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.

Jackie Wilson – ‘The Soul Years’

I’d been a soul obsessive since picking up This Is Soul at Snu-Peas in 1981. Soul was the staple of my DJ set at Charivari, and intensified by my love of The Agency. By 1986 my ears had been focussed on the classic artists: Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Curtis Mayfield and James Brown. Also heavy on my turntable rotation was War & Peace by Edwin Starr, a glorious soul-stomper with hints of psychedelia that like Grease, had copious amounts of groove and meaning.

War & Peace also dipped into northern soul, and these tracks, plus the prompting of Pete Young guided me towards some new sounds and new labels. Pete made me a mixtape. They were a thing. The cassette was littered with northern soul classics and some stompers from the Kent label by the likes of Young Holt Unlimited and Johnny Otis, and best of all it turned me on to ‘Mr. Excitement’, the R&B and soul legend, Jackie Wilson.

My Top 5 all-time soul singers:

1. Jackie Wilson
2. Marvin Gaye
3. Aretha Franklin
4. Al Green
5. Otis Redding

Pete’s tape motivated me to check out a load of new, mostly northern soul singers, but it was Jackie Wilson’s The Soul Years that was my first post-tape purchase. Jackie Wilson is best known for the classic Higher and Higher and the 1957 single Reet Petite, a rock n roll staple nowhere to be seen on The Soul Years, which showcases Wilson’s vocal flair and prowess. Jackie Wilson’s stage performance was up there with the very best, but I was just blown away by the sincerity and sheer depth of soul on the likes of I’m The One To Do It, You Got Me Walking and the euphoric northern soul floor-filler, Because Of You.

Of the 16 tracks on Soul Galore, all but a few I’d play in a DJ set. But this was no ‘best of’. Jackie Wilson had huge success for ten years before these gems were recorded, but in 1966 he joined forces with Chicago soul producer Carl Davis, and began recording with Motown musicians including the legendary Funk Brothers. An absolute match made in heaven and this album is perfect proof. If there’s a singer who gives me goosebumps way beyond the norm, it’s Jackie Wilson. But on The Soul Years it’s the energy, the strings, the production, the songs, along side those stunning vocals. It’s all there. The complete package.

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.”

The The – ‘Soul Mining’

By early ’84 I’d moved in to a flat with Simon & Gary, two other music obsessives. My social group was expanding, my social life was becoming highly interesting, and as much as Snu-Peas was my go to shop for records, Bizarre Bazaar was equally frequented for second-hand vintage clobber. With new friends came new influences, and one of us would have been the first to obsess about The The, and in particular two of the band’s early singles, This Is The Day and Uncertain Smile.

Whilst the 2-Tone and post-punk scene had all but gone, a few bands emerged which kept my interest in new music on high alert. The Smiths, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera’s fantastic High Land, Hard Rain were heavily played, and topping those for sheer magnificence and, eclectic, claustrophobic and intense beauty was The The’s Soul Mining. The album was full of new sounds; some repetitive, almost Balearic beats were way ahead of their time, others were more like an industrial take on electronic synth-pop.

matt-johnson-the-the

Musically kaleidoscopic, this album really opened my ears and pushed me into unfamiliar sounds, and lyrically too, it was deeper, darker and more uncomfortable than much of what I’d heard before. I could though, comfortably listen to Uncertain Smile forever, and doing so nearly forty years later I’m taken straight back to my unrestrained excitement and insecurities. Matt Johnson’s fragile, breathy vocals, and unique storytelling mixed with the lush production and epic, extended piano outro by Jools Holland make this an absolute masterpiece.

“Peeling the skin back from my eyes, I felt surprised
that the time on the clock was the time I usually retired
to the place where I cleared my head of you;
but just for today, I think I’ll lie here and dream of you.”

The The released Infected and Mind Bomb in the second half of the eighties, both albums brilliant, and both made Matt Johnson one of my all-time favourite lyricists. Perfectly scathing of Thatcher and the consumerist west, his cynicism and anger enhanced my views on many things whilst opening me up to others.

On Soul Mining there were strong hints of what was to come: I’m just a symptom of the moral decay / That’s gnawing at the heart of the country” – The Sinking Feeling. But, within an album of provocative new sounds and musical eccentricity it was Uncertain Smile and This Is The Day that soothed my ears and caressed my soul. Essential listening for anyone with a heart.