David Ackles Top Ten


  David & Janice Ackles on the cover of American Gothic

OK, so this is where I start getting really opinionated. There never has been a David Ackles compilation album but, then, do real fans actually agree with much of what is on compilation albums? Here’s one that doesn’t, so with that in mind, I’ve compiled my favourite ten tracks. They are listed below. I should also say that this has been a very difficult task, because David's music can so easily fit moods and emotions. What I reckon to be my top ten tracks one day could easily change by the next. If I've omitted a favourite of yours, just let me know; many have already! I'll try to compile a complete list of the tracks people most like. Perhaps a record company will actually take notice someday. Please note that the list is not in order of preference, but simply chronological order.

The lyrics of each of these songs are given on the Lyrics page. Meanwhile, to hear an audio clip of any of the songs below, simply click on the symbol beside each title. I've found that this is more successful in Windows Explorer than in Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome, where you may have to be patient in waiting for a download.

Down River The ability to write in character is a talent shared with people like Harry Chapin and Randy Newman. What does our penal system do to people? It doesn't just lock them away for a spell - it wrecks relationships and creates the kind of people who will subsequently appear on the Road to Cairo or Laissez Faire. No matter what his crime, our character has served his time and doesn't deserve his further exclusion from the society he was once a member of. Musically, an outstanding piece of work, ending with some delightfully judged guitar. This was the song that first drew me to David Ackles and is a favourite of many people, including Phil Collins, Elton John and Elvis Costello.

Lotus Man I can only guess at the meaning of the lyrics - as one should with all poetry which is personal to the writer - but is this a hippy anthem or a hymn to God? The vocals are gentle and the sentiment is one of hope rather than the gloom which pervades many other songs on the album. And, hey, guess what? The bass player gets to play his own counterpoint rather than just thump away to a beat, as on so many pop songs.

When Love is Gone The predecessor of That's No Reason to Cry, with another lovely bass line from Jerry Penrod and a beautiful melody. But the main aspect of this song is the desolate voice carrying a lyric of realisation and realism. "Only a fool is content with a cloud to hide him." The theme is breakup, appreciating that there is no point to a relationship once the love has gone from it. This may be an album for lonely people. But it's also one for fans of beautifully crafted lyrics, set to music in a finely judged manner and sung with a voice that haunts, for all its variety of tones and colours.

That's No Reason to Cry The ultimate bedsit album track puts the breakup of a relationship into clear words: "I'll find another lady; you'll find another guy". This is clearly a follow-on to When Love is Gone from the first album. The album's back cover shows David as the hobo of his first album, while the reference to Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, suggests that not everything is right with the world. And yet in this song, there is still hope for the future. This is not the wrist-slitting music of despondency that Leonard Cohen was caricatured for. It retains the innocent feeling that life goes on in this kinda hippy world that David was inhabiting then.

Candy Man Whoever would dare to write a song about a child molester? Interestingly, David chose not to go into character for this one, but he did put out the guy's point of view. What damage do we, as society, do to our young people - as parents, as teachers, as youth workers, as carers in children's homes, or as a government putting them into a war when they have no concept of why they are involved? And then we wonder why some of our young people develop the evil traits that they do. A brave song and one that suggests that all of us have been harmed in some way by our upbringing and that this will have an effect on how we treat each other throughout life.

Inmates of the Institution Hinting at what was to come in his next album, this song is not exactly government-friendly and it cannot have gone down too well with those of a non-liberal disposition in his home country - just as Jackson Browne got rough treatment for Lives in the Balance many years later. David's voice is almost rasping in its contempt and scorn of those who simply do what's expected. And yet, he reminds us - in a non-preaching way - that we all had a chance of redemption. All this, with a jazzy backing and gorgeous saxophone solo that remind us that David knows how to arrange music to good effect.

Love's Enough Oh, there is so much in the American Gothic album that should be in a top ten. I've already skipped by the title track that lays bare the concept of the family home in a way that it took David Lynch another fifteen years to do. The phrase "paper legs with paper seams" is so dismissive of everything that Heffner & co ever produced. Meanwhile, track 2 brings such a conflicting tenderness to the album as to shock. It's a beautiful ballad that defines one's emotions perfectly. The belief that this could be the one person to live with for a lifetime is a hope that all romantics have. It was surely written for Janice, the lady on the album cover, and David's wife for 26 years.

Waiting for the Moving Van A song where the hopes and dreams have again been dashed by the reality of what life is all about. All the plans are gone and a relationship is over. Another of the many vignettes that permeate this wonderful album. All American life is there - not just the Mom & Apple Pie notion that Hollywood tried to feed us. This is the darker, brooding side of real life, the Twin Peaks or Millennium. This song is a gentle, loving one in amongst the harsher, crueller aspects of life. Yet what could be more cruel than the break-up of a relationship?

Montana Song Not the kind of thing you hear too often on the radio, yet this is hailed by music critics and fans alike as a masterpiece. The writing is accomplished, the theme is epic in its scope, and the music, taking its style from Aaron Copland, paints a scene that many moviemakers would die for. Its final message is essentially that we were all put here to create a future for our children. A monumental piece of work from an outstanding talent.

Surf's Down Yes, I know I have only left myself one track from his final album and I know that's not enough. A Top Twenty would have made this task easier. Anyway, getting back to the subject, this is the antithesis of all the surfing songs of the period - and features Dean Torrance of Jan and Dean on backing vocals! David manages to replicate the surfing sound magnificently while throwing in the lyric "You can't hang ten when you've lost a little toe". Yes, we all have to grow up and move away from our youthful pastimes. Was this David saying goodbye to being a pop artist?

Well, there we are.  If you disagree with my selection, please don't get angry about it - I could just as easily choose a different selection on a different day, depending on my mood. I therefore hope that you will consider sending me your views by e-mail to Webmaster (below) in the hope that I can build up a Fans' Top Ten.

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