The Oblique Top Albums List

This is, as usual, just an indulgence. I apologise for it not being very polished.

I do not contend that these are necessarily the best albums ever. They are collections that I love and consider of high quality. You may disagree. Please do.

‘Graceland’ by Paul Simon

paul_simon_2007Here is a classic example of what I said in the last paragraph. This LP is not consistently good. It peters out with the last two songs on the second side, which don’t have the same drive and direction as the rest. Before that… It’s astonishing from the opening accordion of ‘Boy in the Bubble’. I am wilfully detaching the album from the controversies that abound about it. It uses its African musical foundations to deliver songs of a lyrical intensity and cleverness only achieved by great songwriters… such as Paul Simon. And Leonard Cohen. Alright, Dylan as well. And dare I mention Richard Thompson? (As a footnote, I would love to hear the original South African tracks that became the bulk of this album, but I believe they were rather low quality samples. Or were they suppressed?)

‘Space Ritual’ by Hawkwind

dscn6448          See Oddball Reviews #1

‘Lola vs Powerman and the Moneygoround’ by the Kinks

6291683287_e51d873726_bThis is great song-writing and the musicianship is excellent. There is hardly a weak moment. Of course there is ‘Lola’, the original cross-dressing song, though it’s more subtle than you think; at no point does it unambiguously say that Lola is a man. (No, it doesn’t! Just listen again.) There’s much more: ‘Powerman’, a great melodic heavy rocker (did I just use the term heavy rocker?) and ‘Apeman’, a typical witty and intelligent Ray Davies single. Not to mention the wistful ‘This Time Tomorrow’.

‘I’m Your Man’ by Leonard Cohen

cohenWeak points? Don’t be silly. Again it kicks off with a great song, ‘First We Take Manhattan’, with its stripped down techno feel and its darkly humorous lyrics. Everything from there on is just Leonard at his best. How can it be that people don’t get it that he’s funny?

‘Angel’s Egg’ by Gong

gillismythThe first Gong album I ever heard and possibly the best. It starts with an improvised piece, ‘Sold to the Highest Buddha’ and goes on getting better and better and sillier and sillier and more and more profound. Steve Hillage and Didier Malherbe are at the peak of their combined powers on guitar and sax. Pierre Moerlen proves that he is the best drummer ever…. and so on. Yes, I’m smitten.

 

‘Fish Rising’ by Steve Hillage

His first solo album, recorded at the same time as the above with mostly the same musicians. That being said, it has been described as a series of guitar solos. It’s more.. but the solos are glorious. Lyrically, it’s obscure but inspiring. If possible, I want this (or ‘Angel’s Egg’) playing as I die.

‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by the Beatles

You can mock, but I still sing ‘When I’m 64’ about twice a week. Ground-breaking….. Great songs….. Musically accomplished…. In the 60s there used to be arguments about whether this or ‘Pet Sounds’ was the best album ever. Or indeed….. ‘Blonde on Blonde’.

‘Blood on the Tracks’ by Bob Dylan

bob_dylan_june_23_1978Or possibly ‘Street Legal’. Or ‘Desire’. Or indeed…… ‘Blonde on Blonde’. See also ‘Street Legal’. I have no more to say on the matter!

 

 

 

‘The Liberty of Norton Folgate’ by Madness

attribution-livepictYes, really. An epic poem to the nooks and crannies and history of London. Only Madness could really produce something like this, in that unmistakeably English style. (But surely Dan Woodgate is one of the best reggae drummers outside the West Indies’?) Suggs picture attributed to LivePict.com.

There are loads more. Just about all the System 7 albums ever, ‘Soft Machine 3’ and ‘Soft Machine 6’, ‘2032’ by Gong. But if I don’t stop I’ll bore myself. Or you. And have you noticed how most of them are pretty old?

Christmas and Traditions

dscn6474Our Christmas tree is not one of the designer versions, decorated anew with great cost every year. It is from a local garden centre- has been for several years- don’t ask me about the environmental cost. It features an eclectic mix of decorations. There are birds from Mrs O.’s childhood. There is a fairy (sorry, we don’t have angels or stars at the top) made from chocolate wrappers, which that talented lady made the first Christmas we had together- she was horrified I only had baubles. There is Father Christmas, with a present, obtained at a school fair 30 years ago. There is a violin for the musically talented Miss O.#1. And so it goes on. Once upon a time we had fairy lights some 50 years old, inherited from my parents. They were eventually beyond repair (the lights, not my parents). For some time, the tree has gone in the corner of the dining room. The children have always decorated it with Mrs O. Now Miss O.#3 is the only young one left, she did a large amount of it herself. In fact, there are so many decorations accumulated over the years that there is enough for another tree (an artificial one rescued from a bin) and more dscn6473still besides.

Now I am not writing this just to indulge my sentimental self. It’s just that I was struck with how much Miss O.#3, who as some of you know is very developmentally delayed, remembered about the tree and Christmas in general. I think- and this is not a novel idea of mine- that tradition is very important for children. As long as it is not too obsessive, it gives some much needed emotional security- especially for four adopted children, I might add. All three of the adult ones also in some way fondly remember the family traditions of the past, and not just for Christmas. I hope we are continuing them. They change over time, of course.

So we go on with stockings, even for adults, and they are always delivered by Father Christmas, who always gets a mince pie and sherry, with a carrot for the reindeer. Which always gets chewed. The cats always get a special tin of food. We always have crackers, and I am determined always to be the last to take my paper hat off. Because that’s what my dad did. (I have, however, dispensed with the tie for Christmas day.) Because my parents always kept the same traditions for Christmas, including the post-dinner walk: another one we have guiltily ditched. (Charmingly, Mrs O.’s parents always had a strange bunch of neighbours round for morning drinks and mince pies, being very lovely generous people.)

Enough. I commend to you that excellent blog, Southampton Old Lady, which has a thought provoking series of Advent posts. Happy Christmas. Sherry, anybody? Which reminds me, I haven’t had one mince pie yet.

The Wit and Wisdom of…. My Mother

Yes, really. Just a gentle indulgence.

My mother, who died last year, was a gently rather than hilariously funny woman. She was also (mostly) very tolerant. I have very fond memories of teaching my children to untie her apron while she was cooking. She would always pretend not to notice, until it fell down and she feigned huge surprise.

She and I had a long running routine based around that old, old joke:

I say, I say, my wife has gone to the West Indies on holiday.”

Jamaica?”

No, she went of her own accord.”

We would change this around and muddle it up, until it became something like:

I say, I say, my wife has gone to the West Indies on holiday.”

Did she go of her own accord?”

No, Barbados.”

At which we would fall about laughing, even if listeners didn’t. It morphed into variations such as:

I say, I say, I’m taking a young lady to Italy on holiday.”

Genoa?”

No, but I hope to!”

She was not without her acidic side. When my grandmother came out of hospital and was staying with us, Mum would ask her what she wanted to eat. “Just throw me in an egg,” Nan would reply. Knowing that this simple request would necessitate very careful organisation so that the egg, bread and butter and tea were all to my grandmother’s exacting requirements, my mother would mutter suggestions about where she would like to throw the egg. She would often mimic my grandmother’s comment of “You like that sort of thing, don’t you dear?” with its accompanied critical intake of breath.

When things went wrong with my life, as they do with all lives, she would observe, with her tongue only partly in her cheek:

Never mind, dear, it’s just another crimson thread in life’s rich tapestry.”

Recently Mrs Oblique made Miss O. number 3 a red dress. We are still finding crimson cotton threads on the floor, and each one reminds me happily of Mum.

On the last occasions we saw her she was mostly sleeping, counting or grunting, without making any sense. As we left, Mrs O. told her that she had just made some strawberry jam and would bring some down. My mother called her back.

And did it set?” she said, briefly intelligible at last.

No,” Mrs O. admitted.

The last coherent thing we heard was Mum’s throaty laugh, no doubt recalling the many times she and Dad had struggled to make the marmalade set.

Oddball Reviews #2: ‘Street Legal’ by Bob Dylan (1978)

This one has history. Mrs O. and I played it to death on cassette in the car, in the far off times before we were married. (I’ll explain cassettes one day, children.) I’ve just purchased it on CD. (Oh, come on, you know what a CD is.) And oh, it sounds good.

In many ways this is classic Dylan, with obscure lyrics that somehow tell wonderful stories. You can put your own pictures to them, or interpret them in terms of your own or in terms of your own life. I seem to recall a theory that they are meant to be a precursor to evangelical era Dylan. Can’t see it myself, but you never can tell. There are some straightforward songs too- ‘Baby Please Stop Crying” is pretty much all there in the title.

The lyrics are set to jangling backings that I would call Americana if I didn’t know better, or feel I ought to know better. Some of the instrumental punctuations make me think of a band playing along with Dylan in a town square, perhaps in Mexico. This is the Dylan whose voice, although idiosyncratic as always, was still holding up well and holding a tune well.

There isn’t, for me, a single duff track. I used to think that ‘Brand New Pony’ was a rather vulgar song, but I’ve changed my mind; how much does he ever mean any of what he writes? I once heard Paul Simon rather wearily explain that his songs were not literal truth. Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Richard Thompson might sigh in agreement. They write songs, not autobiographies.

However, in an outstanding collection, one song stands out for me: ‘Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)’. It can be interpreted as a quest for a girl, or a metaphor for the America of the time, or of course in any way you choose. I see it as a semi-fantastical quest, with the same inexplicable resonances as Stephen Poliakoff drama. A particularly apposite selection:

bob_dylan_june_23_1978Senor; Senor;

Can you tell me where we’re headin’? Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?

Seems like I’ve been down this way before.

Is there any truth in that, Senor?”

In my opinion, this is one of the great Dylan albums, along with ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, ‘Blonde on Blonde’, ‘Blood on the Tracks’ and ‘Desire’. If you don’t like this one, you probably won’t like Dylan. I utterly recommend it.

Given the controversy over Dylan’s Nobel Prize (do keep up) (yes, he probably did deserve it) (yes, it was churlish of him not to respond) I had better let him have the last word, from ‘Love in Vain’:

I have dined with kings

I’ve been offered wings

But I’ve never been too impressed.”