The star rating system takes into account that these are "Acquisitions Of The Year". Therefore * represents 50-60%, ** is 60-70%, *** is 70-80%, **** is 80-90% and ***** is 90-99.9% (we're talking Pet Sounds or Forever Changes here). The retail price, actual price paid, packaging etc. are not relevant to the rating
The Masterplan (66.30)*** P 1994-1998, P 2000
Few would argue that the most essential Oasis albums are the first two, Definitely Maybe from August 1994 and (What's The Story) Morning Glory from October 1995, when they were young and mad for it, and Noel Gallagher had a pocket book seemingly stuffed to capacity with classic songs. So prolific was he that the singles from that brief period contained a further 20 new songs on the B-sides most of which were the equal of those on the albums, some arguably superior.
With the exception of their debut single, Supersonic, none of these had been released in America, hence the idea of compiling the best of the B-sides onto an album for their benefit. The track listing was apparently chosen by fans on the Internet with some influence from Noel Gallagher, and two of his justly favourite compositions, Underneath The Sky and The Masterplan, make it onto the album alongside obvious musts like Acquiesce and Fade Away. All date from 1994 and 1995 apart from two 1997 recordings that appear on singles extracted from Be Here Now.
The biggest omission is the non-album single Whatever, perhaps excluded on the grounds that it was not a B-side. Step Out (the B-side of Don't Look Back In Anger), removed from Morning Glory for legal reasons due to its similarity to Stevie Wonder's Uptight, misses out again, as does the anthemic Round Are Way. However, rockers like Headshrinker and the Bacharach-inspired Going Nowhere easily earn their places in the company of the likes of the acoustic ballad Talk Tonight and the more recent (though written in 1990) Going Nowhere.
Completists should note that the "live" I Am The Walrus (recorded at a soundcheck in Gleneagles, with overdubbed audience effects lifted from a bootleg Faces album) fades at 6.24, whereas on the Cigarettes And Alcohol EP it is complete at 8.14. Listen Up has been shorn of 18 seconds from its guitar solo, and Half A World Away, now known to the nation as the theme of The Royle Family, inexplicably fades out just a couple of seconds short of its natural end as heard on the Whatever EP.
However, on the strength of these supposedly second division songs, perhaps there are actually three essential Oasis albums
(review filed 6 January 2003)
So Far... The Best Of Sinéad O'Connor (74.30)*** P 1987-1995, P 1997
This useful round-up of the most commercially successful period in the career of Sinéad O'Connor of course kicks off with the memorably wonderful Nothing Compares 2 U and concentrates mainly on the hit singles, but in their album versions. Owners of the albums that these selections come from will find little that they don't already have, the only exceptions being a shorter Thank You For Hearing Me (at 4.34 presumably a vinyl single edit) and Empire, a Bomb The Bass track on which she guests with Benjamin Zephaniah.
Key album tracks such as the vengeful Last Day Of Our Acquaintance, I Am Stretched On Your Grave and Fire On Babylon are also included, though had the collection been a little more adventurous it would have been nice to see some of the hard to find experimental early singles such as I Want Your (Hands On Me) with MC Lyte, or the notorious Jump In The River duet with Karen Finley. As it is, this collection mostly serves the more casual listener who does not expect to soon buy any of her albums.
(review filed 2 October 2006)
Sean-Nos Nua (65.16)*** P 2002
Sinéad O'Connor's first couple of albums were magnificent ground-breaking stuff which still sound great today. After that, her successes were more sporadic as she searched for a focus for her vocal talent and identity, often sounding hesitant and constrained. This is her best album in many years, singing with renewed confidence on a collection of purely traditional Irish songs that she clearly loves, such as Peggy Gordon, Lord Franklin, The Moorlough Shore and The Parting Glass, with a sympathetic cluster of excellent musicians ranging from Donal Lunny and Sharon Shannon to the dub On-U Sounds of Skip MacDonald (Little Axe) and Adrian Sherwood
(indexed 8 July 2003)
Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band (65.34)*** R 1968-1971, P 1997
November 9th 1966 was quite an auspicious day for John Lennon, and for the rest of the world in some small way, because when walked into London's Indica Gallery he met Yoko Ono. The lives of both were forever altered by the other, perhaps more so for Lennon as Yoko introduced him to the avant-garde art world from a perspective that was wholly new to him, and a world beyond Beatledom.
Four years later the albums John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band were simultaneously unleashed on Apple, the name of the label inspired by Yoko Ono, each featuring matching photos of John and Yoko under a tree on the front cover and a photograph of them as a child on the reverse. Both albums explore the themes of basics, innocence and childhood. On the John Lennon album, Yoko is credited with "wind".
John Lennon's first solo album after splitting from the Beatles obviously had an inbuilt importance, and probably outsold the Yoko Ono album many thousands of times over, but Yoko's was probably the more innovative and ahead of its time, and still sounds heady, fresh and exciting today.
The album starts with the sound of a tape machine being turned on and the sizzling rhythm section of Klaus Voormann and Ringo Starr begins, abetted by the sounds of John Lennon's screaming guitar in a style far more liberated than on any Beatle record. When Yoko comes in, screaming the title of the song, "Why" (the only discernable fragment of lyric on the whole album), we realize that Lennon's guitar has been cleverly mimicking and anticipating Yoko's vocal, which has an awesome ferocity and intensity, and in that moment she redefines the role of woman in music for generations to come. The following track, appropriately, is Why Not. Some of this intensity no doubt derives from the "primal therapy" of Arthur Janov that she and Lennon had undertaken prior to these sessions.
The Plastic Ono Band accompany Yoko throughout the album with a confidence and empathetic sure-footedness that carries the listener along with them, embellished only by some evocative sound effects. Ringo plays with a freedom and swing we had never heard from him before. The sessions, at Abbey Road in October 1970, must have been something to behold and one envies the four engineers who presided.
Two of the pieces, Why and Touch Me, may be familiar to some American record buyers as they were also apparently to be found on the B-sides of the Plastic Ono Band singles Mother and Power To The People.
The Plastic Ono Band do not appear on one track, which is a rehearsal for an earlier free-jazz show at the Albert Hall on 29 February 1968. While the Beatles were recording Lady Madonna at Abbey Road, Yoko Ono had returned to London to perform her original composition at a concert with the innovator Ornette Coleman at his invitation, and on the piece AOS they are assisted by legendary bassist Charlie Haden, along with David Izenzon and Edward Blackwell. The piece demonstrates that Yoko was part of a tradition of experimental, revolutionary music before the Beatles explored any such ideas on the White Album. It was because of her return to London that she and John Lennon were able to renew their personal, musical and creative relationship, of which one of the first results was the White Album's Revolution Number Nine.
It is a landmark album.
The three bonus tracks on this overdue CD edition are disappointing. Only the unnecessary 44-second fragment "Something More Abstract" comes from the Plastic Ono Band sessions, whilst the previously unreleased 7:30 version of Open Your Box is a raw early version of the piece, probably recorded in September 1969, before its final tempo and structure had been established. The finished version that debuted on the Power To The People single in the UK, dates from 1971 (confusingly, the same recording was re-titled Hirake for the album Fly). The final improvisation, The South Wind, features John and Yoko at home in New York, which puts it in a different time-frame, and more properly belongs on an album like Life With The Lions. After 16 long, long minutes, we are grateful that a telephone call brings the piece to a conclusion. Far more welcome would have been the Plastic Ono Band B-sides Remember Love and Who Has Seen The Wind? which have yet to make a CD appearance
(review filed 28 January 2005, revised 12 February 2005)
Ono Box (71.33/71.56/65.17/57.51/73.10/49.15)***R 1968-1985
his tastefully packaged and well-documented box set clocks in at a mammoth six CDs, which may seem somewhat self-indulgent for an artist at best on the fringes of the mainstream.
However, its existence in the marketplace does not oblige anyone to purchase it.
If they were to, though, I imagine they would consider it a one-stop purchase, meeting all
their Yoko Ono needs, collecting all the albums and stray singles in one extensive package.
All the most commercially important tracks such as Walking On Thin Ice, Woman Is The Nigger of The World and Open Your Box are here, along with a fair number of rarities such as Japanese singles and unreleased album sessions and out-takes. Yoko Ono has supervised
remixes of a substantial number of the tracks, adding notes of explanation on each CD. Along with printed lyrics and essays, a thorough discography has also been supplied, and from this it can be seen that the tracks representing each album have been extensively revised, with running times sometimes extended, as with O'Wind (Body Is The Scar Of Your Mind) or Woman Power, sometimes severely shortened.
Paper Shoes and Midsummer New York both lose several minutes, for example, and Mind Train, over 16 minutes long on the album Fly, is here shorter even than the single edit, at under four minutes long.
Some 27 album tracks have been dropped altogether, though her unreleased 1974 album A Story is included on the sixth disc. Plastic Ono Band B-sides Remember Love and Who Has Seen The Wind? that have yet to make a CD appearance are not included though others
duplicated on albums are given space.
Over the six CDs we see Yoko gradually shifting from the avant-garde wordlessness of the
Plastic Ono Band period, to the more conventional song-based approach of 1980s albums that all employed session musicians. The Plastic Ono Band served her extremely well
instrumentally and on a proto-funk piece like Open Your Box predated the work of innovators like Betty Davis by several years.
The box set opens with a two-minute No Bed For Beatle John, extracted from Unfinished Music No. 2 - Life With The Lions, recorded in November 1968 and the only piece on the entire box set to predate the Plastic Ono Band. Even the free-form 1968 avant-garde piece AOS included on the album Plastic Ono Band has been dropped, as if she did not exist musically before meeting up with Beatle John. The fact that she did is acknowledged by Sonic Youth, one of many outfits to admit to her influence, who recorded Yoko's Voice Piece For Soprano from 1961 on their album Goodbye Twentieth Century, and also Scream Piece on Sonic Youth 4. Other artists who bear testimony to her pioneering feminist individuality include Bjork, the Pizzicato Five, Kate Bush, Yo La Tengo and the B 52s. This box begins to explain why, despite being maddeningly incomplete in some respects and perhaps too fulsome in others.
(review filed 8 August 2006)
The Big O: The Original Singles Collection (68.21/70.39)** P 1959-1976, P 1998
When I notice in the track list entries such as "Oh, Pretty Woman (Original single version) (Mono)" and later "Oh, Pretty Woman (Stereo) ('Come With Me' Lyric)", I feel that the compiler is exactly the kind of obsessive completist I want to be responsible for anthologies such as this one.
There is a fairly simple concept behind this 1998 UK collection: all 24 of the original Monument label singles, with the A-sides in chronological order on disc 1 and their B-sides on disc 2. A table in the booklet lists the highest chart positions and dates of chart entry where relevant, and there are cover shots of some of the record labels and sleeves.
It isn't as simple as that, of course, and when it all unravels the sleeve information says nothing. All is well for the first 14 tracks, with the corresponding B-sides in order on the second disc, though track 14, Pretty Paper/Beautiful Dreamer, was a US-only release (not mentioned in the liner notes).
Borne On The Wind and its B-side, What'd I Say, complicate matters slightly by being released in the UK but not in the USA, but the notes cope with this. The collection also supplies the original mono variant of another single, (Say) You're My Girl, because it includes Roy Orbison saying "Mercy!" at the end, as is right and proper, except that it appears to have been transcribed from a well-worn vinyl single and has some distortion. All the other A-sides are presented in stereo, and the single version of Oh, Pretty Woman bizarrely bursts into stereo on the very final note. CD2 ends with a German-language single comprising two of his hit songs.
In 1965, Roy Orbison was disappointed with the commercial failure of Goodnight, and, blaming Monument Records, moved to MGM. Monument continued to release singles, but these were old recordings, either previously unreleased, like (Say) You're My Girl, Let The Good Times Roll and Sleepy Hollow, or album tracks like Lana, House Without Windows and Summersong (the B-side of the belated UK appearance of Pretty Paper, a Willie Nelson Christmas song which had been a festive US hit the year before). As these did not chart, it isn't possible to tell the year of origin from the CD, or that the A/B side parallels between the 2 CDs has gone awry for a few tracks.
In 1976, having run out of hits with MGM and after a brief spell with Mercury, Roy Orbison returned to Monument and recorded the LP Regeneration, from which three singles were taken. All of the 6 tracks involved are included, but as none charted there is no mention as to what they are, and no indication of a ten-year gap. The problem is mostly not with the compilation, which is more comprehensive than the notes would have you believe, but with inadequate information.
Most of side one was very familiar and stands up well, apart from some over-production and dated girlie choruses, but there were some pleasant surprises on side 2, including The Actress, a ballad which surely should have been an A-side, and a sturdy version of Mean Woman Blues.
Sound quality is good overall but on my copy at least a handful of the tracks suffer from some extraneous noise and distortion, notably on Crying, Falling and Candy Man. These faults are absent from the same tracks on the Definitive Collection CD, and rob this CD of a third star
(review filed 28 November 2003, updated 11 December 2003)