ROTTEN HILL GANG’S MAL HALLETT & HIS DESERT ISLAND ALBUM
TAKING only one album to a desert Island would be like asking me which ear I want to listen to it with. It’s a virtually impossible task. And my choice will be different with each rising sun.
But because this is for Bradders, I am happy give you my February 2022 choice.
And it’s ‘Young Americans,’ by David Bowie.
It came out in the spring of 1975 and takes me right back to my middle teenage years, the possibilities and excitement of a life to come, the discovery of sex and drugs.
I had just started playing the drums in a band and had heard that Bowie was recording in Philadelphia with some soul musicians. That was always the great thing about Bowie, through him I discovered the amazing talents of Denis Davis and Andy Newmark (Sly Stones drummer) Mike Garson, David Sanborn, Earl Slick, Willie Weeks, Ava Cherry and Luther Vandross.
The album kicks in with the title track which just blew me away, his voice on this record seems filtered through James Brown and the black artists of Stax and Motown. The cocaine fuelled lyrics kinda don’t make any sense but paint wonderful pictures. I believe the middle eight/end section is the first time I heard anything approaching rapping.
Then into the gorgeous melody of ‘Win,’ with its stunning strings and reverb sax. ‘Fascination’ is a co-write with Luther Vandross and I’m a sucker for the wah-wah and tremolo sound of the guitars, Wurlitzer piano and the beautiful backing vocals.
Side one ends with ‘Right,’ which has the loveliest little drum fill that drove me to distraction as I wore out my stylus trying to learn it. It’s simple but is pure feel. The backing vocal arrangement is also insane. Twenty minutes of heaven.
Side two starts with ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me,’ with its cheap Philadelphia string machine sound, mixed with the gorgeous Mike Garson piano, a sound that will always remind me of a dear friend who passed away fairly recently. So will always have a safe place in my heart.
I would skip ‘Across the Universe’ as I think it’s a dreadful version with Bowie taking a little too much cocaine and kinda showing off with his vocal performance. He was probably trying to impress John Lennon. I think he probably depressed Lennon. I was lucky enough to work with Tony Visconti the producer in the 1980’s and he told us a few stories which can’t be repeated but it’s another evocative memory of that time.
That leads me into ‘Can You Hear Me,’ which has a beautiful Visconti string arrangement with Bowie channelling his Al Green. It’s a beautiful love song purportedly written for Ava Cherry who he was having an affair with during the album. This song is so perfect for practicing your harmonies to.
The final track is ‘Fame,’ which I think was Bowies only number one record in the USA.
A great James Brown funk riff from Carlos Alomar, a co-writer with Bowie and Lennon. Written about the downs of stardom, it’s a wonderful dance record with backward piano chords and groove from an incredible mix of amazingly talented musicians.
There you have it. Forty minutes of superb writing, singing, and playing – and if you’re on that desert island by yourself, you can always take the album sleeve out and have a quick **** to the beautiful photograph on the cover.