While I’ve often considered Paul Kelly’s Greatest Hits – Songs From The South, Vols. 1 & 2 to be amongst the finest compilation for any music lover’s collection, could the epic 105 song, 6-hour, A To Z Recordings eclipse it?
Yes, I believe so. Of course, I’m a fan of the man who is rightfully regarded by many as one of Australia’s greatest singer-songwriters – The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock And Pop.
I guess the real question we must ask ourselves, dear reader, is if there is such a thing as too much Paul Kelly?
No, I don’t believe so!
Often when we think of albums, even compilations and live performances, incredible care has been taken when selecting tracks and their placement in order to make a coherent piece of audible art. However, Kelly has thrown the playbook out the window and between 2004 and 2010 was performing a four-part live performance, over four nights, that lined up much of his back catalog in alphabetical order. The concept is basic, yet extraordinary. Now, I know you may be wondering about the flow, given the songs are from different eras of Kelly’s celebrated career, but you need not be concerned for the flow of music is so compelling that you won’t want to stop listening until you reach the final song. Even then, I find myself playing the compilation again. It is astonishingly good.
The live performances, even though they were recorded in various locations, over several years, are perfectly matched sonically and are mixed and mastered beautifully. Kelly is incredible in the studio, but you really feel as though you’re experiencing the performance live on these recordings and thankfully the audience interaction has been kept to a minimum, thereby enhancing Kelly’s performance.
My only criticism is the cover art. Seriously, I couldn’t think of a worse cover for such an incredible compilation and artist. Actually, no, I can, but that is hardly the point as it fails to convey the musicality of this master musician, unlike Post, Wanted Man, or Greatest Hits – Songs From The South, Vols. 1 & 2 does.
Adelaide is a great song and even though this collection is presented in alphabetical order, Adelaide is a fantastic opening song that sets the tone for the entire compilation.
After The Show has a fantastic rhythm. I love it!
Anastasia Changes Her Mind isn’t fundamentally bad, but I have a love/hate relationship with semi-spoken word songs. That said, there are elements here, where Kelly begins to sing the lyrics, that are really enjoyable, but it isn’t enough to fully captivate me.
Be Careful What You Pray For is a killer moody tune.
Beautiful Promise is, pardon the pun, beautiful!
Before Too Long is one of Kelly’s most recognisable songs and is always sensational.
Beggar On The Street Of Love is a great song, but I feel the mix isn’t quite right as Kelly’s vocal is just a little too forward for my liking. A shame, considering how much I genuinely love this song.
Behind The Bowler’s Arm is toe-tapping, head-bopping, gold. Magnificent!
Big Fine Girl has an incredible rhythm that will get your entire body moving.
Blues For Skip is an incredible lo-fi tune, from a musical perspective, that allows Kelly’s vocal to shine.
Bradman isn’t a bad homage to the legendary Australian cricketer. As a song, however, I have mixed feelings. It works, really well, but isn’t necessarily a song from Kelly’s catalog that I would seek out.
(The) Cake And The Candle is an incredible song and comes through with such transparency that you’d swear Kelly was in the same room as you. Music, especially live performances, that reach this sense of realism are difficult to find but are well worth it as your stereo system will never sound better.
Careless is an incredible song and this is one stunning performance.
Change Your Mind is incredible!
Charlie Owen’s Slide Guitar is a solid tune, perhaps nothing to write home about, but enjoyable nevertheless.
Cities Of Texas is, for lack of a better term, a B-side. It works well in the flow of The A To Z Recordings, but as a song on its own, somewhat misses the mark.
Coma is smooth, yet rough and ready. The contrast makes the song compelling and is a toe-tapper’s delight.
Cradle Of Love is simply beautiful.
Deeper Water is a good song, but I feel there are too many musical layers in this particular recording and, as such, my mind finds it difficult to connect with a specific rhythm.
Desdemona is absolutely brilliant. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I’d love to hear Neil Young cover this classic.
Difficult Woman is magnificently moody. One of Kelly’s best without a doubt.
Don’t Explain is fantastic.
Don’t Harm The Messenger is a solid song and really comes into its own during the chorus and the final minute of the song.
Don’t Stand So Close To The Window is a catchy tune that is thoroughly enjoyable.
Don’t Start Me Talking isn’t bad, but it isn’t a standout song either.
Down To My Soul is utterly amazing and a hidden gem.
Dumb Things is one of my all-time favourite Paul Kelly songs. I first heard it when I saw the Yahoo Serious film Young Einstein and I haven’t forgotten it since. A great Aussie film with an exceptional soundtrack. This rendition retains everything that made the studio recording perfect and is beyond reproach.
Emotional is simply stunning!
Every F*****g City is average at best, but if this is a low in Kelly’s catalog, then he has absolutely nothing to worry about.
Everybody Wants To Touch Me is mediocre and it’s a shame because I’d enjoy the song more if the musicality was presented in a lower register.
Everything’s Turning To White is another song in Kelly’s catalog that I’m not a fan of. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, of course, just that it doesn’t appeal to me and that I wouldn’t seek it out to listen to independently.
(The) Foggy Fields Of France is a fun little toe-tapping song.
Foggy Highway is utterly brilliant with a great, but simple, rhythm that allows the music lover to immediately connect with the song.
Forty Miles To Saturday Night is enjoyable but I feel the mix is a little out as I would have liked the instrumental elements to be boosted, perhaps by a decibel, as it almost sounds as though two different songs are struggling for the attention of the listener.
Forty-Eight Angels has a compelling vocal delivery that I’ve always adored. Such a great tune!
From Little Things Big Things Grow is a song that everyone in Australia has heard, even if they didn’t know it was a Paul Kelly tune, for the song was used for a major marketing campaign for Industry Superfunds Australia (ISA). Subsequently, as much as I love this protest song, sometimes I am reminded of the advertisement; the aim of the marketing campaign of course, but I would much prefer to simply enjoy the song and reflect on the initial intent of the song. It’s interesting that Kelly gave ISA permission to use the song as I perceive no correlation. Nevertheless, if it brings about greater awareness, then one can suggest it isn’t a bad thing and even if you don’t listen to music for its literal interpretation, From Little Things Big Things Grow is one of the greatest songs ever written, by anyone, anywhere in the world.
From St Kilda To Kings Cross is beautiful.
Gathering Storm is short and sweet; so very sweet. I love it!
God Told Me To has an incredible twang but unlike Forty Miles To Saturday Night, I feel the instrumental element is a little too loud thereby taking away from Kelly’s incredible vocal delivery.
(The) Gift That Keeps On Giving could have been the perfect title for this compilation. As a song on its own, (The) Gift That Keeps On Giving is an excellent composition and is thoroughly enjoyable.
Glory Be To God is sonically splendid. I could listen to Glory Be To God on repeat for an eternity.
Going About My Father’s Business is yet another great song. There really isn’t a bad song in Kelly’s catalog, just ones that I connect with more than others.
How To Make Gravy is an excellent song that reminds me of Bob Dylan. Yes, there are many correlations between the two artists, but this is the one song that Kelly performs that instantly reminds me of Dylan. Not a bad thing, just an observation.
I Can’t Believe We Were Married is a great tune.
I Close My Eyes And Think Of You is one of the most beautiful songs Kelly has ever penned and sung. No wonder he is a legend!
I Don’t Know Anything Anymore is hypnotic. What’s not to like? I Don’t Know Anything Anymore Is one of the most relaxing songs you’ll ever listen to and my only complaint is that it is too short; although it’s perfect!
I Keep On Coming Back For More will get your body moving as the groove and vocal delivery is spectacular.
I’d Rather Go Blind is utterly brilliant and an absolute favourite of mine.
If I Could Start Today Again is a lovely song that has flowed incredibly well, despite the alphabetical order, from the previous several songs proving just how consistently good Paul Kelly is as a songwriter and musician.
I Wasted Time is solid, but isn’t anything to write home about.
I Won’t Be Your Dog is stunning. You’ll want to turn up the volume and close your eyes while listening to this song. The slight echo in Kelly’s vocal really sets the song apart from the others on this compilation and while it is most likely unintentional and a result of the recording space, I find it adds a sense of depth that makes you sit up and take notice.
Jandamarra/Pigeon is okay, but is ultimately a B-side from my perspective.
Jump To Love is a great tune. Another one to play continuously on repeat? I think so!
Just About The Break is such a low, smooth, delicate song that it’s simply beautiful.
King Of Fools is a solid song, but is nothing to write home about.
Lately has a swing to it that could have easily come out of the 1930s or 1940s. It’s a great tune.
Leaps And Bounds is a sonic wonderland.
Little Boy, Don’t Lose Your Balls is a great song with a wit that is brilliant.
Love Is The Law is a little too campy for my liking. As with all other songs on this compilation, it isn’t bad, but if it were not part of this collection, I wouldn’t play it as a song on its own.
Love Never Runs On Time has a killer harmonica and is overall a good tune. Nothing spectacular, but nothing offensive either.
Luck is a solid tune.
Maralinga (Rainy Land) is one of Kelly’s greatest songs. Sensational!
Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air is an a cappella song and is beautiful.
Midnight Rain has an incredible instrumental backing that enhances Kelly’s vocal perfectly.
My Way Is To You compels me to close my eyes as the musicality and Kelly’s vocal takes me on a sonic journey that has to be experienced to be fully understood.
No You offers nothing to write home about, but isn’t fundamentally bad. No You just doesn’t stand out from the crowd, which is an issue in a compilation as broad as The A To Z Recordings.
Nothing But A Dream is an incredible song and that higher-pitched choral approach is so enjoyable and makes me think that this is a Paul Kelly song that would be perfect for Crowded House or Neil Finn, in particular, to cover.
(The) Oldest Story In The Book has a catchy tune and chorus line that ensures it’s memorable. It’s another song that is amongst Kelly’s greatest.
One More Tune is lovely.
Other People’s Houses is a great song. Even though I’m not an overzealous fan of spoken word lyrics, Other People’s Houses is perfectly balanced and simply sounds right. I couldn’t imagine this song any other way and I’m glad it exists as it does. My only problem is that I can’t decide if I prefer this edition or the original studio release. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter as both are exceptional!
Our Sunshine has an old-west feel with a country twang. I love it!
Please Myself has a stellar vocal shift and distortion throughout. Add a simple rhythm and Please Myself most certainly pleases this fan.
Pretty Place is a solid tune, but ultimately a B-side.
(The Ballad Of) Queenie And Rover is, as Pretty Place is, a B-side for this listener.
Rally Round The Drum is a great, meat and potatoes, tune. Sometimes that is all you need.
Randwick Bells is a solid track, but nothing to write home about. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I have a love/hate relationship with semi-spoken songs. I find them compelling but then at the same time, I’d much prefer to have a little more rhythm to toe-tap and head-bop to as well as sing along to. That said, the closing minute largely negates this thought.
Saturday Night And Sunday Morning is a great tune. It’s time to get that acoustic air guitar out, for I adore that guitar strumming and the tuning of the instrument on this track.
Shane Warne is largely unforgettable but is a rather cool and humorous homage to the Australian cricketer.
Smoke Under The Bridge is a lovely, hypnotic, tune. It is, as many of Kelly’s songs are, incredibly relaxing.
Somebody’s Forgetting Somebody is a solid song, but not a standout. Although, that harmonica is a pure pleasure to listen to.
Somewhere In The City is magnificent!
South Of Germany as a vocal-only song is spectacular and showcases just how incredible Kelly’s vocal prowess is and how much control he has over it.
Standing On The Street Of Early Sorrows is a song that I wouldn’t necessarily gravitate towards when thinking of Paul Kelly, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it every time I hear it as the vocal delivery and backing is glorious.
Stolen Apples is a great tune and while Crowded House write their own songs, I’d love to hear them cover this one.
Stories Of Me is an incredible, multi-layered, acoustic tune.
Stupid Song is anything but stupid. I love it!
Summer Rain is average at best. Yes, it works well within the compilation but as a song on its own, I just don’t find it compelling.
Sweet Guy is incredible and Kelly’s vocal delivery is the definition of perfection.
Sydney From A 747 isn’t bad, but it isn’t anything to write home about. Although, the intermingling guitars make this one enjoyable song.
They Thought I Was Asleep is an incredible story-based song.
Thoughts In The Middle Of The Night is stunning. The music will envelop you and Kelly is most certainly in the room with you when you listen to this track. An exceptional song and a stunning recording.
To Her Door is a well-known masterpiece. One of Kelly’s most recognisable recordings and arguably one of his very best.
Until Death Do Them Part isn’t bad, but it isn’t great. It simply exists and sometimes that is good enough. I wouldn’t, however, hold up Until Death Do Them Part as a defining moment in Kelly’s recording career.
When I First Met Your Ma is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish and is, in my opinion, a hidden gem. I love it!
Winter Coat is a great tune. I adore Kelly’s vocal on this recording and his control over his vocal is most certainly impressive.
Won’t You Come Around? has a great rhythm that will get your body moving and once again that harmonica steals the stage.
Would You Be My Friend? is astonishingly good and sounds as though Kelly is singing to you, in a private concert. Sensational!
You Broke A Beautiful Thing is, pun intended, a beautiful thing!
You Can Put Your Shoes Under My Bed isn’t a bad song, but it isn’t anything to write home about either.
You Can’t Take It With You is such a good song with a sensational rhythm and a fantastic lyrical meaning.
Your Little Sister Is A Big Girl Now has a killer intermingling guitar track; such an enjoyable song!
Young Lovers is one of Kelly’s most beautiful songs. It isn’t necessarily the story he tells via the song, but it is the way he performs it that makes Young Lovers one very special song indeed.
You’re 39, You’re Beautiful And You’re Mine is a lovely tune.
Your Loving Is On My Mind has always been one of my favourite Paul Kelly tracks and leaves me somewhat speechless; it is that good!
Zoe is a solid song and while it may have taken over 6 hours to get to this stage, if you’re like me, you’re likely going to go back to Adelaide and listen to this masterpiece again.
Whether you’re going on a road trip, going about your daily routine, or sitting intently absorbing every element of Kelly’s performances, you’re bound to adore this collection of songs for it is some of the finest singer-songwriter music you’re ever likely to hear, anywhere, by anyone.
If you’d be more content with an abridged version, a Best Of The A To Z Recordings (2LP vinyl release) is available.
If you’re remotely interested in Paul Kelly, then this compilation is a must-own. While it isn’t as concise as Greatest Hits – Songs From The South, Vols. 1 & 2, it will give you hours of bliss and a deeper view into the wonder that is Paul Kelly.