Archive for the ‘Get This!’ Category

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You Can Call Me Al

February 27, 2014

Green and Brown. My colour blindness wasn’t apparent until Primary 7 when, as you do in Ayrshire schools, the class created a Robert Burns Tam O’ Shanter frieze. My job was to do the tree next to the bridge where poor Tam’s horse has her tail yanked off by the pursuing witch. My tree had, yes, brown leaves and a green trunk and I had no idea why I was the laughing stock of the school for the next few weeks. An official colour blindness test proved this a few months later. Now I know.

al green

Here I Am (Come And Take Me) was a top ten hit for Al Green in 1973. A brilliant piece of tight ‘n taut southern soul, producer Willie Mitchell has the uncanny knack of making it sound as if the drums are playing right there in the room with you. A warm Hammond vamps throughout, mixed in just behind the brass section while the Reverend’s vocals flit across the top, emotion squeezed out of his voice the way you or I might wring the last remaining drops of juice from a real lemon when following a Jamie Oliver pasta recipe to it’s fat-tongued conclusion. Got. To. Get. Every. Last. Drop. Out. Of. It. Cost. Me. Forty. Nine. Pee.

Green

Al Green’s track is terrific. Of course.

al brown 7

Here I Am Baby was a superb rocksteady version of Green’s track by his skankin’ namesake Al Brown. My version comes from one of those excellent Soul Jazz Records Dynamite compilations (300% Dynamite, I think) that really ought to be in everyone’s record collection. Many of the tracks featured are rubadub reggae versions of popular soul hits – the Jamaican musicians tuning into US radio would hear the originals, get the band together, roll a fat one, play it at half speed and claim it as their own. Al Brown was no different. Dubby bass, chukka-chukka backbeat and a Casio keyboard player with his (or her) own idea of what constitutes a meandering solo, it’s a rather spliffing made-in-the-shade perfect partner;

Brown

Ironically, Al Brown would go on to make a name for himself in The Paragons, whose The Tide Is High would somehow filter its way back across the airwaves to New York where Blondie were fortuitously tuning in. And that folks is how the music world goes around.

 

 

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‘Head Music

February 18, 2014

Radiohead play both types of music – arty and farty, and they’re still the band by which all others must be measured. In comparison, everyone else just doesn’t sound like they’re really trying, do they?

Radiohead haven’t stood still. The left-field rock double whammy of The Bends and its more adventurous follow-up, OK Computer would’ve been the pinnacle of many a band’s career – lesser bands would maybe even have stopped after such an explosive one-two. Other bands (hello Coldplay, we’re looking at you) took lowest common denominator Radiohead and churned out the Asda price version, to much ringing of cash registers around the world. How could you improve on two great albums? Not many could. For some people, Radiohead couldn’t either. But you know better…..

radiohead2

I like the experimental, itchy, claustrophobic Radiohead. The static bursts. The skittering drums. The are-they-guitars-or-are-they-keyboards? The cut ‘n paste approach to the vocals. The way everything is wrapped, womb-like in its own wee Radiohead bubble. Recent Radiohead has been all about the sonic textures. The ebbing and flowing. The peaks and troughs. The grooves rather than the grunge.

These Are My Twisted Words was put up for free download a few years back on the band’s website. I’m sure you’ve heard it;

From the warped intro via the chiming, falling-down-a-hole guitar riff that surfs across the top, the whole thing jerks and twitches away like Thom Yorke’s gammy eye whilst maintaining an actual tune – the perfect amalgamation of all that makes Radiohead great. Lots of people moan that the ‘Heid have lost their way with a tune. Sit them down and play them this. The only way it could be better was if it was three times the length.

yorke

Where I End And You Begin is all swirling ambience and one chord groove. Hip hop drums and phat bass. But still slightly wonky and weird. It’s on Hail To The Thief, a quiet contender for title of Best Radiohead Album. I’m sure you’ve heard it too;

simple minds early

Post-rock Radiohead remind me an awful lot of pre-rock Simple Minds, back when they were releasing arty, Eastern European influenced glacial soundscapes. Equal parts post-punk snottiness and Bowie metallic art punk with a Kraftwerk man machine-like muscle, this was not music to punch fists in the air to. It was cerebral yet danceable. It aimed for basslines rather than headlines.  Perfect headphone music. Mandela Day and Belfast Child were somewhere in Western Europe, a million light years away.

Here’s a couple of early Simple Minds tracks. Note the influence on mid-period Radiohead. They won’t deny it.

Theme For Great Cities

This Earth That You Walk Upon

 

Have you got Polyfauna, the Radiohead app yet? What d’you think?

radiohead app

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Zal And Sebastian

January 25, 2014

All the local town hipsters dug Orange Juice. There they were, in their collapsed quiffs and looking quite the thing in their dirty brown suede jackets, a shade on the small side but bought from Flip for a fiver. As long as you didn’t raise your arm to adjust the Rayban copies, no-one would notice the wee rip under the armpit. Irvine boys, you know who you are.

When Orange Juice did the unmentionable and had an actual bona fide Top 40 smash hit, a new band was needed. Looking backwards for inspiration, The Beatles were quickly disregarded (Paul McCartney in the 80s….). As were The Byrds (too obvious). And The Doors (Jim Morrison…). Love. Now, there was a band. Decent tunes, small back catalogue and obscure enough to deter the rest of us. As were the Lovin’ Spoonful.

lovin spoonful

Formed from the same alumni of assorted jug and folk bands that would give birth to the Mamas and Papas, the Lovin Spoonful’s star shone briefly but brightly before the cliche of drugs split the band.  Put together by Zal Yanovsky and John Sebastian, between 1965 and 1967 the Lovin’ Spoonful released a series of stripey jumpered, tight panted, pointy booted, denim jacketed pop nuggets, in equal parts sparkling 12 string blasts from heaven and soft focus introspection.

Do You Believe In Magic?

First single Do You Believe In Magic is a beauty. But you knew that already. John Sebastian was infatuated with the hollerin’, handclappin’, speaker-blastin’ energy emitted from Martha & the Vandellas Heatwave, so set about reconstructing it. Essentially, he just played the intro twice as fast as the Motown original and no-one noticed. Then he wrote a set of lyrics about how brilliant music is. Perfect.

We’ll go a dancin’ baby then you’ll see, how the magic’s in the music and the music’s in me.

It’s over and done with in 2 minutes. What more d’you need?

lovin spoonful ad

Summer In The City

Dig through the back catalogue and you’ll find all manner of film themes, quirky 2 minute pocket symphonies and enough looney tunes and merry melodies to soften even the hardest of hearts. Summer In The City‘s my favourite.  “Cool cat lookin’ for a kitty” they sing, on top of a descending electric piano riff. A claustrophobic anthem to wilting heat and sticky summer pavements, the breakdown features honking horns, road drills and a great wee drum break/guitar riff that runs until the end. Long lost indie band Eat did a version at the turn of the 90s. Which is almost 25 years ago. A quarter of a century. Ouch. Having just listened to it, the Eat version hasn’t aged all that well. Double ouch.

Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?

This record surely gave birth to Duglas T Stewart and the BMX Bandits.

You might argue that without having heard the Lovin’ Spoonful, the whole ‘C86′ movement would’ve shambled along to a different beat, Sarah Records wouldn’t have existed, Lawrence might never have formed Felt and ‘indie’ music as it was when that sort of thing mattered would have been very different. Or perhaps not.

We’ll finish with the close-miked and breathy Coconut Grove.

D’you know how the Lovin’ Spoonful got their name? It’s from an old blues lyric actually, but the blues lyric refers to a phrase associated with the male reproductive system. It’s also how 10CC came (ahem) about their name. Google it. And then go and buy a Lovin’ Spoonful LP.

lovin spoonful 2

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Vive le phonq

January 17, 2014

Imagine the pop landscape in 1967. It wasn’t just the trousers that were starting to get expansive. Everything’s got that slightly psychedelicised and trippy, frazzled edge to it. Itchycoo Park. Heroes and Villains. Penny Lane. Purple Haze. See Emily Play. Even The Temptations and other wide-lapel wearers on the Motown roster were abandoning their sure-fire recipes for success. Psychedelic Shack anyone? A future post for sure. Records became longer, more free-form and stretched out. Less structured, with not so much emphasis on the tried ‘n tested verse/chorus formula. But still pop. That bit’s important. The time was ripe for Sly and the Family Stone.

In 1967, Sly Stone didn’t like his record company. In fact, he didn’t trust them one iota. Sly had a bit of leeway though. He’d just had a top ten smash hit both sides of the Atlantic with Dance To the Music, a tune that did exactly what it says on the tin. So when Clive Davis at CBS asked Sly to follow it up with more of the same, the ever-willful and awkward Sly did just that.

sly keyboard

Sly decided to follow up Dance To The Music with a garage punk/funk version of the exact same track, stripped of all vocals save a tiny spoken word part and the chorus…..which this time was to be be sung entirely in French.

Naturally, he chose to call it Danse à La Musique. Released under the nom de plume of French Fries, it was terrific. The same du-du-du-dumb four-to-the-floor caveman stomping beat and growling fuzz bass drives it along. Street corner jazz scat vocals ping-pong back and forth, trying to be heard above the din of a joyfully fuzzed up, wasp-stuck-inside-your-car guitar track, clearly being played by a guitarist who’s just wired up a fuzzbox for the very first time. There’s precious little brass, replaced instead by a primitive keyboard that plays random Eastern-tinged phrases like a snake charmer on acid. The champion of a tambourine player never once stops throughout. His/her arm must’ve ached like a teenage boy’s with a Meaty, Beaty, Big ‘n Bouncy bargain Box Set for company. The whole thing is over and done with in three freaked-out flare-flapping minutes. I think you’ll like it.

 

sly kathyBONUS TRACK!

Here‘s a demo of Sly and co turning The KinksYou Really Got Me into a piece of proto Acid Jazz. Not sure if I like this or not, but it’s a curio right up Plain Or Pan’s street. And yours…

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Lucky Seven

January 2, 2014

Plain Or Pan began back in January 2007. December 2013 saw the 7th full year of the blog. The end of the year makes me come across all misty eyed and giddy at the thought of this blog being not only still in existence but in rather rude health. At some point recently, the one-and-a-half millionth visitor crossed the threshold to read all about James Brown or Lou Reed or some forgotten Teenage Fanclub b-side. Facebook followers are in abundance, Twitter sends its fair share of readers in this direction and if you read that wee panel on the right, you’ll notice visitors from as far afield as Buenos Aires, Berlin and Ayr. Thank you one and all!

What better way to celebrate 7 years of typos, titbits and factual inaccuracies than with the annual Plain Or Pan Best of the Year CD*.

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*I’ll provide the tunes. You make the CD.

Our team of stat monkeys works double shifts over the festive period before presenting me with documented proof of the most listened to and downloaded tracks from Plain Or Pan throughout the year and I compile them into a handy CD-length album, complete with artwork, that can be added straight to your iTunes or wherever and onto your iPod to listen to during that new-fangled jogging craze you’ll ditch by February. Alternatively, it could be burnt off to listen to, old-skool style, on a couple of shiny discs in the car.

Tracks included:

PixiesRiver Euphrates (Gigantic ep version)

Victoria Wood14 Again

The SmithsRusholme Ruffians (demo)

James Brown(Hot) I Need To Be Loved

SupergrassCaught By The Fuzz (acoustic)

The CrampsI Wanna Get In Your Pants

The House of LoveDestroy The Heart (demo)

Neil YoungBirds (Mono single version)

Elizabeth Archer & the Equators - Feel Like Makin’ Dub

Beak>Mono

Dave EdmundsBorn To Be With You

The CliqueSuperman

Ike TurnerBold Soul Sister

CanI’m So Green

WilcoImpossible Germany

The Mamas and PapasSomebody Groovy

Santo & Johnny -Sleepwalk

Dee ClarkBaby What You Want Me To Do

The SpecialsToo Much Too Young (LP version)

Barry AdamsonSet The Controls For The Heart Of The Pelvis

NeuHallogallo

MogwaiThe Sun Smells Too Loud

Trash Can SinatrasLittle Things That Keep Us Together

Roxy MusicVirginia Plain (Peel Session)

*** a cracker! ***

Get it here.

pop 7 cover art

Normal service resumed next week. Lookin’ forward to it!

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Ghosts Of Christmas Past (2)

December 19, 2013

Incredible but true. The fact remains that two of the main creators of The Best Christmas Song In The World…Ever are now dead and neither of them is Shane MacGowan.  13 years ago yesterday, Kirsty MacColl was killed by an out of control speedboat whilst swimming with her family off the coast of Cuba. And Pogues guitarist Phil Chevron succumbed to cancer in October of this year. Yet MacGowan, coming in at 18/1 with all his beautiful flaws and imperfections somehow manages to stagger on.

pogues shane

First Appeared December 13, 2011

 

This time last year I read an article in one of Mrs Plain Or Pan’s magazines about Christmas. The article asked a carefully selected sample of celebrities to describe their perfect Christmas Day.

A long walk in the woods with my fiancé,” cooed Kathryn Jenkins, “before curling up in front of the log fire with a glass of mulled wine.”

“We always start the day with a champagne breakfast,” revealed Maureen Lipman. “Traditionally, we open presents after dinner, then the whole family settles down to watch The Snowman.”

How very twee and Daily Mail of them. I don’t know about your house, but mine on Christmas Day is nothing like that at all. “Those carrots are mushy…and the sprouts are still raw! You useless bleep!”(whispered of course,  so the relatives can’t hear us arguing, 3 feet away on the other side of the wall). “You told me when to put them on!” “Could you not tell the carrots were ready? Couldn’t you use your bleeping brains for once?” etc etc etc. Like I said, I don’t know about your house, but I’m inclined to think it’ll be more like mine than Kathryn Jenkins’ or Maureen Lipman’s come next Wednesday.

 

Still Alive! Todd Marrone did this, the talented so-and-so.

 

You know this already, but just for the record, Fairytale Of New York is the best Christmas song of all-time. It doesn’t matter what’s gone before (the Phil Spector album, Bowie ‘n Bing’s Little Drummer Boy, the glam slam of Slade and Wizzard) or what came after (East 17? Cliff Richard? Kylie Minogue panting her way through Santa Baby with all the sex appeal of Shane MacGowan having an asthma attack?) Some of these records are better than others, but none of them come close to capturing the essence of Christmas (raw sprouts, useless husbands and all) quite like The Pogues.

 

A Fairytale Of New York is almost unique amongst Christmas songs in that it tackles the ‘C’ word with none of the blind enthusiasm or misty-eyed schlock normally reserved for such events. Slade set their stall out before a bell has even been clanged in excitement. “It’s Christmaaaaas!!” yells Noddy, and you know from then on in you’re in for a rollicking yuletide ride. Wham drown that thinly-disguised same-sex love song of theirs in a gazillion sleigh bells and suddenly everything in George Michael’s garden is rosy.  “All I Want For Christmas,” enthuses Mariah Carey, “is yooouuuuooooouuu!” Yeah, and an X-Box, an iPod and a flat screen TV, Mariah. We’re all materialistic over here. And while you’re at it, could you get me a job too? And maybe find someone who’ll give us a mortgage? Aye, bah humbug ‘n all that jazz. The Pogues have gone for none of that. Fairytale Of New York is still romantic, but it’s also raw, real and ragged, full of remorse for past misdemeanours while hoping for a better future. Nicely gift wrapped of course in a Pogues-punk waltz-time, with added BBC ban-defying swearing.

 

 

It’s a terrific arrangement, put together quite masterfully by Steve Lillywhite. Initially written as a duet between Shane MacGowan and Pogues bass player Cait O’Riordan, then scrapped when she left the band, it was Steve Lillywhite who suggested getting the missus in to duet with MacGowan instead. Listen to the demos below and hear how he transformed The Pogues’ half-finished ideas into the final record, with its peaks and troughs and instrumental breaks. Hear too how he gets the best out of Shane, who at this point in his life was eating tabs of acid the way the Fonz eats gum (all the time, if you didn’t know), whilst washing them down with enough brandy to drown a whale. Lillywhite somehow coaxes him out of the famous fluent Macgowanese mumble and into that raucous final take.

 

The Music:

 

Ennio Morricone’s Overture from Once Upon A Time In America, from where Shane pinched the melody. Play it (below) – you’ll spot it immediately! It’s a terrific piece of emotive, melancholic music in its own right:

One of the first takes. Fluffed lines, missed cues….and the band played on.

Shane ‘n Cait almost full-length run-through duet with alt. lyrics, missed cues, forgotten words………and the band played on.

The ‘blueprint version’– Starts with Shane ‘n James Fearnley on accordion. Different lyrics again. Shane struggles with the concept of singing in tune. Band in top form as usual. After listening to this you can begin to appreciate the contribution Kirsty MacColl made to the finished record.

The final take. The best Christmas song ever.

pogues fairytale cover

 

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Quiff Richard

November 26, 2013

little richard 57

Elvis may have been the King, but Little Richard was certainly the Queen. He’s terrific, isn’t he? The high priest of camp; his pompadoured hair like a Texan oil slick, sticky and stationary above those mad, popping eyes and perfectly plucked brows, the occasional dog-bothering ‘whoooo!’ while his hands pound away on the pianer with all the frenzied dexterity of a teenage boy with unlimited broadband and a lock on his bedroom door. Tee-riffic.

little richard gif

Slippin’ And Slidin’. Tutti Frutti. Lucille. Good Golly Miss Molly. Rip It Up. Long Tall Sally. Every one a throat-ripping, stone cold classic……..the building blocks of rock and roll and all that was to follow. But you knew that already.

Before Elvis, there was nothing‘, said John Lennon, but The Beatles owed Richard Penniman a huge debt or two. McCartney for one modelled his whole voice on Richard’s every single time his group broke free from the shackles of balladry and ruffled their rugs to the delight of the watching world – from the backing vocals on The Beatles’ own version of I Wanna Be Your Man right through to the White Album’s Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, the spirit of Little Richard was never far away.

DICK CLARK, LITTLE RICHARD

Here’s one you might not’ve heard before:

The Most I Can Offer (Just My Heart) is superb. Released on his 3rd album The Fabulous Little Richard by a slightly twitchy record company after he’d indicated a preference  for thumping the bible rather than the thumping boogie woogie of yore, The Most I Can Offer is a mid-paced soul-shaking break-up ballad (of course!), all rasping tenor sax and ding-ding-ding minor 7ths on the keys. It throws me every time. Why? Because it sounds like a duet between a high, quavering falsetto’d voice and a southern souler. Imagine if William Bell had sung with the black cleaner lady who appears from the waist down in every Tom And Jerry cartoon. Except The Most I Can Offer seems to be Richard and Richard alone, his voice alternating between broken-hearted blues mama and a down-on-his-knees tear-soaked gospel bawler. The version I’ve given you is Take 4. Which sounds exactly like takes 1, 2 and 3 and no doubt the master version too. If you have but an ounce of soul you’ll want to play this again and again and again.

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And here’s another:

Hey Hey Hey Hey, as reprised on the Beatles For Sale LP by those self-same Little Richard fans mentioned earlier. An out-and-out rocker, this features Richard at his most extreme, extravagant and extraordinary, pompadour bouncing while the piano pumps out primal jive ‘n wail. You can almost see the whites of his eyes on this recording.

And if you think the original’s good, you should have a listen to the Jim Jones Revue‘s outstanding needles-in-the-red version;

Proof, if any were needed, that Little Richard is as relevant today for any musician seeking the mother lode of rock ‘n roll.

little richard passport

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