We’ve reached B, and the temptation to ramble on about the Beach Boys, and the brilliant octet of albums that followed the over-rated Pet Sounds, is almost too great to resist. BUT – as the smug and irritating Chris Tarrant might say – we don’t want to do that! The Beach Boys have been done to death. Not so Andy Bey, a man whose extraordinary four octave range I first encountered on saxman Gary Bartz’s jazz dance classic Celestial Blues.

This track is reason alone  to revere Mr Bey, but he’s also recorded stand-out abums with Horace Silver (United States of Mind) and Stanley Clarke (Children of Forever). None of these buggers can sing, so they have to bring in people like Andy Bey and Dee Dee Bridgwater to do it for them. Mind you, I can’t play sax, bass or piano, so I’ll be calling on Messrs Bartz, Clarke and Silver when I record my solo album, Songs I sing in the shower: the music of Curtis Mayfield & Judas Priest reinterpreted for the post-modern age.

 The late 60s/early 70s were glory years indeed for Andy Bey. Actually, the late 50s to early 70s were glory years for him, because he’d already enjoyed one successful career as a third of Andy & the Bey sisters, singing with his siblings, but that’s all a bit Nat King Cole for me. That said, their version of Besame is kind of cool, and gives you an idea of how beautifully their voices chimed.

No, the zenith of Andy’s career, for me, comes with Experience & Judgement, recorded in 1974, when almost everything was perfect, unless you lived in Vietnam of course, and even there the Americans were about to withdraw and the Viet Minh were going to liberate everyone (what happened?) Defiantly downbeat but funky, Experience & Judgement may be an acquired taste for some. Bey sounds shrill at times, and defiantly feminine (more about that in a moment). He reprises Celestial Blues, which was only ever medium-pace at best, but here slows to a crawl, the music moodier, the phrasing even more jazzy. Every song on the album is a ballad, it’s all of a piece, a male jazz singer’s mirror image of Anita Baker’s Rapture. It could easily BE Anita Baker, or at least a woman,  singing. The real story, imho, is Bey’s sexuality. He’s one of a handful of “out” (and HIV+) jazzers, and by his own admission he agonised about it for years. The other great “gay jazz singer”, Mark Murphy, was openly gay, but he was white, and perhaps it was easier for him, as it may have been for vibes player Gary Burton. Bey’s only real model was Duke Ellington’s sideman Billy Strayhorn, and he never publicised his sexuality. Why should Bey, you might ask. To which I’d answer – and I imagine he would as well – why hide it, as he did for so long? “I knew I had nothing to lose,” he said in a late 90s interview. “It was liberating, because I didn’t have to hide anymore.”

Once he’d come out, Bey re-emerged musically re-invigorated as well. “Being HIV-positive was a blessing in disguise. It took this major crisis in my life to help me make some of the best music in my life, just to feel like a freer human being.” Amongst a slew of new albums, he turned in a great version of Nick Drake’s River Man, which seems as fitting a way as any to bring this post to a close.

The rest of the Bs in my record collection:

The B52s, Wild Planet, Mesopotamia (triple whammy)

Syd Barrett, The Madcap Laughs (so lo-fi it hurts)

Keith Barrow (should have been massive, but he died of AIDS)

The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds (and everything after that)

The Beatles, The White Album (aka The Manson Album – see 68½ – Movies, Manson & Me by Nick Gilbert for more on this)

Naomi Bedford, Tales From the Weeping Willow (murder ballads for Nick Cave fans)

Chris Bell, I Am The Cosmos (no, you’re not – you’re a smack addict)

Jorge Ben, Africa Brasil (everyone has a Brazilian record tucked away somewhere, but not every record has Ubababaruma on it)

Tony Bennett, Unplugged (a bit shouty in places)

Big Star, #1 Record, Radio City, Sister Lovers (three reasons to love Big Star)

Black Keys, Brothers (a bit misleading – they’re not brothers)

Black Sabbath (the original, the ”heaviest”, the best)

Black Sabbath, Paranoid (comes a close second)

Black Sabbath, Volume IV (warning; may contains Supernauts)

Black Widow, Sacrifice (as in “Come, come, come to the Sabbath, come to the Sabbath, Satan’s there”)

Don Blackman (contains Heart’s Desire – nuff said)

Art Blakey, Orgy In Rhythm (one for the drummers)

Bobby Bland, Here’s The Man (blues)

Blind Faith (you wouldn’t get away with that cover nowadays)

Blo, Chapter One/Phase II (not sure why I bought these)

Blue Oyster Cult, On Your Feet or On Your Knees (live, patchy, one or two great tunes)

Lou Bond (File under “Terry Callier-like”)

Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (everything they ever released)

David Bowie (I pretend I hate him, but I have all his records as well)

Brewer & Shipley, Weeds (great version of All Along The Watchtower)

The Brothers & Sisters, Dylan’s Gospel (see Brewer & Shipley above – if it has a version of All Along the Watchtower, I’m there) (XTC’s is the best version, mind you)

James Brown, James Brown Special (this LP changed my life)

James Brown, The Payback (Julian Cope’s fave J Brown LP, and mine – like Can playing funk)

Randy Brown, Welcome to My Room (70s smooth soul perfection)

Randy Brown, Intimately (ditto)

Randy Brown, Midnight Desire (ditto, with 70s porn cover)

Jack Bruce, Songs For A Tailor (massively overlooked solo effort)

Tim Buckley (everything – see my Lorca Killer Wail post*)

Vernon Burch, I’ll Be Your Sunshine (massive NYC soul/disco/boogie album – every track is a killer)

Kate Bush, The Director’s Cut (is this the least likely of her LPs to own?)

The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo (cosmic country – nice)