Love Is A Lesson To Learn In Our Time R.I.P. John Martyn 1948—2009

I was deeply saddened to receive news of the passing of another innovative and original artist at the close of last month. John Martyn was one of the most talented guitarists and composers who I ever had the privilege to witness live (on more occasions than I can recall) and, at the same time, one of the humblest and most human performers ever to have walked the boards. Were it the Glastonbury main stage or a tacky student union bar; with a big band behind him, duetting with Danny Thompson’s stand-up bass, or simply all on his ownsome, Johnny Babes would never give less than his all (and usually then some on top!).

He was born Iain McGeachy in Surrey, England, but raised in Scotland. As the old adage goes, “Ye can take the boy outta Glasgow, but ye cannae take Glasgow outta the boy.” From his 60s days as a fingerpickin’ folkie, the first white artist to be signed to Island Records, he constantly strove to explore and expand his instrument’s capabilities to the full. Hooking up his acoustic guitar through an echo box and a barrage of effects pedals, he added jazz, blues and rock sounds and feelings to his playing —- never worrying about the results falling into any particular category. Later incursions, electric and acoustic, would lead him into dub, funk and soul — even hip-hop and dance music.

A couple of albums with his then wife, Beverley, opened the seventies: the decade which saw his most critically acclaimed releases, including Solid Air (1973) — dedicated to Nick Drake — and One World (1977), his experimental collaboration with, amongst other luminaries, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.

From the former comes one of his best-loved and most enduring songs, “May You Never” (covered by self-avowed admirer and subsequent co-performer Clappy, on Slowhand). The latter, with its ambient sound morphing into the music, pioneered styles which would come to be known as ‘Trip-Hop’ and ‘Chill-Out’. The cathartic Grace And Danger, attempting to deal with his marriage breakdown, was released in 1980, but only following a year of arguments with Island boss Chris Blackwell. The LP, incidentally, features — for me, at least — some of the finest drumwork ever by a certain Phil Collins, who also went on to produce the subsequent LP Glorious Fool for his “infuriating friend.”
An inveterate experimenter in the studio as well as on stage, his Classic John Martyn EP —- revisiting his career and heralding the lushly produced Piece By Piece album (1986) -— is widely acknowledged as the world’s very first CD single. Of course, not enough people had the hardware back then to put it even near the charts. Not that John would’ve given a fig, anyway: he’d already been close enough to the big-time for long enough to know where he was happy.
This was the period when I got into seeing him live. Johnny never sold his soul to the devil, but willingly gave it to his fans every time he performed. Watching him play was a revelation: your ears can deceive you, but actually being able to see that he really was doing all that with a guitar — woah man — something else… And, more to the point, singing at the same time! Were he oozing “Sweet Little Mystery” or “Angeline”, or ranting his way through “John Wayne”, his voice was always another dimension of the music: the lyrics more often than not remaining a “Sweet Little Mystery.” But, my god, you never failed to feel what the man was telling you. And then, when you did finally get round to sitting down with the liner sleeve/CD booklet and worked out what he was actually saying, you’d get totally blown away all over again by his depth.
He loved quipping with the audience between numbers, and was never shy of straight-talking: Maggie and Ronnie and both the Bushes were prime targets for his acid wit. Close-up in a small venue, reeking of Scotch, dripping with sweat, eyes tight shut and straining to get every ounce of his essence into the music and out of his voice: that’s how I’ll remember him. Or, at the other end of the scale, probably the greatest collective act of disbelief suspension in which I’ve ever partaken: “Over The Rainbow” as his 1986 Glastonbury encore — everyone completely and utterly aware of the cheesiness of it all, and nobody more conscious of it than JM himself. Experiences like that have neither price nor sell-by date!
His taste for a drop or ten of the hard stuff (and assorted other traditional rock ‘n’ roll trimmings) was a factor in his departure from Island at the end of the eighties, but didn’t slow him down any, as he went on playing live and releasing new material on various labels. Neither did the amputation of half of his right leg in 2004: he simply swapped his playing stool for a wheelchair… Continuing his eternal rapport with the public, and commenting on his resultant obesity, he’d frequently introduce himself as “the one-legged Sumo wrestler.”
His 40+ years as a recording artist have left us with a score of studio albums and over a dozen live and compilation releases. Not bad for a man who, by his own admission, “Just stumble[d] from one thing to another.” Or, as “Serendipity says, ‘You got to smile and roll the dice…'” Having received a BBC lifetime achievement award in 2006, he was also named ‘OBE’ for his services to music, less than a month before he died.
It was, of course, the booze (et cetera) that got him in the end —- this time in the guise of double pneumonia. And, as he joins that great celestial jam session, somewhere over the rainbow, it can only be hoped that Saint Peter remembered to get a few extra crates in!
And, yes, love is still a message to learn in our time: bear it in mind…

You Just Kinda Wasted All My Precious Time Observations on album filler

We know we don’t live in a perfect musical landscape. Never have. So the interesting question sometimes comes up: If an artist absolutely, positively HAS to include a ‘filler’ song, where should it go?

Certainly not at the beginning of the album, most would agree — then you’d be disappointed outright, and the initial mood would hang over the rest of the album. And not at the end, either — most would agree with that. It’d leave you on a sour note. So where, then?

I contend that the first track of side two is the worst place for a filler song, with the following observations (warning: very long and rambling):

1. It can lull the momentum badly if the last track of side one was particularly engaging (which it often is, provided that it’s an album by a smart artist); in these cases, it’s like a fire that gets quickly fizzled out (examples: “Right On” on Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, “Tears in the Morning” on The Beach Boys’ Sunflower).

2. There are often bad tracks placed at the END of an LP, which is obviously frustrating as hell… but this can often work, seeing as a final track is the place to ‘sum up’ the album. They can be bad tracks, but nevertheless necessary, and hence not ‘filler’ (examples: “Torn Curtain” on Television’s Marquee Moon, “Little America” on R.E.M.’s Reckoning).

3. In some cases, though, a bad track beginning side two can actually be a good thing, provided that your emotions are following the album every step of the way; this usually works best if it’s a track that’s completely different from the rest of it, so that it relaxes you before plunging you back in to the album’s style(s). Thus, they transcend ‘filler,’ because such tracks aren’t just meant to ‘fill up’ an album, despite their weaknesses — they have a purpose (I heard an interesting theory about The Beatles’ “Revolution 9” in this regard — serving a purpose, that is — but that’s another discussion). Examples: “Within You Without You” on The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “The Bogus Man” on Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure).

4. Since the vinyl LP format is obviously dead, one would think that these concepts don’t affect the CD age, but they actually can. Example: Radiohead placing “Optimistic” on side two of Kid A was a daring move, since their ‘come-down’ song (“Treefingers”) was placed at the end of side one; artists these days seem to understand this, and the come-down track is usually put just a bit before the middle. It allows you to feel relaxed enough to tackle the second half.

5. On hip-hop LPs, the artists usually go for a more ‘no holds barred’ strategy and either (i) try to keep the momentum going as long as possible, or (ii) place a skit on side two to lull you into whatever mood they want. If they choose option (i), then the CD format is certainly the best thing that ever happened to hip-hop.

6. Artists generally did seem to agree with this ‘side two’ theory, since they recognized that it was like Part II of a two-part book. You’d want to begin it with something that would make you feel energized enough to think that the momentum was not going to falter. Check out most LPs and you’ll note that the first track of side two is usually an album highlight.

7. All of the above is relative to an album’s time period; the Motown artists and early rock ‘n’ roll artists had more of a ‘just throw all the songs in and release the thing’ approach, which may be why nobody bothers to reissue the actual albums of such artist on remastered CD format… because people mostly played albums for a few songs, instead of looking for some kind of ‘journey’ — the ‘journey’ format of albums became prevalent in the 1960s rock era, and it then bled into all the other genres soon after (though jazz records were way ahead of them in this regard, one could argue).

8. The obvious answer as to where filler should ideally be, of course, is ‘nowhere,’ but almost every album in the world has some filler, and everything can’t be perfect. Every album has some sucky spots. I submit that the BEST place to put filler is on the third-last track, assuming it’s about a standard 10-song LP (I know, this is weird). Therefore, it would be late enough to not significantly damage the album’s energy, and early enough not to mar the ending with a ‘well what the hell was the point?’ feeling.

So yes. I understand that this was longer than needed, certainly… and I also realize that this is more a boring lecture on album structure. But that’s my view on the subject, and hopefully you guys’ll chip in your views on album filler — I’m always interested in hearing about it. Feel free to submit your own lists of filler tracks on albums that really, REALLY marginalize the album — that’d be fun.

Curtis

NOTE: We’re looking for a knowledgeable 50 Cent nerd! A review for Curtis hasn’t been published — yet. We need someone who can write a full track-by-track review of this album (at least a couple paragraphs per song); if you know the music, you can submit a review. You’ll be compensated when visitors make purchases through vendor links on their pages — for as long as your review remains on the site. Get more details in the FAQ.

Curtis by 50 Cent

“Intro”

“My Gun Go Off”

“Man Down”

“I’ll Still Kill”

“I Get Money”

“Come & Go”

“Ayo Technology”

“Follow My Lead”

“Movin’ On Up”

“Straight To The Bank”

“Amusement Park”

“Fully Loaded Clip”

“Peep Show”

“Fire”

“All Of Me”

“Curtis 187”

“Touch The Sky”

The Massacre

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The Massacre by 50 Cent

“Intro”

“In My Hood”

“This Is 50”

“I’m Supposed To Die Tonight”

“Piggy Bank”

“Gatman And Robin”

“Candy Shop”

“Outta Control”

“Get In My Car”

“Ski Mask Way”

“A Baltimore Love Thing”

“Ryder Music”

“Disco Inferno”

“Just A Lil Bit”

“Gunz Come Out”

“My Toy Soldier”

“Position Of Power”

“Build You Up”

“God Gave Me Style”

“So Amazing”

“I Don’t Need ‘Em”

“Hate It Or Love It” [G-Unit Remix]

Get Rich Or Die Tryin’

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Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ by 50 Cent

“Intro”

“What Up Gangsta”

“Patiently Waiting” [feat. Eminem]

“Many Men (Wish Death)”

“In Da Club”

“High All The Time”

“Heat”

“If I Can’t”

“Blood Hound” [feat. Young Buck of G Unit]

“Back Down”

“P.I.M.P.”

“Like My Style” [feat. Tony Yayo of G Unit]

“Poor Lil Rich”

“21 Questions” [feat. Nate Dogg]

“Don’t Push Me” [feat. Lloyd Banks of G Unit & Eminem]

“Gotta Make It To Heaven”

Don’t Tread On Me

NOTE: We’re looking for a knowledgeable 311 nerd! A review for Don’t Tread On Me hasn’t been published — yet. We need someone who can write a full track-by-track review of this album (at least a couple paragraphs per song); if you know the music, you can submit a review. You’ll be compensated when visitors make purchases through vendor links on their pages — for as long as your review remains on the site. Get more details in the FAQ.

Don’t Tread On Me by 311

“Don’t Tread On Me”

“Thank Your Lucky Stars”

“Frolic Room”

“Speak Easy”

“Solar Flare”

“Waiting”

“Long For The Flowers”

“Getting Through To Her”

“Whiskey & Wine”

“It’s Getting OK Now”

“There’s Always An Excuse”

Evolver

NOTE: We’re looking for a knowledgeable 311 nerd! A review for Evolver hasn’t been published — yet. We need someone who can write a full track-by-track review of this album (at least a couple paragraphs per song); if you know the music, you can submit a review. You’ll be compensated when visitors make purchases through vendor links on their pages — for as long as your review remains on the site. Get more details in the FAQ.

Evolver by 311

“Creatures (For A While)”

“Reconsider Everything”

“Crack The Code”

“Same Mistake Twice”

“Beyond The Gray Sky”

“Seems Uncertain”

“Still Dreaming”

“Give Me A Call”

“Don’t Dwell”

“Other Side Of Things”

“Sometimes Jacks Rule The Realm”

From Chaos

NOTE: We’re looking for a knowledgeable 311 nerd! A review for From Chaos hasn’t been published — yet. We need someone who can write a full track-by-track review of this album (at least a couple paragraphs per song); if you know the music, you can submit a review. You’ll be compensated when visitors make purchases through vendor links on their pages — for as long as your review remains on the site. Get more details in the FAQ.

From Chaos by 311

“You Get Worked”

“Sick Tight”

“You Wouldn’t Believe”

“Full Ride”

“From Chaos”

“I Told Myself”

“Champagne”

“Hostile Apostle”

“Wake Your Mind Up”

“Amber”

“Uncalm”

“I’ll Be Here Awhile”

Soundsystem

NOTE: We’re looking for a knowledgeable 311 nerd! A review for Soundsystem hasn’t been published — yet. We need someone who can write a full track-by-track review of this album (at least a couple paragraphs per song); if you know the music, you can submit a review. You’ll be compensated when visitors make purchases through vendor links on their pages — for as long as your review remains on the site. Get more details in the FAQ.

Soundsystem by 311

“Freeze Time”

“Come Original”

“Large In The Margin”

“Flowing”

“Can’t Fade Me”

“Life’s Not A Race”

“Strong All Along”

“Sever”

“Eons”

“Evolution”

“Leaving Babylon”

“Mindspin”

“Livin’ & Rockin'”

Live by 311

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Live by 311

“Down”

“Homebrew”

“Beautiful Disaster”

“Misdirected Hostility”

“Freak Out”

“Nix Hex”

“Applied Science”

“Omaha Stylee”

“Tribute”

“Galaxy”

“Light Years”

“Hydroponic”

“Who’s Got The Herb?”

“Feels So Good”