Lenny Kravitz – ‘Let Love Rule’

In early 1990 I was still stuck on the 1960s. I was actually constantly looking all around me, searching for the good stuff. More often than not I ended up back in a familiar era. The mid ‘60s to mid ‘70s was, and still is, where it was at. The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays were pioneering the new sound, both were certainly influenced by soul and funk in particular, and both grabbed my attention. They were cool, I listened loads and liked lots, but that’s as far as it went for me.

An album that struck more of an emotional chord, whose flower child sentiment typified my own, was the debut long-player by Leonard Albert Kravitz, Let Love Rule. The blend of rock and funky reggae, heavily hippie-infused, felt loose and spaced out, like it was recorded under a fug of herbal haze. In 1990 Lenny was a complete dude, a musical maestro playing almost everything on the album; that dudeness was totally evident when we went to see him live at Kentish Town & Country Club. To say he lived up to expectations would be ridiculous restraint, he was fucking awesome, and whilst he’s subsequently (musically at least) fallen short, Let Love Rule was a ride.

I say fallen short, but could really go further. He made some decent tunes post 1990, but fame hit and instead of blossoming like Prince, he became a pastiche of himself, which could never be a good look. That said, Sittin’ On Top Of The World, Freedom Train, I Build This Garden For Us and title track Let Love Rule all oozed a mellow, blissed out psychedelic groove, and I just dug it. Lyrically the album pushed no boundaries, but it felt sincere, real and like Lenny Kravitz was gonna chop some Hendrix sized mountains.

It turned out that Kravitz was no voodoo child and no mountains were felled, but in 1990 Let Love Rule was one of the soundtracks to a summer of sizeable fun. An adventure was imminent, an idea hatched on the Costa Del Sol and planned with amigo Simon. We were going on a trip, and the start of four life-changing years of life spent mostly overseas.

Carole King – ‘Tapestry’

There are albums that define careers, even those as incredible as Carole King’s. One of the most successful songwriters of all time, having written dozens of hits for other artists including the classic (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman for Aretha Franklin and Pleasant Valley Sunday for The Monkees, both in 1967. Tapestry is her masterpiece, a stunningly blissful album, totally alluring for anyone with a heart, and particularly one that’s fragile.

In the early ‘70s the likes of Neil Young, James Taylor, Paul Simon and Randy Newman were writing deeply personal, introspective songs. There was a certain Laurel Canyon vibe in 1971, post-hippy and spiritual, songs capturing real life, acoustic with sparse musical arrangement. Tapestry, with Carole King living there at the time, captured that vibe perfectly. Unlike other troubadours like Dylan and Joni Mitchell, Tapestry’s lyrics were straightforward and unembellished. Carole King had a supreme gift in her ability to use simple phrasing, and the same talent to nail a sentiment, to capture the fragility of romance, relationships and love.

“Stayed in bed all mornin’ just to pass the time
There’s somethin’ wrong here, there can be no denyin’
One of us is changin’, or maybe we’ve just stopped tryin’
And it’s too late, baby now, it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it
Somethin’ inside has died, and I can’t hide
And I just can’t fake it, oh, no, no”

– It’s Too Late

From my teens and into my early twenties and largely influenced by the music I’d been listening to, I was becoming more reflective and ruminative, still dealing with shyness despite having a fairly lively social life. Tapestry struck a personal chord. That Laurel Canyon scene in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was primarily a stoned, laid-back amalgamation of blues, country, psychedelia and folk. It was the original Americana, and with the likes of The Doors, CSNY, Frank Zappa, Mamas and the Papas and Joni Mitchell all doing their thing, it was an era and musical landscape I dived into.

Tapestry is lyrically unguarded, bleeding the warmth and spirit of the early ‘70s, stripping back any fuss to fully expose the intense emotion and vulnerability. Carole King’s ability to write a near perfect album is matched by the overwhelming sincerity in her vocals and the jazz-tinged warmth of the production. For me this was, and still is an album almost impossible not to love.

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.

Pink Floyd – ‘Wish You Were Here’

The Wall was my Pink Floyd debut, and I loved it; dark, disturbing, intense and beautiful in equal measures, albeit a bit of a slog. More Floyd had to come, and it was probably Wish You Were Here before Dark Side Of The Moon simply due to what was in the racks at Snu-Peas on a particular day. The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn was also imminent too, but that’s a whole different kettle of far-out fish. Now, there are albums that simply have to be listened to in their entirety to be fully appreciated, with headphones on, eyes closed and mind open. Wish You Were Here is a perfect example.

With Syd Barrett seemingly ever present, the album is heavy with emotion. The effect of repeat listening was intense. The deeper you sank into its expanse, the more impelling and sensorial it become. Like a drug, and with this one the more the better. It demanded discovery. Scathing of the music industry that chewed and spat out Syd Barrett, it’s Wish You Were Here and Shine On You Crazy Diamond that cut the deepest; pure musical paradise with Gilmour’s guitar crying above a myriad of vocal and textural layers. Absolute heaven.

Well into my teens I had a dislike of synths in music, the blame for which sits squarely on the shoulders of the new romantics. As a youngster I needed music that hit me emotionally. I needed REAL music; nothing fake, I felt and needed passion and sincerity and so the synth pop bands of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s earned my blanket disapproval. It’s okay to be musically naïve through your teens, and thankfully over the years my mind and senses opened, and listening to Wish You Were Here was a huge part of that realisation. How could I dislike synths when they could be used so beautifully, creatively and yes, emotionally?

Wish You Were Here is a gut-wrenching homage to Syd Barrett. It’s four men pouring their hearts out. It’s deeply evocative, soulful and Pink Floyd’s second best album. Dark Side Of The Moon was next for me and would just nudge this from the Floyd’s musical summit. Just. It took me to be 20 years old to be able to put on my big boy trousers and love and obsess over an album heavy on electronics. That said, it’s Gilmour’s guitars and the impassioned vocals and sentiment that make Wish You Were Here a work of absolute genius.