Album Reviews

Issue 2020-107: Books Special

Geoff Feakes — On Track ... The Who: Every Album, Every Song

Geoff Feakes - On Track ... The Who: Every Album, Every Song
Jan Buddenberg

The On Track series started some two years ago and already has about 23 books under its belt. From a prog point of view, it has given great insights and interpretations to the output of bigger names like Yes, Genesis, Hawkwind, Queen, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, as well as relatively minor giants such as 10CC and Gentle Giant. One of the greatest assets in the series is the variety of writers partaking, ranging from musicians and journalists right down to the most avid fans. This time it's "our own" Geoff Feakes who takes a deeper look at the efforts of The Who, nestling himself nicely somewhere in between the two categories of scribes.

This marks my seventh encounter with the series. Each volume, including this one, has been a marvellous recreational pastime, supplying many hours of joyous reading. Besides the effect of successfully sparking my interest towards revisiting some albums all over again, Jacob Holm-Lupo's edition of Toto even managed to ignite my inner shopping-spree cravings, resulting in securing some seriously neglected iconic albums. Geoff's exceptional read finally sees me research some of The Who's efforts, after many (many!) years.

When it comes to The Who, I thought my knowledge was pretty basic. Yet as the story unfolds, many recognisable features are revealed that are memorably embedded in my system. Details like Townshend's "Windmill Arm Swing" and Daltrey's signature "Microphone Lasso-Swing" catches them right in the act and immediately paints the picture, while the mentioning of their composition See Me, Feel Me harkens long forgotten images of a televised airing during the early eighties featuring this beautiful passage. (It is something I never pursued from a musical point of view, although deep inside I always wondered which program showed that touching segment.) Now, some 40 years later and thanks to Geoff's book, the airing finally clicked as being a Rockpalast event, which according to the short, delicious "Live Albums and Videos" chapter has meanwhile been officially released.

Until reading this edition, my expectations had strayed away from the perfection implied by the term "Every Album, Every Song". For occasionally an album, several miscellaneous tracks or even an iconic monumental song has been missing. For me the only one to have achieved archaeological perfection was Andrew Wild's take on The Beatles, but stating that that telephone-directory-read was appealing, is somewhat stretching it. Lo and behold here Geoff comes along and pulls off precisely what is to be expected by the self-explanatory sub-title, filling my readers digest and collectors heart with joy and excitement.

In light of this, one has to realise that The Who started out in a different time and age (1965), where the "competition" saw the likes of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, and The Kinks. A time when singles were in high demand, as opposed to albums which were subordinate in nature. So the many loose tracks issued during this album-transitional period is extensive. Geoff makes an excellent job in capturing them all chronologically in the related tracks section that accompanies the individual albums, where his accurateness is formidable.

This feeling is emphasised by the fact that Geoff actually lives to tell the tale, having closely grown up with The Who from the very beginning. His first-hand recollections, also captured to great effect by added pictures of personal ticket stubs dating back to 1973, gives my generation, and those younger than me, great historic lessons towards the band and the UK's pop culture during those years. And I wouldn't be surprised if he actually bought every single item he discusses in his book, buying them upon date of release, as well as securing the many mentioned alternate versions available since then.

This first part of the book exemplifies the great importance of the band in rock history, although personally I'm not inclined to share The Who under the progressive rock banner, seeing the many pop and seventies rock memories they evoke. There are however moments in time where their influence and musical progress certainly applies, though only for a brief period.

One of those memorable moments is the release of Tommy in 1969 (!), which is generally considered to be the first rock opera, inspiring others (Yes, Pink Floyd) to follow-suit years later. They also incorporated synths into their music at a very early stage (1971), like for instance on Baba O'Reilly from Who's Next. A track covered by several bands, where the Canadian cross-over prog-band FM comes to my mind instantly. As a last example, I'll mention one of their earliest compositions The Seeker which, although not mentioned in the book, was a huge inspiration to a pre-mature Rush, who eventually covered it on their 2004 release Feedback.

The many inserted details and entertaining stories that follow along the way, where the author's preferences, his expertise and opinions shimmer through minutely, is the icing of the cake. Many of these satisfying illustrations are woven into the introductions preceding the individual track-descriptions and in the separate track analysis. A tried and tested formula, where occasionally Geoff's passion shines through beautifully, paraphrasing the song diagnostics in a most appreciative way, which gives the book an engaging and embracing quality.

Equally appealing is the sole focus on the band, only mentioning some of the individual solo projects when applicable, which is mostly down to Townshend who writes the majority of the music, although others are mentioned. By addressing aborted projects such as Lighthouse, of which several tracks resurface on later albums, Geoff heightens expectancy and adds additional depth which is great, pushing his reader steadily and gently onwards, towards the concluding paragraphs Soundtracks and Compilations and Documentaries. A comprehensive section, which encompasses as far as I can tell all the official releases up to date, including the one exception (Woodstock 1969 - Live And Remastered), which is not officially endorsed by the band.

Overall Geoff's vast knowledge and pleasant use of language makes this a most excellent read and a great addition once again to this ever-growing series. The amount of information is outstanding, while Geoff has managed to keep a steady, joyous readability in this labour of love. It has securely reinstated my every-album-every-song-expectancy to the fullest, where the urge to dive into The Who's discography is equally awakened like previous encounters in the series.

And what do you do with the urge? I for one will hopefully spend some of my Christmas gift savings (yet again), hunting down the illustrious Rockpalast gig. For everyone else, my advice would be to get acquainted with the On Track series, preferably through this highly recommendable book. It is a splendid, well-written testimony to The Who's legacy. Brilliantly detailed, it's a very elaborate edition which next to the capability of surprising and entertaining the average reader, should definitely appeal to The Who-fans ranging from moderate to avid.

Steve Pilkington — On Track ... Iron Maiden: Every Album, Every Song

Steve Pilkington - On Track ... Iron Maiden: Every Album, Every Song
Stefan Hennig

Considering how much of a global phenomena Iron Maiden are, it surprised me when I checked, how few books are available about the band. Aside from the cheap commercial cash-ins, and the official biographies, there is vary little for the Maiden fan to read. Seeing as Maiden have an exceptional visual identity I would have expected there to be far more than there is.

So maybe my initial view of Steve Pilkington's latest book in the rapidly-expanding On Track series was wrong. My initial view was that this may be an attempt to cash-in on the huge fan base which Iron Maiden have. But I can now confidently say that I have not found anything on the market which is as well researched or informative, even for the most ardent Maiden fan. The small amount of material credited in the book's bibliography confirms that the amount of useful research material available on such a large band is astonishingly small.

Steve's book basically takes a chronological trip through the history of the band by providing his personal analysis of each track on every studio album released. His track reviews are not overly critical, so you do not spend a lot of time disagreeing with what he writes. Having been a fan of Iron Maiden since Number Of The Beast, (I was a big fan of Samson, so when I heard Bruce Bruce had joined Maiden I was quite upset) it also serves as a trip down memory lane, remembering when I first heard a lot of these tracks. I remember listening intently, with a number of friends in one of their record shops, to Piece Of Mind and being thoroughly enamoured. Then, we all stood in stunned silence after hearing Rhyme Of The Ancient Mariner for the first time. I am sure a lot of readers will have similar memories, jogged while reading the book.

What the book sadly reminds me is that since Dance Of Death, the quality of Iron Maiden's later material is sadly declining. To this extent, I never bought Final Frontier or Book Of Souls. Steve's review of Final Frontier did nothing to convince me that I have made a mistake, but since reading his review of Book Of Souls, I have now added this to my CD collection.

Steve also covers most of the B sides the band recorded over the years, and these are insightful and entertaining. The book briefly touches upon live and compilation releases, but only to acknowledge this additional material is available.

The book is not without fault, and would have benefited from an editor reading the script before publishing. An example being the review of Book Of Souls, where the first track, If Eternity Should Fail is acknowledged as a Bruce Dickinson-penned song, then Empire Of The Clouds is described as “the only solo Dickinson song on the album”. That minor gripe aside, this book holds something for anyone with the slightest interest in Maiden throughout the years, and I think even their most avid fan will find this a thoroughly entertaining read.

Georg Purvis — Decades: Pink Floyd In The 1970s

Georg Purvis - Decades: Pink Floyd In The 1970s
Geoff Feakes

In recent months, several books in the On Track series from Sonicbond Publishing have been positively reviewed by the DPRP. Pink Floyd In The 1970s is the first book in the Decades series which, as it says on the cover, focuses on a significant 10-year period from the band's history. Anyone familiar with the On Track formula will know that in those books, the band's songs and albums are discussed in detail. Here, the book is closer to a standard biography, although the music is still given its due attention.

To put the decade into context, the book opens with an 'Introduction' which covers the band's formation and early years in the 1960s. Likewise, the closing 'Postscript' brings the band's story up to date from the 1980s onwards. In between, there is a separate chapter dedicated to each year, from 1971 to 1979. The credits for any album released in that year are included at the beginning of the chapter, followed by an analysis of the album and the band's activities that year.

The author Georg Purvis was only 10 years old when he first saw Pink Floyd perform on The Division Bell tour in June 1994. It doesn't take a mathematician to work out that the 1970s ended more than four years before he was born. As such, he makes judicious use of interviews from several sources to relate the band's story. Roger Waters' assumed leadership and his deteriorating relationship with the other band members is a thread that runs throughout much of the book. Syd Barrett is also given his due attention, even though sadly, his career was all but over at the start of the decade.

The 1970s saw the release of landmark albums like Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall, providing Purvis with plenty of meat to flesh-out his book. He has certainly done his research and is clearly familiar with the music, both by the band and solo. His writing is both informative and easygoing, and although clearly a fan, he remains open-minded when discussing the band's varied (and sometimes erratic) output.

If I had to nit-pick, given that the 70s was such an important decade for rock music and prog in particular, reference to some of Floyd's contemporaries, and to other key releases from the era would have helped place their output into a wider context. That aside, this is a very fine and authoritative book that documents in detail one of rock's most essential bands at the peak of their powers.

Although, due to their popularity, there have been numerous publications dedicated to Pink Floyd over the years, this is an essential purchase for fans of the band.

Ryan Yard — On Track ... Mike Oldfield: Every Album, Every Song

Ryan Yard - On Track ... Mike Oldfield: Every Album, Every Song
Patrick McAfee

Full disclosure: Mike Oldfield is easily one of my top three favorite musical artists. For that reason, I was quite excited to read this book. I am familiar with pretty much all of the material discussed, but I was still able to learn some new things about the work of this musical giant.

The author, Ryan Yard is also clearly an admirer of Mr. Oldfield. I can't say that I agree with all of his praise or criticisms, but the value of alternative opinions is one of the fascinating aspects of the On Track series. Yard's comments are always insightful, and although he obviously loves Oldfield's work, he can be constructively critical as well.

Not being a musician, I will admit to getting a little bored with excessive technical jargon and the book is guilty of that at times. Ryan is a musician who has recorded several albums that share a similarity to Oldfield's style. That type of reflection leaks into his comments throughout the book. Overall though, he does an excellent job of creating a high-level biography of Oldfield's life, while also providing specific details on each album and song. His descriptions range from reviews of overall quality, to an assessment of the mood that a song creates. Also, the information that he includes about the commercial success (or lack thereof) for each album is informative.

One of my favorite things about Oldfield is the diversity of his music. Though some fans would prefer that he release nothing but album-length instrumentals, I admire the variety of his discography. From the wonderful extremes of Amarok, the commercial pop of Earth Moving and everything in between, few artists have covered the broad scope of musical ground that Mike Oldfield has.

Throughout this book, Yard judges everything accordingly and doesn't favor one Oldfield style over another. Case in point, his opinion that the album, Heaven's Open is damaged by its ineffective, long-form instrumental, while complimenting Tubular Bells III's often-criticized pop track, Man in the Rain. It was also refreshing to read an equal account of Oldfield's entire career, rather than the usual heavy focus on just Tubular Bells.

Ultimately, this is a very entertaining read for the Oldfield completist. However, it is perhaps even more valuable for the casual or prospective fan, who wants to learn more about the man's work. Along with appropriate details for each album, there is thorough reporting on singles, rare b-sides and Oldfield's work with other artists. This excellent book covers the vast scope of Oldfield's 50-year career with intelligence and understandable admiration.

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