Nokia - Music Recommenders: November 2006

David Bowie:
Sounds Of My Universe
(Part One)

By David Bowie

It seems to me that the hardest part of collecting sounds, in whatever format, is, after a few years, deciding which ones to keep and which ones to give away. I can't ever make those decisions so I therefore never get rid of anything. I no longer live in my house as there's no room left between the boxes of CDs, 45s, cassettes, and of course my vinyl albums, for me to get on with other life matters. Sounds won.

To be brief and to the point, I've often been asked for some of my first faves, most from many years ago (the discs not the requests) but these very special vinyls had a particular telling effect on how I would collect and listen to music in the years to come. This is an old list and has been around a bit but you may not have seen it so it gives me great pleasure to re-represent it one mo' time. Here are 25 to start with. I may do another 25 to keep a pattern going if you like. Enjoy.

David Bowie.

The Last Poets - The Last Poets - 1970 Douglass
One of the fundamental building blocks of rap. All the essential 'griot' narrative skills splintered with anger here produce one of the most political vinyls to ever crack the Billboard chart. While talking rap, (what?) I can piggyback this great treat with the 1974 compilation, 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' (Flying Dutchman) which pulls together the best of the formidable Gil Scott-Heron works.

Shipbuilding - Robert Wyatt - 1982 Rough Trade
Not an album, a 12-inch single. A vinyl nonetheless. A well thought-through and relentlessly affecting song written by Elvis C., Wyatt's interpretation is the definitive. Heartbreaking, reduces strong men to blubbering girlies.

The Fabulous Little Richard - Little Richard - 1959 Specialty
Unusually subdued, these performances were recorded by Richard at his first Specialty sessions in 1955. It was sold to me discount by Jane Greene. More of her later.

Music for 18 Musicians - Steve Reich - 1978 ECM
Bought in New York. Balinese Gamelan music cross-dressing as minimalism. Saw this performed live in Downtown New York in the late '70s. All white shirts and black trousers. Having just finished a tour in white shirt and black trousers, I immediately recognized Reich's huge talent and great taste. The music (and the gymnastics involved to execute Reich's tag-team approach to shift work) floored me. Astonishing.

The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground - 1967 Verve?
Brought back from New York by a former manager, Ken Pitt. Pitt had done some kind of work as a PR man that had brought him into contact with the Factory. Warhol had given him this coverless test pressing (I still have it, no label, just a small sticker with Warhol's signature on it) and said, "you like weird stuff, see what you think of this". What I 'thought of this' was that here was the best band in the world. In December of that year, my band Buzz broke up but not without my demanding we play 'Waiting For The Man' as one of the encore songs at our last gig. Amusingly, not only was I to cover Velvet's song before anyone else in the world, I actually did it before the album came out. Now that's the essence of Mod.

John Lee Hooker - Tupelo Blues - 1962 Riverside
By 1963 I was working in London at an advertising agency as a junior commercial artist. My immediate boss, Ian, a groovy modernist with American-style short crop haircut and Chelsea boots, was very encouraging about my passion for music, something he and I both shared, and used to send me on errands to Dobell's Jazz and Blues record shop on Charing Cross Road knowing I'd be there for most of the morning 'till well after lunch break. It was there, in the 'bins' that I found Bob Dylan's first album. Ian had sent me there to get him a John Lee Hooker release and advised me to pick up a copy for myself, as it was so wonderful. Within weeks my pal George Underwood and I had changed the name of our little R&B outfit to 'The Hooker Brothers', and had included both Hooker's 'Tupelo' and Dylan's 'House of the Rising Sun' in our set. We added drums to 'House' thinking we'd made some kind of musical breakthrough and were understandably gutted when The Animals released the song to stupendous reaction. Mind you, we had only played our version live twice, in tiny clubs south of the river, in front of forty or so people, not one of whom was an Animal. No nicking, then!

Koerner, Ray and Glover - Blues, Rags and Hollers - Electra 1963
Bought at Dobell's. In his own way, John 'Spider' Koerner was an influence on Bob Dylan with whom he used to play in the coffee bars of Dinky Town, the arty section around Minnesota University. Demolishing the puny vocalizations of 'folk' trios like The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Whatsit, Koerner and company showed how it should be done. First time I had heard a twelve-string guitar.

James Brown - Live At the Apollo - KING 1963
My schoolmate Geoff MacCormack brought this around to my house one afternoon, breathless and overexcited. 'You have never, in your life, heard anything like this" he said. I made a trip to see Jane Greene that very afternoon. Two of the songs on this album 'Try Me' and 'Lost Someone', became loose inspirations for Ziggy's 'Rock and Roll Suicide'. Brown's Apollo performance still stands for me as one of the most exciting live albums ever. Soul music now had an undisputed king.

Linton Kwesi Johnson - Forces of Victory - Mango 1979
A Carib-Brit contribution to the history of rap. This man writes some of the most moving poetry to be found in popular music. The quite achingly sad 'Sonny's Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem)' is worth the price of admission alone. Although not sung but spoken word set against a superb band, this must be one of the most important reggae records of all time. I gave my original copy just recently to Mos Def, with whom I see connections to Johnson, thinking I had already got it on CD. Dammit, I haven't. So now I'm searching high and low for a copy.

The Red Flower Of Tachai Blossoms Everywhere - (No Artist Credits) - 197? China Record Company
How can you not love music with selections titled, 'Delivering Public-Grain To the State' or 'At the Sight of the Enemy my Anger Soars', (a real foot tapper, that one). Apart from reading like out takes from a Brian Eno album, these tracks are actually rather lovely examples of folkish music played on traditional instruments. I bought about twenty different 10 inchers of this genre at ridiculously low prices at a Chinese Woodblock Print Fair in Berlin in the late seventies. The cover art proudly displays a smart and highly functional looking hydroelectric dam, presumably similar but smaller to the one which is now threatening to flood hundreds of villages either side of the glorious Yangtze river. Nice pastel colours though and classy white gold print.

Daevid Allen - Banana Moon - 1970 BYG
It's possible, just possibly maybe, that strands of the embryonic Glam style started here. I replayed this just this morning and was flabbergasted to hear something that sounds like Brian Ferry and the Spiders from Mars (together, at last!!) on track one, recorded a full two years before the 'official' Glam releases from either of the two above mentioned protagonists. There are, however, no doubts about Allen and fellow band member, Robert Wyatt's huge influence on the more 'high minded' layers of Pop with their protean unit Soft Machine. 'Banana Moon' became Allen's solo transitional move before forming the loony Gong. Robert Wyatt also went on to a long and respected solo career, intermittently working with ex-Roxyite Brian Eno.

Jaques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris - Cast - 1968 CBS
In the mid sixties I was having an on-again off-again thing with a wonderful singer/songwriter who had previously been the girlfriend of Scott Walker. Much to my chagrin, Walker's music played in her apartment night and day. I sadly lost contact with her, but unexpectedly kept a fond and hugely admiring love for Walker's work. One of the writers he covered on an early album was Jaques Brel. That was enough to take me to the theater to catch the above named production when it came to London in 1968. By the time the cast, led by the earthy Brooklynite Mort Shuman, had gotten to the song that dealt with guys lining up for their syphilis shots ('Next'), I was completely won over. By way of Brel, I discovered French Chanson a revelation. Here was a popular song form wherein poems by the likes of Sartre, Cocteau, Verlaine and Baudelaire were known and embraced by the general populace. No flinching please.

Tom Dissevelt - The Electrosoniks - 1960? Philips
This was one of those strange records put out by the record companies to show off that new-fangled stereo. Only here Philips opted for a truly pioneering couple of Dutch bods, Tom Dissevelt and Kid Baltan. As sound and sonic explorers, these two rate along with Ennio Morricone, but far loopier. I'd adore a 5.1 mix of these absurdities. The sleeve notes inform us that, 'Chimpanzees are painting, gorillas are writing'. Way to go.

Incredible String Band - 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion - 1967 Hannibal
OK, here's the album with the trippiest cover. Colours all over the place on this one, a real eye-dazzler. Probably executed by the art group known as 'The Fool'. Pretty much locked into a time capsule for many years, it's uplifting to find that this strange assortment of Middle Eastern and Celtic folk mystic stuff stands up remarkably well now. A summer festival 'must' in the sixties, myself and T.Rexer Marc Bolan, both being huge fans.

Tucker Zimmerman - Ten Songs by Tucker Zimmerman - 1969 Regal Zonophone
Now there's a title with cool clarity. The guy's way too over qualified for folk in my opinion. Degrees in theory and composition, studying under Onderdonk, Fullbright Scholarship and he wants to be Dylan. A waste of an incendiary talent? Not in my opinion. I always found this album of stern, angry compositions enthralling and often wondered whatever happened to him. Tucker, an American, was one of the first artists to be produced by my friend and co-producer Tony Visconti, also an American, when they both found each other in London. I wonder? Ah, yup, he's got a web site. Lives in Germany. Look him up.