Looking Back, Looking Forward…..

Well, that’s another year of reading and blogging behind us.  At the end of the year I’m always tempted to have a look back and see which of the 459 posts now on reviewsrevues.com have been attracting the most attention. It never fails to surprise me.  The counters were turned back to zero at the start of the year yet it does seem that those posts that got the highest traffic in 2017 were also those who attracted readers in 2016 – so indulge me in  a quick look back towards the most read posts before looking ahead to what 2018 might have in store.  Here are the category winners! (Click on the titles to find the full reviews)

Books – Recent PublicationsDon’t Wake Up – Liz Lawler (TwentySeven 2017)

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I posted this in June 2017.  I actually read it in instalments from Pigeonhole who send you a daily section to read before publication and this hospital-based thriller was the ideal book to read in this format .  If this book doesn’t grab you in the first few pages, it never will. A debut novel from an ex-nurse which might not be the best choice if you have an operation pending but certainly a lot of people were interested in reading about it.

Books – The Back CatalogueMotown – The History – Sharon Davis (Guinness Books 1988)

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First posted way back in November 2015, this is the real slow burner of the reviews.  I’ve had this book on my shelves for nearly thirty years so it’s good that my enthusiasm for it has been matched by people wanting to seek this review out.  A British journalist’s view of the incredible Motown story adds a fascinating perspective and there’s a rigorous obsession at work here in the author’s comprehensive discography of all releases of Singles and Albums which sorts out the output of  founder Berry Gordy’s different labels in the US as well as a list of all British releases to the mid 80’s.

CD Reviews- Let’s Groove: The Best Of – Earth Wind & Fire (Columbia 1996)

Posted even earlier in October 2015, this review started off slowly but took off following the passing of EWF mastermind Maurice White in February 2016.  Since then it continues to be the most read of the CD reviews on the site.  Thing is, it’s not even my favourite Earth Wind & Fire album (that would be the 1977 studio album “All N’ All).  Proof that people are still looking to find their “Boogie Wonderland” !

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TV ReviewsThe Level (ITV 2016)

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And here we go again…..! I wrote about this at the start of October 2016 after watching the first episode of this six parter that really hooked me because of its casting and its Brighton location.  It felt like it arrived and disappeared on ITV without a great deal of fanfare but even though the counters went back to 0 on Jan 1st 2106 this is without doubt once again the most read review on here by some distance, as it has been from within a couple of months of it appearing on the site.  Perhaps it’s worth ITV contemplating another series, the interest in certainly there! Will it still be at the top at the end of 2018? Proof that we are not only using the internet to search for the very latest thing!

So looking forward….Yesterday The Guardian published it’s Literary Calendar as a taster for what we can expect book-wise in 2018.  I think it provides a good starting point for the year, obviously a bit sketchy as the year goes on, for the last couple of years I’ve been noting down what appeals.  I actually forgot all about last year’s list until recently and I noticed that out of the ten I’d highlighted as being books I wanted to look out for I had read four.  The titles that had piqued my interest and ended up being read were The Good People- Hannah Kent, White Tears – Hari Kunzru, Queer City – Peter Ackroyd and The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst.  In fact, what is interesting is that a couple of the titles predicted to be big hitters in 2017 came out without much fanfare.  I actually had to look on Amazon for a couple on my list to see if they had even been published.  Armistead Maupin had a memoir out in October which had completely passed me by and I had also missed completely satirist Armando Iannuci’s introduction to classical music “Hear Me Out”.  I was also miffed by publishers  turning me down for a preview copy of Sara Baume’s “A Line Made Walking”  on Netgalley as I felt I’d done a good job promoting her debut novel so consciously haven’t got round to reading that yet.  (Don’t cross me, ha ha!)

So from this year’s list here are nine titles that appeal.  I’ll see how many I’ll get round to during the year.

The Only Story – Julian Barnes (Cape) – Due in February – A look back at an ill-fated relationship which according to the Guardian “darkens into the tragedy of a destroyed life.”

Bookwork: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading – Lucy Mangan (Square Peg) – Due in March

Barracoon- Zora Neale Hurston (Harper Collins – Due in May) – Recently discovered non-fiction account of the last survivor of the Atlantic Slave Trade.  I loved Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (1937) , a novel which is still growing in reputation in the UK where it is emerging from the status of a lost classic.  Hurston died in 1960, hopefully the first publication of this work will put her further into the spotlight.

Warlight – Michael Ondaatje (Cape) – Due in June – London after the Blitz tale of two abandoned children seems right up my street . Canadian writer  Ondaatje’s seventh adult novel.

My Year of Rest And Relaxation- Ottessa Moshfegh (Cape)- Enjoyed Moshfegh’s 2016 Man Booker shortlisted “Eileen” enough to look forward to this novel appearing in July.

Playtime – Andrew McMillan (Cape) – Due in August.  Hopefully I will read more poetry in 2018.  This collection reputedly focuses on what it is like to feel different as a child.

The Lost Magician -Piers Torday (Quercus) – Due in August.  Pick of the bunch of children fiction is set in 1945 and concerns a magical world entered through a library door.  Shades of a modern Narnia?

Transcription – Kate Atkinson (Doubleday) – Due in September which will give me a chance to catch up with this author’s output since being so impressed with her 5 star rated Costa winning “Life After Life“.

Melmoth — Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail) – Due in October.  I was slightly guilty of putting too high expectations on the Waterstones Book Of The Year “Essex Serpent” and when it did not quite live up to the hype as far as I was concerned I felt more disappointed than I should otherwise have been.  So I won’t build this time-travelling gothic tale up too much in my mind so as to get the maximum enjoyment from it.

This is just a smattering of titles expected to appear in 2018.  The great thing about the publishing world is that no-one can be absolutely sure what is going to generate the most interest.  I mentioned the four titles on the Guardian list that I was really looking forward to this time last year and got around to reading and yet none of those four made it onto my End of Year list.  It’s that unpredictability that makes our book choices exciting! I wonder if we will be talking about any of these books in twelve months time.

 

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My 400th Blog Post – A What You’ve Been Reading Special

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Today reviewsrevues hits the big 400 (thank you wordpress for letting me know, I wasn’t keeping count!).  Since my 300th celebration I’ve moved house and changed jobs but thankfully I’ve still been able to find the time for the reading and reviewing.  I am probably increasingly reading more new books, certainly far more than I was when I started the site.  Thank you to the publishers that have supported me and please keep those book parcels coming! I like to celebrate these big milestones by having a look at what you have been reading.  I did my last retrospective at the end of 2016  and then set the dials back to zero. So, what has been attracting the most attention in the last six months? 400 posts so top 3’s in 4 sections –  Books- Recent publications ;  Books-Back catalogue; CDs and TV. Here goes … (clink on the titles for the full reviews)

Books- Recent Publications

3. Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult (2016)

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Posted in my 100 Essential Books thread at the end of January, I am delighted to see people want to read about this book as it is still going to be one of the strong challengers for my Book Of The Year.  I’ve been recommending it like mad at the libraries where I work and the feedback from those who have followed my advice has all been positive, both from Jodi Picoult fans and those, like me, who have chosen to start their Picoult experience with this book.  Just yesterday a lady told me it would be a book she would “remember for a long, long time”.  Great praise.

2. When We Rise – Cleve Jones (2017)

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American gay activist’s account of life in San Francisco in the 1970’s/80’s. I posted this review in March.  I was told that Cleve appeared on “Newsnight” this week and had been surprised that his book was attracting a good general readership.  The six part TV series made of this book written by Dustin Lance Black has not yet appeared in the UK.  (I took out a Netflix subscription thinking it was on there but it isn’t.  There are rumours that Channel 4 have bought it).  When that is shown sales of this book will continue to soar.

1.A Life Discarded – Alexander Masters (2016)

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Posted in April.  Masters’ non-fiction work is about a discovery of a large number of diaries found dumped in a skip.  Part biography, part detective work, I am going to continue to say nothing about the subject of this book and urge you to read it- a lot of you seem to want to know about it, making it the most read review in the recent publications category.

Books – The Back Catalogue (Older publication dates)

3. The Noel Coward Diaries – Edited by Graham Payn & Sheridan Morley (1982)

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I posted this back in May 2015 and yet it is really only this year that it has been attracting this much attention, showing that perhaps Sir Noel is coming back into vogue.  This is one of my 100 Essential Reads and if you fancy spending close to thirty years in the company of this fascinating man this is a must-read.

2. Motown: The History – Sharon Davis (1988)

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I’d read Sharon Davis’ Motown based column in “Blues and Soul” magazine for years and this book is a thorough study of the label from a British point of view.  I posted this back in November 2015 and once again it has been a slow burner which has taken off this year.  I have Davis’ biography of disco pioneer Sylvester on my To Be Read list.  Seeing the popularity of this makes me think I should get that read.

1.SS-GB- Len Deighton (1978)

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Posted in February this year there has been significantly more interest in my review of this, the book, than the BBC 1 Sunday night adaptation.  To be honest, I wasn’t totally convinced by either.  I think the book has dated rather and doesn’t live up to the premise of an alternative history of  London just after the Nazis won the war,  but this is my most read review in the older books category.

CDs

3. Light Years- Kylie Minogue  (2000)

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Posted in May this is Kylie’s finest hour, a culmination of the pop princess, the disco queen and consummate entertainer.  Rated number 34 in my Essential CD list.

2. Very Best Of Kathy Kirby (1997)

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Posted in October 2016 is number 79 in my Essential CDs. I claimed in my review that this was one of my guilty pleasures, but now so many of you have read the review I don’t need to feel guilty about one of the great under-rated artists in 60’s pop.

1.Let’s Groove – The Best Of – Earth Wind & Fire (1996)

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Since it was posted in October 2015 this has consistently been the most read CD review and things have been no different this year.  It just shows how loved this group was around the world.  Number 30 in my 100 Essential CD list.

TV

3. Roots – BBC4 (2017)

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The high standard was maintained throughout this re-make of the classic TV series.  It feels valid to question why it was re-made but if it brought home the issues raised to a new generation then it was very important that it was.  It lacked the impact of the original which had everybody talking about it when it was first shown but it had good performances, high production values and was equally compulsive viewing. I posted this review in February.

2. Jamestown – Sky 1 (2017)

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I wasn’t sure what to make of the first episode of this (too) glossy historical drama “from the makers of Downton Abbey” when it appeared on Sky 1 in May.  The tale of “maids to make wives” in Seventeenth century Virginia wasn’t without promise.  Here’s a post-review confession, I only ever watched the first episode.  The rest were series-linked in my planner but when it came down to it I didn’t feel the need to watch any more.

1.The Level – ITV1 (2016)

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I posted this review in October after the first episode.  By the third episode this was my most read review ever, something which has continued ever since.  It actually kept me watching the series.  This Brighton-based series had finished before the start of 2017 and yet this year it is over 500 reads ahead of its nearest rival.  In 2016 it finished 1300 away from the number 2 read.  This seems to be the review that is bringing new visitors onto reviewsrevues.com.  Long may it last.

Just writing about these 12 most read out of the 400 reviews has got me recognising that you readers out there like a bit of variety.  There’s quite a range in these twelve reviews alone. It’s part of the fun that keeps me guessing as I’m never sure when I’m posting what will attract the biggest audiences and the continuing readership of “The Level” from countries around the globe has me a little bewildered as the series did not seem to make that much of an impression when it was on TV- but it’s clearly the reviewsrevues readers’ favourite.  Right, it’s heads down now and onwards to the 500.

Many thanks to all of you who take the time to read my ramblings and those of you who feel motivated enough to comment on what you read.  That’s a huge thank-you to my Big 5 commenters who have stimulated thought and conversation on here – that’s Kay Carter, Monika, Fiction Fan, Geoffrey Valentine and Cleopatra Loves Books.  Keep on reading……………..

 

 

 

What You Have Been Reading – The Top 10 posts of 2016

Christmas and New Year plays odd tricks with you.  First day back at work yesterday and on journey home it seemed as if the festive season was ages ago.  I was surprised to still see the twinkling lights from the bus and even more so when I got home to see the Christmas tree and decorations all up.  It only takes a couple of days of the New Year to get us all moving on………..

But before I crack on fully with 2017 I want to take just one more retrospective look at 2016.  Personally it was pretty momentous.  At the start of the year I was getting myself prepared for a 10th season at my guest house on the Isle of Wight.  Well, since then, books have taken over.  Following months of uncertainty the guest house has been sold and I have moved to a new house in the same town and have begun working with books (as well as being surrounded by them at home) working within the Isle Of Wight Library Service.  The reviews, interviews and magazine assignments have kept coming and at the times of upheaval, of not knowing where I would be living, of winding the business up, of dealing with the loss of close family members reading has very much kept me sane.  If insanity was threatened it was due to BT Open Reach and EE my internet providers who took forever between them to get me a phone line and internet access – but that’s all sorted now and after a few years of feeling life was on a bit of a plateau 2017 feels a very positive change of year.

I’m delighted with the way reviewsrevues.com has gone from strength to strength (despite erratic postings towards the end of the year- thanks again for making this so difficult, BT).  In fact compared to last year there has been an astonishing 76% rise in traffic on the site.  That’s thanks to you all reading this.  Let’s finish 2016 off with a countdown of your ten most read of the 158 posts I published during the year. Just click on the links to revisit the full reviews.

10. The Author Strikes Back- Benita Jayne – Author of “Sacred Crystal Pyramid”and old school chum makes it into the Top 10 with our interview held back in July

9. The Author Strikes Back – Chris Whitaker – The most read of the author interviews I’ve published on here this year.  Chris had to put up with me interviewing him twice, once for here and once for the Nudge site.  He was charming both times.

8. Tall Oaks – Chris Whitaker Showing that the author interviews drive traffic to the original review.  Chris’ crime debut was also a hit on Nudge which has led to a nomination for the Book Noir book of the year.  If you enjoyed his book you can register your appreciation here.

7. The Evenings – Gerard Reve– I had quite a lot of reservations about this book which I reviewed in October but the review of this Dutch translation has attracted a lot of attention.

6. The Rovers – Sky 1 football themed comedy with Craig Cash and Sue Johnston.  This was funny and attracted enough reads on here to suggest a second series is a serious proposition.

5. Giles Coren: My Failed Novel – Sky Arts one-off programme on the perils for a first-time novelist.  A real eye-opener.

4. Make! Craft Britain – Another one-off programme, this time on BBC4.  There’s a lot of crafters out there (and yes I did finish making my Clanger)

3. Lets Groove- The Best Of Earth Wind & Fire– I actually posted this in October 2015 but the lasting legacy of this group and the sad passing of Maurice White (one of the seemingly vast number of celebrities who were imporant to me who died in 2016) has ensured that this has had high readership figures throughout the year.

2. Scott and Bailey – ITV series.  People seemed to be facing up to the disappointment of there being apparently no more by reading about it.  I’ll say it again…  I love Scott and Bailey.

 

 

1.The Level – ITV.  My review of this appeared after the first episode at the start of October.  I moved not long after and lost track of reviewsrevues for a time.  I was astonished to see that views for this had gone through the roof whilst I was doing other things and it is the most read review  on here by a clear mile.  Over 1300 views ahead of the number 2 read.  The series started promisingly but lost its way a little at times but the readers keep coming.  There’s certainly a lot of interest in this series, ITV, if you are thinking of recommissioning or looking towards overseas sales.

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Right. that’s enough 2016.  Let’s get on with 2017!

100 Essential Albums – Number 30- Let’s Groove – The Best Of – Earth Wind & Fire (Columbia 1996)

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If you are looking to have one studio album by Earth Wind & Fire in your collection that should be All N All (reviewed here recently). However, to really have an Essential CD collection that would need to be complemented with a Best Of compilation otherwise you would be missing out on superb examples of 70’s Soul and Disco Funk.

The CD I have selected is a 17 tracker released in 1996. There are, however, a couple of serious omissions on this so you may wish to consider the 2014 20 track release “The Ultimate Collection” but as this is the one readily on my shelf and still sells well (Amazon have it currently ranked at 1,811 and in the Top 20 Best Selling CDs in three of their charts, Funk, Disco and Classic R&B) this is the one that is up for review. It didn’t reach the album charts when first released but to see it is still performing well nineteen years later shows how highly this group’s back catalogue is regarded.

In the UK, Earth Wind & Fire scored ten Top 40 hits between 1977-83 and nine of these are featured here (1980’s “Let Me Talk#29 hit being absent). This is obviously a CD geared to the British market. In the USA they notched up 16 Top 40 hits between 1974-1983, five of them are missing here including the fairly essential “Getaway” (US#12 in 1976) and their first three hits, including, bizarrely their only US number 1 single “Shining Star” from 1975. These earlier tracks are ignored for a couple of tracks which seem somewhat random. There is a two track overlap between this and “All N All”, but as one of those is my all-time favourite “Fantasy” you won’t find me complaining.

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The album kicks off with the title track which was very much a last hurrah for the band. Released towards the end of 1981 “Let’s Groove” livened up many an end of year party as it still does today. It eschews all the spirituality that was increasingly creeping into the music and just encourages us to get down and groove. It gave the group their final Top 3 hit on both sides of the Atlantic and matched their highest ever UK single chart placing. It’s a great track but lacks the out and out magic of what comes next. For me 1979’s “Boogie Wonderland” is a song which has aged so well. At the time it seemed a little surprising that Earth Wind and Fire would make an out and out disco song but this is sheer excitement from the very first note of the introduction (which itself has been recycled into at least one big dance hit tune since). Everyone sings for their life and to bring in girl group The Emotions was a stroke of genius. Maurice White had transformed their career in 1977 by co- producing their US chart-topping “Best Of My Love” and this collaboration felt appropriate and their vocal contribution took this track up to another level. There is genuine raw excitement throughout which makes this a Disco Classic “Boogie Wonderland” has become the most fondly remembered and will probably account for a lot of the CD’s sales. It felt like a number 1 single at the time but made #4 in the UK and #6 in the US.  This song is unusual as Maurice White was not involved in the song-writing of it. Having just finished Grace Jones’ autobiography (reviewed here) I was fascinated that Grace claims she was first offered the song to sing but that she rejected it as by 1979 she was ready to move on from her Disco offerings, but what a shame there’s not a demo of it lurking around somewhere. That is a version I would very much like to hear.

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“Boogie Wonderland” came from the 1979 “I Am” album which was the follow-up to the essential “All N All” and was their commercial peak in the UK (Album Charts #5- US#3), so perhaps it is not surprise that five of the eight tracks feature on this CD. “In The Stone” keeps the excitement levels up. We’re back with the mysticism with an excellently structured song with the first class harmonies and punchy brass we expect from the group. “Can’t Let Go” rattles along at a fair lick and features more vocal gymnastics from Philip Bailey, another first class track. “Star” (UK#16)features a lovely introduction and we’re back with the outer-space theme the band loves. This CD closes with their big ballad “After The Love Has Gone”, (US#2,UK#4) which oozes quality, even if that type of ballad now sounds a little cheesy.

Elswhere on the CD we have their first UK hit from 1977 the slick disco-funk of “Saturday Nite” (UK#17,US#21) which combines nursery rhyme characters with the obscure;

“We emphasise to make it clear

Our Stumbling nations atmosphere

While looking through the looking glass

Our vision show, a stormy past

When you gonna wake and see the sun

Stop wasting time and having fun”

The whole thing (lyrics aside) is embued with a playfulness which was often evident in commercial funk in the mid 70’s. There’s also “September”, another of their biggest hits (US#8 and the first of their two UK Top 3 hits). This was much loved enough to re-chart in a remixed version in 1999 (UK#25) .The original version was recorded as a new track on their first “Best Of “ compilation and their version of the Lennon/McCartney “Got To Get You Into My Life” (US#9,UK#33) also appears on that album, having first appeared as part of the soundtrack on the misjudged Robert Stigwood produced “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” film, of which, EWF were one of the few participants to emerge with reputations intact. That leaves the pretty if slightly histrionic “Reasons” , the cool Skip Scarborough penned “Can’t Hide Love” (US#39) and the complex but lovely “That’s The Way Of The World” (US#12). The three tracks I would have put on the substitution list are their last UK and US hits – I’ve Had Enough(UK#29) and “Fall In Love With Me” (US#17)and the Latin styled track “Evil” which comes from their 1973 album “Head To The Sky” although maybe of some interest to see how the group blossomed is no substitute for “Getaway”, “Shining Star” or “Serpentine Fire”.

If you’re having a party you need Earth Wind & Fire (any doubts that they are not the ultimate party group should be dispelled if you watch the video below), for a little spiritual uplift with a disco-funk slant choose Earth Wind and Fire, to experience some of the best lead vocals, superb harmonies and funky 70’s brass this band should also be at the top of your list.

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Forty one years after their first US Top 30 hit Earth Wind and Fire are still going strong (there was a gap when they disbanded between 1983-7). They are in continual demand as a live act. Maurice White no longer tours but is still central to the group’s existence as songwriter and producer. For me the albums after 1979’s “I Am” never had the same magic (although 1997’s “In The Name Of Love” is very likable) but if you want to experience this group at this peak this CD (or one of the other Greatest Hits CD’s available) is an Essential choice.

 

At time of writing this CD can be purchased new from Amazon.co.uk used for £5.25 and used from £1.03. American listeners can buy new from $12.45 and used from $2.18. In the UK it is available to stream from Spotify

 

100 Essential CDs – Number 22 –All N All – Earth Wind & Fire

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All N All- Earth Wind & Fire (CBS1977)

UK Chart Position – 13

US Chart Position – 3

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This, the 8th Studio album by the legendary soul group saw them at the peak of their creative powers. Here they adopted the mantle of Funk visionaries which they had been dabbling with for some time giving them an instant strong identity and set them, like George Clinton’s Parliament, apart from the other soul and funk groups . The look of the album, with its stunning cover spoke of Egyptian mysticism; stage costumes became robes; the instrumentation could explore Eastern, South American and African influences and the lyrics could embrace higher powers to the point of obscurity. This album showed the group off as a brand more than ever before and the record-buying public lapped it up. They got away with all this because a) it was 1977 and b) the music was stunningly good.

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In the USA the huge commercial breakthrough came with 1975’s “That’s The Way Of The World” a number 1 album which spawned a number 1 single “Shining Star”. We, in the UK were much later in embracing this group. This was the first of their albums to crack the UK Top 40 (whereas in the US it was their 5th). Although I had been aware of some of their other singles, especially “Saturday Night” which had been their first UK Top 20 hit in 1977, this was their first album of theirs that I bought and it blew me away. For most of the rest of the 70’s and beyond it seemed to be on repeat play. Vocally and instrumentally it is superb and as a group vocal performance it must rate as one of the greatest ever. The uptempo songs speak of mystical things, which can be seen now as a little new-agey and trite (although their sound is outstanding) the ballads are  love songs that have stood the test of time extremely well. This album also features what is probably my all time favourite single, my ultimate desert island disc (but more of that later).

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One thing that needs to be remembered about EW&F is that despite the gloss and high production values they could also be amongst the very best funk groups and there are examples of this on “All N’All”. Repetitive chants, the steady groove, stabbing brass, growling vocals combine the sheen with an all out earthiness which was hard for others to emulate.

The Masters behind the EW&F sound was founding member and producer Maurice White who with his brother Verdine (from Chicago, Illinois) co-wrote most of the songs. The album starts off conceptually very deep with the lead single “Serpentine Fire” (US#13). This metaphor for creative energy is linked to a concept in yoga, relating to the shape of the spine. As Maurice himself said;

“Nobody knows what I’m talking about, but a lot of kids go out and look it up and it immediately expands their consciousness.”

This is a sharp, funky track with a myriad of brass. Lyrically, it’s a little convoluted;

“Oh as long as you’re near there is no fear of victory

But when I’m away influences stray my mind to disagree”

 

No, I’m not sure either, but in the US this was the biggest single off the album aided by its tight brass and excellent vocal harmonies.

We remain with the obscure with the cosmic “Jupiter” (UK#41) which perhaps needs to be put in context. Sci-Fi was big in the mid 70’s with “Star Wars” etc. Just the year before on his seminal “Songs In The Key Of Life” Stevie Wonder was extolling the virtues of living on Saturn and around the same time as this even the Carpenters were conversing with aliens. Earth Wind & Fire were here having their own “Close Encounter” with a celestial being . Jupiter has descended to earth:

“To my surprise there stood a man of age and mystery

His name was Jupiter and he came to visit me.”

 The reason for this visit? To present a flower! Lyrically dubious, but it is a hot mix of scratchy brass and driving vocals which always makes it a joy to listen to.

The third slab of funk on the album is “Magic Mind” (UK#54) a good but unsensational track which feels more orthodox than the other uptempo tracks. There’s also a couple of interludes consisting of lovely harmonies, scatting vocals and unusual instruments although the “bub-a-bub-a-wees” of “Brazilian Rhyme” can bring back for UK listeners of a certain age memories of “Bill And Ben- The Flowerpot Men”! This track morphs into the frantic Latin instrumental “Runnin’” which hurtles along to an odd break-down at the end.

On the next album we would have the ballad which became one of their biggest hits but on “All N’All” the three slower tempo songs are all of very high quality. “Love’s Holiday” sees a sterling vocal performance from Maurice White. It is unashamedly romantic and imparts a warm glow. The album’s closer “Be Ever Wonderful” has a beautiful flute introduction and also features White’s fine tenor voice.

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I cannot mention the two remaining tracks without highlighting something else which made Earth Wind and Fire stand out from the crowd – the voice of one Philip Bailey. This man could sing like an angel and he proves it on the superb “I’ll Write A Song For You”. This a tender love song with poetic lyrics which work so well;

“Sounds never dissipate, they only recreate

in another place.

There in your silent night

joy of a song’s delight

I write a song for you”

 It is sensitive and beautifully performed and towards the end Bailey’s vocals soar into the stratosphere (keeping the outer space theme going) to illustrate a falsetto with great range, power and the capability of conveying many emotions. This is perhaps the finest falsetto in pop. (Russell Thompkins Jnr of The Stylistics had a beautifully warm falsetto but it tended to be more on a level). Bailey here pushes his to breaking point in the fade-out of this extraordinary track. Patti Labelle, another vocalist with the ability to soar up to the heavens covered this on her 2005 “Classic Moments” CD, but this is one occasion where the Diva is runner-up in the vocal stakes.

Under any normal circumstances this would be my favourite track on the album but I am saving the best until last here. “All N’All’s” second track “Fantasy” (UK#14, US#32). This is arguably my very favourite single of all time. Tempo-wise it is mid-way between the ballads and out and out funkers but has the merits of both. Lyrically, it encompasses the themes of the album without veering too far into obscurity and vocally it is just superb. From its opening notes it hits a punch and here the mysticism of the lyrics enhance so it feels as if you are listening to something fundamentally important, something which addresses the subconscious. Before I lapse into new agey-ness I need to say that this track for me is musical perfection and I don’t think a group has ever performed as tightly or as superbly as Earth Wind & Fire do in this 4 min 39 second track. I have never understood the moderate chart positions on both sides of the Atlantic and certainly never understood that a higher chart position (UK number 5) was attained by a cover version in 1990 by Italian house group Black Box.

Follow-up album “I Am” was also very strong, although the tracks felt a little safer. It was however a bigger commercial success, but from that point on things began to fall away for the group as subsequent albums lacked the magic of their best and sales began to slump. There were still some great singles to come, however.  I never go very long without playing this CD and reliving this great group at their creative peak.

At time of writing this CD can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk used from £2.83. It can be downloaded for £5.99. American listeners can buy new from $5.99 and used from $3.00 and as a download for $9.99.   In the UK it is available to stream from Spotify.