Top 40 Joni Mitchell Songs

Quite why I start these almost impossible lists is something I probably need to speak quite earnestly to a therapist about, however, here I am, doing it again. As always it is just my opinion and sometimes I forget the odd track or two, so feel free to demand that anything I’ve excluded is included. I’m not going to write about all of them, but I will about some, just because I will have thought about something to say.

I fully appreciate the pointlessness of such lists having just listened to pretty much the entire back catalogue and again realising that I could probably choose any of 200 songs in any order and it would be just as valid, and I know the moment I finished this I got it wrong, but no matter, it is how I feel today, right now, in ten minutes or an hour it will change, but that’s OK.

40 – The Tea Leaf Prophecy (Lay Down Your Arms) (Chalk Mark In a Rain Storm)

39 – Night of the Iguana (Shine)

38 – The Magdalene Laundries (Turbulent Indigo)

37 – The Last Time I Saw Richard (Travelogue version)

36 – Chelsea Morning (Clouds)

In a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Mitchell explained: “I wrote that in Philadelphia after some girls who worked in this club where I was playing found all this colored slag glass in an alley. We collected a lot of it and built these glass mobiles with copper wire and coat hangers. I took mine back to New York and put them in my window on West 16th Street in the Chelsea District. The sun would hit the mobile and send these moving colors all around the room. As a young girl, I found that to be a thing of beauty. There’s even a reference to the mobile in the song. It was a very young and lovely time… before I had a record deal. I think it’s a very sweet song, but I don’t think of it as part of my best work. To me, most of those early songs seem like the work of an ingenue.”

I bought a job lot of 5 Joni Mitchell albums from Ebay, one of which was Clouds and this song, track 2, was the one that grabbed me and drew me in to the album. Even songs she doesn’t think are all that good are, compared to a lot of other writers, quite wonderful.

Interesting fact, Bill and Hillary Clinton named their daughter Chelsea after this song. They got the idea for the name when they were walking through the Chelsea area of London and heard the Judy Collins version of the song. According to Hillary Clinton (stated in her book Living History), Bill said to her, “If we ever have a daughter, we should name her Chelsea.”

35 – The Boho Dance (The Hissing of Summer Lawns)

Full disclosure, this is the first Joni Mitchell album I ever owned, bought when I was 16 I think, so 8 years after it was released, and I played it to death. Other than bits and pieces I heard here and there it was my proper introduction to her music and it has probably framed everything I have have listened to since. The album did not receive much acclaim upon its release (The online Rolling Stone review is particularly scathing, some reviewers did rate it highly though) but I’m happy to report that they critics who panned it are all wrong. The problem, I think, was that they wanted folky Mitchell, and this most certainly isn’t that. She was experimenting with a jazzier feel and new forms, which I happen to think she pulled off magnificently.

34 – In France they kiss on main street (The Hissing of Summer Lawns)

33 – Amelia (Hejira)

Mitchell (from a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times): “I wrote the album while traveling cross-country by myself and there is this restless feeling throughout it… the sweet loneliness of solitary travel. In this song, I was thinking of Amelia Earhart and addressing it from one solo pilot to another, sort of reflecting on the cost of being a woman and having something you must do.”

A ghost of aviation
She was swallowed by the sky
Or by the sea like me she had a dream to fly
Like Icarus ascending
On beautiful foolish arms

32 – Man From Mars (Taming the Tiger)

This is a later album, 1998, and I don’t know it very well. All my Joni Mitchell albums are on vinyl and this was never released other than on CD and Cassette so it doesn’t get much play time but this particularly stood out for me.

I fall apart
Everytime I think of you
Swallowed by the dark
There is no center to my life now
No grace in my heart
Man from Mars
This time you went too far

31 – Come in from the Cold (Night Ride Home)

Another album I’m not that familiar with, from 1991, and one which I really must get a copy of. I’ve given it a good listen over the past few weeks and it was both the hook and the opening lyrics that really caught me on this track.

Back in 1957
We had to dance a foot apart
And they hawk-eyed us from the sidelines
Holding their rulers without a heart
And so with just a touch of our fingers
I could make our circuitry explode
All we ever wanted
Was just to come in from the cold

30 – My Secret Place (Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm)

Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm is the 13th studio album, released in 1988. The album features various duets with guest artists such as Peter Gabriel on “My Secret Place”, Willie Nelson on “Cool Water”, Don Henley on “Snakes and Ladders”, Billy Idol and Tom Petty on the track “Dancin’ Clown”. Henley also performs backing vocals on “Lakota”, and Wendy and Lisa perform backing vocals on “The Tea Leaf Prophecy (Lay Down Your Arms)”. Obviously, I would pick the Gabriel track.

29 – Chinese Cafe/Unchained Melody (Wild Things Run Fast)

There is an honesty that Mitchell sometimes conveys that, quite frankly, is painful, and it happens in this song where slipping into Unchained Melody seems the only way to end it.

Christmas is sparkling
Out on Carol’s lawn
This girl of my childhood games
With kids nearly grown and gone
Grown so fast
Like the turn of a page
We look like our mothers did now
When we were those kids’ age

Nothing lasts for long

28 – Talk to Me (Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter)

So there are two reasons I love this song, one is the bass of Jaco Pastorius, the guy was quite brilliant. The second is the way that Mitchell’s opening lyrics paint such a vivid word picture, one that is, perhaps, rather unexpected.

There was a moon and a street lamp
I didn’t know I drank such a lot
‘Till I pissed a tequila-anaconda
The full length of the parking lot!

27- Song For Sharon (Hejira)

26 – Hejira (Hejira)

25 – Coyote (Hejira)

This song was written about the actor/writer/playwright Sam Shepard during Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Sam Shepard wrote The Rolling Thunder Logbook, which is an account of the tour.

The “woman at home” in this song is Patti Smith, who declined the invitation to join the musicians on the Rolling Thunder Revue.

I’ve included two videos as I like them both.

24 – Don’t Interrupt The Sorrow (The Hissing of Summer Lawns)

“Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow” is an acoustic guitar–based song with stream-of-consciousness lyrics, focused on women standing up to male dominance and proclaiming their own existence as individuals. 

23 – The Jungle Line (The Hissing of Summer Lawns)

22 – Big Yellow Taxi (Ladies of the Canyon)

Mitchell (from a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times): “I wrote ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ on my first trip to Hawaii. I took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart… this blight on paradise. That’s when I sat down and wrote the song.”

The line, “Took all the trees, put ’em in a tree museum, charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em” refers to Foster Gardens, a place in Waikiki which is basically a tree museum. It’s a huge garden full of trees so tall you feel like Alice in Wonderland.

The line, “Put away that DDT now, give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees” refers to the insecticide DDT, which was used on crops. The deleterious effects of the chemical were in the news, as Americans learned that their food was being contaminated by its use – those spotless apples looked great but held hidden dangers. Also, birds were eating the insects and fish poisoned by DDT, which caused them to lay brittle eggs and put many species in danger, including the bald eagle. In 1972, DDT was banned for most uses.

The song holds a particularly poignant memory for me as it is one of three 45’s that I had as a child, left behind by my mother I think, and I would play it repeatedly. I think it was an original 1970 release with Woodstock on the B-Side.

21 – Free Man In Paris (Court & Spark)

The “Free Man” of the song is David Geffen, who was in charge of Mitchell’s record label. The song is about the pressures the music industry puts on their artists.

Mitchell and Geffen rose up the ranks together. In the late ’60s, he was establishing himself as an agent (an important early client was another mighty female songwriter: Laura Nyro) and she was making a name for herself with her music. They became good friends, and when Geffen started Asylum Records, Mitchell recorded for the label – her 1972 album For The Roses was her first on Asylum. The two confided in each other, and Geffen would often talk about the extraordinary pressures he faced as a high-powered music mogul. Mitchell wrote “Free Man in Paris” based on what he told her: Where Geffen felt most alive and unencumbered was in Paris, where nobody could call him up and ask for favours.

José Feliciano played guitar on this track. He was working on another project at the studios (A&M in Los Angeles) when he heard the song coming from Mitchell’s studio and offered to play.

20 – Same Situation (Court & Spark)

Mitchell (from a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times): “I don’t want to name names or kiss and tell, but basically it is a portrait of a Hollywood bachelor and the parade of women through his life, how he toys with yet another one. So many women have been in this position, being vulnerable at a time when you need affection or are searching for love, and you fall into the company of a Don Juan.”

19 – Help Me (Court & Spark)

In this song, Mitchell sings about a guy she’s falling in love with while at the same time knowing the relationship is doomed, as he is “a rambler and a gambler” who loves his freedom. Mitchell never revealed the identity of this person (if any – she says that not all her songs are autobiographical), but the two prime candidates would be Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, both of whom she dated in the early ’70s.

Interesting fact, Prince gave this song a shout out on his Sign O’ The Times track
The Ballad of Dorothy Parker, where he sings about a tryst with a waitress who tells him it’s her favourite song.

18 – For The Roses (For the Roses)

The whole album is new to me having picked up a copy only last year, which is great for me as it is like having new material even though it is nearly 40 years old.

17 – Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire (For the Roses)

16 – Edith and the Kingpin (The Hissing of Summer Lawns)

This is the song that prompted me to buy the album having heard it on The Friday Rock Show.

“Edith” in this song was inspired by the famous French singer Edith Piaf. In an interview with Mojo magazine February 2008, Joni Mitchell was discussing her songwriting: “Sometimes you write about the exact thing you saw, but other times you take something that happened over here and put it with something over there. In ‘Edith And The Kingpin,’ part of it is from a Vancouver pimp I met and part of it is Edith Piaf. It’s a hybrid, but all together it makes a whole truth.”

15 – Cactus Tree (Song to the Seagull)

“Cactus Tree” is the final song on Joni Mitchell’s debut album, Song To A Seagull. It’s about several men who are in love with a woman, with each story tied together by the common theme of the unnamed woman’s need for freedom and resistance to romantic commitment. In every case, the woman “thinks she loves them all” but ultimately is always “too busy being free.”

The song is written in the third person, but Mitchell is an autobiographical songwriter and the female subject in the song is herself. The feeling is that Mitchell is torn over her simultaneous need for love and her need for freedom, with freedom always ultimately winning out. Every verse tells the story of a lover, or an overview of several lovers, identified with archetypal personas like “a jouster and a jester and a man who owns a store.”

Mitchell has called herself a “serial monogamist.” She carried the inner tension presented in this song throughout her life.

14 – Urge for Going (B-side of the “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” )

What I find great about this clip is how the guys either side of her look blown away by Mitchells performance as though they know she has something they never will.

13 – A Case of You (Blue)

The version found on Blue features Mitchell playing Appalachian dulcimer, accompanied by James Taylor on acoustic guitar and Russ Kunkel on drums. Kunkel is widely regarded as one of the top session drummers of the 1970s.

Joni Mitchell told Robert Hilburn in a 1994 interview regarding this song: “I think men write very dishonestly about breakups. I wanted to be capable of being responsible for my own errors. If there was friction between me and another person, I wanted to be able to see my participation in it so I could see what could be changed and what could not. That is part of the pursuit of happiness. You have to pull the weeds in your soul when you are young, when they are sprouting, otherwise they will choke you.” 

12 – River (Blue)

At the start of 1970, Joni Mitchell’s relationship with her boyfriend Graham Nash was crumbling. On top of this, she was feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the mass adulation her recordings were receiving. The songstress needed to get away, so she took off on a trip to Europe, metaphorically skating away on a river to escape the crazy scene. While Mitchell was in Crete, she sent Nash a telegram to tell him their romance was over. On “River,” the Canadian singer gives her perspective on the doomed relationship as she yearns to escape the emotional bonds. She admits to being “hard to handle” and blames herself for losing “the best baby I ever had.”

11- Court & Spark (Court & Spark)

The title track from what I think was her most commercially succesful release.

10 – California (Blue)

In this song, Mitchell sings of going home to her beloved California. She sings as though she’s been on a long journey – and indeed, she has. After a tough breakup with her longtime boyfriend Graham Nash, Mitchell hoofed her way across Europe. It was during that journey when Mitchell penned many of the songs on her Blue album.

This song, and many of the songs on this album, were inspired by the jazz style of the great Miles Davis.

9 – Blue (Blue)

The title track on Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece 1971 album, the song touches on depression, general sadness and the ways people use to escape from them told over a beautiful piano melody.

Blue
Songs are like tattoos
You know I’ve been to sea before
Crown and anchor me
Or let me sail away

Hey, blue
There is a song for you
Ink on a pin
Underneath the skin
An empty space to fill in

8 – Carey (Blue)

Carey was a real person Joni met in Matala. He had flaming red hair and often wore a turban. They met, says Mitchell, when Carey “blew out of a restaurant in Greece, literally. Kaboom! I heard, facing the sunset. I turned around and this guy is blowing out the door of this restaurant. He was a cook; he lit a gas stove and it exploded. Burned all the red hair off himself right through hiswhite Indian turban. I went, ‘That was an interesting entrance-I’ll takenote of that.'”

The following transcript of the introduction to this song that Mitchell gave during a performance at the Troubadour is on this site devoted to Crete:

“I went to Greece a couple years ago and over there I met a very unforgettable character. I have a hard time remembering people’s names, like, so I have to remember things by association, even unforgettable characters I have to remember by association, so his name was ‘Carrot’ Raditz, Carey Raditz, and oh, he’s a great character. He’s got sort of a flaming red personality, and flaming red hair and a flaming red appetite for red wine and he fancied himself to be a gourmet cook, you know, if he could be a gourmet cook in a cave in Matala. And he announced to my girlfriend and I the day that we met him that he was the best cook in the area and he actually was working at the time I met him – he was working at this place called the Delphini restaurant – until it exploded, singed half of the hair off of his beard and his legs, and scorched his turban, melted down his golden earrings.

“Anyway, one day he decided he was going to cook up a feast, you know, so we had to go to market because, like, in the village of Matala there was one woman who kind of had a monopoly – well actually there were three grocery stores, but she really had a monopoly, and because of her success and her affluence, she had the only cold storage in the village, too. So she had all the fresh vegetables and all the cold soft drinks and she could make the yogurt last a lot longer than anyone else, and we didn’t feel like giving her any business that day. Rather than giving her our business we decided to walk ten miles to the nearest market.

“So I had ruined the pair of boots that I’d brought with me from the city, because they were really ‘citified,’ kind of slick city boots that were meant to walk on flat surfaces. The first night there we drank some Raki and I tried to climb the mountain and that was the end of those shoes. So he lent me these boots of his which were like Li’l Abner boots – like those big lace-up walking boots – and a pair of Afghani socks, which made my feet all purple at the end of the day. And I laced them up around my ankles and I couldn’t touch any – the only place my foot touched was on the bottom, you know, there was nothing rubbing in the back or the sides – they were huge – and he wasn’t very tall, either, come to think of it, was kind of strange – I guess he had sort of webbed feet or something. But we started off on this long trek to the village, I forget the name of it now, between Matala and Iraklion – and started off in the cool of the morning. And by the time we got halfway there we were just sweltering, me in these thick Afghani socks and heavy woolens and everything. So we went into the ruins of King Phestos’ palace to sit down and have a little bit of a rest, and while we were there these two tourist buses pulled up and everybody got off the buses in kind of an unusual symmetry, you know, they all sort of walked alike and talked alike and they all kind of looked alike. And they all filed over to a series of rubble-y rocks- a wall that was beginning to crumble – lined themselves up in a row and took out their viewing glasses, overgrown opera glasses, and they started looking at the sky. And suddenly this little speck appeared on the horizon that came closer and closer, this little black speck.

“Carey was standing behind all of this leaning on his cane, and as it came into view he suddenly broke the silence of this big crowd and he yells out, ‘it’s ah MAAGPIE’ in his best North Carolina drawl. And suddenly all the glasses went down in symmetry and everybody’s heads turned around to reveal that they were all very birdlike looking people. They had long skinny noses – really – they had been watching birds so long that they looked like them, you know – and this one woman turned around and she says to him (in British accent) “it’s NOT a magpie – it’s a crooked crow.” Then she very slowly and distinctly turned her head back, picked up her glasses, and so did everybody else, and we kept on walking. Bought two kilos of fish which would have rotted in the cave hadn’t it been for the cats.

“When we got back from that walk, Stelios, who was the guy who ran the Mermaid Cafe, had decided to put an addition on his kitchen, which turned out to be really illegal and it was so illegal, as a matter of fact, that the Junta dragged him off to jail. And torture was legal over there – they burnt his hands and his feet with cigarette butts mainly because they hated, you know, all of the Canadians and Americans and wandering Germans living in the caves, but they couldn’t get them out of there because it was controlled by the same archaeologist that controlled the ruins of King Phestos’ palace, and he didn’t mind you living there as long as you didn’t Day-Glo all of the caves. And everyone was, like, putting all of their psychedelia over all this ancient writing. So they carted him off to jail.”

7 – The Circle Game (Ladies of the Canyon)

In this song, Mitchell tells the story of a child’s journey to adulthood, using a carousel as a metaphor for the years that go by, pointing out how we can look back, but we can’t return to our past.

The song opens with the young boy enjoying the wonder of youth, but looking forward to getting older. In the second verse, he is 16 and driving. The final verse finds him at 20, with his dreams tempered a bit, but still with high hopes for his future.

6 – Woodstock (Ladies of the Canyon)

Mitchell most likely could have, and would have, performed at Woodstock but her manager, David Geffen, made the decision that she would not join her peers on stage in Bethel, N.Y., where the officially titled Woodstock Music and Arts Fair was being held. Mitchell was booked to appear on The Dick Cavett Show the day after the festival, and Geffen took the calculated risk that it was more important for the singer-songwriter to get the exposure the popular national TV program would bring her than to sing for the hippies upstate, who might not even pay attention. Getting stuck in a traffic jam would not do her any good either, Geffen reasoned.

Geffen and Mitchell instead holed up in a hotel room in New York, watching news reports on the festival as friends like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (also Geffen clients) played to hundreds of thousands of rock fans.

After the festival, Graham Nash, involved in a romantic relationship with Mitchell at the time, excitedly regaled her with the details of the event: how it truly felt like a turning point, a sea change, how the crowd was “half a million strong and everywhere there was a song and a celebration.” Mitchell grabbed a pen and paper and started to write.

5 – My Old Man (Blue)

My old man, he’s a singer in the park
He’s a walker in the rain
He’s a dancer in the dark
We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall
Keeping us tied and true no, my old man
Keeping away my blues

4 – Willy (Ladies of the Canyon)

Graham Nash, whose nickname was Willy, left his crumbling marriage, moved in with Mitchell and they lived together in her house for two years. She eventually split from him with a telegram from Greece stating, ‘If you hold sand too tightly in your hand, it will run through your fingers. Love, Joan.’

3 – Little Green (Blue)

A song to the daughter she gave up. If you do not know the story it is worth looking up and reading, it is a tragic tale that initially seemed to have a happy ending, but things started to go wrong a few years after mother and daughter were reunited.

2 – Morning Morgantown (Ladies of the Canyon)

I would very much like to give a solid and reasoned account of why this song has ended up at number 2, but I can’t. It just says something to me that I really connect with and I’m not even sure what that is, more of a feeling than anything. It may have something to do with growing up in a village and the feeling of belonging which, through circumstance, had to be left behind and was never really found again.

1 – Both Sides, Now (Clouds)

This was the first hit song written by Joni Mitchell, whose version appeared on her 1969 album Clouds. Mitchell recalled: “I was reading Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King on a plane and early in the book Henderson the Rain King is also up in a plane. He’s on his way to Africa and he looks down and sees these clouds. I put down the book, looked out the window and saw clouds too, and I immediately started writing the song. I had no idea that the song would become as popular as it did.”

Mitchell had been through a very difficult time when she wrote the lyrics. In 1965, she gave birth to a baby girl, but struggled as a single mom (the father was an old boyfriend who left soon after Mitchell got pregnant). She married a musician named Chuck Mitchell that year, but soon after the marriage, gave up the child for adoption. Soon, her marriage was on the rocks, and in 1967 they split up.

Judy Collins was the first to record the song and it provided her first hit, and also brought exposure to Mitchell. With this song Collins won the 1968 Grammy for Best Folk Performance.

This is Joni Mitchell’s most-covered song; with over 1000 versions recorded, it could be considered a standard. Some of the luminaries to record it include Frank Sinatra (on his 1968 album Cycles), Bing Crosby, and Ronan bloody Keating, a version I haven’t and won’t listen to. .

And that is my imperfect list, which I already want to change havng not included anything from Dog Eat Dog or Mingus, ah well, maybe another day I will make it top 45!




Top 30 Albums of 1974

This is a difficult year to put into a best of order, there’s so much and, like a lot of music, what is a favourite today might be less so tomorrow. At the time of writing this is what I think but am always open to suggestions about where things appear and any omissions. So here we go, a subjective changeable top 30 of 1974’s album releases (And yes, the year of release is debatable at times but don’t worry about it).

Oh, and at the end there are the albums considered and not included, feel free to demand that they go in, but you have to also demand that an album is removed. So let us begin with the top album, just for a change:

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1 Kraftwerk – Autobahn Not just the best album of 1974 but quite possibly the best album of the decade. You can trace genres back to this album, such as Eurotrance, dance, techno, hip-hop and house, even Disco owes a debt to the drum machine beat of Kraftwerk, their influence can be seen in much more than the aforementioned though.

Autobahn is really listenable and futuristic sounding even now, 44 years later, and I have repeatedly stated my love of repetition, which is apt, and this fits the bill very nicely thank you, with the title track clocking in at just under 23 minutes of travel, wir fahr’n fahr’n fahr’n auf der Autobahn. If you’ve heard the 7″ single then forget it, it doesn’t do the full length version justice, from the first slamming of car doors and the starting of the car Kraftwerk are taking the listener on journey, one that is too long for 45.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Autobahn” (“Motorway”) 22:43
Side two
No. Title Length
2. “Kometenmelodie 1” (“Comet Melody 1”) 6:26
3. “Kometenmelodie 2” (“Comet Melody 2”) 5:48
4. “Mitternacht” (“Midnight”) 3:43
5. “Morgenspaziergang” (“Morning Walk”) 4:04
Total length: 42:26

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2 Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic Well, let’s be honest, these guys have never made a bad album and this, like all the others, is jam packed with great songwriting and composition performed by an incredibly tight and precise band. Opening with Ricky Don’t Lose That Number and including Any Major Dude Will Tell You, Barrytown and With A Gun, it’s a wonderful listen from start to finish.

I’m not one to look behind I know that times must change
But over there in Barrytown they do things very strange
And though you’re not my enemy 
I like things like they used to be
And though you’d like some company 
I’m standing by myself
Go play with someone else
I can see by what you carry that you come from Barrytown
Don’t believe I’m taken in by stories I have heard 
I just read the Daily News and swear by every word 
And don’t think that I’m out of line 
For speaking out for what is mine 
I’d like to see you do just fine
But look at what you wear 
And the way you cut your hair
I can see by what you carry that you come from Barrytown
In the beginning we recall that the word was hurled 
Barrytown people got to be from another world
Leave me or I’ll be just like the others you will meet 
They won’t act as kindly if they see you on the street 
And don’t you scream or make a shout 
It’s nothing you can do about 
It was there where you came out 
It’s a special lack of grace 
I can see it in your face
I can see by what you carry that you come from Barrytown


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3 Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway I listened to this again at the weekend and if you take it track by individual track I don’t think it deserves to be at number 3 in this list, but if you take it as a whole, complete with the accompanying story and factor into that how bloody much I loved it as a kid, then I have no choice but to bung it in the top 3. It is one of rock’s more elaborate, beguiling and strangely rewarding concept albums, it has Peter Gabriel as Rael, a Puerto Rican street punk who descends into the New York underground to experience a series of surreal adventures, including, if I’ve read it right, having his bollocks cut off and stolen and put in a tune, which is stolen by a Raven. Just another day at the office then.


 

court-and-spark

4 Joni Mitchell – Court And Spark The sixth album from Joni Mitchell which was an immediate commercial and critical success, and is still her most successful album. it infuses her folk rock style with jazz inflections that would dominate her next release, The Hissing of Summer Lawns. It’s one of my favourite Mitchell albums, with great tracks like Help Me and Free Man in Paris being surrounded by more of Mitchells great compositions and performances.


 

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5 David Bowie – Diamond Dogs This ain’t rock ‘n’ roll, this is genocide Still in the Glam Rock period but post Ziggy Stardust this was a UK number one fuelled by the upbeat hit Rebel Rebel, but it’s actually a bloody depressing album at its heart. Tracks like We are the dead, 1984 & Big Brother are not exactly fun subjects but, even so, it makes foran interesting song collection, and it is Bowie after all. It’s also the album with the controversial album cover, the one where Bowies bottom half is a dog showing his bollocks, which was later changed.

6 Tom Waits – The Heart Of Saturday Night Recorded with jazz trio (drums, bass and tenor sax) and an orchestra here and there, this album is really solid for a second release from a relatively new artist at the time. The title track is in itself quite brilliant, and it contains some of my favourite lyrics:

Is this the crack of the pool balls, neon buzzin’?/Telephone’s ringin’, it’s your second cousin/And the barmaid is smilin’ from the corner of her eye/Magic of the melancholy tear in your eye

Added to this are Diamonds on my Windshield and a load of other great tracks and you have a great album.

7 Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom In 1974, ‘Rock Bottom’ won the French Grand Prix Charles Cros Record of the Year Award, I’ve no idea if that is important or not but it is a fact now shared. It also has Mike Oldfield on it, for one track, which some suggest was an effort to boost sales by association, but I suggest that this is bollocks.

8 Bob Marley – Natty Dread Here is an album that could be considered a failure have barely touched the charts upon its release, but for me it is still one of their best, although I could say his best as this was the first album where it wasn’t just the Wailers but became Bob Marley & the Wailers. The opening 3 tracks are worth buying it for alone, Lively Up Yourself, No Woman, No Cry and Them Belly Full (But We Hungry) and the rest of the tracks are brilliant as well.

9 Yes  – Relayer Considered by some to be the best thing they ever did, me, I’m not so sure, but it is a fine album. It has three tracks, with side 1 being taken up by the 20 minute long ‘Gates of Delirium’ and side 2 has ‘Sound Chaser’ and ‘To Be Over’. The cover is certainly one I remember well even though I was only 7 when it the album was released, the Roger Dean covers were quite the thing for a good while with kids in art classes at school ripping them off left right and centre.

10 Stevie Wonder – Fulfilingness’ First Finale well it’s Stevie and this one is considered to be from his ‘Classic’ period. The brilliant No. 1 hit “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” launched a pointed criticism of the Nixon administration bolstered by clavinet, drum machine, and a Jackson 5 cameo. The album also won 3 Grammy’s, which is nice.

11 Gentle Giant – The Power And The Glory I have a great fondness for this album. I think one of Dave’s brothers had it and we did play it sometimes at Dave’s house. Everything about the music was all a bit odd to my ears, which were probably about 12 years old at the time, so 5 years after the album was released. I’m no Gentle Giant expert but from what I have heard, this was the pinnacle.

12 Rush – Rush It’s Rush, I grew up with them and this is their first album, certainly not their best but it was the first step for a lot of great albums that came later and it is actually very good in its own right. For some reason it does remind me of Led Zeppelin 1 though. This album was recorded before Neil Peart joined the group so who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t as he did become the main songwriter.

13 Tangerine Dream – Phaedra I’ve only been listening to Tangerine Dream for the last couple of years, perhaps because I couldn’t appreciate what they did before, but now am more open to different things. They’ve released a lot of albums over the years and many I’m not that keen on but this is a fabulous album. I used to be in a band and the Dad of the drummer had loads of Tangerine Dream albums, I discounted them out of hand, bad move by me.

14 King Crimson – Starless And Bible Black  I’ve had this for years having bought my copy some time in the eighties, several years after its release but even then it was rather odd, both of its time and wildly futuristic. A couple of the tracks were recorded live and then overdubbed in the studio with the crowd noise being filtered out, so they were, essentially live improvisations that made it to a studio album. The musicians involved were so good that this was a perfectly acceptable method for them. The title track itself is like 6 different tracks that are melded together into a whole but possibly don’t belong together at all, yet it works.

15 Funkadelic – Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On This is the sixth studio album by Funkadelic on which the lyrics generally take a backseat to the music and the jamming. It is one of the most popular Funkadelic albums among fans apparently and considered an essential album for fans of lead guitarist Eddie Hazel who co-wrote all of the album’s songs. The title track is a banger and the performance below is odd and brilliant.

16 Bob Dylan – Planet Waves It’s Dylan, so there’s going to be some good tracks on it. I would put opener A Night Like This and Forever Young as a couple of Dylan classics but for an artist who has had a few suspect albums during his career this is a solid set. Many of the songs take on darker overtones, with lyrics suggesting “death (‘Dirge’), suicide (‘Going, Going, Gone,’ a song that doesn’t toy around with the idea), and the brick wall that love collides with when possessiveness curdles into obsession (the overstated contradictions of ‘Wedding Song’).

17 Status Quo – Quo This is not quite as obvious a choice as it might have been a couple of decades ago. There was a time when Quo were less pop and more rock and roll, and the whole three chords thing hadn’t arisen. They were a bloody good band, I even went to see them at the Hammersmith Odeon and it was a great gig. This album doesn’t have recognisable singles on it but it opens with live show regular ‘Backwater’ and continues in a similar vein right through the album.

18 Ann Peebles – I Can’t Stand The Rain I love this album and have love the title track since I was eight years old. It was on the radio a lot then and it became a firm favourite of mine which has not waned at all. The album is more than just that one song though, there’s the brilliant I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down (Covered with chart success by Paul Young and a few others) and it is a really solid set of songs. It’s been on my want list for a while and I will find a copy eventually.

19 Brian Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) I do love the work of Brian Eno, including now his contributions to early Roxy Music. This is an album I’d heard but was not really that familiar with, but listening to it again I think it is very much a grower and it has recently been re-issued so I may very well get my own copy, although the ones I saw a little while back may have been deluxe editions or somesuch as they were pretty expensive.

20 Roxy Music – Country Life I had never really liked Roxy Music until a couple of years ago, on a whim, I bought a job lot of 6 albums based solely on an Old Grey Whistle Test performance that had been repeated on BBC2. I’m glad I did though as I was completely wrong about them. The album that changed my mind was For Your Pleasure, which put me in the right frame of mind for this, their next release. I think I’d first really noticed them in the 80’s which was a bit lounge pop and not at all what they had originally been.

21 Mike Oldfield – Hergest Ridge I grew up with this album which was the difficult second album after the massive success of tubular bells and and album, by his own admission, that Oldfield sort of threw together as he was having difficulty with the success that his debut album had brought him. I listened to it a hell of a lot and loved it, along with Ommadawn which I may have actually worn out it got so many plays. I liked pretty much everything up to and including the live album Exposed released in 1979 but became a little more distant from it all when the tracks became shorter and things were coming out as singles. I’ve picked copies of a few albums up in recent years though and I was probably a bit hard on it originally.

22 Stanley Clarke – Stanley Clarke One of my favourite Stanley Clarke albums, this and School Days I should think are my top two. Clarke is an amzing bass player but alos a composer and the quality of the playing on this album is right up there with the very best. A particular favourite of mine sees out side 2 of the album, the 4 part Life Suite, have a listen, it’s really very good.

23 Average White band – AWB An album that I do actually own, and a bit of a classic really. They are a Scottish funk and R&B band that had a series of soul and disco hits, mainly between 1974 and 1980. They are most likely best known for their million-selling instrumental track “Pick Up the Pieces”, and this album in particular. They have been sampled by various musicians including the Beastie Boys, TLC, The Beatnuts, Too Short, Ice Cube, Eric B. & Rakim, Nas, and A Tribe Called Quest, Christina Milian, as well as Arrested Development– making them the 15th most sampled act in history.

24 Hatfield And The North – Hatfield And The North I’d heard of them and heard a track on Radio 6 several months ago but I only recently listened to this album in full and really rather liked it, it’s prog and they are one of the Canterbury bands along with Soft Machine, Caravan, Gong and a few others, so perhaps it is an acquired taste or maybe it would have been necessary to grow up with this sort of music. In case you were wondering, the band name is taken from a road sign that used to be on the A1 out of London.

26 Eric Clapton – 461 Ocean Boulevard I’m not a big fan of Clapton, I just don’t get it at all. I appreciate that he’s a good guitarist but a lot of what I’ve listened to over the years sounds somewhat sterile to me, including one of the tracks on this album, the Bob Marley cover, I Shot The Sheriff,  play the original and then the cover and I think that explains what I mean. It’s here in this chart because we had it at home when I was a kid, it may have been mine, or maybe I borrowed it but I played it a lot and really liked it at the time and there are some really good tracks on it, just not the Marley cover.

26 Toots & The Maytals – In The Dark Probably best known for tracks such as Pressure Drop and Monkey Man, the latter of which I think I first heard when it was covered by The Specials, but they turned out great track after great track and this album is just wonderful. It includes a cover of John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads and it’s brilliant, as well as 54-46 was my number which is also brilliant. Another album now on my wantlist, which is an ever growing beast!

27 King Crimson – Red There isn’t much that King Crimson have released that I haven’t mostly liked, or at least there’s something on every album for me to like. This is one of the albums I don’t actually own, (I just checked, I have eight) so have never given it a good listen and I wasn’t disappointed. The album opens with the title track, which you can listen to below, and is a driving, hard rock instrumental featuring multiple time signatures including 5/8, 7/8 and 4/4. Its polyrhythmic melodies use octatonic and whole tone scales. That almost makes me sound as though I know what I am talking about (Don’t be fooled, I don’t)

28 Shuggie Otis – Inspiration Information Another album that I knew nothing about but damn, it is so good, even on the first listen and another that I just must get a copy of. Inspiration Information gained a huge cult following during the 1990s with the emergence of rare groove and acid jazz. It was lauded by such musicians as Prince and Lenny Kravitz. Due in part to this regained interest, the album was re-released on April 3, 2001, by David Byrne’s independent label Luaka Bop Records.

29 Fela Kuti & Africa 70 – Alagbon Close When putting this top 30 together I listened to loads of albums, and this was one that I’d never heard of before. I was absolutely blown away by what I was listening to and this is definitely an album that I will be looking out for in the future.  Fela Kuti was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer, pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre, human rights activist, and political maverick. He has been called “superstar, singer, musician, Panafricanist, polygamist, mystic, legend.” During the height of his popularity, he was often hailed as one of Africa’s most “challenging and charismatic music performers.”

30 Kiss – Kiss There was a period in the early eighties where I was absolutely fascinated with Kiss. I had Alive II I think, no idea whatsoever what happened to it, and at some point I had Unmasked, it’s whereabouts are also a mystery. I don’t think I ever saw anything of them and only had the album covers to go by although I seem to recall seeing Kiss in an episode of Scooby Doo. I think I would almost certainly buy a copy of Alive II again if I saw it. I may even have a little look on Ebay or something to see if I can pick it up cheap.

And these were the ones that didn’t quite make it in, although any of them could have, on another day:

Neil Young – On The Beach
Supertramp – Crime Of The Century
Queen – Sheer Heart Attack
Queen – Queen II
Big Star – Radio City
Van Morrison – Veedon Fleece
Frank Zappa – Apostrophe
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight – Richard & Linda Thompson
Electric Light Orchestra – Eldorado
Sparks – Kimono My House
Deep Purple – Burn
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second Helping
Lou Reed – Rock N Roll Animal
10CC – Sheet Music
The Rolling Stones – It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll
Leonard Cohen – New Skin For The Old Ceremony
John Lennon – Walls And Bridges
Sparks – Propaganda
Deep Purple – Stormbringer
Miles Davis – Get Up With It
Cluster – Zuckerzeit
Betty Davis – They Say I’m Different
Herbie Hancock – Thrust
New York Dolls – Too Much Too Soon
Harmonium – Harmonium
The Beach Boys – Endless Summer
The Meters – Rejuvination
Can – Soon Over Babaluma
Gil Scott-Heron / Brian Jackson – Winter In America
Abba – Waterloo
Slade – Slade In Flame
Eagles – On The Border
Renaissance – Turn Of The Cards
Harmonia – Musik Von Harmonia
J. J. Cale – Okie
Jackson Browne – Late for the Sky

The Used Record Store

I popped into the used record store today, just for 20 minutes, and left with 12 albums. It was speed digging and I could have spent longer but I had other things to do and had to get a move on. They had 9 racks of £2 an album and I had 20 at one pint that I was going to buy, whittled it down and ended up with 12 albums for £30. At those sort of prices it allows me to pick up things that I perhaps normally wouldn’t or to try something I don’t know. This is what I got for my £30:

UB40 – Present Arms
I have said for a very long time that they only made one good album, and this isn’t it, but I like ‘One In Ten’ so will give it a go.

The Alan Parsons Project – I Robot

I’ve seen this pop up all over the place but I know nothing about it so it’s a shot in the dark. I just put it on, the opening 60 seconds sound good, I hope the rest is also.

Madness – Absolutely

I like Madness, everybody should.

Prefab Sprout – Swoon

I have Steve McQueen and like that but haven’t listened to this, so worth a go.

ABC – Beauty Stab

‘Lexicon of Love’ is a brilliant album, but I know nothing off this one so it is very much worth a go, an no great issue if it is crap.

Simon & Garfunkel – The Graduate Soundtrack

Because I don’t have it and it ticks lots of boxes, I like soundtracks, I have most of the other Simon & Garfunkel albums so, all good.


Harry Nilsson – A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night & Nilsson Schmilsson

Two Nilsson albums here, I know some of the tracks but have never really listened to much other than the obvious so I thought I’d give these a go.

KD Lang and the Reclines – Absolute Torch & Twang

I picked up a KD Lang album at a record fair for very little last weekend and quite liked it, so this for £2 seemed a reasonable selection.

Sade – Diamond Life

Because it really is very, very good, and I may still, possibly, maybe have a crush on her.

The Tubes – The Tubes

Because I like The Tubes, but have only ever had one 7″ single.

Joni Mitchell – Hejira

Not from the £2 section and the most expensive of all these, but in great condition and one I was missing.

All in all pretty pleased with that very quick trip. Here they are in video form:

 

 

 

 

Joni Mitchell – The hissing of summer lawns

s-l300One of the first records I ever owned was by Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi on a 45, and along with my other two 45’s, all of which were inherited, I played it to death along with Return to Sender by Elvis and Behind Closed Doors by Charlie Rich.

I played them on a Dansete type player, like the one in the picture but I think it was red, all three records loaded up and they would drop as they finished and the next one one play, then I’d lift them up and play them again. There was a finite number of records where this would work as they start slipping if there are too many, but three was fine. This happened in South Wales, before we moved to England and Big Yellow Taxi was the only Joni Mitchell song I knew, I was about 7 or 8 at the time.

Jumping forward and I’m now living in England, am about 13 or 14, and I have the old family record player in my bedroom. A bit like this one but not this one:

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With this I could create compilation tapes from records and tracks off the radio. We had a much better system downstairs in the living room but this worked fine for me at the time.

One evening I was listening to The Friday Rock Show on the radio and they played the track Edith and the Kingpin by Joni Mitchell, which was probably the first thing I’d heard by her since playing that 45 and it both surprised and delighted me. It was absolutely nothing like that old 45 at all and I decided there and then that, when I had some money, I would buy myself a copy of the album that it was taken from.

It was a while before I actually managed to get a copy, several years, in fact I can’t actually remember when I bought it but it must have been 20 to 25 years ago, but I did get a copy and it was brilliant.

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From Wiki:

The first track, “In France They Kiss on Main Street”, is a jazz-rock song about coming of age in a small town in the 1950s rock & roll era. (The song was released as the single from the album and reached number 66 on the US Billboard charts.) “The Jungle Line” uses a field recording from Africa of the Drummers of Burundi (called ‘warrior drums’ in the credits), onto which are dubbed guitar, Moog synthesizer and the vocal line. The lyrics pay homage to the works of the French Post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau. Mitchell blends details of his works with imagery of modern city life, the music industry and the underground drug culture.

“Edith and the Kingpin” marks a return to jazz in a story of a gangster’s new moll arriving in his home town. “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow” is an acoustic guitar–based song with stream-of-consciousness lyrics, focused on women standing up to male dominance and proclaiming their own existence as individuals. “Shades of Scarlett Conquering” is an orchestral-based piece about a modern southern belle basing her life and self-image on the 95690cb3c9a3faec9def6c4a83337e8astereotypes of the Scarlett O’Hara character from Gone with the Wind.

The second side begins with the title track, “The Hissing of Summer Lawns”, which is about a woman who chooses to stay in a marriage where she is treated as part of her husband’s portfolio. “The Boho Dance” comments on people who feel that artists betray their artistic integrity for commercial success, with an ironic glance at those who said this of Mitchell herself and parallels Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word. “Harry’s House/Centerpiece” concerns failing marriage as example of the loneliness of modern life and frames the jazz standard “Centerpiece” by Harry “Sweets” Edison and Jon Hendricks. “Sweet Bird” is a sparser acoustic track that is a slight return to Mitchell’s so-called ‘confessional’ singer-songwriter style and addresses the loss of beauty power with aging. Its lyrics indicate that it may also be a reference to Tennessee’s William’s Sweet Bird of Youth. The final track is “Shadows and Light”, consisting of many overdubs of her voice and an ARP String Machine (credited as an ARP-Farfisa on the album sleeve).

I pulled the album out of storage yesterday and have given it a few plays now, it is still brilliant so looking back at what was written about it at the time I was surprised that, due to the jazz influence and experimental nature of the album, the record received harsh criticism, with Rolling Stone listing it as one of the worst album titles of the year. Oh Rolling Stone, you bloody idiots.

It would seem that this is one of those albums that has grown in favour over time, and rightly so. It is certainly true that this album was a departure from what had gone before, just look at the albums that preceded it:

Song to a Seagull – Released: March 1968
Clouds – Released: May 1969
Ladies of the Canyon – Released: April 1970
Blue – Released – June 1971
For the Roses – Released: November 1972
Court and Spark – Released: January 17, 1974

and there was the live album, Miles of Aisles, released in November 1974. All fabulous albums but not really stylistically in line with the Hissing of Summer Lawns, which must have been quite a shock to those who loved these first albums (Blue in particular is a work of genius in my opinion). The thing is, musicians need to grow, they need to develop by experimenting with new forms. While what we want is often more of the same that route will most likely result in stagnation and, ultimately, the demise of the artist as they would be similarly criticised for not doing anything new.

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My copy is a bit battered now but the vinyl plays OK and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting aquatinted with it, which will, I think, result in the other albums I have getting another spin over the next week. I also always keep a look out in the used bins for albums I don’t have, which can often be quite cheap. There are 20 or so albums out there so I have a few to stumble of yet, I currently have 8.

I can’t recommend this album highly enough, i’ve been enjoying it, off and on, for 35 years or more and it doesn’t get stale.

Tracklist

A1 In France They Kiss on Main Street 3:19
A2 The Jungle Line 4:25
A3 Edith and the Kingpin 3:38
A4 Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow 4:05
A5 Shades of Scarlett Conquering 4:59

B1 The Hissing of Summer Lawns 3:01
B2 The Boho Dance 3:48
B3 Harry’s House/Centerpiece 6:48
B4 Sweet Bird 4:12
B5 Shadows and Light 4:19

Rating: 9.2

Just because I wanted to, here are some cover versions of songs from this album:

 

Crate digging at home

I don’t have enough shelf space at the moment and what I do have has collapsed a few times so I keep a chunk of albums inside a a hollow, two seater, wooden chair. Here they are:

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I’m not sure how many are in there but best guess would be 150 or so. Today I picked out a few I haven’t listened to for a while but, as I have a few days off work, thought I would pop on the turntable again and become re-aquatinted.

This is what I picked out. My copy of The Pixies – Surfer Rosa is a bit knackered but it still plays:

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I have a few Elvis Costello in there but picked out Armed Forces, mostly because the cover is so good:

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I haven’t listened to Rattus Norvegicus by The Stranglers for quite a while so that was picked out, it’s a brilliant album of course and I’m not sure why I put it in the box:

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I haven’t played Joni Mitchell – The hissing of summer lawns for years, so that on is going to get a spin:

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and, finally, Talk Talk – The Colour of Spring, another beautiful cover:

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In case you were wondering, Talk Talk was played first, listening to it now.

Your F***ing Sunny Day (Episode 23)

Growing up in the late 60’s and Early 70’s I was exposed to quite a lot of popular music, mostly from the radio but, later on, through music that I bought on vinyl or cassette. If there is such a thing as a musical education then the radio is only a primer but it serves as the bedrock for much of what forms opinion in the future. I grew up in South Wales and there are songs I remember very clearly from that time period, such as ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool’ by Jimmy Osmond, it was on the radio a lot, Chirpy-Chirpy-Cheap-Cheap by Middle Of The Road was another and lots of songs by Cliff Richard. I had three records, 45’s, none of which I actually bought but were in the house and that I claimed as mine at some point, they were:

Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell
Return To Sender – Elvis Presley
Behind Closed Doors – Charlie Rich

I still like all three of those tracks. We also had cassettes by The Beatles and ‘Top Of The Pops’ which were the ‘Now That’s What I call Music’ of their day, but I seem to think now they weren’t actually by the original artists. I remember well listening to the original cast recording of ‘Godspell’, which I still have. In short, they were all songs that most people know about, or, at least, I assumed so. This assumption set me to thinking, what if a lot of the music I heard growing up was quite localised, which, as a result, made my assumptions of what formed the musical landscape of my youth completely wrong. Were ‘The Wurzels’ not actually a global phenomenon? Surely ‘Billy, Don’t be a Hero’ by Paper Lace and ‘Get Down’ by Gilbert O’Sullivan pumped out of every radio on the planet on a daily basis, and I will never accept that ‘Tiger Feet’ by Mud is not a firm favourite 70’s song of everybody, so much so that it must by now have entered the human collective consciousness.

Then I went looking, then I found a load of European pop from the 60’s and 70’s that I’d never heard of. Of course I did, it would have been weird if I hadn’t. This music, or some of it, is as well known to French, Italians and so forth as the songs that I remember are to me. So here are some of them, which I have no expertise upon, I just kinda liked them.

Pour Un Flirt – Michel Delpech
Jacques Dutronc – Et moi, et moi, et moi
France Gall – Poupée de cire, poupée de son
Peppino Di Capri – Saint Tropez twist
Sylvie Vartan – La belle pour aller danser Dans tes bras je veux l
France Gall – Wir sind keine Engel
Stone – Seul [Norwegian Wood] (1966)
Zouzou – Il est parti comme il était venu
Muguette – Ces bottes sont faites pour marcher
Katty Line – Ne Fais Pas La Tête (1966)
RITA PAVONE — DATEMI UN MARTELLO 64.mpg
Adriano Celentano – Pregherò (Studio Uno 1961)
Los Diablos – Un rayo de sol
la felicidad
Marisol Y Palito Ortega – Corazón Contento
Marisol – Aquel Verano

The other 22 Episodes can be found HERE