Okay, so I think most people who know me are well aware that my favorite album of all time is London Calling by The Clash, rated as such for no better reason than it simply is the greatest album ever recorded in any universe known to humankind. There. That was easy; no question about it.
So what’s second on the list I’ve never actually taken the time to sit down and pencil out on the back of an envelope? Hmmm… Maybe something by Bruce Springsteen? Prince? David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Beatles or Pixies?
I gave this decision about 12 seconds of thought and quickly came to the conclusion that Ian Hunter’s 1979 slab of insanely great audio—You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic—is my second favorite album of all time.
Okay, full disclosure. I was motivated to arrive at this conclusion upon purchasing the 30th Anniversary Edition of Schizophrenic in a deluxe two CD set, and listening to the album all the way through for the first time since… When? College? In any case, I supposed you might judge my sudden proclamation of Greatness (with a capitol G) as being just a little less than thoroughly debated.
What?!?! Wait a minute. Second favorite? Of all time? When you haven’t even listened to the album in countless decades?
Well, yeah (and thank you for assuming that it’s been “countless decades” since I was in college).
And just why have you not listened to the album in all this time if you claim it ranks soooo highly on your list of all time favorites? What did you do? Forget it exists? Huh? Tell me that Blogger Guy!
Good question. Indeed, way back when I had the album on vinyl and (as was the case for every album in my cherished record collection) dutifully transferred the music to cassette tape on first play so as to not expose my precious vinyl to any unnecessary wear and tear. Horrors to have the grooves of my records touched by a diamond stylus more than once!
Me? Paranoid? Nah…
Let us quickly note that this first playing of the record took place with the volume of my stereo set to zero so as not to introduce any sonic vibration into my listening environment. So, basically, all of my many hundreds of vinyl records have been played exactly once. And, since the volume was set to zero… I’ve never actually heard any of my vinyl playing.
You do realize what a dichotomy it is to be soooo ultra paranoid about preserving the surface and sound quality of your records when you are transferring the music to AN INFERIOR FORMAT, right?!?!?
Yes, I do. Don’t bug me. I embrace my peculiar ways! Besides, I had very, very nice tape decks, and always used metal particle tapes. Now, will you please quiet down and let me get on with writing about Ian Hunter’s incredibly great album? Thank you.
But first, a retraction…
It’s not exactly true that all of my vinyl has been played exactly once. There are many LPs—especially live albums—that I’d haul into school during my disc jockey days at KCPR, San Luis Obispo. Though the station boasted a really great record library, mine was better. As such, my Play Only Once rule, was occasionally broken for the sake of Radio Excellence.
With Schizophrenic safely on cassette tape, I had the luxury of portability; something we take for granted in today’s digital age. Way back when, this was a really big deal. I could listen at home, pop the tape into my Sony Walkman, and keep the album in almost constant rotation on the tape deck in my car. When records gave way to CDs I told myself that I’d only buy CDs of music I didn’t already have, reasoning that I could still listen to cassettes (and car stereos with CD players were priced at princely sums). That promise didn’t last long, and today most of my vinyl has been supplanted by CDs (with all 60,000-plus songs now committed to the digital domain of iTunes).
I have a big chunk of the Ian Hunter catalog on CD, but You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic somehow slipped through the cracks. With as many CDs as I own, I probably just naturally assumed that I already had such an important disc. Or maybe when in an Ian Hunter mood my mouse would dial-up his totally terrific double live LP from 1980, Welcome To The Club, which includes spirited live versions of many of Schizophrenic’s songs played in front of an enthusiastic crowd at LA’s Roxy Theater.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that it finally dawned on me that You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic is not, in fact, included in my gigantic hoard of compact discs. This sin was immediately rectified with the purchase of the aforementioned 30th Anniversary Edition, which expands the original LP with a nice collection of bonus tracks, PLUS a second disc filled with live recordings from the tour that supported the album’s original release. Yay!! Yeah, I already have most of these live recordings on concert tapes I’ve obtained through the years, but the sound quality of the CD is amazing, and it’s much more satisfying to hear Ian scream a choice obscenity during Mott The Hoople’s “All The Way From Memphis,” than the radio-friendly Beeeeep! that mired my previous recording.
Okay, this History Of Recorded Music Formats is nice and all, and I’ve read this far, but isn’t it about time you actually tell us why you like this particular album?
Well, first of all, it’s Ian Hunter, and Ian was the lead singer and de factor leader of Mott The Hoople. Points for that! The album also features the guitar work of Mick Ronson. You know… the guy from David Bowie’s Spider of Mars who was responsible for all the insane guitar craziness of tracks like “Jean Genie,” “Suffragette City” and “Ziggy Stardust.” Add to that the rhythm section of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band: drummer Max Weinberg, bassist Gary Tallent, and keyboardist Roy Bittan, who—oh yeah—had previously provided piano for David Bowie on Station To Station. Max, Gary and Roy had just completed Springsteen’s epic Darkness tour, and provide the drive and backbone to every track on Schizophrenic.
By the way, did I mention yet that John Cale (he of the Velvet Underground) plays keyboards on one of Schizophrenic’s cornerstone tracks?
And, just to keep the namedropping ball rolling…! The album also features background vocals from Ellen Foley (the woman with the huge voice on Meatloaf’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”) who was the subject of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” while dating Mick Jones of The Clash. Mick went on to produce Ian Hunter’s next studio album, Short Back ‘n Sides, and appeared in a memorable scene in Martin Scorsese’s The King Of Comedy, alongside his girlfriend and three-quarters of The Clash, credited, simply, as “Street Scum.” You’ll also find Blue Oyster Cult’s Eric Bloom contributing backing vocals to the album, and right at the bottom of the liner notes on the back cover of the original vinyl 12″, Ian offers “Thanks to Bruce Springsteen.”
Ah! But can potentially great list of credits for an album suffer the same level of utter disappointment as so many star-filled Hollywood Holiday Blockbusters (i.e. New Years Eve, Valentines Day and any film where “big names” are shuffled in and out of cameo laden scenes like aces from a magician’s deck of cards)?
In this case, yes! The album holds up exceptionally well over the 30-plus years since its original release. The songs are well-crafted, and filled with excellent hooks and crisp playing. Standout tracks include “Just Another Night,” “Cleveland Rocks,” “Standing In My Light” and “Ships,” which Barry Manilow had the good taste to cover and take to the top ten—even though his interpretation was insipid, smarmy, and filled with enough rancid cheese to drive audiences across the globe into fits of auditory lactose intolerance.
So sorry about that…
And since I can’t come to you, live and in person, to properly eradicate the scourge of Barry Manilow from your brain with steel wool and Liquid Plummer, let me instead offer up vintage Ian Hunter from Cleveland’s Agora Ballroom during the summer of 1979 performing “Just Another Night” with Ellen Foley guesting on background vocals. The audio of this track (in much better quality!) is included on the live bonus disc that comes with the 30th anniversary set.
And, from the very same show (and, again, included on the 30th anniversary release), it’s “Cleveland Rocks” in, of course, Cleveland. Three! Four!
Ian Hunter is now, shockingly, 72 years old (!) an age I almost refuse to accept! He’s still touring and recording, most recently completing a 2011 fall tour of the northeastern US.
In 2009 he released the nifty Man Overboard, but be on the lookout for Live At Rockpalast, a vintage recording from the vaults released this past year on CD and DVD, capturing a 1980 performance from Germany.