Monday, 20 June 2011

June’s First Five: The Time Alone with a Church-Burning Dragon


Hmmm, did I say I’d do these monthly? Well, what I meant by that was no more than once a month. Absolute maximum. Yep, got out of that one…seriously though, I know it’s been a while since I’ve done a ‘first five’ as there’s 665 more songs sitting on my ipod and waiting to be chosen than there were last time! So, for June 2011, the first 5 songs out of a possible 10912 are:
1.       Paul Simon – A Church is Burning (Alternate Take)
2.       Toto – St. George and the Dragon
3.       Bad English – The Time Alone With You
4.       Boz Scaggs – Claudia
5.       Poco – Rose of Cimmarron (Live)
Paul Simon – A Church is Burning (Alternate Take) (from The Paul Simon Song Book  – 1965)

Recorded in England about a year before he became famous, The Paul Simon Song Book mostly contains belatedly familiar material, made famous in it’s Simon and Garfunkel versions. This song is the exception, but it’s easily one of the highlights of the album (which, I’ll take any day over any S&G album!). This version is an alternate take, included on the surprise 2004 CD release (it had never been released in the US before – previous attempts, dating as far back as 1969 had always been blocked by Simon, though I have no idea why – or why he finally changed his mind!). The original take selected for inclusion gets full marks from me, leaving this one as a curiosity more than anything, but even though it’s not quite as perfect as the familiar version, it’s a great song performed with passion. (9/10)
Toto – St. George and the Dragon  (from Hydra1979)
This song goes hand in hand with it’s parent album’s title track, and while fantasy-inspired prog rock isn’t what you’d usually expect from Toto, they do it very well indeed. Sadly, fantasy-inspired prog rock wasn’t what anybody (especially the AM pop audience) was looking for in 1979, so when released as a single it stiffed in a big way (as all Toto singles would from that point on, until their major comeback in 1982 with Rosanna rescued them from chart obscurity). Curiously it is the only Bobby Kimball lead vocal on the first side of the album – it’s also one of his best from his original tenure with the band. The version to pop up on the ipod is from one of many Toto compilations featuring extensive remastering, and the difference in sound between this and the original album release is like night and day. But despite the fact that the whole catalogue has been remastered, Sony still show no inclination to releasing remastered albums in their entirety (preferably with bonus tracks and extensive liner notes…hmmm, perhaps Rock Candy will step in and save the day?) (10/10)
Bad English – The Time Alone With You (from Backlash  – 1991)
This should probably have been the single form Bad English’s second (and final) album, but given that 1991 was the ‘year of Grunge’ and the band had effectively fallen apart before the album came out, it probably wouldn’t have fared any better in the charts than Straight to Your Heart (#42) did, so never mind. Having the name Diane Warren in the writing credits is usually a worrying sign, but this was a co-write with bandmembers John Waite and Jonathan Cain, and is one of the best songs to have her involvement (far superior to their #1 When I See You Smile, from the debut in ’89 for starters). As Bad English were so short-lived it’s hard to think of them on their own terms, usually it’s either Journey with guest vocalist John Waite, or John Waite solo, but with a better backing band than usual. This one falls into the latter category.   (9/10)
Boz Scaggs – Claudia  (from Other  Roads – 1988)
A very solid album cut from Boz’s late-80s comeback album. It’s been a long time since I’ve sighted the album’s liner notes, but if memory serves this was one of two cuts produced by Stewart Levine (the other being hit single Heart of Mine), whereas the bulk of the album was overseen by Bill Schnee. As with Simone on previous effort Middle Man Boz seemed to be competing with his ex-backing band (Toto, who still appear on many of the cuts on both albums) to ensure every album had at least one song named after a woman. Well, it’s better than if he’d called it ‘Christopher’ innit? (8/10)

Poco – Rose of Cimmarron (Live) (from Poco in Concert  – 200?)
The title track of Poco’s 1976 album is widely (and rightly) considered one of the highlights of their entire catalogue (‘It’s ‘long, but rarely long enough’ as John Tobler says in the liner notes for any BGO Poco release you’d care to name…). This version, culled from their live DVD (which has appeared under many titles over the past decade or so) falls a bit flat, mainly due to a thin/weedy lead vocal from Rusty Young, but it picks up as it goes along and is musically satisfying. (6/10)
So, despite a comparatively weak finish, a pretty solid bunch of tunes this time around, which have combined to  bring the average score up to 8.4 (which, given that February’s average was a disappointing 6.6 represents quite an improvement, even if, in rounded terms, it only goes up one from 7/10 to 8/10). But not too shabby, whichever way you look at it. Who knows, maybe I'll even do this again next month…

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