Vinyl Icons

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Johnny Black  |  Dec 01, 2018
When the singer agreed to make a live album he was obligated to tour, only to find the project dominated by American songwriter/producer Leon Russell as it was decided to film the events. Could a rock 'n' roll circus of excess be turned into commercial success?

Joe Cocker's legendary 1970 Mad Dogs & Englishmen double live album is not, let me make it absolutely clear, your regular run-of-the-mill, superbly recorded and immaculately produced Vinyl Icon. This is an artefact which has achieved Vinyl Icon status despite the ramshackle method by which it was recorded, and despite the chaos and drug-addled confusion of the 1970 tour for which it is named.

Johnny Black  |  Jan 29, 2020
With their first album a commercial disaster and the band now looking as if they might soon be without a record deal, they entered the studio with a set of tracks that trod the line between blues and radio-friendly rock 'n' roll. Could they come up trumps?

On its release in early 1972, Little Feat's second album, Sailin' Shoes, didn't even sniff the Billboard Top 40, selling a meagre 13,000 copies. In the decades that followed, however, the album's status has grown immeasurably, making it one of the most acclaimed releases of its era.

Johnny Black  |  Mar 29, 2019
Named after the iconic movie star, the group's second LP was packed with pop gems, the songs honed by electronics wizard Thomas Dolby with the mainstream in mind. Commercial success failed to follow, yet today the album is considered a classic...

When Prefab Sprout released their second album, Steve McQueen, on June the 14th 1985, music critics worldwide immediately set about falling over themselves in their efforts to outdo each other with effusive praise.

Johnny Black  |  Dec 18, 2019
The outlook for the couple appeared grim, yet despite having no record contract, their marriage being on the rocks and Linda finding it difficult to sing, their sixth and what would be their final album together is now hailed as a British folk rock classic...

After a decade of recording and touring as a couple, Richard and Linda Thompson found themselves dropped by Chrysalis Records when their 1979 LP Sunnyvista flopped. They had made five albums in total, and brought two children into the world, with another one on the way. Clearly, it was time for a radical re-think.

Johnny Black  |  Jan 19, 2021
Session guitarist, composer of film scores and here, on his fourth album, the roots-rock multi-instrumentalist reached into his musical bag to breathe new life into a diverse selection of obscure songs. It was a commercial failure, but it's no less compelling...

Rated among the finest of Cooder's 17 solo albums, Paradise And Lunch, his fourth release, is easily deserving of Vinyl Icon status.

Mike Barnes  |  Jun 11, 2020
It's now 50 years since the duo released their fifth and final studio album, which went on to top the charts in ten countries and find a place in over 25 million record collections. So why did a work that was such a commercial success only end in acrimony for the pair?

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel first met at Parsons Junior High School in Queens, New York, in 1953. Initially they bonded over a love of doowop, but their musical horizons were expanded by The Everly Brothers. Simon bought their 1957 single 'Bye Bye Love' and played it incessantly and the two singers developed a similar harmony style. They landed a deal with Big Records for which they recorded as Tom & Jerry in 1957, when they were both 16, and scored a hit with 'Hey, Schoolgirl'.

Mike Barnes  |  Feb 05, 2021
The group's fifth album was a turning point, paving the way for a career that would see them blossom from niche synth innovators to full-blown stadium rockers and in the process become the most commercially successful Scottish band of the 1980s

Simple Minds formed in Glasgow in 1977. Their name, which derives from a lyric from David Bowie's 'Jean Genie' now feels something of an odd choice, given the complexity of their sound. But people get used to a name and Simple Minds soon got a foothold in the post-punk milieu with their 1979 debut album Life In A Day.

Mike Barnes  |  Aug 17, 2021
It took over a year to create and when 'The Boss' first heard it, he threw the reference disc into a hotel pool. But the album went on to sell six million copies in the US and reach No 3 in the Billboard 200 chart, catapulting the singer from cult act to global star

In May 1974 rock critic Jon Landau's review of a Bruce Springsteen concert was published in Boston's The Real Paper. It included what became one of the most famous lines by a journalist in rock music history, 'I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen'.

Johnny Black  |  May 28, 2020
Almost two years of recording and with his funds dwindling fast, Steve Winwood was beginning to wonder if the attempts to encourage him to come out of retirement really were misplaced. Yet success in the States was to turn his music career around

You'd think somebody who did a record called Arc Of A Diver could swim,' owned up Steve Winwood in 1988, 'but I was scared stiff.' In fact, it was not until the late '80s that the British singer overcame his phobia, taking lessons from a former Olympic swimmer, by which time Arc Of A Diver, released a decade earlier, had enabled him to keep his head above water in fine style.

Mike Barnes  |  Sep 11, 2020
Released in 1973, the singer's 16th album marked his transition from child star to a musically mature performer able to grapple with the social issues of the day and make sense of them for an audience wedded to pop. And he was just 22 years old...

Stevie Wonder's 1973 album Innervisions is widely regarded as one of his best and has featured prominently in magazine polls of the greatest albums of all time. But apart from all the plaudits, it's astonishing that it was his 16th studio album and was released shortly after he had turned 23. At that point the man born Stevland Judkins had already been in the music business for a decade – his single 'Fingertips' had topped both the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles and the R&B singles charts when he was just 13 years old.

Johnny Black  |  Aug 20, 2019
The runaway success of her 1987 single 'Luka' propelled this singer into the limelight leaving the album from which it was taken somewhat in the shade. Yet this delicate mix of sharply observed stories told with unassuming vocals is as iconic as they come

The unexpected success of Suzanne Vega's 1985 debut album put her under considerable pressure from her manager, Ron Fierstein, to record a follow-up. Despite that pressure, the album she delivered in 1987, Solitude Standing, pole-vaulted her to international multi-platinum status, establishing Vega as the pre-eminent female singer-songwriter of the era.

Johnny Black  |  Mar 19, 2021
Released as a double album on the Columbia label back in 1969, one LP electric with a supporting trio the other acoustic and solo, it only belatedly received recognition for being such a groundbreaking work. Is it time to re-evaluate our views on the blues?

Exactly why Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, better known as Taj Mahal, has never been hoisted shoulder high as the quintessential bluesman to emerge from the 1960s remains a mystery that may be never be explained. But we'll have a go.

Johnny Black  |  Mar 27, 2020
Come 1979, punk was pretty much over. Would one of its leading lights fade with it, or could the band capitalise on their UK success and clamber to even greater heights without losing the force and the fire that made their first two albums so compelling?

The Clash were formed in 1976 after guitarist Mick Jones attended a Sex Pistols gig in the February of that year and realised that the whole UK music scene was about to change. Keith Levene, Jones's former bandmate in London SS, was drafted in on guitar, Terry Chimes played drums and the three were joined by Paul Simonon, who'd had aspirations to be a lead singer but decided to buy a bass guitar instead. Essentially he was learning on the job. Joe Strummer who had been in the pub rock band The 101ers was the new vocalist and after Levene left he also played rhythm guitar. Simonon thought up the group's name.

Mike Barnes  |  May 11, 2021
In 1969 the band were riding on the success of a hit single and would play a concert at Madison Square Garden, but the year also saw the singer's arrest, cancelled shows and The Soft Parade, one of the group's most adventurous yet most critically divisive albums

Like many groups that enjoyed a high profile at the end of the '60s, The Doors felt the need to progress. But in which direction? Their self-titled debut album released in January 1967 had peaked at No 2 in the Billboard charts and the single, 'Light My Fire', had reached No 1. They undoubtedly had something of the night about them, but their gothic darkness was tempered by vocalist Jim Morrison's teen appeal and a certain cheesiness – a bass guitarist who had played uncredited studio sessions with the group once told this writer that in his estimation they sounded like 'A cocktail bar jazz band on Quaaludes'.

Mike Barnes  |  Oct 19, 2021
It was a debut LP with a difference as three seasoned musicians set about serving up an edgy yet smooth blend of melodic pop and soft reggae to an audience still hungry for the energy of punk. Would the fans of the emerging new-wave of bands bite?

In the UK in the late '70s, the convulsion that was punk may have been short-lived but the ripples it sent out were far reaching. According to The Jam, this was now The Modern World, so if you considered yourself a new-wave band, or were venturing into the pop field and didn't want to look like some kind of throwback, you needed to look sharp or look 'street'. And it helped if you had a snappy name that included a definitive article. Hence monikers like The Motors, The Yachts, The Rich Kids, and The Police.

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