A good friend was telling me how much he was enjoying the newly remastered Abbey Road. It seems even some of the best things can get even better. One of the deep joys of that record is it’s running order. On two very distinct sides it makes perfect sense and even has the obligatory ‘lost throwaway’ track at the conclusion just to prick the pomposity of the grand finale. (I always liked Paul’s ability to deliver the throwaway in style).
I love Abbey Road and I love the stories of how and why it got made. In Mark Lewisohn’s book, ‘The Beatles Recording Sessions,’ there’s a day by day account of each session, and how and when it got recorded and put together. I love the fact that in those days albums were started and finished in a set time. Even with The Beatles there was no open ended recording budget…although they were granted much more leeway than many contemporaries….and they themselves had an idea of how a project might start and finish. But with Sgt Peppers and Abbey Road there was a strong sense that in a matter of weeks the recordings were mixed, mastered with and test copies pressed to play back…and there was no time or inclination to meddle with the work they had made. Oh that it were always that simple.
I thought of this as I listened to the new offering by Sturgill Simpson. It is a classic example of a man who might have taken three albums to get to the Sound and Fury but has decided to get there in one giant leap. One of the most interesting aspects of the album is the sense in which it has been made as a complete concept. Individual tracks can and will be played but part of the thrill of the ride is to hear it as a piece….and it will exhaust you even if it comes in at a good length of 41 mins. The songs don’t so much segue as crash into each other and one can only assume Sturgill wants you to hear this in its entirety. I say all this in the context of someone who is trying to get an album down to a reasonable length with some difficulty.
The sequencing of any record is always a chore that takes up much conversation and endless drafts. I usually start thinking of it even as the songs are being written and old diaries of mine are full of alternative running orders for albums past. Bob Clearmountain once told me he’d been told by David Bowie to ‘put the album together.’ I was young and enthusiastic when I heard this and could find no reason why compiling his own album could not be the most important thing David had to do that or any other day…but hey, shopping calls.
I feel the same way about radio though I leave all manner of running order priorities to my radio other-half, Richard Murdoch. He has a masters in openers and closers and a PhD in how to come out of the news….so I wouldn’t even venture to suggest how to assemble a show…but I know it matters. On this week’s Another Country you will enjoy where we start and also where we finish. There are many delights from the recent Americana Awards and to guide us through them we will have our very own Nashville correspondent directly from Music Row to reveal the gossip from the celebration. Listen out for Bonnie Raitt singing John Prine, Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi as well as something gorgeous and previously lost by Lee Hazelwood.
As ever we do all this in two hours and we kick off at five past nine on BBC Radio Scotland this coming Tuesday evening. This coming Sunday Soundtrack features Emma Pollock (former Delgado and now solo singer, label boss and all round good egg), Bob Servant creator and author of new TV Drama Guilt, Neil Forsyth as well as a session and long conversation with singer songwriter Martyn Joseph. All of that starts just after the ten o’clock news next Sunday morning.