the essential

REVIEW: The Essential Kinks (2014)

THE KINKS – The Essential (2014 Sony)

A question I often get is “Have you heard ‘x‘ by ‘band y’?”  I’m always eager to offer up opinions, but like any other music collector, there are albums I simply have not heard yet.  Friends and fellow writers continually offer fantastic suggestions, but time and money are always limited.  I like to listen to my old music too, and not just stuff that is new to me all the time.  Getting caught up on bands I may have missed is a time consuming process.

The Kinks are one such band.  Growing up as a rocker, I was aware of their hits and the overall narrative of their career.  As an adult, I wanted to start with a compilation.  When you have a band with a career as long and varied as The Kinks, I very much enjoy getting a snapshot of the whole thing rather than pick off albums one by one.  Sony’s double disc Essential Kinks is 48 tracks of rock from 1964 to 1993.  It’s a rather monolithic slab, but it does tell a story.

The beginning is hard and ragged British invasion rock and roll, and the road is windy.  Whether you know these tunes from movie soundtracks (“Nothin’ in This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl”) or Van Halen riffs (several), many songs are familiar.  Early on, their pop and rock stylings could be compared with equal respect to that of those Beatles.  The songs are just as unique, memorable and British.  The charismatic vocals of Ray Davies immediately capture the imagination.  His knack for melody is uncanny.  As time goes on, their music becomes more unique and conceptual, but no less captivating.  It is here that I discovered my favourite Kinks song, “Apeman”.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised that I already knew many of these songs as covers.  Queens of the Stone Age did “Who’ll Be the Next in Line”.  Def Leppard did “Waterloo Sunset”.  The Jam tackled “David Watts”, and made a hit out of him again.  I can also hear a lot of Dave Davies’ guitar in the rock bands that followed.  There is no denying the influence of the Kinks.

The only imperfection with this compilation is that live tracks are substituted for studio ones on “Lola”, “Till the End of the Day” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone”.  You’ll tell me “just buy the albums, then” and to that I respond, “OK”.  (“Lola” live is a single B-side.)

I’ll be lazing on a “Sunny Afternoon” with the Kinks.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Little Richard – The Essential (1985)

Scan_20160106LITTLE RICHARD – The Essential (1985 Specialty)

Ah-OOOOOOO!  Little Richard!  Predator!  OOOOO!  Wop bop a loo bop!  Get to the choppa!

Who doesn’t love Little Richard?  If you answered that question with “me!” then click your “back” button now and go listen to some X Ambassadors or something equally un-rock and roll.  Little Richard?  Pure rock and roll, baby!  You have your rock bands that are based on guitar, but then you have other artists that are based on piano.  And let me tell you, when Little Richard (Ah-OOOOOOOO!) starts bangin’ on those keys, you can’t help but boogie woogie.

Richard has an extensive catalogue of albums and singles, and much like any of the other founding fathers of rock and roll, there is so much more to him than just the greatest hits.  This album is called The Essential, and it is.  There is much, much more.  “Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave” isn’t on here, but so many favourites are!  (OOOOO, gonna have some fun tonight!)

Commencing in 1955, every single track on this CD (single A’s and B’s) is in the two minute range. Wham bam, thank you ma’am! (No, that’s Dean Martin…) Loaded with piano, sax and Little Richard’s unmistakable voice, every song is incredible. My favourite song is “Jenny Jenny” (OOOO!), which is so damn raw and perfect, sax honkin’ and Richard letting loose with every “Woo” and “Ooo”. His throat is pushed to the limit, running off the rails from time to time, but always perfect. From Lucille to Teddy to Jenny to Miss Ann and Miss Molly, some may notice that there is a certain sameness to the material. That would be missing the point. Richard is like AC/DC. You get what you want, every time. Since the songs are so short none overstay their welcome.

Everybody should know plenty of these songs, whether from movies or TV. At least half the album should be familiar. Even if you haven’t heard Richard’s version of “By the Light of the Silvery Moon”, you probably know it from Etta James, Happy Days, Bugs Bunny, or I Love Lucy. It’s just one of those songs that everybody has heard. (Richard’s version is the best one, if you asked me! Ah-OOOOOO!)

Even though this is an older release, the audio is just fine. According to the booklet, all tracks were remastered from the original mono tapes. Old time rock and roll just sounds better in mono. In mono, it sounds saturated and harder. (WOOO!) The booklet isn’t skimpy and has plenty of old black and white photos.

So, if you have “Heebie-Jeebies” for some “Long Tall Sally”, then “I Got It” for you. You’ll be “Slippin’ and Slidin'” for the whole length of this 45 minute CD, which will be over before you know it. If you wanna “Keep-A-Knockin'”, then just play it on repeat and “Rip It Up”.

5/5 stars

Final note: I will happily give a lollypop to anyone who can tell me where I can buy Richard’s elusive version of “Itsy Bitsy Spider”.

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – The Essential (2005)

Part 38 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

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IRON MAIDEN – The Essential (2005)

…And the era of Maiden compilations had begun.  And I did buy them all.

The Essential is a series.  I have The Essential Johnny Cash as well as others.   So, this one was not put together by the band.  There’s no Eddie on the cover, no exclusive content, no liner notes from Rod Smallwood nor Steve Harris.  Instead there are liner notes from Lonn M. Friend of RIP Magazine.  They’re aimed at newbies, but at least all songs get full musician and writing credits.

Much like 1996’s Best of the Beast, the tracks are reverse-chronological.  This time, it works better than on Best of the Beast.  The cool thing is that this means you start with the incredible epic “Passchendale” from Dance of Death.  What an opening.  Every album (studio and live) is visited, including four Blaze Bayley tracks.

Everybody bitches about what tracks should have been left off, and which should have been included.  Here’s mine:

1. I would have included no Blaze tracks, and instead included live versions of Bruce singing them.

2. Those are the only times I would have included live tracks.

3. I could do without “Holy Smoke” and “Bring Your Daughter”.  Give me “Tailgunner” instead.

4. Give me “Stranger In A Strange Land” instead of “Heaven Can Wait”.

But that’s about it.  You get a healthy mix of hits along with great album cuts such as “Wrathchild”, “Killers”, and glory be, “Phantom of the Opera”!  Those, plus “Passchendale”, make this a passable greatest hits disc.

Tracklist is below, but only you can decide if this one’s worth buying.  I bought it for “the collection”.  As far as a complete career-spanning set goes, this is about as close as it got without having to buy multiple sets.  However it’s now out of print, so the point is moot.

3/5 stars

Disc: 1
1. Paschendale
2. Rainmaker
3. The Wicker Man
4. Brave New World
5. Futureal
6. The Clansman
7. Sign Of The Cross
8. Man On The Edge
9. Be Quick Or Be Dead
10. Fear Of The Dark
11. Holy Smoke
12. Bring Your Daughter..To The Slaughter
13. The Clairvoyant
Disc: 2
1. The Evil That Men Do
2. Wasted Years
3. Heaven Can Wait
4. 2 Minutes To Midnight
5. Aces High
6. Flight Of Icarus
7. The Trooper
8. The Number Of The Beast
9. Run To The Hills
10. Wrathchild
11. Killers
12. Phantom Of The Opera
13. Running Free (Live)
14. Iron Maiden (Live)