things Must Pass, a gigantic triple album which finally got rid of all the songs he had been building up over the previous five years stuck behind John and Paul in the Beatle queue. It is (largely needless third record aside) a masterpiece, with Phil Spector on production duty it sounded even bigger than its triple status suggests. Wah-Wah directly referenced the argument with Paul from Let it Be, while My Sweet Lord and What is Life happily sit among the best things he ever wrote.

If George was relieved to be out of the Beatles so he could do his own thing, John was angry about various things. He had entered Primal Scream therapy, which informed his first solo album Plastic Ono Band (officially titled John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band because it realeased alongside a Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band) a shouty masterwork railing against absolutely everything, from childhood abandonment (Mother) The Beatles (God) and his supposed roots (Working Class Hero). It is absolutely astonishing, a bold move for someone exiting the biggest pop band of all time.

Ringo meanwhile, just wanted to “do songs me mam wanted to hear” and so released Sentimental Journey a collection of his various family members favourite songs. Its a nice gesture really, and lovely for what it is. Perhaps all the Beatles solo albums sum up their respective personalities to some degree, and none more than Ringo’s. He is stood outside a pub on the front cover too, which probably is making as much of a statement as George sat by those three garden gnomes on the cover of his. He managed to get a second album out before the year was out Beaucoups of Blues, a country album (think Act Naturally or What Goes On), which is surprisingly enjoyable. It was however a commercial failure (even in America where country music is beloved) and so Ringo turned back to the movies for the time being.  Read the rest of this entry »

Now That’s What I Call Music

21 01 2012

Part of the fun of doing this Pop Encyclopedia is being able to look back and view things in context. It is easy to look back see the full story of say, Ghost Town, because you are looking back from a historical point of view. This is all well and good, but pop music is pretty much about the moment. For me, nothing, except maybe Top of the Pops, defines this immediacy of pop music in the way that the Now That’s What I Call Music series of albums does. Now doesn’t care about context. It does not care if you are beginning a career that is going to change music forever, or if you are clearly a novelty that will be forgotten about in months.  It is “just” a collection of all the big hits from the moment, providing endless perfect snapshots of any moment in music at any time.

The Now series is now up to 80, and although I have not bought one in well over a decade, it pleases me that it is still going strong. Everybody remembers their first Now (mine was Now 43) and if you go back to your first one – or any of the ones you played over and over – as an adult, you feel a wave of nostalgia as two songs that really could never be placed together in any other context (Now 48 for example followed Papa Roach with Planet Funk). You will remember endless pop songs that history perhaps hasn’t been so kind to, because they didn’t have a big influence, even though they were inescapable at the time.

They are also the perfect “in” for teenagers, and I feel for any teen who didn’t at some point get a Now album. When you first discover music, you don’t really care about the context, about the genre’s or anything, you just either like, or dislike the music – Now collects everything in the way that a teenager just discovering the thrill of pop music does. Read the rest of this entry »

Discography Guide: Madonna (Part One)

13 01 2012

As an alternative to the in-depth profiles of an artist, for long established artists I may do these posts which are just about the music (man), going through each album to give you reccomendations on what to buy and what to avoid like an unholy plague. I’ll probably end up doing in depth profiles of these artists as well, at a later date. I’m kicking off with Madonna, mainly because she has just announced she has named her new on MDNA, and it will be out in March, and I’m quite excited. 


Madonna Aka Madonna The First Album (1983)

Apparently, after her début single, Everybody (the closing track on her first album), people didn’t even realise Madonna was white (she doesn’t appear on the single’s sleeve), which seems quaint and inconceivable after years of her being an impossibly big pop phenomena. Proof then, that everyone has to start somewhere, and for Madonna it was here, a pop-disco album which of artists that were around at the same time, most calls to mind Prince (who had just made a real break for the mainstream the year before with his 1999), so perhaps it is little wonder people thought that maybe she was black.

Madonna herself is apparently not entirely satisfied with the album, as its too reliant on disco, and she wasn’t in complete control. It used then top-of-the-range synths and drum machines, which all the contemporary reviews comment make it state of the art, but of course mean that it very much now sounds like an album made very much in 1983. But the music wins out, and although Madonna would craft better pop songs later, there are some exquisite tunes here. Read the rest of this entry »