Tag Archives: Ten of the Best

Judas Priest – 10 of the best

judas-priest

The Guardian Music Blog has another one of mine in their Ten of the Best series, this time for The Black Country’s finest, Judas Priest.

I’ve covered much of their career, going from Sad Wings of Destiny to Nostradamus. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to include anything with Tim “Ripper” Owens; though “Cathedral Spires” was in my shortlist, “Jugulator” isn’t on Spotify, so I couldn’t include the song,

One or two people have said they can’t take Judas Priest seriously. Whatever gives them that idea?

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Mostly Autumn – Ten of the Best

Heather Findlay and Olivia Sparnenn at Gloucester Guildhall in 2009

Another Ten of the Best for a band which have featured a lot on this blog ever since the beginning.

As you should have come to expect by now, this is ten of the best, not the “ten best”, and omits some of most the obvious standards in favour some of the overlooked diamonds in the back catalogue.

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Marillion – 10 of the best

marillion

I’ve got another Ten of the Best features in The Guardian, this time for Marillion.

Attempting to condense thirty-five years and sixteen album’s worth of music into just ten songs is next to impossible, and the the list went through a lot of permutations before settling on the final ten.

As people ought to have realised by now, I always avoid the Big Hit that everbody knows, because what’s the point? There are so many other riches in the back catalogue. There’s nothing from their biggest-selling album, “Misplaced Childhood”, which is an obvious omission, but so much of it only works in the context of the whole album. “Bitter Suite”, a candidate on the initial longlist didn’t make the cut because it doesn’t work as a standalone song, ending abruptly when it seques into “Heart of Lothian”.

It was also a decision right from the beginning for the split between Fish -era and H-era songs to reflect the number of albums, which was always going to mean Fish-era songs would be in the minority. Some people will not like that.

And, just as predicted, the very first comment mentions Grendel…

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Panic Room – Ten of the Best

Panic Room at South Street, Reading

Regular readers of this blog (all four of you) will know I’ve written a few “Ten of the Best” features for The Guardian Music Blog. I’ve done entries in the series for Yes, Black Sabbath and Ritchie Blackmore, amongst others, and pitched quite a few more suggestions (And no, I’m not going to say who they’re of, in case the editor comes back and accepts more of those pitches).

These things are fun to write. They’re explicitly “Ten of the best”, rather than “The Ten Best” which leave scope to include the odd personal favourite or overlooked gem at the expense of one or two of the all-too-obvious standards that everyone ought to know anyway.

So how about a Ten of the Best for a band a little closer to home? I’ve chosen an obvious favourite of this blog, Panic Room. Even though they’ve only recorded four albums so far, just about the minimum body of work to qualify for this sort of feature, it’s still a hard choice. They have so many great songs.

So, with no further ado…

Apocalypstick

Panic Room’s début album “Visionary Position” was the sound of a collective of musicians who’d survived the implosion of another band casting around for a new musical direction. It contained an eclectic mix of styles from stripped-down singer-songwriter material to sprawling prog epics. One standout was “Apocalypstick”, with lyrics about Helen of Troy and swirling eastern motifs in the music, featuring spiralling electric violin from guest musician Liz Prendergast. Anne-Marie Helder sounds both seductive and scary at the same time on vocals, which fits the song title perfectly. This was the song, more than any other, that pointed the way forward for the band.

Picking Up Knives

Panic Room’s second album “Satellite” was a far more coherent statement of intent, marking the point where the band found their musical identity, and this song was one of many highlights. Anne-Marie’s lyric takes the perspective of a mother seeing her son getting caught up in knife culture and fearing the worst, with music driven by Alun Vaughan’s propulsive bass riff and Jon Edward’s evocative shimmering electric piano with more than a hint of Ray Manzarek about it.

Dark Star

Panic Room’s music has always contained elements of pop, jazz, folk and metal, and this song, opening with a monstrously sinister organ riff, and with Alun Vaughan channelling Geezer Bulter on bass, represents the band at their most metal. It’s a big, dense wall of sound of a song, and shows the power of Anne-Marie’s voice, in absolutely no danger of being swamped by the instrumentation.

I Am A Cat

The strangest, quirkiest song in the Panic Room songbook, and one that seems to divide opinion. The ode to the archetypal mad cat lady is both humorous and tragic at the same time. Even if not everyone appreciated it, if you’ve ever seen the band include this song in their set, it’s obvious just how much they enjoy playing it live. There is an actual cat credited for additional backing vocals.

Song for Tomorrow

If the band found their voice with “Satellite”, their third album “Skin” took things to the next level. The album’s dramatic opener is a kaleidoscopic journey through much of what makes Panic Room such a great band. It begins with atmospheric keyboard washes, and when played live saw Anne-Marie playing guitar with a violin bow. Then it explodes into spiralling prog-metal guitars, before the guitars drop out for Anne-Marie’s emotive verse. Every member of the band is firing on all cylinders here, including new bassist Yatim Halimi.

Chameleon

Chameleon represents the opposite face of Panic Room’s music, that of sophisticated jazz-tinged adult pop. It demonstrates their versatility as musicians, and it’s a form that suits Anne-Marie’s vocal style especially well. The short solo section at the end features some delightful jazz guitar from Paul Davies. When they play it live nowadays Anne-Marie also throws in a flute solo, though we’ll have to wait for their upcoming live album before we can hear that on record.

Promises

The album “Skin” included a string quartet on several numbers, and they used the strings not just for additional colour but as an extra instrument in the band. The result is powerful arrangement for a very emotive song. Although on record it’s a big cinematic number, but the song works just as well as a stripped-down solo acoustic song, as seen when Anne-Marie supported Steve Hackett a few years back.

Nocturnal

This list contains now fewer than four songs from “Skin”, and to be honest the album is so consistently strong that just about anything from the record could easily have been included. We’ll leave this album with the slow-burning epic ballad that closes the record, starting with Jon’s delicate piano intro and ending with Paul’s evocative slide guitar outtro.

Bitches Crystal

Panic Room have played quite a few covers over the years. In the early days of the band before they’d built up such an extensive songbook of their own material they’d encore with things like Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” or a groove-based arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”. But the only cover they’ve actually recorded was this ELP number, which appears on their “Altitude” EP. It’s one of the rare cases where a cover vastly surpasses the original, rebuilding the song from the ground up and making it their own, reinterpreting it in swamp-blues style.

Dust

Panic Room’s fourth album “Incarnate” saw a change in direction. With Paul Davies leaving the band and new guitarist Adam O’Sullivan coming from a jazz background, the band moved away from wall of sound rock approach of “Skin” in favour of a lighter singer-songwriter style. One highlight is the evocative closing number, quite unlike both the rest of the album and equally unlike anything the band had done before, based around a simple repeating motif that gradually builds in intensity over the song’s seven minutes, and carries on playing in your head even after the last piano notes have faded away.

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NWOBHM – 10 of the best

The Guardian have just published my latest in the “Ten of the Best”, on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

When it comes to scenes rather than individual bands it’s harder to decide what to include and what doesn’t quite fit. So though I mentioned them in passing I excluded bands like Motörhead on the grounds that represented the previous generation.. Likewise Magnum, who were again slightly older and never quite seemed part of the scene.

I compiled the list largely by identifying the significant bands and then choosing their defining songs. A few of the tracks chose themselves; Diamond Head’s monumental “Am I Evil” is the most obvious one, followed closely by Angelwitch’s eponymous song. In one or two cases I went for personal favourites, for example Demon’s “Father of Time”. For The Tygers of Pan Tang I chose “Don’t Stop By” for John Sykes magnificent solo.

When it came to the better-known bands I tried to avoid being too obvious. Def Leppard’s early single is there for it’s historical importance. With Saxon I decided to go for an album cut rather than one of their hit singles.

Aside from the bigger names there’s a whole slew of lesser bands, some of whom managed the occasional great song, and the comment section is highlighting a few of these that I missed. I’d forgotten “Dance to the Music” by Last Flight, though Quartz did make my longlist.

And no, there was no room for Sledgehammer.

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Ritchie Blackmore – 10 of the best

The Guardian have just published my piece on Ritchie Blackmore for their “10 of the best” series.

Like some of my previous entries in this series, reducing the essence of a major artist’s career down to just ten songs is never easy. As on my earlier Black Sabbath piece I wanted to avoid a list containing ten obvious standards and nothing else, so I missed out very well-known songs such as “Smoke on the Water” to make room for a couple of lesser known and often overlooked gems.

There were a few songs that picked themselves. “Eyes of the World” was one of those songs that changed my life, so it had to be there. Likewise, the towering “Stargazer” could not be omitted. I did consider including representatives from his 1960s session work, and from the more recent Blackmores Night so as to cover his entire career. But in the end I decided to focus entirely on his prime years from 1970 to 1984.

Quite a few of the alternative suggestions in the comments did actually appear in earlier drafts of my list, including “Child in Time” which I eventually left out in place of “Speed King”, and the live version of “Catch the Rainbow” which one commenter described as the nearest thing rock guitar ever came to Coltraine.

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Black Sabbath: 10 of the best

Black SabbathThe Guardian have just published a piece I’ve written in their “Ten of the Best” series, about Black Sabbath.

The task of choosing ten songs to tell the story of the most influential metal band on the planet wasn’t an easy one. Listening to all their albums, especially the early ones, showed Black Sabbath’s remarkable consistency. For every song I eventually chose there were two or three others that would have been equally valid. At one point my draft list said “Something from Master of Reality”, and I could easily have chosen almost anything from that album. That my final list didn’t have space for “NIB”, “Paranoid”,”Iron Man”, “Children of the Grave”, “Spiral Architect”, “Neon Knights” or indeed anything at all from “Volume 4″ says it all.

One dilemma was whether to base the list around the obvious standards that everyone knows, or highlight some of the lesser-known gems. In the end, I went for a bit of both, including defining classics like “Black Sabbath”, “War Pigs”, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” and “Heaven and Hell” while leaving room for atypical songs such as “Air Dance” or a representative of the often-overlooked Tony Martin era.

Speaking of the Tony Martin era, one of the constraints I had to work to was that all the chosen songs had to be available on Spotify, and unfortunately neither “Headless Cross” nor “Tyr” were there; the only album available was “Eternal Idol”. Hence the last-minute substitution of “Glory Ride” in place of Tyr’s “Anno Mundi”. Which makes the comment that it was a great list except then “Anno Mundi” should have been there instead of Glory Ride spot-on. Little did he know.

Some of the other comments are amusing; there are clearly a few people who don’t like anything beyond the first four albums and lost it with “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”. As as for “Too much Dio”, there is no such thing as too much Dio. But that’s Guardian commenters for you…

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