David Ackles

September 15, 2015

The first thing I noticed about David Ackles was the total absence of anything cool or hip. He sings like an honest man speaks, and this probably accounts for why he was not successful. There was no taint of romantic escapism, nor any guile or guise or persona to him.
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Bob Dylan

The first song by Bob Dylan I heard was Only a pawn in the game. I couldn’t believe that people wrote such songs, and bought all his albums since.
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Bryan McLean and Arthur Lee (Love)

I have no idea – or even much interest in – the relationship these two had. All I know is that they had over-lapping skills sets and produced some of the most original songs ever. I had their first album, titled simply Love, and several songs stood out as very un-formulaic, most especially Softly to me by Bryan Maclean, unbelievably fresh-sounding, a true beauty. The songs by Lee were also very fine though not quite so original and verging towards the melodramatic, for example, Signed DC, a fine but limited tune about drug addiction, but bold for its time. I missed their second album, Da Capo, and it’s never received good reviews; I had it once but never got into it.
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Brian Wilson

George Martin once said that “If rock music produced a genius it would have to be Brian Wilson.” No doubt he intended to include Wilson’s legendary production skills, his arranging prowess, his vocal abilities and his commercial sense within this description, but in the end we return to the songs.
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Burt Bacharach

By my count Burt Bacharach had about 35 hits. They were of a uniformly high standard, and a few are as good as song gets. Not for nothing did he receive honorary doctorates and the Gershwin Prize.
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The Beatles

One of the most intriguing things about the Beatles, something I’ve never seen mentioned, is that despite their vast popularity, seldom did they have the best song or record of any given year. 1962’s Love me do barely rates a mention, and 1963’s She loves you and I wanna hold your hand, while great records that broke them in the US, are actually quite trivial songs, and nothing compared to Blowin in the wind (Bob Dylan) of that same year. 1964 clearly belongs to House of the Rising Sun (the Animals); to my mind the best Beatles songs of that year are If I fell (John Lennon) and And I love her (Paul McCartney), neither of which was released as a single anyway.
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Vic Chesnutt

I was originally attracted to Vic Chesnutt because of tales of his life that leaked out through the net. If they are to be believed (and I have no reason to doubt any of them) he was a foundling baby adopted into a loving working-class family in the American south. He seemed to develop a life-long dependence upon alcohol and had a car smash at age 18 that left him quadriplegic. Despite this he learned basic guitar (nylon strings), started writing songs and playing in a small restaurant where he was discovered by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. fame, and thence recorded. In time he made 17 albums. He struggled with ill-health over the years and was probably depressed much of the time, despite which he married but had no children. Following a protracted period of ill health he eventually suicided in 2009 aged 45.
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Tune, melody and note-row

A book that has become something of a Bible for me is the small volume Tune, by Imogen Holst (1962). She was the daughter of Gustav Holst, composer of The Planets among other excellent orchestral works, and clearly she knew pretty much all there is to know about music.
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My journey of music

I first remember listening to popular music on the radio in small-town New Zealand. It was everything from Richard Tauber to Hank Williams. Tex Morton was my earliest favourite. There was an old phonogram with a handful of 78s that I wasn’t allowed to touch, but one day I found myself alone at home with a record that had somehow been left there, perhaps by Uncle Bill. It was Peggy Sue by Buddy Holly. I played it about half-a-dozen times, listening intently for the return of the big people at any moment. I swear it was a spiritual experience for me (I would have been about eight years old); the rhythmic and melodic twists and turns mesmerized me.
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