Monday, 31 January 2011

Exodus by Bob Marley and The Wailers

Exodus is the first album from my 15 Albums list that nearly didn't make the blog. Not because it's not good enough ( far from it! ) but because I was torn between Exodus and Uprising, the first Bob Marley album I ever owned. Uprising has that iconic cover, a very sharp, bright sound and such wonderful songs as Could You Be Loved?, Redemption Song and Coming In From The Cold. BUT Exodus was the first Marley album to pop into my head when compiling the list and, thanks to my hard and fast rules, had to be the one.

Exodus was mostly recorded in England in 1977, when Marley was hiding out in London after a failed assassination attempt on him and his family. Bob was far more than just a reggae star in Jamaica; he was also an important, if controversial, political figure, who was seen to represent the ghettos and the rastas - and so had made himself a target. Unknown gunmen ( possibly opponents of Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley ) attacked Marley's home, wounding Rita Marley, manager Don Taylor and Marley himself. Amazingly, after all this chaos and upheaval Marley still produced, in a harsh environment thousands of miles from home, a true masterpiece of Jamaican music, Exodus.

The album alternates between the religious, Rastafarian themes in songs like the title track, Natural Mystic and The Heathen, and the more Lovers' Rock-orientated songs such as Waiting In Vain and Turn Your Lights Down Low. Not as angry and militant an album as Natty Dread, for example, but still righteous, Exodus is a classic of roots reggae, with Marley searching for meaning and finding it in love, friendship and Jah.

"Open your eyes and look within
Are you satisfied with the life you're living?"

The singles from this album took Bob's career to the next level and became some of his most popular songs, with the poppier tracks like Jamming and Three Little Birds being inescapable in the summer of 1977. The Wailers were on top form throughout, locking into some serious, laid-back grooves and generating much positive vibes, especially on the anthemic One Love / People Get Ready and the beautifully summery Three Little Birds. With sublime vocals from the I Threes and the "Tuff Gong" himself, the album is pure class.

Exodus itself is the killer track, an epic of Rastafarian empowerment in which Marley casts himself as a Black Moses
( shades of Isaac Hayes! ) leading his people out of oppression in "Babylon" and delivering them to "Zion" and Utopia:

"We know where we're going
We know where we're from
We're leaving Babylon
Heading to our fathers' land"

Time magazine even named Exodus the Best Album Of The Century, something which is obviously debatable, but it's easily up there with the greats of 20th century music. Even though it's hard to believe that Bob Marley will have been gone for thirty years this May, his legacy lives on.

Song with probably the best bass guitar riff in history: Exodus

Friday, 7 January 2011

Are You Experienced by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Unusually for me, I can pinpoint the exact moment I first, er, experienced the music of Jimi Hendrix. Well, I say "exact", but it was actually some time in 1980, so not that exact but I know it was on BBC 2, on the Old Grey Whistle Test and it was this awesome demolition of the Troggs' Wild Thing. What I wanted to know was - who was that flamboyant, exciting guitarist, and why was he shagging his guitar..... and not getting arrested?

I'm pretty sure that piece of footage showed up a few times over the years and I even managed to record it on audio cassette ( yes, it was the dark ages! ) and played it until the tape wore out. I had to find more of the man's music. Luckily for me Radio 1 produced a few documentaries like 25 Years Of Rock, which featured more of Jimi's music, and a special on the Hendrix story by legendarily gravel-voiced DJ, Tommy Vance. I was hooked! I went out and bought all the second-hand Hendrix singles I could find, then it was album time.....

Sadly, Hendrix only released three studio albums in his tragically short life. In reverse order they are:

Electric Ladyland - the ambitious, self-indulgent but brilliant double-album, showcasing Jimi's new-found recording-studio skills ( in his brand-new studio! ), long trippy jams, and lyrics about voodoo children and mermen.....

Axis: Bold As Love - Jimi as High Priest of psychedelia and Hindu love god (!) ( see album cover ) dispensing beautiful songs of love 'n' peace 'n' good vibes.....

Are You Experienced ( no question mark required ) - the album in, er, question, one of the greatest debut albums ever, the Experience seemingly fully-formed and firing on all four cylinders.....

Although hinting at the full-on psychedelia to come, with plentiful distorted, backwards and feeding-back guitar, this album is much harder and angrier than its successors, with a distinct lack of mellow good vibes. Hendrix was still indebted to his previous employers from his hired-hand days on the "chitlin' circuit" and beyond - Jackie Wilson, The Isley Brothers, Little Richard, Curtis Knight and more. From these hard-working days for tough bosses in front of wild audiences Jimi acquired his stage-moves, showmanship and an understanding of r 'n' b and the blues.

The blues permeates Are You Experienced, giving the album its bite. Song titles like Manic Depression, Love Or Confusion and I Don't Live Today tell their own tales, hard luck stories of the pitfalls of life and love. The classic Red House is an out-and-out blues, albeit one with a sense of humour - after returning to the "red house over yonder" to find his girl vanished, Jimi concludes:
"If my baby don't love me no more
I know her sister will"

Apart from hard times the other main preoccupation of the blues is, of course, sex. And this album has that in spades. From the suggestive album title itself, through Hendrix's sensual, smouldering guitar playing and on through his languid, laid-back vocals, this album is one big come-on, playing on Jimi's sex-symbol status and his perceived "threat" - at least as far as the institutionally-racist media of the day were concerned.

"Listen here, baby / Stop acting so crazy
You say your mom ain't home / that ain't my concern
Just don't play with me / And you won't get burned
I have only one burning desire / Let me stand next to your fire"

A melting-pot of soul, r 'n' b, blues and the new psych-rock, Are You Experienced was so far ahead of the rest of the rock world in 1967 ( yes, even the Beatles too ) that it was as if its creator had just landed from some distant, freaked-out planet in a far-off, multi-coloured universe. And maybe he had.....

"Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful....."

Song to remind you of Wayne's World: Foxey Lady