Every so often, a record producer comes along whose mastery of the studio takes on a legendary status. The early years of pop showed off the technical talents of George Martin and Phil Spector; the world of disco gave a platform to Quincy Jones and Geogio Moroder (Quincy’s hand in making Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’ a global success cannot be understated – it’s a stunning sounding record) and the rock scene gave Martin Birch plenty to apply a distinctive style.
In terms of pop, 1982 was a strong year: Madness took a further step towards songwriting sophistication with their album ‘The Rise & Fall’, Prince made a huge breakthrough with his ‘1999’ double platter of much filthiness and Phil Collins showed us that the previous year’s ‘Face Value’ wasn’t just a one-off solo success when his “tricky second album” spawned a #1 hit single and a few of his best solo tunes.
On the surface, it would seem that the British blues boom has been well served by compilation discs over the years. On closer inspection, that hasn’t really been the case at all: the best anthologies tend to be label specific (Blue Horizon’s ‘The Blue Horizon Story’, Decca’s ‘The Blues Scene’ and Immediate’s ‘Blues Anytime’ series, later repackaged as an excellent four CD set by Charly Records). The bulk of the rest seem too concerned with repackaging bits of ‘Blues Anytime’ with cheap, inferior packaging. There hasn’t ever really been a decent compilation covering a lot of ground from different labels, or one unafraid to dig a little deeper beyond the usual suspects.
In a relatively short time, Fleetwood Mac had marked their place at the top of the British blues table. With two excellent albums (1967’s ‘Fleetwood Mac’ and 1968’s ‘Mr. Wonderful’) and an indispensable compilation (‘The Pious Bird of Good Omen’, 1969), they showed an ability to take on the genre’s best. In Peter Green, they had a fantastic vocalist and a new guitar hero. Their third album ‘Then Play On’ (released in September 1969) even showed the band branching away from the blues and its mixed bag of styles further cemented Green’s place among the new guitar gods.
What’s more, a run of non-album singles issued throughout ’69 reinforced any belief that this still young band had all the makings one that might just have some longevity. An easy listening instrumental ‘Albatross’ showcased the softer side of Green’s guitar work and appealed to a broader spectrum of listeners, becoming one of their most enduring hits The double whammy of 1969’s ‘Oh Well (Parts 1 & 2)’ paired angry blues with an unexpected foray into something that was closer to Ennio Morricone than JB Lenoir or Elmore James; an aching ballad ‘Man of the World’ showed how Green’s voice was easily capable of conveying a gentle anguish. A trio of more disparate singles you’d be hard pressed to find and yet all were chart smashes, each hitting the #2 spot in the UK.
Covers albums can be a lazy stop gap, a contractual obligation filler or – worst of all – a pointless exercise in rehashing tunes with no imagination. When done well, they can be fantastic and make you hear things in a way you never imagined. In the hands of Los Angeles noise rock/shoegaze band Medicine – famous to UK audiences for their contribution to the soundtrack for ‘The Crow’ – 2019’s ‘Scarred For Life’ provides an opportunity to dive into the past and re-imagine various cult tracks, bringing a few of their choices to a whole new audience. Although you might expect a band like Medicine to take the easier route and fuzz up a few old gothic favourites, on this eleven track release, they give their fans lots of surprises. Taking various songs from the 60s and 70s (in addition to a couple of other detours) this is a record that, in their own words, “relieves the glory of the K-Tel architechts”. That doesn’t mean the band are about to cover the likes of ‘Yellow River’, ‘Jeans On’ and a well known Suzi Quatro hit, though. This is Medicine, after all…and their voyage through decades past often favours deeper cuts.