Wednesday 14 November 2012

Top 102 Albums. No 97. This Is Hip

Top 102 Albums. No 97. 
This Is Hip - John Lee Hooker

Time to break another rule. Live albums and compilations were to be left out of these lists but I couldn't resist this compilation because:

A. It was a formative record for me. This was the first blues record I bought and remains one of the best. The snaking, hypnotic rhythms fascinated me and hook(er)ed me for life.

B. It showcases songs from a period when John Lee released no albums, to my knowledge. In fact he released singles on multiple labels, under many names, including, the sleeve notes tell me, John Lee Cooker!

The music ranges from John with a guitar and foot to big band boogie. It's an album full of highlights but Crawling King Snake and House Rent Boogie would be my choice right now. However, there is not a track that isn't classic.

Hooker's timing, the way he stretched the beat to suit the mood, the breathy, almost whispered lyrics, and that guitar sound.... some kind of magic was at work here. Hooker recorded many songs on multiple occasions. I've bought many other Hooker albums since this but to my mind the versions and the range of songs on this isn't equalled on any. From the stripped back soul of Take Me as I Am to the good time R'n'B of Big Legs, Tight Skirt to the spoken blues of House Rent Boogie to the million selling inspiration for David Bowie's Starman, Boogie Chillen'.

There's a bluesman waiting in the sky
He's told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it's all worthwhile
He told me:
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie

Talk about beginners luck.

(Anyone else hear Billy Bragg in the minimal guitar on this one?)


  1. His early voice is beautiful; that earthy croak is a lovely thing.
    About 20 years ago I went to his birthday party just outside of San Francisco. The friend I was saying with was playing piano for for Hooker's daughter's band; it was the last day of my trip and he had promised me a big surprise... John Lee was an Anglophile and I was the only Englishman in his daughter's house; we sat in the kitchen and he told me tales of the early 60s; of Oxford Street and his 'fine friend' Van the Man, I think he had one tooth in his head at that point which maybe explained his later vocal style; certainly made me lean in to get every word. A rare privilege...

    1. Envy isn't quite expressive enough of a word.

  2. I don't have it with me right now, but one of my favorite John Lee Hooker albums is Alone from 1970 on Specialty but comprised of late 1940s and early to mid 1950s solo tracks: just him "with a guitar and a foot" as you say and with a totally violent raw sound. That stuff's just totally killer. P.S. Enjoying your fave album tour--am tempted to join you, but I also suspect that only you and maybe 1-2 other readers of my blog might know who I'm even talking about as far as my Top 10 or 20 picks!

    1. I'd love to see your choices, Richard. This has got me listening to more music again, both to write my own piece and after reading others. 1-2 would be a very significant proportion of my readers!
      I've come across some really good stuff on Specialty. it's the old cliche, I guess "The early stuff is the best."

    2. Thanks, Séamus, maybe I'll think some more about actually posting my own list--plus, it's not like listening to more music again is ever bad (well, except for the nostalgia-based impact of realizing that my body & I won't ever be 25 again). I was going to tell you that I could identify with your 1-2 readers being "a very significant proportion" of your audience wisecrack, and then I looked to the right and saw that you actually have one more "follower" than I do-- man, I can really relate, I guess! Too funny. Cheers!

    3. Well, Richard, your site is my top referral URL barring a major blip when I was mentioned on a Kinks news site for a review of Ray Davies autobiography. So I'm guessing that your site is busier than mine with or without that phantom follower! And the music posts are more popular than the literary ones.