Paul Weller – ‘Stanley Road’

Following Weller’s musical resurrection with his debut solo album in 1992, his follow up the next year further enhanced his status. Wild Wood was a stunning album, a notable step up from Paul Weller it was heavier and more soulful, blending folk and psychedelic bluesy jams. Steve Craddock was in and adding the perfect musical foil to Weller’s swank and vigor.

For five or so years from ’94 I saw Weller live more than a dozen times, and he was never less than totally captivating. His passion completely dominated his live performances, riding as he was on the crest of adulation from not just the new wave of Britpop admirers but also his original Jam and Style Council fanatics. Weller’s devotion to his art is unquestionable and his influences are celebrated through his music, never better than on his classic ’95 release, Stanley Road.

Musically, those influences are all over the back of Peter Blake’s album cover: Steve Marriot and Ronnie Lane figurines, Artetha Franklin, John Lennon, a dude on a scooter plus mod and Stax iconography. You know where he’s at. For me, Weller’s influences are right at home in my record collection and on Stanley Road they shine magnificently. That said, this is a Weller album through and through; heavy and soulful with a groove that has attitude pulsing at its heart. Changing Man is just a classic Weller single and with Porcelain Gods and Dr. John’s Walk On Gilded Splinters the voodoo groove is blues swamp perfection.

The groove becomes more soulful through Stanley Road and Broken Stones before the intensity returns on the glorious Out Of The Sinking. It’s all there; a rock and blues stomp with Yolanda Charles and Steve White’s rhythm matched by Carleen Anderson’s stunning gospel vocals. The slower, piano lead tracks are great, but for me it was all about the full band at full tilt, and that was at its peak on Whirlpool’s End, a live classic that showcased the skills of Brendan Lynch and rhythm king, Steve White.

Ten years later Paul Weller said: “Stanley Road was one of those perfect moments when everything slotted into place naturally. It was a dream… Initially I wanted to call the album Shit or Bust, because that’s how I felt about it. I put everything into it, emotionally and physically. It was the culmination of my solo career to date. I knew it was special. We had a playback and I could sense the excitement among the people listening to it.”

To me, in over 40 years over making music Stanley Road is Weller’s best ever album. He was idolised by two generations, he’d just split from his wife DC Lee and he was partying with much gusto. His creative juices were fully fuelled, no doubt stimulated by his contemporaries who looked up to him for inspiration, and boy did he deliver.

Led Zeppelin – ‘Led Zeppelin II’

As the years went by bands and artists were being discovered at a rapid rate. With many it was just a matter of time, and some inexplicably took longer than others. Even after obsessing over music for forty years there are plenty I feel like I’ve missed out on, but some voices, or songs, or albums, despite repeat listens just don’t grab you, or just don’t grab you enough to persevere. Bruce Springsteen would be the most obvious of many for me, but who knows… there’s still plenty of time. At 22 years old I’d waited long enough to sink into Led Zeppelin, but when I did I went full tilt.

I bought Led Zep I, II, III and IV in quick succession, I’m not sure in what order, but I do know II was my pick of the bunch. Just. The iconic Whole Lotta Love set the tone, and immediately it was obvious (though I think I already knew) that this was four musicians at the top of their game; musicians who were borrowing from the past, but piling the groove, rock and psychedelia on to the blues. And boy, were they piling it on. Led Zep II was a gloriously heavy musical boogie, with a beautiful stench of 1969.

I could listen to Led Zeppelin II just for John Bonham’s drumming. In fact, if I could pick an all-star line up of vocals, guitar, bass and drums, Bonham would be on the sticks. He just had it all, and had it in spades. John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page would come close to that group too, but that’s a whole different story. With Led Zep, for me it was all about the feel. Songs like What Is And What Should Never Be, Heartbreaker, Ramble On and Moby Dick would ebb and flow, with dramatic, screeching peaks pouring into deep, meandering troughs. Watching live footage of those early performances shows mastery and as much sexual energy as Plant’s pants could muster. All four were killing it.

Throughout my later years, when I’d deny ever having been a mod, many who knew me would titter at that suggestion. I’d DJ’d at sixties/mod clubs and soul nights, owned vintage Vespas and obsessed over Weller, soul and watched Quadrophenia more times than I can remember. Now, I love almost everything about the mod movement, but can a mod love Led Zeppelin? With all that leather and long hair? And Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and Santana just around the corner? Now mod is far more than the music, but I always felt my musical and cultural tastes expanded at an early age, and felt it unnecessary to label myself.

Whatever. For me 1988 was Rumours, Moondance and a whole lotta Led Zeppelin. And the gym. Listening to Heartbreaker roll seamlessly into Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman) takes me right back to mixtapes and slogging up hills with my Walkman. Sweat and Led Zeppelin. A rightful mix.

Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Smash Hits’

Whilst my early teenage years around 1980 saw me primarily fixating on music of that time, by the mid ‘80s my focus on an earlier era was, if not deliberate, then blindingly apparent. I’ve always had a preoccupation with lists and numbers, and this obsession stretches to dates, so to be exact 1965-1972 was where I was very much at. Music from that era expanded, blossomed and created more genius than in any other period since, well, ever. Why? Well, drugs may have played a part. The talent and is always there amongst those lucky enough to be blessed with it, but for six or so years drugs really pushed that talent along.

Pot had a huge, positive, mind-expanding influence in the mid ‘60s, and in the late ‘60s acid had a similar, though far more creative effect. These drugs, for the large part, worked on many of the most influential artists of that era, and those artists influenced a whole new generation until the early ‘70s. Cocaine on the other hand, the most prominent drug around ’72-’73 had a more destructive effect. Death, primarily. Now, I’m simplifying things massively and I know there are many, many exceptions, the numerous ‘acid casualties’ and the abstention of Frank Zappa spring to mind, but that’s my theory (which I can expand on at much length if anyone’s interested) and I’m sticking to it. Which brings me on to Jimi Hendrix.

By the tail end of ’85 I’d heard Hendrix plenty, but owned nothing other than a scratchy as hell live LP. If I was DJing at Charivari then Hendrix has to be on the turntable. A visit to my second home at Snu-Peas set me up with Smash Hits by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. There were several different versions released, but the UK issue in 1968 included the singles’ A&B sides, plus other tracks from Are You Experienced. Hendrix, Mitchell and Redding achieved, created and turned on more artists in a two-year period than any other band in history, bar one.

Think psychedelia, the Summer Of Love, Monterey or Woodstock are one man reigns. In 1967 Hendrix was a beautiful guiding light, showing everyone the way to a higher musical conscience, and yes, drugs were a positive influence. As 1986 dawned, I got high on a few things, one of which was Smash Hits, a sunning, overblown psychedelic blues groove. Hendrix, for that two-year period was THE MAN. To quote Rolling Stone magazine: “His riffs were a pre-metal funk bulldozer, and his lead lines were an electric LSD trip down to the crossroads, where he pimp-slapped the devil.”