Category Archives: The Essentials

The Essentials: The Jam – Snap!

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)On back-to-back days in November 1983, I bought two double-LP compilations by two paradigm-shifting British bands: the Who’s The Kids Are Alright and the Jam’s Snap! I thoroughly enjoyed both right from the start. The Who’s set is, obviously, the odds-and-sods soundtrack to the 1979 documentary film about Messrs Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle & Moon. The comprehensive Jam collection, which was released the previous month, contains 29 of the then-recently disbanded group’s songs, including their 16 U.K. singles, b-sides and the “That’s Entertainment” demo.

Both sets are great, but only one – in my estimation, at least – is essential: The Jam’s Snap! It’s one of the greatest best-of collections ever released, and remains my go-to choice when in the mood to crank the Jam.

If you’re curious about Paul Weller’s first group, it’s the best place to start. If you’re a longtime fan, it’s still the best way to experience the taut trio’s top tracks in rapid-fire succession. Even in the streaming age, where “new-and-improved” compilations and playlists are a mere mouse-click away, it’s the only such set that matters.

About it’s only competition: Compact Snap!, released in 1984, which trims eight songs from the set (so that it could fit onto one CD). I picked it up a few years after that, in late 1987 or early ’88, at a now-defunct CD-only store in Jenkintown, Pa., that was called (if my memory is right) 21st Century Sound. The excised songs were “Away from the Numbers,” “Billy Hunt,” “English Rose,” “Mr. Clean,” “The Butterfly Collector,” “Thick As Thieves,” “Man in the Corner Shop” and “Tales from the Riverbank.”

The original Snap! eventually made its way to CD in 2006, and both the original and “compact” versions are available on most streaming outlets. Give it a go.

The track list:

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The Essentials: Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

It’s an album so good that I’ve bought it multiple times – first on vinyl, then CD, then via the two-CD The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years, which actually contains her four Capitol albums in full (plus a handful of bonus tracks), then on high-resolution (24/192) and now, for a second time, vinyl – though this last time it was a Christmas gift from my wife, so perhaps I shouldn’t count it.

In any event, it’s Linda’s greatest work.

Even that young (now old) curmudgeon Dave Marsh, in the (blue) Rolling Stone Record Guide, had nice things to say about it – after calling her “at best a competent craftsman, and at worst an empty-headed, soulless dispenser of music as sheer commodity,” that is. (Side note: I recall reading those words – and similar criticisms Marsh leveled against other artists I like[d] – in the early ‘80s and thinking he must have a hearing impairment. Because we certainly weren’t hearing the same thing.) To the point: Of this album, the first Ronstadt LP produced by Peter Asher, Marsh writes that her “voice was finally pitted against fine material and pushed to convey some of the spirit as well as the outline of the songs. ‘You’re No Good’ and ‘When Will I Be Loved’ actually are better than the Betty Everett and Everly Brothers originals, and the title song, written by Anna McGarrigle, represents Ronstadt’s first important discovery of a new writer.”

Now, I happen to like Linda’s earlier efforts. To my ears, they’re solid efforts accented by moments of sheer grace – her rendition of Jackson Browne’s “Rock Me on the Water,” from her eponymous third LP, is the best example. But Heart Like a Wheel is when she found her voice. She may not have written the songs, but she sure sounds – to me, at least – as if she’s lived them. The performances are letter-note perfect, passionate and dramatic, beginning with the album’s opening cut.

Other highlights include “It Doesn’t Matter Any More”…

…“Dark End of the Street”…

…the title cut…

…”When Will I Be Loved”…

…and “Willin’.”

And thus began a streak of LPs that helped define the 1970s, including such gems as Prisoner in Disguise, Hasten Down the Wind, Simple Dreams and Living in the USA. They all followed the pattern Asher and Ronstadt implemented so well on Heart – well-chosen oldies alongside songs from up-and-coming singer-songwriters. Each of those albums is worth picking up. But none sparkle as much as this gem.

Side 1:

  1. You’re No Good
  2. It Doesn’t Matter Any More
  3. Faithless Love
  4. Dark End of the Street
  5. Heart Like a Wheel

Side 2:

  1. When Will I Be Loved
  2. Willin’
  3. I Can’t Help If I’m Still in Love With You
  4. Keep Me From Blowin’ Away
  5. You Can Close Your Eyes

The Essentials: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Broken Arrow

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

In early 1996, a few months after the passing of fellow traveler David Briggs (1944-95), Neil saddled up the Horse and took it for a much-needed ride. The result: Broken Arrow, which was released on July 2nd of that year. It’s an oft-overlooked gem, overshadowed for some by the classics that immediately preceded it (Freedom, Ragged Glory, Weld, Harvest Moon, Sleeps With Angels and Mirror Ball) and unknown to many younger fans simply because…well, where does one begin with such a prolific artist?

That said, it’s one of my favorites by Neil. It’s somber, reflective and celebratory, essentially the grieving process set to song. It’s hypnotic. But rather than delve deep into its grooves, as I often do with my Essentials, I thought I’d share my original review of the album, written not long after its release…

First listen: Long, loping songs (“Big Time,” “Loose Change,” “Slip Away”) with thick guitars reverberating ad infinitum, seemingly nothing more than retreads of themes previously visited on numerous Neil & CH classics. Throw in shorter tunes (“Scattered,” “This Town,” “Music Arcade”) that, again, echo past classics and even previous tracks, plus a conclusion (a cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do”) that sounds like it was copped from a bad-sounding bootleg. Short and sweet review: Mediocre.

Second listen: Gets better. The long, loping songs are still long and, yes, they still lope. But “Big Time,” “Slip Away,” “Loose Change” and “Scattered” possess hypnotic, near narcotic qualities that circulate and percolate through the mind long after the music has stopped. Lyrically, the songs make a fitting tribute to the late David Briggs, Neil’s longtime producer and friend: “I’m still living the dream we had/for me it’s not over.”

Third, then fourth, fifth and sixth listens, all played LOUD: The chords cleanse the soul. “Music Arcade” has proven itself an acoustic gem that serves as this album’s piece de resistance, featuring an impassioned, hushed vocal: “I was walking down Main Street … dodgin’ traffic with flyin’ feet/ that’s how good I felt.” And that bad-sounding, bootleg-esque ending? Guess what? It works. After a while you forgive the bad sound and just get into the groove…and, man, what a groove! (A+)

The songs:

  1. Big Time
  2. Loose Change
  3. Slip Away
  4. Changing Highways
  5. Scattered (Let’s Think About Livin’)
  6. This Town
  7. Music Arcade
  8. Baby What You Want Me to Do