Great Leaps for Musickind
“I’m thinking of a change of direction.” Those are the words record companies dread most. Creative artists may feel duty-bound to progress in some way, shape or form but, more often than not, that’s the last thing their followers want. They want more of the same, time after time after time. So, by and large, the artists carry on ploughing much the same tried and trusted furrow. Those who defy this convention risk never seeing their creation hit the racks. Take Paddy McAloon, who began work on what became Prefab Sprout’s Let’s Change The World With Music in 1992 but had to wait until this month to see it released.
Yet sometimes, just sometimes, those who dare win, the forces of lightness and maverickness prevail and the fruits of that change of direction reach the public domain. The product of that inspirational, often vaingloriously courageous venture may represent the biggest step forward since some clever clogs decided it might be profitable to sell pre-sliced bread. In due course, it may invade hearts and minds. It may, conversely, bamboozle and alienate, the upshot career suicide. Call it arrogant, couldn’t-give-a-damn-ness; call it deaf, dumb and blind faith; call it a con; call it genuine prescience. Whatever the backstory, whatever lay beyond, here’s this month’s XI…
Biggest, Bravest and/or Best Stylistic Shifts
Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home to Highway 61 Revisited
Farewell folk and quirkiness, come on down electricity and voice-of-a-generation.
The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to The Beatles
As daring as it gets. First they learned how to use the studio, then they learned how to exploit it to maximum effect, confounding all expectations of the ground a single recording could cover.
Van Morrison – Blowin’ Your Mind to Astral Weeks to Moondance
From raw ‘n’ rocky r’n’b to sax-infused Celtic soul via string bass-driven recherché de temps perdu – the ultimate maverick’s hat-trick.
Yes – Time And A Word to The Yes Album
You could hear everything from the Beach Boys and The Beatles to The Big Country and Bonanza on TAAW, even a captivatingly kooky Buffalo Springfield cover. Next thing you knew, they were inventing prog rock at its most melodically epic.
Todd Rundgren – Something/Anything? to A Wizard, A True Star
First came a potted history of popular music complete with Motown beat and Zappaesque sensibility that spawned two hit singles and seemed destined to transform Todd into Godd. Cue a rather different sort of jamboree bag, full of acid drops, speed metal candies, proto-electro-pop, a sweet-soul medley to highlight the brilliance of his own forays into such territory, and barely a sniff of continuity. Genius as commercial suicide.
Neil Young – Harvest to Time Fades Away
A full-frontal assault on the singer-songwriter/nascent AOR market followed by a ragged live recording of patchy new stuff whose crown jewel, “Don’t Be Denied”, would endure as rallying-cry and career summation.
David Bowie – Station To Station to Low
There were scintillas of hints of things to come – the chugging start to the title track, the danceable loopiness of TVC15 – but nothing that remotely prepared The Dame’s courtiers for the industrial light and magic that fuelled the start of his Berlin trilogy, let alone the gloriously hypnotic, vocal-free Germanic doodlings that took up the entire second side – a self-contained world of trippy wonder which may well have been jointly to blame, alongside Philip Glass’s film soundtracks, for the brief heyday of New Age music. So good, our Dave would even get away with following Heroes with Lodger.
Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark to Hissing of Summer Lawns
No more confessionals. No more pandering. Joni becomes a guitar hero, attacks mankind, doesn’t have much time for womankind either, and makes an album that horrified thousands, still defies genre-fication and confirmed its creator as an artistic freedom fighter par excellence.
Talking Heads – Fear of Music to Remain In Light
Clever angular post-punk begets funky forerunner of post-disco dance music. The last truly original “rock album”.
The Teardrop Explodes – Kilamanjaro to Wilder
Top of the Pops contenders to widescreen wall-of-sounders and premature oblivion. Wilder (was a title ever so apt?) was the most overlooked album of the Eighties.
Radiohead – OK Computer to Kid A
“Hey guys, I’ve had a really cool idea. Let’s follow our worldwide breakthrough smash with something so fantastic, so outrageous, so out there, we’ll never have trouble with groupies again…”
Blur – The Great Escape to Blur
Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Searching For The Young Soul Rebels to Too-Rye-Ay