When I was putting together my previous post(s) about Patti Smith, I ran across a video of John Cale doing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Cohen’s writing was stark and hauntingly beautiful; certainly well worth checking out. But watching the video reminded me of how truly interesting John Cale is.
A former member of the legendary Velvet Underground and a producer for the likes of Patti Smith, The Stooges, and a bazillion others, Cale’s solo work runs the full spectrum of style and emotion; from lovely dark ballads (I Keep A Close Watch) to neo-classical ambience (Words For The Dying) to full on anger-induced rage (Leaving It Up to You).
KPL stocks Artificial Intelligence, commonly regarded as one of Cale’s worst solo efforts and admittedly not none of my own favorites. If you really want a concise discovery of Cale’s earlier solo work, scrounge around for a copy of his 1977 Guts compilation. Nary a single loser among the nine tracks and the cast of characters is impressive; Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, Richard Thompson, Chris Spedding, Phil Collins (yep, back when Phil was a drummer), and a host of others. Close Watch - An Introduction To John Cale is an updated and re-mastered version with some of the same tracks. Island Years (1996) is even better; a two-disc set that pulls together 36 essential tracks, including everything from Guts. (This has since been re-released as a budget disc called Gold.)
A personal favorite of mine is Honi Soit from 1981. You won’t find any tracks from it on the compilations (it’s a different record company), but no matter. Everything here is as powerful and immediate as it was when it was released nearly 30 years ago (ack!).
If you want to read more about John Cale, check out What’s Welsh for Zen: the Autobiography of John Cale. The book is a dozen years old now but an interesting read with loads of great photos and drawings. And Hans Werksman’s Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend website is an essential resource if you’re hooked.
Here’s Cale in a lighter moment… Hallelujah.
What's Welsh for Zen : the autobiography of John Cale