Known by reputation as the home of many a poker machine and a brace of elderly chaps nursing pots of VB complaining about the young people and reminiscing about the days when they used to be able to sit at the pokies and smoke a durry, the Croxton Park Hotel in Thornbury has never been particularly high on my list of places to visit. However, when the news broke that Sleater-Kinney, The Greatest Rock And Roll Band In The World™, were booked to play the Croxton Bandroom on March 9th, it was clear that I would indeed be spending a night at the Croxbury.
I’m not particularly bothered with balance here, these are quite simply my favourite twenty songs from 2015 placed in an approximate order of greatness. Subsequently I’m not going to impose any arbitrary rules on my selections, such as trying to find some kind of equilibrium between genres or limiting artists to a single song. As a result, this selection will almost certainly contain a disproportionate number of tracks from talented female musicians and men with luxurious beards. I can also absolutely guarantee that there will be several songs by Sleater-Kinney. Enjoy!
Musically, 2015 started with a bang. On January 20th Sleater-Kinney released what was pretty obviously going to be my album of the year, Belle And Sebastian brought me down with what was the most disappointing album of the year and The Decemberists left me pleasantly surprised with a fantastic album which only just missed out on my top ten. In fact, my favourite albums of 2015 ended up heavily stacked towards the start of the year, with seven of the ten albums released by March 31st. Looking at the final list of albums, it seems pretty well balanced between phenomenally talented women, men with luxurious beards, incredibly innovative hip hop and albums with commas in their titles.
Back around the year 2000, Beastie Boys Video Anthology was the first Criterion Collection title that I bought. New to the DVD format at the time, I remember spending a night transfixed watching seemingly endless permutations of “Intergalactic” and “Shake Your Rump”, the first two songs on the first disc. When selecting a title for the Criterion Blogathon, Beastie Boys Video Anthology seemed the obvious choice. Not only does it shows the great variety of the “contemporary” side of The Criterion Collection, but it’s also an excellent example of their history of pushing the envelope of what could be achieved both technically and artistically in home video releasing.
Released in 1967 Dont Look Back is a fly on the wall documentary following Bob Dylan during his ten day tour of the UK in April/May 1965. Falling just over a month after the release of Bringing It All Back Home, the film captures Dylan at a fascinating turning point of his career. Dont Look Back is also particularly notable with D. A. Pennebaker being given a level of access to the enigmatic Dylan that has not been seen since. That said, Eat The Document, Dylan and Pennebaker’s rather unsuccessful attempt to film his 1966 UK tour may have played a role in this change of heart.
Bringing It All Back Home is Bob Dylan’s first masterpiece, notably it’s also his first album to make it into the Billboard Top 10 Albums chart. The first notes from the electric guitar in the introduction to “Subterranean Homesick Blues” are an immediate declaration of intent, separating Bringing It All Back Home from the folk music that had comprised Dylan’s career up to that point. Structurally, the album is divided into two halves with side one featuring Bob Dylan backed by a rock band and an acoustic side two. Lyrically, the album continues on from Another Side Of Bob Dylan in eschewing the protest and socially conscious songs of his early albums and moving towards the more personal and sometimes surreal.
It seems appropriate at this point to take a brief diversion from Bob Dylan: The Complete Album Collection Vol. One to close out Dylan’s “folk” years by looking at the remainder of his studio recordings from this era. The Bootleg Series Volume 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 collects together demos recorded by Dylan for the publishing companies Leeds Music and M. Witmark & Sons. Although over two-thirds of the tracks on this release were subsequently re-recorded and released by Dylan in the 1960s, there are fifteen tracks that until the release of this album in 2010 had only been available as bootlegs.
Another Side Of Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan’s fourth studio album and is one that is too readily dismissed. Recorded just five months after The Times They Are A-Changin’, the album comes at an interesting point in Dylan’s career and is unique amongst his discography. The album is often referred to as Dylan’s last “folk” album and musically this is correct, the album was recorded solo by Dylan on vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica in a single session on June 9 1964. However, lyrically Another Side Of Bob Dylan breaks away from the earnest protest songs and tales of injustice so prevalent on the previous albums.
Bob Dylan’s third album The Times They Are A-Changin’ was released just eight months after the extraordinary The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. While it’s his first album comprised entirely of original songs, The Times They Are A-Changin’ lacks the variety and humour of its predecessor. A series of earnest ballads focussed on social justice and racism, the album is a bit heavy going at times, but the presence of three extraordinary songs elevates its status.