Vinyl Icons

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Johnny Black  |  Mar 19, 2021
Released as a double album on the Columbia label back in 1969, one LP electric with a supporting trio the other acoustic and solo, it only belatedly received recognition for being such a groundbreaking work. Is it time to re-evaluate our views on the blues?

Exactly why Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, better known as Taj Mahal, has never been hoisted shoulder high as the quintessential bluesman to emerge from the 1960s remains a mystery that may be never be explained. But we'll have a go.

Mike Barnes  |  Feb 05, 2021
The group's fifth album was a turning point, paving the way for a career that would see them blossom from niche synth innovators to full-blown stadium rockers and in the process become the most commercially successful Scottish band of the 1980s

Simple Minds formed in Glasgow in 1977. Their name, which derives from a lyric from David Bowie's 'Jean Genie' now feels something of an odd choice, given the complexity of their sound. But people get used to a name and Simple Minds soon got a foothold in the post-punk milieu with their 1979 debut album Life In A Day.

Johnny Black  |  Jan 19, 2021
Session guitarist, composer of film scores and here, on his fourth album, the roots-rock multi-instrumentalist reached into his musical bag to breathe new life into a diverse selection of obscure songs. It was a commercial failure, but it's no less compelling...

Rated among the finest of Cooder's 17 solo albums, Paradise And Lunch, his fourth release, is easily deserving of Vinyl Icon status.

Mike Barnes  |  Dec 10, 2020
Released in October 1974, this was the first Island Records LP with the re-formed Wailers and its all-female backing group, The I-Threes. It sold over 100,000 copies and prompted interest in the States, many critics now citing it as the greatest reggae album of all time

By the mid-1970s the UK had already enjoyed a lengthy relationship with Caribbean music, from the gentle exotica of calypso to its more syncopated cousin, reggae and the upbeat ska.

Johnny Black  |  Nov 13, 2020
Waits once joked he wrote only two kinds of songs, describing them as grim reapers and grand weepers. And while this 1978 album was not a best-seller, it saw him refine his beat poet balladry by drawing on the blues, resulting in some of his greatest tracks

Millions first encountered the name Tom Waits when he was listed as the composer of 'Ol' 55', one of the stand-out tracks on The Eagles' 1974 album On The Border. Anyone sufficiently smitten by that ultra-smooth slab of Californian country rock to wonder who this songwriter was, probably went on to discover that Waits resembled The Eagles about as much as Bob Dylan resembled Peter, Paul And Mary.

Mike Barnes  |  Oct 13, 2020
With its now famous front cover showing the son of drummer Butch Trucks, the band's fifth album was the sound of a group striving for renewal after the tragic deaths of two of its members. Yet the album's success would only sour the relationships between them

In many ways it was remarkable that The Allman Brothers Band's Brothers And Sisters was made at all, arriving as it did after the deaths of two of the group's members within a year, and drug abuse by the musicians and their entourage having spiralled out of control. The fact that it was also their greatest commercial success still feels rather hard to believe.

Mike Barnes  |  Sep 11, 2020
Released in 1973, the singer's 16th album marked his transition from child star to a musically mature performer able to grapple with the social issues of the day and make sense of them for an audience wedded to pop. And he was just 22 years old...

Stevie Wonder's 1973 album Innervisions is widely regarded as one of his best and has featured prominently in magazine polls of the greatest albums of all time. But apart from all the plaudits, it's astonishing that it was his 16th studio album and was released shortly after he had turned 23. At that point the man born Stevland Judkins had already been in the music business for a decade – his single 'Fingertips' had topped both the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles and the R&B singles charts when he was just 13 years old.

Mike Barnes  |  Aug 11, 2020
Released in November 1983, the band's third album for RCA Records went to No 1 in the UK, No 10 in the States' Billboard chart and was later certified platinum. Not bad for an LP recorded and mixed in part of a North London church in just three weeks...

In the post-punk era of the late '70s many new wave groups chose a name beginning with 'the' to differentiate themselves from what had gone years before. And often their choices were deliberately low key, which gave us names like The Trainspotters, The Members and The Tourists.

Mike Barnes  |  Jul 03, 2020
Fuzz, feedback and live shows ending in fisticuffs... this debut LP from two brothers from East Kilbride saw the pair meld their love of '60s girl groups with the sounds of the industrial movement to create uncompromising music with a melodic pop heart

The 1980s is often referred to as a classic era for pop music, but the musical landscape was changing, with suggestions that rock was becoming outdated – the derogatory term 'rockist' had recently entered the vernacular – and the happening thing now was the shiny new pop purveyed by bands such as ABC, The Associates and Depeche Mode.

Mike Barnes  |  Jun 11, 2020
It's now 50 years since the duo released their fifth and final studio album, which went on to top the charts in ten countries and find a place in over 25 million record collections. So why did a work that was such a commercial success only end in acrimony for the pair?

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel first met at Parsons Junior High School in Queens, New York, in 1953. Initially they bonded over a love of doowop, but their musical horizons were expanded by The Everly Brothers. Simon bought their 1957 single 'Bye Bye Love' and played it incessantly and the two singers developed a similar harmony style. They landed a deal with Big Records for which they recorded as Tom & Jerry in 1957, when they were both 16, and scored a hit with 'Hey, Schoolgirl'.

Johnny Black  |  May 28, 2020
Almost two years of recording and with his funds dwindling fast, Steve Winwood was beginning to wonder if the attempts to encourage him to come out of retirement really were misplaced. Yet success in the States was to turn his music career around

You'd think somebody who did a record called Arc Of A Diver could swim,' owned up Steve Winwood in 1988, 'but I was scared stiff.' In fact, it was not until the late '80s that the British singer overcame his phobia, taking lessons from a former Olympic swimmer, by which time Arc Of A Diver, released a decade earlier, had enabled him to keep his head above water in fine style.

Johnny Black  |  May 15, 2020
Peppered with provocative lyrics and a cast of often nightmarish characters, this debut offered a snapshot of late-'70s Britain in all its gritty glory. Yet the catchy tunes delivered with a helping of music hall mischief means it still stands as one of rock's most original LPs

Towards the end of 1977 punk rock had taken hold in the UK in a big way and, for older and established musicians, this was a party to which they had not been invited. For David Bowie the best solution was to relish his individuality, which prompted the advertisement strapline for his LP Heroes: 'There's Old Wave. There's New Wave. And Then There Is David Bowie'. The same could have been said about the 35-year-old Ian Dury, whose music had always stood outside prevailing musical trends and whose first solo album New Boots And Panties!!, was one of that year's most original statements.

Johnny Black  |  Apr 15, 2020
It was panned by the British musical press on its release in 1978, yet this shiny synth classic would not only peak at No 11 in the UK charts but see Jean-Michel Jarre break all records with a live performance of the album drawing a crowd of one million

Although there were many pioneers of electronic music, there's no doubting that Jean-Michel Jarre's 1976 album, Oxygene, was the first encounter with fully synthesised and sequenced music for millions of listeners across the globe.

Johnny Black  |  Mar 27, 2020
Come 1979, punk was pretty much over. Would one of its leading lights fade with it, or could the band capitalise on their UK success and clamber to even greater heights without losing the force and the fire that made their first two albums so compelling?

The Clash were formed in 1976 after guitarist Mick Jones attended a Sex Pistols gig in the February of that year and realised that the whole UK music scene was about to change. Keith Levene, Jones's former bandmate in London SS, was drafted in on guitar, Terry Chimes played drums and the three were joined by Paul Simonon, who'd had aspirations to be a lead singer but decided to buy a bass guitar instead. Essentially he was learning on the job. Joe Strummer who had been in the pub rock band The 101ers was the new vocalist and after Levene left he also played rhythm guitar. Simonon thought up the group's name.

Johnny Black  |  Feb 18, 2020
Released in 1971, the singer's second solo LP was to be her last, the temptation to use unbridled self-medication in order to dull a life beset by insecurities leading finally to her untimely passing. But it's a work that assured her a place in rock history... Words: Johnny Black

Although her biggest commercial success, Janis Joplin's final album, Pearl, is all too often overshadowed by the tragic fact that she died before completing it. Her drug and drink problems and her complicated sex life during the sessions have been all too well documented. But HFN's Vinyl Icon features are first and foremost about the making of music, so the horror show of Janis's final days will feature here only to show the impact it had on the recording of Pearl.

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