April 19, 2015
Drummer Roger Taylor was a founding member of Queen and is a member of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. In the United States he has always been associated with his band. In his home country, he has also had a successful solo career. Now the music from his solo career is coming to two compilation CD’s. If you are a hard core fan there is The Lot, which is a 12 CD, one DVD box set, which contains his entire solo output. If you want a taste of his career there is Best, which draws 18 tracks from his five albums and two singles.
Taylor’s solo career has been very different from that of Queen as without the band around him, he has been free to move in different directions. There are passionate ballads, electronic music, and good old rock and roll.
Taylor has always been able to create a song. He has written or co-written three number one songs in the United Kingdom; “These Are The Days Of Our Lives,” “Innuendo,” and “Under Pressure.” In addition, at least one of his compositions was included on every Queen album. While he is the drummer for Queen, on his solo releases he also is a capable guitarist and vocalist.
“Foreign Sand” is an excellent example of his ability to carry a ballad that builds throughout. “Man On Fire” is a down to earth gritty tune. “A Nation Of Haircuts” finds him letting loose as he just rocks.
There is an excellent booklet that provides an informative history of his solo career. The music is well-recorded and clear, which enhances the listening experience.
Best may not be a cohesive album as it jumps from different periods of his career and sometimes skips a decade. What it does is provide an introduction to his solo music and possibly whets your appetite to explore his music further. It also proves that he has a creativity that extends beyond Queen and that he is capable of creating some good music on his own.
April 12, 2015
Dubbed the first family of soul in the pre-Jackson 5 era, The Five Stairsteps released seven studio albums between 1967 and 1976. The group was comprised of siblings Alohe Jean, Clarence Jr, James, Kenneth, and Dennis Burke. Every once in a while Cubie would appear on the credits or in a picture but never really performed with the group. Real Gone Music has now reissued their arguably two best albums as a two for one package under the title Our Family Portrait/Stairsteps, originally released on the Buddah label in 1968 and 1970.
The Stairsteps were modeled on the traditional soul and rhythm & blues vocal groups of the day with Clarence as the primary lead singer and the other members providing the backing and harmonies. Eighteen of their singles made the Pop Charts and 16 the Rhythm & Blues Chart but they really only had one big and memorable hit. “Oh-o-child” was named one of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine. It had a silky vocal and feel and remains one of the defining soul songs of its era.
Stairsteps is the better of the two albums. In addition to their signature hit, it contains two Beatles covers, “Getting Better” and Dear Prudence,” which are taken in a creative soul direction. Clarence wrote six of the nine tracks and “Sweet As A Peach,” “Because I Love You,” “Up & Down,” and “Who Do I Belong To” fit together into a cohesive whole.
Our Family Portrait has a more cobbled together feel. Clarence again wrote five of the 11 tracks but the six cover tunes are not as successful. The old Jimmy Charles hit “A Million To One” is fine but when they move toward such songs as the Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune “The Look Of Love” and Terry Knight’s “Find Me,” they leave their comfort zone.
As with most Real Gone releases, the enclosed booklet provides a fine history of the band and music.
The Five Stairsteps were a group that probably promised more than they delivered but at times their music was equal to just about any soul releases of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. When there were at their best, there is an eternal quality to their sound that still shines bright today.
April 12, 2015
Siouxsie & The Banshees last four albums have just been re-issued with bonus tracks. The third release in the series is their 1991’s Superstition.
The early 1990’s marked a period of change for the band as they moved closer to the mainstream. The lead single from the album, “Kiss Them For Me,” symbolizes the change as it features a foundation of dance rhythms with strings added to give it close to a pop sound. The lyrics are a little wicked in places but that did not prevent the song from becoming their only top 40 hit in the United States.
The change in sound may have alienated some of their fans but the album proved to be their most commercially successful in the United States. The lyrics are still some what obscure in places but the music is lighter than in the past and the rough edges are polished and made a lot smoother.
“Shadowtime” is a pure up-tempo pop piece, while “The Ghost In You” is mesmerizing. “Fear (Of The Unknown)” is fit for a 1990’s dance club with its up-tempo beat.
The three bonus tracks are the best of the four releases. While “Kiss Them For Me” is a different mix and inferior to the one that was released on the album, the other two inclusions are good news. “Kiss Them For Me Kathak #1 Mix was previously unreleased and is more of a throwback to their previous sound. “Face To Face,” the single release version, was featured in the film Batman Returns. It has a slow tempo with orchestration. It may not fit into the original album’s music but as a stand-alone piece it has a depth of textures.
Superstition is a different type album for Siouxsie & The Banshees as they leave their alternative rock roots in the past. It is a solid release but does not have the creative energy of their previous albums. How you appreciate this change of direction will determine whether this is an addition to your music collection.
April 8, 2015
Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” in 1963. They released the song as The Raindrops. The song did not reach the charts but the studio created Raindrops would place five songs on the Billboard Pop Charts. They even added Greenwich’s sister to the album cover so people would thing they were an actual group.
Enter South African born pianist Manfred Mann. In 1961, while living in England, he formed the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers with drummer Mike Hugg. The addition of singer Paul Jones changed them from a instrumental group to a traditional British Invasion band. Their third release “5-4-3-2-1” reached number five on the British charts and set the stage for their biggest hit.
They recorded “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” and it reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States on October 17, 1964, and there it remained for two weeks. It is one of those simple and catchy tunes that you like in spite of yourself.
Manfred Mann would undergo a number of changes down through the years and in 1977 would return to the top of the charts, but that’s another story.