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Barclay James  Harvest - The Best Of Barclay James Harvest (1992) CD (album) cover

THE BEST OF BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST (1992)

Barclay James Harvest

Crossover Prog


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Marc Baum
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars as new listener of BJH this is a nearly perfect introduction into the the most successful period of the band, because some of the biggest ones are included here. For addiition some early, more progressive material like the first three albums, their possibly best record "Everyone Is Everybody Else" and the great symphonic "Octoberon" are essential for the BJH-area in the collection.

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Send comments to Marc Baum (BETA) | Report this review (#22723)
Posted Sunday, July 11, 2004 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars A pinch of salt required

This collection is almost identical content wise to the similarly titled "Best of BJH" with the bland "BJH" cover.

The tracks are all taken from BJH's Polydor label period, and thus it is economical with the truth to call this "The best of" without some sort of qualification. Admittedly "Mocking bird", originally from their second album is here, but it is a live version from 1987, not the original. There are many fine tracks included, especially those from "Gone to earth" ("Hymn", "Poor man's moody blues"), and from "Xii" ("Loving is easy", "Berlin"). There are however too many from their later less impressive albums not least of which, the title tracks from "Victims of circumstance", "Ring of changes", and "Welcome to the show".

Since many of the tracks which would truly befit a "Best of BJH" collection were recorded during their Harvest label years, the title of this album should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Having done that, you will still find many fine tracks.

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Send comments to Easy Livin (BETA) | Report this review (#22721)
Posted Friday, July 30, 2004 | Review Permalink
Andrea Cortese
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars ".like a ship in the night you passed along the highways of my life."

Seen some reviews about BJH's compilations recently.

As the tradition (sadly), you cannot find a real BJH compilation, one that contents material from both their two periods: 1968-1973 (EMI), 1974-nowadays (Polydor). Due for copyrights' reasons their works remain absolutely separate (the perennial Mockingbird-live apart) with the only exception of the stunning BJH Live, double LP live album released in 1974, containing songs from that Emi's period and from their then current album, the impressive Everyone Is Everybody Else.

By the way, the album starts with Hymn, an impressive acoustic guitar played song with great part for mellotron's simphonyc waves. It has come to be regarded by many as the BJH classic, rivalled only by "Mocking Bird". Inauspiciously, back in the summer of 1971 it was presented, in much the same form, for possible inclusion on Barclay James Harvest And Other Short Stories - and rejected! Fortunately, John Lees persisted with the song, and it was finally accepted for the Gone To Earth album (1977). Originally titled "Hymn For A White Lady", the song is about the dangers of drug's abuse, contrasting their illicit thrill with the spiritual "high" of Christianity, although many listeners have taken it for a straightforward Christmas song. The now traditional shouted "yeah!" that you can hear in the Berlin live album (1982) and in every finale of the band's live shows date back to early performances, where John dedicated it to rock stars who had fallen victim to drugs, saying "let's hear it for Jimi Hendrix... Paul Kossoff... Janis Joplin..." etc., and fans responded with a roar of approval.

Fantasy: Loving Is Easy is another John Lees' track (great rocker song). All of John's songs the XII album (1978) have titles like sections in a library, although this would, perhaps, have been more effective if the other two songwriter of the band had followed the same pattern. In its single version, "Loving Is Easy" had its lyrics CENSORED, but here they appear in their full glory: ".then you rip up my heart, you just tear it apart as I shoot all my love into you."; ".lovin' is easy with both eyes closed, just get a hold and watch how it grows.".

Berlin is a Les Holroyd's track (1978) played in a dominant excellent warm piano. It was inspired by the situation of the city of Berlin, which, at the time the song was written, was divided by the infamous Wall separating East and West Berlin. The western half of the city was an "island", entirely surrounded by the Communist German Democratic Republic (DDR).

Child Of Universe is the stunning opener from Everyone Is Everybody Else (1974), penned by John Lees. Originally rejected for BJH, the song was first recorded for John's solo album A Major Fancy (made under Emi's label in 1972, but only released in 1977) before the band decided to include it on this album. It was recorded and remixed several times, and BJH were never really happy with the results, but 'live' it worked brilliantly, and it has been a live favourite ever since. The various versions are findable now on the new 2003 remastered edition of Everyone. and Time Honoured Ghosts. Child Of The Universe is an anti-war song: ".I'm a child of South Africa, I'm a child of Vietnam, I'm a child of Northern Ireland, I'm a small boy with blood on his hands.".

Then it's up to the popish (many people thought it was a Phil Collins' one!!) Victims Of Circumstance, from the homounimous 1984 album. This is another anti-war song, penned by Les Holroyd, with some very bitter words for the politicians and leaders who keep their people in the dark and ignore their wishes. The melody of the song contrasts sharply with its message. Released as the first single from the album, it became their only Number 1 single in France. Poor Man's Moody Blues is incensed by reviewers' constant comparisons of BJH with The Moody Blues. John took his revenge writing this title which is a disparaging quote from a review of BJH in the music press. Ironically, but this was the song has become one of the most popular in their repertoire.

After the perennial Mockingbird live (the studio track is from their second album: Once Again, 1971) you find Life Is For Living (quasi-disco song), from the Turn Of The Tide album, one of the Barclay's most enduring favourites, which Les Holroyd wrote specifically for the 1980 concert in Berlin, where it made its live debut. Released as a single to trail the album, it became the band's most successful single, reaching the Top 3 in Germany and Switzerland.

Ring Of Changes is taken from the homonymous 1983 album. The album's theme of cyclical change is continued in the circular artwork of the cover album, the lyrics of this song and the reprise of the orchestral motif at the end, bringing us back to where we came in.

Titles (1975) is a musical and lyrical homage to The Beatles, using many of their song titles along with musical quotations to tell its story. The original concept and arrangement were devised by John and Woolly.

Then you have two songs from the 1990 album Welcome To The Show: the title track from Les and Cheap The Bullet from John. Between the both there's Kiev, from Face To Face 1987 album, a song about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The song Rock'n'Roll Star Les was compared by a contemporary reviewer to The Eagles "One Of These Nights", particularly because of its guitar solo. The song has become an enduring part of the BJH repertoire, even making appearance in the live shows.

The last track in this compilation is the Les's opener to the Eyes Of The Universe 1979 album: Love On The Line. This one was selected as a single to promote the album, and gained a lot of airplay, helping Eyes on its way to platinum status in Germany. Ironically, the title is similar to Woolly Wolstenholme's "Lives On The Line", which was originally going to be included on the album.

This is a good BJH compilation, but it doesn't express, strictly, their prog vein which, in the great part, is due to Wolstenholme's mellotron!

Neither glory nor infame!

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Send comments to Andrea Cortese (BETA) | Report this review (#46574)
Posted Wednesday, September 14, 2005 | Review Permalink
Joolz
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars This retrospective compilation of BJH material from their Polydor years [ie post-1973] is somewhat over-ambitiously titled 'Best Of ...'. Released during a little resurgence of the band's popularity thanks to a strong studio album [Welcome To The Show], this album went on to sell nearly half a million copies in central Europe. Needless to say it mostly concentrates on easily digestable poppier AOR and soft-rock numbers like Life Is For Living and Rock N Roll Star though Child Of The Universe, Hymn, Poor Man's Moody Blues and a live take of Mocking Bird [from the Glasnost album] are included to represent the band's more serious side. Quite how Victims Of circumstance was considered good enough for a Best Of remains a mystery!

Overall, it is a nice little collection but is hardly representative, nor does it contain many of the songs of most interest to a Prog lover. Collectors might be interested in the UK release that substituted newly recorded single 'Stand Up' - notable as the only single released by BJH that was not written by a band member - in place of Kiev, but otherwise it has been superceded by newer better releases.

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Send comments to Joolz (BETA) | Report this review (#96849)
Posted Thursday, November 02, 2006 | Review Permalink
Chicapah
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars Barclay James Harvest is a group I'd heard of for decades but had never heard. Since they've been around in one form or another since 1966 I know for sure I came across their albums while thumbing through the LP stacks (back in the glory days when visiting a record store was a wonderful way to pass the time) but I swear I never heard a note from them on the radio or at a friend's house. It seems they have quite a following on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and that explains their longevity but for whatever reason they failed to make much of an impression stateside. They wouldn't be the first band to suffer that fate, either. Nonetheless, I had these guys figured all wrong. And I mean wrong with a capital W. All this time I envisioned them as being some kind of semi-prog folk outfit that played an intricate brand of eclectic acoustic fare. My bad. I have no idea where I got that notion but when I finally got around to sampling their wares not long ago via this 'best of' collection I realized in a heartbeat that they didn't sound anything like what I expected. I kinda wish they would've because it might've been a more rewarding listening experience for me but they are what they are and I am what I am so be it. I will say this much, though. To call them prog, even as a crossover, is a stretch.

I surmise that this assortment of tunes consisting of material they released between 1974 and 1992 should qualify me to make a fair assessment of what kind of musical entity they are. If not then they've got only themselves to blame. It does get off to a good start with 'Hymn.' The track's heavily stacked 12-string acoustic guitars got my attention instantly. I'm always attracted to simple songs that build up step by step and this one does that patiently and with class. Their sound on this number is very reminiscent of the Moody Blues but in this case they actually outdo that revered group. I can't tell if the lyrics are pro-Christian or sarcastic but at least they don't become condescending either way and I can appreciate that. 'Loving is Easy' follows and it belies a certain Alan Parsons Project flavor. It's not bad but it's definitely dated. 'Berlin' is next and a grand piano commands the intro, always a plus for me. All in all it's a pretty and very lushly orchestrated ballad that delivers the goods on schedule. I detect a palpable Supertramp vibe permeating 'Child of the Universe' and at this juncture I'm starting to discover why they never got on the US charts. All the bands other than BJH I've mentioned broke through over here before these guys did so it might be that the stuff the boys in BJH were setting out on the American table had already been fully indulged in and our appetite had been sated. Who wants a sirloin strip when you've just had a rib eye? Anywho, the tune makes nice use of a synthesizer and its overall depth of field is gratifying although the guitar ride is a little tepid and distracting.

'Victims of Circumstance' from the mid-80s is a highlight. Its large-scale aura sets up an engulfing moodiness that hovers over a strong groove. The delicate synth solo is graceful and I like the full vocals and chorale that distinguish the song. 'Poor Man's Moody Blues' is a bit of a head-scratcher. They erect a surprisingly accurate approximation of that heralded group's trademark sound complete with a massive Mellotron droning but I have to question their aim in going down that road. I don't really get it. It's an interesting homage, nevertheless. The only live cut comes in the form of one of their older hits, 'Mockingbird,' and it's an unmistakable specimen of what's known as 'lite rock.' It's not awful, mind you, but it's way too tame for my taste. No surprises happen and it's much too long to hold my attention. There's a noticeable New Wave gist running through 'Life is for Loving.' It's bouncy and upbeat pop presented without a single atom of prog so it's of no interest to me. 'Ring of Changes' is a step upwards due to its mysterious opening wherein various keyboards dominate. Its infectious melody is augmented by a cavernous aural backdrop and a memorable chorus. 'Titles' is another odd duck. It sports a Mott the Hoople-styled intro but then flat out exploits lines directly lifted from famous Beatle tunes to fill out the lyrics. It's a cool experiment, for sure, but, being a huge fan of the Fab Four, it feels like cheating in a way. The jury's out, in other words. But the verdict's in for 'Welcome to the Show.' It's nothing more than run-of-the-mill, straightforward pop rock that's blatantly formulaic and, thusly, a waste of a progger's time. Evidently I have the UK version of this record because the next cut, 'Stand Up,' is on it. It's a much more aggressive number because the strong drums are placed right up front. Since it hails from '92 it's safe to say that they'd most likely been listening to Tears for Fears when this was put together. I would've liked this song a lot if I'd heard it back then. 'Cheap the Bullet' rides atop a hard rock motif but it doesn't do much for me at all. 'Rock N Roll Star' does even less. It's an instantly forgettable pop fluff piece that displays no originality whatsoever. Lastly, 'Love on the Line' is some kind of amateurish techno pop extravaganza that I find uneventful and boring. I'm glad the CD ended when it did because it was going downhill fast.

Is what I heard derivative? Yes, but that adjective isn't always derogatory. Recently I reviewed an album by Triumph that was so bad I gave it only a half-star rating. What was so appalling about it was their deliberate, shameless mimicking of popular bands of the 70s in what I took to be an attempt on their part to manufacture a hit single by osmosis. There's a big difference between copying a musical entity and honorably paying respect to them and Barclay James Harvest seems to be doing the latter. By retaining their own personality in the process they do preserve a modicum of dignity and pride that I can appreciate. At the same time the danger lies in taking it too far. Doing so prevents them from being unique and that deficit hampers them from standing out to a large extent, especially in the progressive rock arena where bold individualism is an indispensable trait. I can see why the prog powers that be put them in the same category as ELO, the Alan Parsons Project or even Styx but if so they belong in the 2nd class section of that boat due to their lack of imagination. 2.2 stars.

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Send comments to Chicapah (BETA) | Report this review (#1091539)
Posted Tuesday, December 17, 2013 | Review Permalink

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