Paul Fitzpatrick: June 2022, London.
You’re stranded on a desert island and you’ve found a washed up solar-chargeable iPod that contains 3 albums in the audio section.
As luck would have it, they’re your three favourite albums…
What are they?
(NB – no ‘Best Of’s, ‘Compilations’ or Box Sets allowed).
My criteria was to choose albums that I rarely get tired of listening to, that include a selection of songs with thought provoking lyrics, mood enhancing melodies and good grooves.
On top of that they need to be ‘all killer and no filler’.
I ain’t got no time to be skipping songs, I’ve got fish to catch, stars to gaze at and a raft to construct….. which is gonna take a bit of time because I was crap at woodwork at school!
Album #1 – Songs in The Key Of Life: Stevie Wonder
For a start, it’s a double album (with a bonus EP) so I’m getting more bang for my buck, but if quantity rather than quality’s your thing, you can always choose ELP’s six-sided ‘Welcome Back My Friends’…. particularly if you’re partial to the excruciating sound of a wounded Moog synthesiser and you’re a fan of a drum solo or six.
Two years in the making, Stevie’s 1976 opus is the perfect union of quality & quantity and represents his finest moment, which is saying something when you consider his run of albums leading up to ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ –
‘Talking Book’, ‘Innervisions’ & ‘Fulfillingness First Finale’.
In the mid 70’s Wonder was awash with ideas and was producing material not only for himself but for artists like Rufus, Minnie Ripperton, Syreeta, The Supremes and Roberta Flack.
Due to his copious output ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ soon developed into a double album.
Including the bonus EP there are 21 tracks on ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ and apart from the saccharine sweet ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ I could happily play the album on a loop.
It helps that there are a host of musical styles on the record… from the big-band funk of ‘Sir Duke’ to the hypnotic orchestration on ‘Pastime Paradise’.
I’ve always been blown-away by the fact that Stevie played most of the instruments on his 70’s albums himself, (particularly the drums, check out Superstition), but he breaks with tradition here and it unquestionably works.
You’ll find Herbie Hancock displaying his ubiquitous keyboard talents on ‘As’, whilst George Benson exhibits his distinctive guitar and scat vocal style on ‘Another Star’….. memorable cameos that elevate the album to another level.
Stevie never recaptured the magic of ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ which I’m not sure was humanly possible anyway. The album won four grammy’s, sold ten million copies in the US alone and was a number one album across the globe.
Album #2 – Aja: Steely Dan
When I listen to Steely Dan I often think of a quote credited to the late, great music journalist Ian McDonald who made the following introduction on reviewing the ‘Gaucho‘ album….
“Crassness is contagious. Fortunately, so is intelligence – which is why listening to Steely Dan is good for you”.
In truth I could easily have picked three Steely Dan albums, therefore narrowing it down to one is something of a ‘Sophies choice’.
Sonically it doesn’t get much better than Aja and it’s no coincidence that the album is consistently favoured by audiophiles, who still use it to check out the latest audio equipment on the scene.
Despite their excellent canon of work it can be argued that this was the bands pinnacle…. an example of the final product being greater than the sum of its parts, and the sum of its parts in this case were pretty awesome.
Also, if you’re looking for thought provoking lyrics then Steely Dan’s cryptic, ironic themes are a big part of their schtick, having a bit of down-time on this island will enable me to work some of them out at last.
Aja consists of seven great tracks, including the immaculate ‘Deacon Blue’ and the pertinent ‘Home at Last’, a song about exile inspired by Homer’s Odyssey.
Well the danger on the rocks is surely past
Still I remain tied to the mast
Could it be that I have found my home at last
Home at last
Album #3 – AWB by The Average White Band
By autumn 1974 my record collection was starting to look a bit different- The album section was still dominated by white blokes with long hair like Zep, The Who, Bad Company, etc but the singles section was reflecting what I was hearing in nightclubs and bars – Barry White, Gil Scot-Heron, the Philly Sound, etc.
It’s somewhat ironic then that one of my favourite bands turned out to be a bunch of white blokes with long hair who just happened to be soul and funk masters from down the road.
Like most people, when I first heard ‘Pick Up the Pieces’ I assumed it was The JB’s or another American funk band, so it came as a shock to discover that there was a Hamish, a Molly and an Onnie in the group.
I bought the AWB ‘white album’ as much for the provocatively brilliant cover art as anything else…. then I got home put it on my trusty Sanyo music centre and played it so much that it had to be industrially removed from the turntable.
In truth it was like nothing I’d heard before, the music defied definition, white blokes from Scotland just weren’t supposed to sound as good as The Ohio Players or The Isley Brothers.
The sessions for the album were marshalled by Arif Mardin, the legendary Aretha Franklin producer whose deft touch was all over the record.
On reflection, it was a perfect storm…. a hungry band with great songs, immense talent and a master at the helm.
AWB would go on to make many more fine albums but the ‘white album’ is undoubtedly their masterpiece.
So that’s my three albums…. well today anyway!
Of course I could wake up tomorrow and add Court & Spark by Joni Mitchell or Dark Side of the Moon or Bowie’s Station to Station, depending on what mood I’m in, but I’m pretty happy with the three I chose… well today anyway!
Next time we’ll check out the video section of the iPod….