Then of course, there is the gritty punk of "Sabotage Live" and the early folk of "Vintage Violence." All of these records contain songs with influences as far ranging as Brian Wilson and The Beatles to Kurt Weill, Bob Dylan and John Zorn. And let's not forget his classical training.
One of his more recent releases, 2003's "Hobosapiens" was a return to the pop sensibilities of his early-seventies' masterworks, or I should say, Cale's version of "pop." With over 30 solo records in 40 years, John Cale has repeatedly pushed the envelope, and each release, whether easy on the ears, or specifically aimed at your nerve endings, is worth your time, even for just one listen, because Cale is never boring.
This weekend I listened to 1975's "Helen Of Troy." Side one, then side two, then side two again, then "My Maria," the opening cut on side one, three times in a row. (That happened because I couldn't get enough of Chris Spedding's brilliant guitar solo.) I also decided that "Helen Of Troy" was Cale's second best album.
Then I saw this...
This album came out without Cale's consent, who considered the tapes unfinished. After shipping the first pressings, Island Records replaced the track Leaving It Up To You with Coral Moon, because it mentioned Sharon Tate, wife of film director Roman Polanski, who was killed in 1969 by the Charles Manson gang. Things turned sour, and Cale and Island did go their separate ways.
"It could have been a great album. I came back from finishing Patti Smith and had three days to finish "Helen Of Troy" before I went on Italian tour. I was spending eighteen hours a day in the studio. When I got back, I found the record company had gone ahead and released what amounted to demo tapes. The trouble was that Island had their own ideas of what that album should sound like. They wanted to include songs I don't particularily like, but it was also an impertinent assumption on my part that I was capable managing myself. My determination to have "Helen Of Troy" the way I did was not really fair to Island or my management, especially at a time when Island was losing it's percentage of the market, which was making everybody very paranoid."
I did not know that.
"Helen Of Troy" represents the best of Cale's bottomless well of styles and ideas. With a dozen songs averaging 3-4 minutes, each with stunning melodies and unexpected arrangements, covering every influence I mentioned above, "Helen Of Troy" is John Cale's Greatest Hits. To think, this record, which was never released in the U.S., was never meant to come out at all.