Vinyl Icons

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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.

Johnny Black  |  May 15, 2020
Peppered with provocative lyrics and a cast of often nightmarish characters, this debut offered a snapshot of late-'70s Britain in all its gritty glory. Yet the catchy tunes delivered with a helping of music hall mischief means it still stands as one of rock's most original LPs

Towards the end of 1977 punk rock had taken hold in the UK in a big way and, for older and established musicians, this was a party to which they had not been invited. For David Bowie the best solution was to relish his individuality, which prompted the advertisement strapline for his LP Heroes: 'There's Old Wave. There's New Wave. And Then There Is David Bowie'. The same could have been said about the 35-year-old Ian Dury, whose music had always stood outside prevailing musical trends and whose first solo album New Boots And Panties!!, was one of that year's most original statements.

Johnny Black  |  Apr 15, 2020
It was panned by the British musical press on its release in 1978, yet this shiny synth classic would not only peak at No 11 in the UK charts but see Jean-Michel Jarre break all records with a live performance of the album drawing a crowd of one million

Although there were many pioneers of electronic music, there's no doubting that Jean-Michel Jarre's 1976 album, Oxygene, was the first encounter with fully synthesised and sequenced music for millions of listeners across the globe.

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.

Johnny Black  |  Feb 18, 2020
Released in 1971, the singer's second solo LP was to be her last, the temptation to use unbridled self-medication in order to dull a life beset by insecurities leading finally to her untimely passing. But it's a work that assured her a place in rock history... Words: Johnny Black

Although her biggest commercial success, Janis Joplin's final album, Pearl, is all too often overshadowed by the tragic fact that she died before completing it. Her drug and drink problems and her complicated sex life during the sessions have been all too well documented. But HFN's Vinyl Icon features are first and foremost about the making of music, so the horror show of Janis's final days will feature here only to show the impact it had on the recording of Pearl.

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  |  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.

Mike Barnes  |  Nov 28, 2019
Could a group of ex-public school boys cut a path to the charts with an album packed with tricky time signatures and pseudo-classical pomp? Finished in just five days, this 1972 release was to see the band finally rock, on a scale that was to make their career

Genesis might be among the 30 biggest-selling rock artists of all time but they were never really intended to be a rock group. If all had gone to early plans they would have remained an essentially anonymous songwriting team.

Mike Barnes  |  Nov 01, 2019
It was his seventh album but his first for RCA, and as the clock ticked up expensive studio hours he still awaited inspiration for songs he hoped would bring him real chart success in the States. Would the one-time folk singer from Scotland make the grade?

Born in Greenock near Glasgow, Al Stewart was still a boy when he moved with his mother to live in Dorset. On turning 19 in 1964 he gravitated towards London, 'With a corduroy jacket and a head full of dreams', as he put it in the autobiographical song 'Post World War Two Blues'.

Mike Barnes  |  Sep 13, 2019
Released at the very end of 1975, the band's fourth album saw them hoping to build upon their success as one of the decade's most successful pop acts. Yet the very clash of creativity that produced such hits as 'I'm Not In Love' would split the group in two

Since its release in 1976, 10cc's How Dare You! has been described variously as soft rock, art rock, glam rock and even progressive rock. But one neologism that hopefully will never catch on – yet it evokes the essence of both the group and this album in particular – is 'sophisti-pop'.

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  |  Jul 17, 2019
The singer/songwriter's third album not only included two of her most celebrated songs but was the springboard for a career that would eventually see her achieve a number of firsts for UK female artists. Yet teasing out her talent was not straightforward...

Joan Armatrading was the first black British singer-songwriter to achieve major success. She would deserve to be hoisted shoulder-high for that alone but, above and beyond her commercial success, she should be recognised for having produced over the years a catalogue featuring a clutch of the finest songs ever written by any songwriter, male or female, black or white.

Mike Barnes  |  Jun 06, 2019
Released in the UK at the tail end of a decade that was becoming defined by tribalism and industrial strife, this eponymous debut drew on the energies of both punk and ska music, bringing the band's mission to promote racial equality to the mainstream

Ska originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s and was first taken up in the UK in the early '60s by the mods. It began to gain mainstream popularity towards the end of that decade, yielding hit singles such as The Pioneers' 'Long Shot (Kick The Bucket)', Desmond Dekker's 'The Israelites', Jimmy Cliff's 'You Can Get It If You Really Want' and 'The Liquidator' by the Harry J Allstars.

Johnny Black  |  May 24, 2019
While other white artists were dipping their toes into soul and funk, The Doobies rode forth from San Jose with a magpie-mix of blues, country, rock and jazz that secured them a string of boogie-woogie hits. Now it was time to capitalise on that sound...

The Doobie Brothers didn't need to know the way to San Jose, because that's where they lived in 1970. And, with a smidgeon of guidance from their heroes, San Francisco Bay Area combo Moby Grape, it was where they formed the band whose driving twin-guitar attack, twin-drummer assault, tight vocal harmonies and memorably singable tunes would bring them multi-Platinum success in the '70s.

Mike Barnes  |  Apr 10, 2019
Produced over a six-month period in 1968 by the group's manager Kit Lambert, this was the first big rock opera to appear on LP. Today it is regarded as Pete Townshend's 'magnum opus', yet on release there were those who derided it for being in poor taste

For The Who, 1966 was a pivotal year. Listen to their debut album My Generation, released in 1965, and it's clear they were essentially still a mod band – posters for a Marquee residency the previous year had them billed as 'Maximum R&B'. But once you've reached the maximum, where do you go from there?

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