The Epic 2017 Project #345: 171211
Suzanne Vega (1985)
Suzanne Vega’s self-titled debut was released in 1985. It was well-received by music journalists and reached platinum status in the United Kingdom. Produced by Lenny Kaye and Steve Addabbo, the songs feature Vega’s acoustic guitar in straightforward arrangements. A video was released for the album’s song “Marlene on the Wall”,which went into MTV and VH1’s rotations.
In 1989, Rolling Stone magazine listed Suzanne Vega at number 80 on its “100 Best Albums of the Eighties”. It is also mentioned in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
The album has sold close to two million copies worldwide.
The Epic 2017 project #344: 171210
Van Morrison – St Dominic’s Preview (1972)
I purchased my vinyl copy of Saint Dominic’s Preview, Van Morrison’s sixth, a year after it was released in the summer of 1973. I was 14 then and already an erstwhile hippy and I’d heard (and fallen in live with) ‘Jackie Wilson said’ in the basement listening room of the Queens Road, Brighton Virgin Records.
“Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile)” and the title track were blends of soul and folk, while lesser known tracks such as “Gypsy” and “Redwood Tree” continued to display a lyrical celebration of nature’s beauty. Also on the album were two lengthy tracks, “Listen to the Lion” and the closing “Almost Independence Day” which were given primal, cathartic and intense vocal performances from Morrison. These tracks were similar to the songs on his 1968 album, Astral Weeks.
The album reached number 15 on the Billboard 200 when it was released. This would remain Morrison’s best ever US success on the Billboard 200 until 2008 when Keep It Simple came in at number 10 on the Billboard chart.
“Jackie Wilson Said…” was released in July 1972 as the first of three singles from the album. It was most successfully covered by Dexys Midnight Runners on their album Too-Rye-Ay and reached number five on the UK Singles Chart when released in 1982. It’s also been covered by several other artists, including David Campbell, Syl Johnson, Tommy McLain and Darby O’Gill.
The Epic 2017 Project #343: 171209
Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (1968)
Astral Weeks was Van Morrison’s second studio album. Recorded at Century Sound Studios in New York City during three sessions in September and October 1968, it was released on the Warner Bros label in November that year. Except for John Payne, Morrison and the assembled jazz musicians had not played together before and the recordings commenced without rehearsals or lead sheets handed out.
The cover art, music and lyrics portray the symbolism equating earthly love and heaven that would often feature in Morrison’s work. When Astral Weeks was released, it received no promotion from the label and was not an immediate success with consumers or critics. Blending folk, blues, jazz, and classical music, the album’s songs signaled a radical departure from the sound of his previous pop hits like “Brown Eyed Girl” (1967).
Astral Weeks’ critical standing eventually improved greatly, however, and it has since been viewed as one of rock music’s greatest and most important records (a reputation Morrison himself has dismissed). It is sometimes referred to as a song cycle or concept album. Critics laud the album’s arrangements and songwriting. Morrison’s lyrics are often described as impressionistic, hypnotic, and modernist. It was placed on numerous widely circulated lists of the best albums of all time and had an enduring effect on both listeners and musicians. Forty years after the album’s release, Morrison performed all eight of its songs live for the first time during two Hollywood Bowl concerts in November 2008; this performance was later released as a live album.
The Epic 2017 Project #342: 171208
Van Halen (1978)
In 1976, Van Halen started recording demos for their first studio album. Although they’d recorded a demo in 1976 with Gene Simmons, no labels discovered these until the following year. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen was not convinced of the quality of the material because they could not make the recordings with their own equipment. Simmons had to leave to tour with Kiss after recording the demos, but said he would make an effort to get Van Halen a record deal after his tour.
After recording the demos, Van Halen were offered several concerts. At a sold-out show in their hometown, Pasadena, the group’s future manager, Marshall Berle, discovered the band. He and musical entrepreneur Kim Fowley paired them with punk rock band Venus and the Razorblades for a gig at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. Well received here, the band gained the attention of Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman of Warner Bros. Ostin and Templeman were impressed with the band’s performance at the Starwood, and Van Halen went to sign a contract with Warner Bros.
The recordings of their debut album began in October 1977 and lasted only three weeks. Together with producer Ted Templeman, the album was mostly recorded live. Although “Runnin’ with the Devil”, “Jamie’s Cryin'”, “Feel Your Love Tonight” and “Ice Cream Man” contain guitar overdubs.
The subsequent tour to promote album sales began with the band opening for Journey, along with Montrose, in the United States. They later opened for Black Sabbath in Europe and in the U.S.
The Epic 2017 Project #341: 171207
Vampire Weekend – Contra (2010)
Contra is the second studio album by American indie rock band Vampire Weekend, released in January 2010 on XL Recordings. It debuted at No.1 on the US Billboard 200 and reached No. 3 in the UK. The album’s title is a thematic allegory and a complex reference to the Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries, the 1980 album Sandinista! by The Clash, and the video game Contra.
It was recognized as one of The 100 Best Albums of the Decade So Far by Pitchfork in August 2014.
The Epic 2017 Project #340: 171206
Underworld – Oblivion with bells (2007)
Oblivion with Bells is the seventh studio album from Underworld, released on 3 October 2007 in Japan, 15 October 2007 in the EU and 16 October 2007 in the US. Due to the success of lead single “Crocodile” and the use of “To Heal” as a central theme in the film Sunshine, it had sold over 93,000 copies worldwide within 6 months.
The album received positive reviews from most music critics. Allmusic gave it 3 out of 5 stars saying
The acid techno is firmly in place, with little or no regard for developments in the form after the ’80s. Still, unlike other electronica mainstays who have occasionally revealed a little weariness — either from trying to change or trying to stay the same — Underworld never sound particularly tired on Oblivion with Bells.
In 2009 Beach Bateria sampled the kick line five minutes 10 seconds into ‘Beautiful Burnout’, the time signature of which never fails to mess with your head. It certainly did mine. Still mastered it though.
The Epic 2017 Project #339: 171205
Underworld – Beaucoup Fish (1999)
Following the huge success of the single “Born Slippy .NUXX” from its use in the film Trainspotting, Beaucoup Fish was Underworld’s most anticipated release. It spawned several successful singles, including “Push Upstairs”, “Jumbo” and “Moaner”, which was previously used in the film Batman & Robin.
It is the last studio album to feature Darren Emerson, who departed in 2001, and the third album by the techno/house orientated version of Underworld which became active in about 1991/1992 (tracks were being released around this time under the name of Lemon Interrupt).
In 2001 the Beach Bateria Samba band I played bottom surdo for in Sussex sampled ‘King of Snake’, using its opening drum sequence and pulsating bass line as inspiration for what became its most popular and most requested live performance piece.