Born To Be With You was an American top 5 single for The Chordettes in 1956. A largely forgotten piece of bobbysox balladeering, it’s a proto doo wop, proto girl group paen to a just-out-of-reach romance, all minor key melodrama and vocal harmonies. It was quite clearly an influence on the young Phil Spector a few years later. A few short calendar years maybe, but it might as well have been several lightyears, given what happened in the intervening years betwixt and between The Chordettes and the golden touch of Phil Spector. 1956 was Year Zero for rock ‘n roll. The year that Elvis and his gyrating pelvis appeared on television screens with the dual effect of horrifying the moral majority of Americans whilst galvanising youths everywhere into action.
“Before Elvis there was nothing.”
John Lennon said that. And after Elvis there was everything. I’ll say that. Firstly, Tin Pan Alley songwriters and their ‘moon in June‘ blandfest of lyrics were given a huge boot up the arse and out the door. As they were leaving, in came bands who played their own instruments, wrote their own songs, presented themselves as a gang and dressed accordingly. In a few short years, the thrill of rock ‘n roll and all its attendant detritus was well in motion. But you knew that already.
Phil Spector was a bit of a throwback to that pre-Elvis era. The auteur of teen angst, he used assorted songwriters to pen the hits, before introducing the song to the musicians who would bend and shape it into Spector’s vision of a 3 minute symphony, before finally introducing the singers to the song and pushing them to the very edge of their limits in order to create pop perfection. Goffin & King. Ellie Greenwich. Jeff Barry. Writing for The Ronettes. The Crystals. Darlene Love. I’m sure you know them all. Phil even got himself a writing credit for coming up with the “woah-woah-woah” part at the end of Mann & Weill’s ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling‘. Clever man, that Phil Spector. Well, he was at one time…
Spector’s influence reached far and wide, as far even as that hotbed of rock action, south Wales. In 1973, following the huge success of I Hear You Knocking (a favourite of John Lennon, coincidentally), and after a part in David Essex’s Stardust, Dave Edmunds combined his love of early 50s rock ‘n roll with the technique of Phil Spector and produced his own version of The Chordettes’ Born To Be With You. It’s terrific! A wall of 12 string guitars, stratosphere-scraping vocals and galloping, clattering rat-ticky-tat percussion. It’s measured. Precise. Perfect. By the time the brass ‘n slide guitar part comes soaring in, you’ll already have convinced yourself this is the best record you’ve heard all year. Someone like Glasvegas could waltz in and do it in the same style and make it sound even huger. “Coz ah wiz borrrrn…tae be wi’ yooo!” But for the moment, content yourself with Dave Edmund’s 40-year old version. I think you’ll like it a lot.
Pop Quiz Interlude
Q. Aside from The Beatles, name the only other rock/pop artists on the cover of the Sgt Peppers LP.
A. Bob Dylan (top right, back row) and Dion (7th from left, 2nd back row. Just next to Tony Curtis and behind a wee bit from Oscar Wilde).
Dylan you’ve probably heard of. Dion too, for that matter. Dion was a duh-duh-duh-d’-duh-duh duh dude. His rasping, doo-wopping Noo Yoik Bronx vocal created monster hits. The Wanderer. Runaround Sue. A Teenager In Love. I’m sure you’re singing them now, ingrained as they are in the very fabric of rock ‘n roll. Dion was also the Marti Pellow of his day – pop idol on the outside whilst rattling to the bones with heroin on the inside. When the hits dried up, Dion found himself label-less, friendless and definitely down and out in New York City. Following a religious epiphany (c’mon! what did you expect?!?) and subsequently ditching the drugs, 1975 found Dion working with Phil Spector on his own version of Born To Be With You.
Ironically, it’s less Spectorish than Edmunds’ rollin’ and tumblin’ version. Dion’s is downbeat, introspective and melancholy, sounding exactly like the kind of record an artist makes when they know they’re in the last chance saloon; measured (again) and majestic. At just short of 7 minutes, it’s something of an epic. Jason Pierce of Spiritualized is said to be a huge fan of this record, which makes perfect sense. It’s almost Spiritualized in template, with it’s steady, pulsing riff and inter-woven sax breaks. And the background drugs story was no doubt the icing on the cake for our Jason.
Good records. That’s what they are. Play them. Enjoy them. Pass it on.
Some of you may have read this before (2009 and 2011, to be exact).
254 years young today. I love Burns. Had him drummed into me at school. In fact, anyone who goes to school in the West of Scotland knows all about him. And as a teacher, I love banging on about him to my class. Here’s a brief potted history for any uninitiated out there…
Born on the 25th January, 1759 in Alloway (now a posh part of Ayr). Scrawny boy, wasn’t expected to live long. Helped his dad on the farm. Wasn’t cut out for it. His dad, though poor, paid for Robert to go to school. Robert excelled in academia. Began writing poems to go along with the folk songs his mother had sung to him. People liked them. Drifted around Ayrshire. Had a reputation as a ladies man. Loved them and left them. Made plans to go to Jamaica as a slave driver (they don’t tell you that in school). Was just about to go when someone in Kilmarnock published the first edition of his poetry. This edition made it’s way to Edinburgh and Robert followed. The Edinburgh high society loved him. He loved Edinburgh life. He loved Edinburgh women. He loved entertaining Edinburgh women. In less than a year he spent the equivalent in today’s terms of £170,000! That’s £170,000 pissed against a wall. Made a hasty retreat, skint, to Dumfries when he was caught having an affair. Married Jean Armour, the love of his life they say and went back to the farming. Hated it. Became a tax man. Hated that. Died of a heart condition, possibly brought on by syphilis, on 21st July 1796, aged just 37. At the time of his death he had fathered at least 13 children to various women throughout Ayrshire, Edinburgh and Dumfries. Stick that in yer pointy boots, Russell Brand.
‘Happy Birthday, Mr Burns‘, by The Ramones on The Simpsons.
Ane, twa, chree, fower!
That reminds me. Prince Charles was on a visit to Crosshouse Hospital, just outside Kilmarnock a couple of years ago. One of the Hospital big wigs was accompanying him round the wards, steering old Charlie clear of the wasters, winos and swine flu sufferers that were using up valuable bed space. Walking into one ward, The Prince stopped at one of the first beds and asked the young man how he was feeling. The bedridden patient replied;
“Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie! Thou need na start awa sae hasty Wi bickering brattle! I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee, Wi’ murdering pattle.”
Charles mumbled something under his breath, smiled at the distressed patient and walked on. He stopped at another bed and asked the next patient how he too was fareing. The patient looked up and shouted out,
“My curse upon your venom’d stang, That shoots my tortur’d gooms alang, An’ thro’ my lug gies monie a twang Wh’ gnawing vengeance, Tearing my nerves wi’ bitter pang, Like racking engines!”
Somewhat shaken, Charles walked on. Stopping at the last bed he looked at the patient. Being the future King and all, it was only polite of him to ask this patient how he too was progressing. With a froth of the mouth patient number three barked out,
“When Chapman billies leave the street, And drouthy neebors neebors meet, As market-days are wearing late, An’ folk begin to tak the gate; While we sit bousing at the nappy, An’ getting fou and unco happy, We think na on the lang Scots miles, The mosses, waters, slaps and styles, That lie between us and our hame, Whare sits our sulky, sullen dame, Gathering her brows like a gathering storm, Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.
This truth fand honest Tam O Shanter, As he frae Ayr ae nicht did canter: (Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses, For honest men and bonie lasses.)”
A visibly bemused and perturbed Charles turned to his guide and inquired, “Where are we man? Is this some sort of mental ward?”
“No Sir,” came the reply. “This is the severe Burns Unit.”
You can have that one for free….
Here’s lo-fi acoustic folk Scottish supergroup-of-sorts The Burns Unit doing a brand new song called Tupperware Pieces for last week’s Marc Riley show on BBC 6 Music. S’a cracker. (I stole the mp3 from Peenko – ta!)
And here’sthe Trashcan Sinatras‘ ode tae Rabbie, I Hung My Harp Upon The Willows. It tells the story of Rabbie’s time in Irvine. Aye, Alloway made the man, but Irvine made the poet. As an Irvine boy, I make sure I tell them that in school. It gets right up the snooty noses of those South Ayrshirites, so it does.
Back in 1970s Scotland there was a drink called Creamola Foam. You might remember it. It came in orange and raspberry flavours and was aimed solely at children, who up until then got their fizzy fix from stealing their dad’s mixers when he wasn’t paying attention, before adding that same mixer to a big cup of additive-heavy, wheeze-inducing orange juice. Teeth-meltingly magic and free of faff, the instructions on the Creamola Foam tin told you simply to add one level teaspoon to a cup of water, stir and drink.
Everyone ignored the instructions. Two, three, four heaped spoonfuls of the stuff went into the beaker and whoosh! A volcanic eruption of legal amphetamine right before your very eyes. It’s no coincidence that the introduction of Creamola Foam correlated with the trend for driving BMWs and Audis amongst the dental profession up and down the land. Until 1978, Mr Devine my dentist drove a beige Vauxhall Viva.
Born at the arse-end of the Creamola Foam boom, it’s unlikely that Supergrass ever found themselves hairy-face to face with a cup of the stuff (they kept their teeth nice and clean, after all), but their early recordings sound like they were bathed in gallons of it, such is the youthful effervescence of it all. You’ll know this already, but they came to mainstream attention in 1995 thanks to the Alright single and its accompanying video featuring the group Monkeeing around on a trio of Choppers, Gaz sporting a set of Victorian gentleman’s sideburns that even Neil Young might be inclined to shave off for being on the wrong side of hippy. Alright crossed the Atlantic and brought Supergrass to the attention of America, although the band had trouble explaining the “smoke a fag” line, which was somewhat lost in translation.
Those with an ear to the ground were familiar with Supergrass long before Alright began bothering the charts. Preceding single Mansize Rooster was a giddy rush of Madness barrelhouse piano, Chas Smash shouting (Roooostah!) and Nutty Boy stomp (my ability to identify it helped me win Danny Baker’s quiz on the radio one Saturday morning), and the debut album I Should Coco was a riot of 3 minute riffage from start to finish. Lenny. Lose It. Sitting Up Straight. She’s So Loose. The sweary Strange Ones. The one chord groove of Time. The astonishing punk/prog of Sofa (Of My Lethargy). All rush by with the carefree abandon you’d expect from a group with a collective age roughly an eighth of Mick Jagger, who, if I remember correctly, was about 93 at the time. If you’ve never heard the album, do yourself a favour, eh? If you have the album, do yourself a favour and stick it on again. It’s playing as I type and it still stands up.
Debut single Caught By The Fuzz was my favourite. “It’s nothing you’ve never heard before,” quoted one cynical regular in the record shop where I worked. He was right. Caught By The Fuzz is punk-pop by numbers; a Buzzcockian breakneck rush of chugging guitars, Moon-esque tumbling drums and woo-aaa-wooo! backing vocals hanging on to the coat tails of a true story confessional concerning jazz cigarettes and the over-officious Oxfordshire police.
In The Observer last year, Gaz explained that his 15 year old self was a passenger in an old Ford Fiesta with a broken headlight when he and his pals got pulled over. “I stuck the hash down my pantsbut I had it in a little metal tin. I was standing on the pavement, and the tin just went all the way down my trousers and landed on the pavement with a ting. The copper went, ‘What’s that, son?’” Uh-oh. A song was born. “Locked in the cell, feeling unwell…..I talked to a man, he said “It’s better to tell”…Who sold you the blow?” “Well, it was no-one I know!” Here comes my mum, she knows what I’ve done….you’ve blackened our name, you should be ashamed.”
It’s magic, in case you need to ask. It was magic then and it’s still magic now, the best part of (gulp) 20 years later.
Don’t even think about downloading it!
Caught By The Fuzz comes here in a couple of versions:
The original Backbeat Records version is slightly different to the single/album version above and is rarer than a frown at a Supergrass gig. Sadly, it’s always been just out of reach. If you have a spare copy….
Fuzz Fact #3
I Should Coco was the biggest selling debut on Parlophone since The Beatles’ Please Please Me in 1963.
Fuzz Fact #4
Rather predictably, Hugh Grant wouldn’t give the band his permission to feature his mug shot on the sleeve of the single (he had been arrested around this time for picking up that very manly hooker in LA), but bass player Mick managed to appear on Top Of The Pops with the same image cheekily printed on his t-shirt.
Rusholme Ruffians is The Smiths at their sticky-fingered peak. From the alliteratively-alluring Ealing comedyesque title down, it’s a masterclass in Morrissey’s stolen kitchen sink observations backed by a Johnny Marr riff flat-out filched from Scotty Moore via Elvis Presley’s (Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame 1961 single.
By the time they came to record Rusholme Ruffians for second album Meat Is Murder, The Smiths were at the top of their game. As was usually the way, Johnny would present the band with a cassette demo. The musicians would go off and shape Marr’s ideas into a band performance while Morrissey would twist and turn what lyrics he had into the new tune, writing and re-writing as he went along until, between band and bard, they had the genesis of a song. “Let’s do a song about the fair,” suggested Morrissey. “For some reason my association was to pull out that Elvis riff,” explained Marr.
His appropriation of the riff as a frantically scrubbed rockabilly knee-trembler alongside Mike Joyce’s rattlin’ and rollin’ percussion is in stark contrast to Andy Rourke’s slap happy elastic band of a bassline. Played at half the speed, it wouldn’t have sounded out of place on any mid-period Sly and the Family Stone record. Played as it was, it gives the tune that certain je ne sais quoi; the essential ingredient that turned an average Elvis pastiche into an undeniable Smiths’ tune. To use what is surely by now a cliche, Andy Rourke really was the unsung musical hero in The Smiths. And by the time the vocal went on top, well, an undeniable Smiths’ tune had become an undeniable Smiths’ classic.
“As a child I was literally educated at fairgrounds. It was a place of tremendous violence and hate and stress and high romance and all the true vital things in life. It was really the patch of ground where you learned about everything simultaneously whether you wanted to or not.”
The lyrics that poured out of Morrissey for Rusholme Ruffians are pure 24 carat gold. Every line features classic Morrisseyism after classic Morrisseyism; perfectly executed observations on what happens when the fair comes to town;
The last night of the fair, by the big wheel generator…a boy is stabbed and his money is grabbed and the air hangs heavy like a dulling wine…she is famous, she is funny…..an engagement ring doesn’t mean a thing to a mind consumed by brass (money)….and though I walk home alone…..I might walk home alone ….but my faith in love is still devout…..From a seat on a whirling waltzer …her skirt ascends for a watching eye …it’s a hideous trait on her mother’s side…someone falls in love, someone’s beaten up…..the grease in the hair of the speedway operator is all a tremulous heart requires…how quickly would I die if I jumped from the top of the parachutes….scratch my name on your arm with a fountain pen, this means you really love me….
Classic Morrisseyism after classic Morrisseyism.
Or are they?
Morrissey was, and remains, a fan of slightly posh, slightly batty northern comedienne Victoria Wood. Her dry ruminations and reflections clearly struck a chord with him, mirroring as they did his own skewed and melodramatic views on life and living. Sonically, she’s about as far removed from The Smiths as Take That are from the MC5, but her skits and sketches have proven a rich seam for mining lyrics and snippets that pop up across many Smiths recordings – ‘ten ton truck‘, ‘singing to the mentally ill‘, ‘not natural, normal or kind‘, the list goes on….
Wood’s 1983 concert album Lucky Bag was a big favourite of Morrissey’s. On the LP was a track called Fourteen Again. A track featuring a spoken-word intro, including a line proclaiming “they didn’t even know what drugs were” that the eagle-eared amongst you will recognise from the title track of The Queen Is Dead, Fourteen Again includes such lyrics as;
I want to be fourteen again, tattoo my self with a fountain pen….free rides on the waltzer off the fairground men for a promise of a snog….. the last night of the fair…..French kissing as the kiosks shut…..behind the generators with your coconut…..the coloured lights reflected in the Brylcream on his hair…..when I was funny, I was famous…
OK, so he didn’t steal them all, and he came up with some genuine crackers of his own – tremulous hearts and minds consumed by brass (money) and jumping from the tops of parachutes (the ‘skirt ascends‘ line is my favourite) but old Morrissey certainly utilised his love of Victoria Wood to full extent, that much is clear. And just in case you still aren’t convinced, the ‘my faith in love is still devout‘ line was taken from another Wood song, Funny How Things Turn Out, where she proclaims ‘my faith in myself is still devout’.
The end of the year. In blogging terms, I like the end of the year. It gives me an excuse to reflect on the year here in blogging, re-read some of the stuff I’ve written, and glow red with shame at some of the drivel that bypassed my editorial control first time around whilst simultaneously basking in the glow of a well-turned phrase or two that helped shape one post or other from good to really good, or sometimes elevate it to really great, even if I say so myself.
What I can’t stand about the year end is the continual palaver of pollsters pontificating on the best/worst/most/least so and so and such and such of the year. It’s a load of rubbish really, one man’s meat being another man’s poison and all that. Sometimes a list might point you in the direction of a gem of a record that escaped your attention first-time round, but most of the time the lists are full of stuff that seem to be a marketing man’s idea of hip eclecticism. Like a more extreme, international version of the Mercury Music Prize nominees, you’ll find a motley crew of apparently “essential listening” – A posh-boy grime artist here. Some skinny-jeaned soul-baring twonk in daft hair there. A facially-fuzzy bunch of weedy Brooklyn vegans in brogues that were the main topic of conversation round Kate Moss’s dinner table three weeks ago. If you read Plain Or Pan you’ll know what my best/worst/most/least so and sos are for the year, so I’m not about to foist another self-important list of uber-hip nonsense in your direction. Besides, Plain Or Pan has never been about the hip stuff. Here, we only deal in the good stuff. Outdated music for outdated people, as the strap-line goes. David Quantick loved that, so he did.
Outdated music for outdated people since 2007, to be more precise. Aye, the end of 2012 means that Plain Or Pan is now 6 years old. And as is customary, the backroom team take time away from their families at Christmas to break out the spreadsheets, dust down the bar graphs and pin up the pie charts to work out what the biggest-hitting downloads have been for the year. This has been made doubly difficult this year due to the sudden deletion of various Plain Or Pan file sharing accounts by The Man, swooping undercover with his big, fat virtual Staedtler eraser and hitting me for six when I’m not paying attention. They’re ruthless, they really are.
I’m thinking in the New Year that I’ll be going more for an inbuilt media player layout, with a monthly compilation of the most-played tracks, but I’m still weighing up the options. Certainly, any blogger’ll tell you how regularly they have their accounts tampered with, and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s almost enough to have you give up blogging at times, it really is. Anyway, I like to tell myself that most folk come here first for the writing, with the mp3 being an added bonus (a bit like those Mojo magazine CDs – mainly crap and unlistenable, but now and again a good one comes along. You read the magazine regardless though. My backroom team have worked out that each visitor here reads on average 2.3 posts, which I like to think means they find what they came for first, liked what they read, then had a wee scroll through some of the other high quality stuff with a pleasantly surprised look on their face).
Ach, who am I kidding?! Most folk come here via Google and scroll straight to the links, tut that it’s been deleted or tap their fingers impatiently if the file still exists and is downloadable, then disappear with their newly-acquired crappy mp3 of whatever and stick it on their iPod to never play it again. But thanks! I mean it, I really do! And by way of saying thanks, here’s 37 covers, curios and hard-to-find classics that, due to those aforementioned undercover men with big fat virtual Staedtler erasers meant you probably missed first-time around;
World Of Twist – Sons of the Stage (12″ version)
The Third Degree – Mercy
The Roots – The Seed
Ronnie Hudson – West Coast Poplock
Stevie Wonder – You Haven’t Done Nothin‘
The Flirtations – Nothing But A Heartache
Donna Summer – Love To Love You Baby (Long Version (16+mins))
Bobby Womack – If You Want My Love Put Something Down On It
Jerry Lee Lewis – Over The Rainbow
Tony Allen & Damon Albarn – Every Season
The Raconteurs – Steady, As She Goes (BBC Session, 25.3.06)
The Artwoods – Goodbye Sisters
The Daily Flash – Jack Of Diamonds
Spacemen 3 – Revolution
Led Zeppelin – Thank You
Ennio Morricone – Once Upon A Time In The West
The Durutti Column – Sketch For Summer
Noonday Underground – Barcelona
The Beach Boys – Only With You
Lightships – Do Your Thing
Carly Simon – Why? (12″ Mix)
Serge Gainsbourg – Bonnie & Clyde
Blur – Money Makes Me Crazy (Marrakesh Mix)
Inspiral Carpets – Greek Wedding Song
The Honeycombs – Have I The Right
Little Willie John – I’m Shakin’
The High Numbers – I’m The Face
William Bell – My Whole World Is Falling Down
Irma Thomas – Time Is On My Side
The Supremes – Coca-Cola ad
Tom Jones – Coca-Cola ad
Nyah Fearties – Red Kola
Diana Ross – Upside Down (Original Chic mix)
The Beastie Boys – Shambala
The Tornadoes – Telstar
Neu! – Hallogallo
Get them quick, before they disappear like snaw aff a dyke, as they say round here.
Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…
It’s not often these days that a new album hits me square between the eyes demanding I reach for the repeat button again and again. Normally, by the 2nd listen, I’ve heard all I need to hear and whatever I’m playing is filed away in alphabetical order, unlikely to see the light of day ever again. Sometimes, an album will make it all the way to a week on Wednesday, as I do my best to find some so-far unheard melody or wee bit that grabs me (Tame Impala, I’m looking at you). But, eventually, the same fate awaits all of them. Well, nearly all of them.
The album that’s got under my skin most in the past few months is unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. That this album features no bass, no drums and no singalong choruses, or, for that matter, no singing at all makes it all the more surprising. Roman Roads IV-XI by Land Observations is that album. With my penchant for old La’s demos and soul tracks recorded before 1975, I could hardly be considered a knowledgeable voice at the forefront of cutting edge new music, but I’m going to stick my neck out just this once. I really think you’d like it. That’s what my old work pal Donald told me before I’d listened, and it turned out he was right. I liked the album so much that I bought it there and then from iTunes. That’s not something I’ve ever done, believe me. iTunes? Gads. But Roman Roads IV-XI made that big an impression on me. I’ve only just got around to ordering the vinyl version, which comes with a CD copy, so I’ve now found myself with all bases covered. I’ve got plenty of albums in multi-format, but the Land Observations one is the first in a long while. It’s a ‘keeper’, as they say. Alongside Lightships’ Electric Cables and Outside In by the Super Furries’ Cian Ciaran, it’s formed an inseperable trio that make up my Best Album(s) of the Year. Like I said earlier, I could hardly be considered a knowledgeable voice at the forefront of cutting edge new music, but I really think you’d like it.
Land Observations is the nom de plume of James Brooks; fine artist, musician and Roman road enthusiast. Previously in Peel favourites Broadcast (they recorded 4 Peel Sessions and 4 albums in all), James has developed a very particular sound. For him it’s all clean, linear and minimal, built around layered and gently effected guitars.
Roman Roads IV-XI is a simple album. In times gone by it would have been labelled a concept album. Eight tracks of quietly pulsing motifs, inspired in part by the remnants of the Roman road at the end of James Brooks’ street, its repetitiveness and motorik Michael Rother-ish chiming guitar bring to mind the work of Vini Reilly and The Durutti Column, Rother’s Neu and all those other mid 70s German bands that the real barometers of hip opinion told you about long before now. I suppose you might call it Kosmische Musik if you were a lazy labeller.
Play it through a set of headphones and the world slows down in front of your very eyes. You lose track of time. You want to stop time. This isn’t an album you can multi-task to. Like many of you reading this, I like watching stuff like Countdown or Pointless with the sound down while I listen to my music, but you can’t do that with Roman Roads IV-XI. It requires you to stop. And listen. Tracks melt into one another. That understated, nagging motorik feel worms its way inside of you. Counter melodies make their way to the fore and new rhythms start to appear. Bits of it sound like mild-mannered drum machines battling with analogue synths. Before long you could be forgiven for thinking you’re listening to some minimal techno album or other, and not one man and his guitar (and, in keeping with the Roman theme, that’s a VI string guitar James is playing). The whole album’s quite sensational, really.
There’s a gentle ebb and flow to the whole thing, which means it’s best listened to as a whole thing. It’s not much longer than half an hour – that makes it ideal commuting and lunch break material. I’ve been cycling a lot with it. There’s no greater feeling than really going for it on a nice flat bit of road with the sun setting behind the Isle of Arran as Appian Way washes over you. So what if you hear the sound of the chain snaking its way through the sprocket and into the mix? That only adds to it.
“I’ve always really admired the fragile emotion in Phil Collins’ voice, and his version of You Can’t Hurry Love is far superior to anything Motown ever put out.” Not an actual quote, but I dread the day when someone tells me something like that. Whenever I do these Six of the Best pieces I’m always a wee bit panicky in case the contributor’s choices are unexpectedly naff and I’m left with a whole different impression of that person. Thankfully, it’s unlikely James will ever need to channel his inner Slash in the quest for inspiration. A look through his Six of the Best choices reveals a set of records that, once you’ve heard Roman Roads IV-XI makes perfect sense. All the music featured is repetitive, emotive and full of soul. Guitar lines are clean and distinctive. There’s space. On one or two tracks, there’s an almost neo-classical thing going on. Much like James’ own work.
James agonised over his choices for a good few weeks before narrowing them down to his final six. For what it’s worth, if you’ve never heard any of the bands on offer, they’re as good an introduction to those artists as you’ll find.
“It’s funny how it all pretty much ends up being early influences, rather than things from 2 years ago etc.”
Can – Future Days
There are of course a number of Can songs I could have picked that I hold close, but this one seems to win out because of its mystery. Everytime I listen to it, I’m left wanting more. There is a strong sense of rhythm, yet, it still seems to retain this droney, washed-out enigma.
Listen to Future Days by Can
The Durutti Column – Pauline
When I first got the Circuses And Bread LP, I so was taken with this track…..and still am – elegance and understatement that is second to none. This might sound over the top, but it calls to mind Bach and Chopin in the same sentence.
Listen to Pauline by The Durutti Column
Television - Marquee Moon
I recall reading about the album first before hearing it and thinking that this sounds like something I need to find out more about.
There’s such accomplishment, with the twin guitars and band playing as a cohesive force. Marquee Moon (the song) is such a constructivist opus in its arrangement and structure.
Listen to Marquee Moon by Television
Nick Drake – Road
I had to select a Nick Drake song. Through whatever musical exploring I have done, his music has stayed consistent ever since hearing him as a teenage art student. I do remember very vividly standing at my bedroom window and having an epiphany of how good guitars could be. Again I could have chosen a number of songs. For such a small output, there’s a lot of quality…
Listen to Road by Nick Drake
The Cure – A Forest
Just a magnificent indie guitar song. What can I say…Robert Smith is a lucky man to have written this. The space that is left within the track and on Seventeen Seconds is something else.
Listen to A Forest by The Cure
Neu – Hallogallo
I had to pick this track. It was the one that got me initially… Drive, attitude, propulsion, yet never rock. It just rolls along… A real bench-mark moment.
Listen to Hallogallo by Neu
Every Six Of the Best compilation comes in a handy RAR download file. Get James Brooks’ here. New Link!
Now! Click on the album cover and go and buy a copy of Roman Roads IV-XI by Land Observations. Then tell all your friends. Go! Go! Go!
All photos courtesy of and copyright by Erika Wall
Robert George Meek was better known as Joe Meek. A maverick record constructor, sonic architect and visionary of what was possible from the seemingly impossible, he led a turbulent life, permanently perched on the line right between madness and genius. Many of the main protagonists in the Joe Meek story went onto bigger and more successful things (though not necessarily better), but equally, many of the characters who crossed paths with Meek during his quest for sonic perfection ended up troubled, broke (mentally, physically and financially) and even dead. By comparison, Joe Meek’s story makes Phil Spector’s look almost insignificant.
From his rented flat above a handbag shop on London’s Holloway Road (Number 304 – there’s now a wee unobtrusive plaque there for anyone with a keen eye and musical trainspottery tendencies), and with financial backing from a somewhat eccentric ex-army major who made his fortune from importing children’s toys, Joe crafted a selection of minor hits, major hits and million-sellers, all sewn together from an unlikely array of self-built echo chambers and a Health & Safety Officer’s wet dream of spaghettied electrical cables across landings and staircases via the bathroom and bedroom to the wee cupboard/control room where it all came together. Windows were covered up for sound-proofing. It could be the height of summer but no-one inside the ‘studio’, least of all Joe, could have known. To the piano keys Joe added drawing pins to give it a more sparkly sound. Vocals were nearly always recorded in the tiled bathroom, where there was a better, more natural reverb.
Joe couldn’t play a note of music, so he would hum and sing the tune he was wanting to the musicians, who would then be instructed to play it back note perfect. Often, in the search for perfection, they would be asked/encouraged to play the same tiny fragment of a song over and over again, way into the wee small hours if necessary, until they captured the essence of what Meek was hearing in his tortured head (sometimes even at gunpoint, when Joe’s demons got the better of him – more on them in a bit). It’s quite clear that Joe was not like any of the other 9 to 5 shirt-and-tied record producers of the day. Lee Mavers would’ve loved him.
Joe’s personal life was significant for two reasons. One: He had an interest in the spiritual world and the occult. He regularly channeled the spirits for guidance and inspiration. On meeting Buddy Holly, Joe told him he had foreseen his death. “February 3rd,” said Joe. “That’s today,” replied Buddy. A year later, on February 3rd 1959, Buddy Holly hopped on board a light aircraft in Iowa and died when the plane crashed.
Joe, like many people in the early 60s, had a huge interest in space travel and the possibility of civilisations on other planets. Watching the launch of the Telstar satellite and mesmerised by it’s capabilities for beaming live television and audio around the world, Joe began working on his most famous record. The music for Telstar came to Joe in a dream. Re-creating the drama of lift-off and the other-worldliness of outer space, Telstar was like nothing that had been before. A combination of twanging minor key surf guitar and distorted clavioline it has since had the dubious distinction of being known as Margaret Thatcher’s favourite record. But don’t let that put you off. Telstar was also one of the catalysts for Joe’s descent into madness. But more of that in a moment.
Have a listen to Telstar by The Tornadoes:
The other significant aspect of Joe’s life was that he was homosexual. Still illegal in early 60s Britain, Joe was forced to keep his true self under wraps. Surrounding himself in his studio with eager young boys, Joe was on a mission to find the next Billy Fury, a singer he nearly ‘got’ before showbiz giant Larry Parnes snapped him up, and who’s success Joe found hard to cope with. Joe began managing a young German-born hopeful called Heinz. Heinz had little talent and minimum appeal but Joe spent the major’s money on far too many promotional shoots in an attempt to hype him into the charts. He lavished clothes, cars and even a boat on him and began a very one-sided love affair that was doomed to failure from the start.
No hits were forthcoming and the major was starting to ask for a return on his money. So too was Joe’s landlady, a woman who put up with much and to a point had allowed Joe to defer payment on his rent. But Joe had no money to give them. Around this time, Joe was arrested, George Michael style, for soliciting an undercover policeman in a public toilet. Named and shamed in the newspapers, friends stopped calling and Joe slipped into a spiral of drugs and the unpredictable madman/genius behaviour he has since become known for – waving guns around the studio, sacking the session musicians who had played on all his tracks and constantly checking for hidden bugs around his studio/flat when he became wracked with paranoia thinking Decca Records and even Phil Spector were somehow stealing all his ideas.
Still from the excellent ‘Telstar’ Joe Meek Biopic.
Hey Joe! Where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?
The success of Telstar should have eased the situation. It spent 5 weeks at Number 1 in the UK. It was the first British record to reach Number 1 in the USA. It won an Ivor Novello award. More importantly, it sold millions. It should’ve made Joe and everyone involved very comfortable. However, as the record grew in success, Jean Ledrut, a French composer decided that Joe had taken the melody for Telstar from his track La Marche d’Austerlitz.
Contrast and compare with Ledrut‘s tune:
Royalty payments were subsequently frozen and a lengthy courtroom case began. This deprived Joe of much-needed income. Perhaps, more significantly, along with the public toilet episode and the subsequent hushed-up blackmailing of him, it robbed Joe of any dignity he had left. Joe maintained his innocence, that the tune had come to him in a dream, but by now the people doubted his talent. Joe spiralled even further into madness. With his studio dismantled and possessions confiscated following a court order for non-payment of bills, he got into an argument with his landlady over his over-due rent. Pulling the gun on her, he shot her before turning the gun on himself. The date? February 3rd. Albeit 8 years apart, the same date as Buddy Holly’s death.
John Leyton – Johnny Remember Me.
John Leyton was the original actor-turned-singer, long before Simon Cowell trawled the karaoke bars of Blackpool in search of the inspiration required in order to turn a couple of ugly actors into million-selling chart stars, and make himself a fortune in the process. Along with The Shangri-La’s Leader Of The Pack, Johnny Remember Me is all you really need for sides 1 and 2 of Now That’s What I Call Melancholic Teen Angst. Like a spaghetti western theme, all galloping Spanish guitars and teen heart throb vocals, Meek’s trick is to add a gallon of reverb, a ghostly female wail and enough pathos to soften the collective hearts of every spiv, shyster and Kray Twin who flirted with the music business in the early 60s. Wee Alex Turner and Miles Kane, when doing their Last Shadow Puppets album had this on constant rotation, I’d bet.
The Outlaws – Swingin’ Low.
A post-Shadows, pre-Beatles twang affair, this is neither rock nor roll. On account of all the wee bits where the musicians get to showcase their individual talents, it falls into the almost novelty record category – the sort of record Benny Hill might have sequenced one of his dolly bird chases to. The Outlaws were Meek’s backing band of choice and various combinations of them played on many of Joe’s sessions. Given the chaotic nature of Meek’s recording, and the sheer volume of un-labelled tapes in the Meek archive, no-one knows for sure exactly who played on what. Bass player Chas Hodges went onto greater fame in his own right as Chas from Chas ‘n Dave. Guitarist Richie Blackmore went on to join Deep Purple, form Rainbow and live more recently as a 17th century mandolin playing medieval minstrel. Occasional drummer Clem Cattini went on to do sessions for The Kinks, Tom Jones and played un-credited on any number of 1960s hit singles.
The Honeycombs – Have I The Right.
Stealing the chorus from the Everly Brothers Walk Right Back, Have I The Right is yer classic stomping 60s smash. The stomp was created by banging brooms, boots and all manner of bangable things on the studio’s wooden floor, much to the annoyance of everyone in the handbag shop downstairs. It’s just my opinion, but I think the Sex Pistols based their jackboot stomp on this record when they recorded Holidays In The Sun.
Other-wordly, of its time, yet still contemporary sounding today, Telstar is Meek’s legacy. In an ironic post-script to the Joe Meek story, just 3 weeks after Meek’s death, a judge ruled in favour of Meek, citing the fact that Ledrut the Frenchman’s music hadn’t been played outside of France and that Meek could not possibly have heard it. Given that Meek spent every hour cooped up in his little flat/studio, he does have a point. Had the judge’s ruling been made earlier, perhaps Joe might still be with us today, kicking against the pricks and doing something interesting. We’ll never know.
A fuggy haze hangs low over the East River between Manhattan’s Financial District and the brownstones of Brooklyn. Clattering like one of those wooden toy snakes across the Williamsburg Bridge weaves a long, low train, lazily rolling its way along the J line. Sprayed in a dulling array of pinks, greens and primary colours, tagged to within an inch of illegibility to those over 35, its contents sit in silence, oblivious to the multi-coloured carnage in which they are cocooned. Inside is not much different. It looks violent. It feels violent. Doors, windows, seat coverings; every available surface space is thick with the same chunkily inked shout-outs to whoever is reading. Every passenger finds a point in front of themselves and focuses, daring not to lift their head and avert their gaze lest they happen to catch the eye of someone close by. Women clutch their bags and count the stops until they can get off. Men, the good ones, the ones who’d like to think of themselves as the have-a-go hero when something bad kicks off in here, try to look both non-threatening yet tough. The bad ones just look threatening. And tough.
If this was the start of a movie, it’d be soundtracked by this, Shambala from The Beastie Boys‘ Ill Communication LP. Purveyors of the finest gravel-throated shouty hip hop since 1981, Beastie Boys also did a mean line in often-overlooked instrumentals. Shambala is spacey, droney and built upon a bed of Buddhist chants and brooding wah-wah. Kinda vegetarian funk, I suppose. There’s a nice drop out where the hi-hat does its best Theme From Shaft impersonation before the clipped wah-wah brings us back to the incidental music in a 1976 episode of Starsky And Hutch. That wee scratchy noise you can hear in the background isn’t authentic vinyl hiss – it’s the sound of the Stone Roses taking notes in preparation for their next set of ker-ching! comeback dates.
Also on Ill Communication is Bobo On The Corner, another fantastic slice of Beastie funk. More clipped wah-wah and droney bass, this time the sampled Stubblefield-aping shuffle beat comes from, presumably, one of those New York street musicians who can make 3 oil drums and an empty can of vegetable oil from Chinatown sound like a particularly funky octopus playing Give It Up, Turn It Loose. A bit like this guy…(maybe he’s the real Bobo on the corner. Or maybe not)….
If you prefer yer Ad Rocks ‘n MCAs ‘n Mike Ds rrrrrrappin ‘n rrrrrrhymin’, ch-check this out- Ch-Check It Out from 1997′s Hello Nasty, devoid of loops, samples and other assorted musical flim-flam. Just the 3 voices a-riffin’ and a-goofin’ off one another, like Benny and the Top Cat gang recast as super-bratty teenagers. And, bringing us back to where we came from, a vocal-onlyStop That Train. Hot cuppa cwawfee and the do’nuts are dunkin’, Friday night and Jamica Queen’s funkin’. Essential!
Ach. Y’know you’re gettin on a bit when Beastie Boys start dying round about you. Rap on, MCA!
Vini Reilly is the public face of The Durutti Column, the first signing to Tony Wilson’s nascent Factory Records way back in 1978. Forever pasty-faced and ill-looking, he’s as wiry and fragile as the high ‘e’ string on his guitar, and on the rare occasion when this Wythenshaw will o’ the wisp pops his head out in public, he’s quietly spoken and totally intense. Clearly, he prefers his music to do the talking.
The Durutti Column’s first album, The Return of the Durutti Column was produced by Factory in-house knob-twiddling hedonist Martin Hannett on clear instruction from Reilly that he didn’t want ‘the usual, horrible distorted guitar sound.‘ What followed was a heady mix of chiming beauty, pastoral fragility and neo-classical intensity. All instrumental, and almost all featuring only layers of Reilly guitar, with the odd rudimentary skittering drum machine or piano part, the music is almost as revolutionary as the Spanish Situationists from whence Tony Wilson christened Vini’s band’s name. The music isn’t ‘rock’ or ‘post-punk’ or ‘jazz’ or any other obvious genre. It would be a huge disservice to lump it as (gads) ‘chill-out music’, but to these ears, in the same way that you could categorise someone like the Cocteau Twins, that is essentially what the music of The Durutti Column is. In later years, Tony Wilson would tell anyone who listened that at the end of a night at the Hacienda, he’d spark up a large one and mellow the wee hours away with The Durutti Column playing in the background. Vini’s music is perfect for this.
In one of the first great Factory marketing moments, The Return of the Durutti Column came packaged in a sandpaper-covered outer sleeve, intentionally designed to destroy any record sleeves you might have been careless enough to file besides it. If you happen to have one of those original LPs you may be interested to know that it was the four members of Joy Division who stuck the sandpaper onto each and every cardboard sleeve. I’m sure any decent policeman worth his salt could do some sort of DNA test to it if you asked- you might be sitting on a Curtis there! Or a Hook. (No luck).
Reilly was asked to produce Happy Mondays’ Freaky Dancing single, a choice that may have made sense musically, but personality-wise was a disaster. As Shaun Ryder says in his autobiography, “We initially tried recording with Vini Reilly but that only lasted about two hours before he decided he couldn’t handle us. I like Vini, and he’s a great guitarist, but he’s a bit of a weird one and everyone knows he’s a bit fragile. He once told everyone that I’d spiked him at the Hacienda, and the next morning I got phone calls from Wilson and other people at Factory having a go at me, saying stuff like, ‘Why did you do that to poor Vini? You know what he’s like,’ when I hadn’t even fucking done anything. It was all in his mind.“
To quote Reilly – “I simply couldn’t work with them.”
A real musicians’ musician, he’s perhaps best-known for filling the substantial (desert) boots of Johnny Marr when The Smiths imploded. For the briefest of very brief moments, The Smiths looked like carrying on, until Morrissey decided otherwise. He instead roped Reilly in to play guitar on Viva Hate and, by chanelling his inner Marr, helped Morrissey’s solo career off to a flying start. But that’s a story for another day.
…my old pal DW put me onto Land Observations. “You’ll like them,” he said. “It’s just one guy and his guitar. No singing. It’s a bit motorik, a bit Krauty, with that sort of Michael Rother feel to it.” I quick listen on iTunes and I bought it….and I never buy anything from iTunes. But I had to have it there and then. And for the past week or so it’s been something of a constant on the iPod. Motorik, krauty and sort of Michael Rother-ish, just as I was told. (A Soundcloud player should appear below. Please let me know if it doesn’t. It’s been a major headache trying to install it for some reason.)
It’s a concept album of sorts (hippies! prog-rock!), but stick with it. Loosely based on the journeys made along the Roman Roads of Britain, it’s the companion piece to an EP released last year. Unbelievably, given my instant love of the LP, I’ve still to buy the EP, but I will. The album, Roman Roads IV – XI, reminds me greatly of The Durutti Column – one guy who lets his guitar do the talking, no fancy pants widdly solos, just layered, textured, skeletal music that you can listen to, that makes you want to listen to it. And it sounds great through headphones. It’s currently at Number 3 in my ‘Favourite LPs of the Year’ list and climbing. Land Observations, folks. You’ll like them.
It’s the mid 90s and Everything Must Go has just been released by the Manic Street Preachers. An album full of Spectorish bombast and tunes for van drivers to whistle, it’s light years away from their previous album, the Richey Edwards-enhanced The Holy Bible, an album so difficult to digest in one sitting that Everything Must Go sounded like S Club 7 in comparison. And whilst the hardcore MSP fans point to The Holy Bible as ‘the one’, the million+ sales and ubiquity of Everything Must Go (despite half the songs featuring Edwards’ oblique lyrics) made chart stars (and millionaires) out of the Manics.
At this time, I was fighting in the trenches of the Britpop wars, working in music retail. Now, speak to anyone in retail and they’ll tell you unbelievable-but-true stories about the regulars who frequent their shops. Our shop was no different. We had a regular customer, an older guy with a cracking quiff, complete with an electric blue streak up the front, who wore the Elvis aviator shades in November and the ’68 Comeback leather jacket in July. He spoke in a hokey hillbilly American accent and gave his address as Dundonald whenever he ordered something. Dundonald, in case you need to ask, is about as near to America as Mars. People in Dundonald tend to speak in broad Ayrshire, though with a slightly posher accent, given that the village (?)/town (?) is located just inside the environs of the beautiful South of Ayrshire, and a couple of generous Colin Montgomerie drives from the fourth tee at Royal Troon. He always gave his name as Jesse Garon, which just so happens to be the name of Elvis’ twin brother who died at birth. “Je-huss-ay Gar’n, suh,” he’d drawl, without the slightest hint of irony. Local lunatic, eccentric and Elvis freak, I thought he was great. Jesse, it turned out, was highly thought of and sought-after in the world of tribute acts, and had a regular gig in Blackpool, doing a kinda Scottish McElvis tribute. Which is ironic really, given that off-stage he spoke cod-Elvis, yet on-stage he celebrated his Scottishness, wearing a white cape with a saltire emblazonned across the back and whatever else have you. Every Summer he’d head off for the season and do his well-polished Elvis act for the stags ‘n hens’ n’ steamers ‘n stoaters who stumbled into the music hall at the end of the pier. (If you’re an MSP fan, by now you may have worked out where this is going).
One day, Jesse popped in to order something. “Ahm lookin’ fur sumthin’ swampee. S’gotta be swampee. Y’know like when thu Deep South mists roll across them swamps? Ah need music ta soun’track that. S’for ma show, y’see. Intra music ta make tha folks sit up an notice that ol’ Elvis here is ’bout ta enter tha building.“ A long while later, after having exhausted my general knowledge of all things swampy, he settled on a since-forgotten bit of Ry Cooder slide blues. This, he assured me, was just what he was after. And, with a wee Elvisy point of his index finger in my direction, and a tip of the gold-framed aviators, off he went.
I’ve hunted high and low and googled near and far for a qualifying quote to back me up here, but to no avail. So you’ll just have to believe the next bit. James Dean Bradfield, talking about the Everything Must Go album mentioned that opening track Elvis Impersonator, Blackpool Pier was written after him and Richey Edwards had watched an Elvis impersonator do his act at the end of Blackpool Pier. Bradfield mentioned that the impersonator was (and I’m paraphrasing here) “crap and Scottish” – two things yer actual Elvis wasn’t. Now, I know there are approximately more Elvis impersonators than there are people in China, but when you add ‘crap’, ‘Scottish’ and ‘Blackpool’ into the mix, well, all the signs pointed to the one Elvis impersonator I knew. The next time Jesse was in the shop, probably about a year later, when preparing ‘intra music‘ for his next set of shows, I told him about the Manic Street Preachers and their massive-selling album and about the first track on it and how the band had written it after seeing a Scottish Elvis impersonator in Blackpool (though missed out the part about him being crap) and let him hear the song. You could tell he was quietly pleased at the thought of someone writing a song about him, especially as it was the opening track on such a successful LP, even if he did think the song itself was “a crocka sheeeit, sonny! Crocka sheeeit!”, a phrase everyone and their mother heard as he bawled it across the counter whilst wearing the big headphones perched on top of his blue-streaked quiff.
During his fat Vegas years, ol’ Elvis Himselvis used to come on stage to this, Richard Strauss‘s Also Sprach Zarathustra. You might know it better as the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey. My favourite version is Deodato‘s outrageously eeeeelongated funkified version, Fender Rhodes, clipped guitar ‘n all. Jazz funk? Funk jazz? Prog soul? Who knows, who cares? This is the sound of afros jammin’. Extraordinary!
For reasons I have never quite fathomed, Also Sprach Zarathustra also makes an appearance several times in the lyrics of The Fall‘s Free Range, where Mark E Smith battles over synthesized beats and too-low-in-the-mix guitars to sound like a demented steamer arguing with himself at a bus stop. I’ve got this on one of those supposedly limited 7″s, where the sleeve was spray painted by yer actual band. You probably have it too.
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Plain Or Pan
A warm welcome, one and all. Scandinavians. Australians. Asians. Eastern & Western Europeans. North & South Americans. North & South Africans. North, South and East Ayrshirites. Anyone from Kilwinning. And anyone else I've offended by not mentioning. Thanks for dropping by time and time again.
Aye, it's outdated music for outdated people - but you knew that already.
No MP3 links from before March 2012 work anymore. Sorry if you've just discovered Plain Or Pan and found out we had a link to that old forgotten record you were dying to hear again. But take a few minutes and have a read anyway. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.