Archive for the ‘Gone but not forgotten’ Category
That’s Moondog, the blind composer, poet and inventor of all sorts of weird ‘n wacky instruments. For twenty or so years he lived on the streets of New York, sometimes dressed head to toe in full-on Viking garb, earning himself the title ‘The Viking of 6th Avenue‘. Moondog always composed his musique concrète from the street sounds of daily Big Apple life, turning honking traffic horns and street corner spats into snaking, rhythmic pieces of music. The most cult of cult figures, he makes Yoko Ono come across like Will.I.Am by comparison.
Moondog Do Your Thing:
1978’s H’art Songs featured Do Your Thing, a childish, reedy-vocalled, piano-led baroquish, sunshine piece of pop that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Kinks’ We Are The Village Green Preservation Society LP.
As a one-off curio, it’s a nice wee song. And while I can’t vouch for the rest of Moondog’s output, I suspect it’s perhaps not as accessible as Do Your Thing. One person who might know is Gerry Love, who’s Lightships project first brought Do Your Thing to my attention.
Lightships Do Your Thing:
Lightships‘ version comes vibrating out of the haze towards you, shimmering softly in the July heat like a frisbee forever floating, edges morphing out of shape under the glare of the midday sun with three chords, double-tracked whispered vocals and a tinkling glockenspiel with its arm wrapped around a twanging guitar for comfort. It calls to mind the hissing of summer lawns, the far-off laughs of children and melted tarmac on the pavement. Your hayfevered eyes and nose might be flowing uncontrollably like a mountain stream but this record will surely cure you. I could listen to it forever.
One of the high points of a ridiculously brilliant project, Gerry Love’s transcendent cover of Do Your Thing first appeared a couple of years ago on the b-side (the b-side!!) of the Sweetness In Her Spark single, tucked away for the ears of only trainspotters and completists. The true sound of summer, now is the time to liberate it.
What a wheeze, Brian Jones.
1967 was The Summer Of Love, although for the Rolling Stones it was anything but. By now, Brian was an extreme liability. Totally lost to drugs, puffy-eyed footage of the time shows him incapable of doing practically anything. His knack of being able to get a tune out of any exotic instrument hadn’t quite deserted him yet. Otherwise, he’d have been kicked out of his own band earlier than he eventually was. A trip to Tangier with doppelganger girlfriend Anita Pallenberg ended with Anita returning to Britain in the arms of Keith, who’d circled the troubled couple like a shark sniffing blood. Band dynamics, unsurprisingly, were irreparably damaged forever.
Amidst the chaos, the Stones found time to travel far and wide, not in the sense of a touring pop group, but as well-moneyed young tourists. Marrakesh became a favourite haunt. There, they’d met a dealer who introduced them to hashish, importing the drug back into Britain in the soles of custom-made shoes. At a party at Redlands, Keith’s very big house in the country, the Stones plus their girlfriends were subjected to a raid by police acting on a tip-off. The tabloids of the day set right into the Stones, with outlandish stories of a drug-taking, naked orgy. ‘Nude Girl At Stones’ Drugs Party‘ , ‘Why Girl Was Wearing Only Rug‘, ‘”Merry Nude” In Slipping Rug‘. Nothing much has changed, eh?
During the ensuing trial, prosecutors claimed that the only woman in the house, Marianne Faithful, was dressed in nothing but a fur rug that she let slip occasionally. They claimed that her lack of inhibition was a clear sign she was under the influence of drugs, specifically cannabis. Let’s face it, she probably was. By the end of the trial, the Stones were made examples of. Mick and Keith were subsequently sentenced to jail, Mick for 3 months for possession of amphetamines and Keith for 12, for allowing cannabis to be smoked in his home. Immediately they appealed against their sentence.
Pop fans and friends in high places voiced their opinions. Keith Moon and girlfriend Kim Kerrigan joined in the protests. William-Rees Mogg, the editor of The Times famously wrote an editorial that argued the Stones’ case, saying that if Mick and Keith were jailed they’d be seen as martyrs to a cause, and that would not help the anti-drugs movement in any way, shape or form. The Stones continued to craft out half-hearted tracks for their forthcoming Satanic Majesties Request LP, the shadow of the gaoler hanging grimly upon their shoulder. It wouldn’t be until the end of July that their appeal would be upheld.
Free men by August, Mick, Keith and the rest of the Stones gathered to create one of their most astonishing pieces of music.
Rolling Stones – We Love You
We Love You was recorded as a ‘thank you‘ to the fans who’d stood by them. Beginning with the clattering of a jail door and a nagging, repetitively hypnotic Nicky Hopkins piano line, it‘s a droning, paranoid anthem of defiance, a two-fingered salute to the establishment who’d tried and failed to squash them.
A barely functioning Brian hammers out a wonky mellotron riff that parps throughout like the wasted half-cousin of The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love and the backing vocals (featuring an uncredited Lennon and McCartney ‘conducted’ by a visiting Allen Ginsberg) slur and slide into oblivion.
“They looked like little angels,” Ginsberg wrote later of the Stones and Beatles, “like Botticelli Graces singing together for the first time.”
Bill Wyman’s bassline that plays just behind the piano riff is in equal parts terrifying and extraordinary, creating a level of helpless claustrophobia that’s not been matched since. Keys jangle menacingly, gaolers’ footsteps echo throughout and the whole thing swirls down the plughole with a Made In Marrakesh fuzz guitar overload.
The band even went so far as to make a promotional video to accompany it. Aping their recent trials and tribulations, no-one at the BBC dared show it. The least poppiest of Stones singles to date (their 13th), it peaked at a disappointing number 8 in the UK.
* Bonus Track!
For a brief moment in time between ’89 and ’90, my friends and I deserted the favoured local indie disco for the far more exotic charms of the Metro in Saltcoats, a sticky-carpeted former old cinema where I’d seen Star Wars in the first week of release. The Metro was packed full of brickies, bastards and jail bait but had an anything goes policy to what was loosely termed ‘dance music’. Two years later and it’d be a hell hole, but for a brief moment in time it shone as brightly as the summer sun. The Strangler’s Peaches bassline played out behind some generic four-to-the-floor dance beat one memorable night. One other time they played this…
4 For Money – It’s A Moment In Time
Sampling a sped-up We Love You piano riff and adding a gospelly male shouter on top was hardly groundbreaking (and these days it sounds fairly rubbish) but when first heard this track was everything we wanted. A dance beat. And the Stones. And we were sure that no-one else inside the Metro knew it was a Stones’ track. The snobs that we were.
A few years ago I had the notion that I’d start a semi-regular feature punningly titled ‘It Was Plenty Years Ago Today’. It would focus on Beatles‘ recordings from that day in Beatles’ history, in particular the individual takes that never made it beyond Abbey Road’s cutting room floor. Books such as Ian MacDonald’s Revolution In The Head are excellent chronicles of what happened when in Beatleland and I had every intention of building up a right good wee series on the back of it. However, lack of time and lazyitis (coupled with the fact that most of the time I just fancy writing about something else) combined to ensure this series would never quite get off the ground, but here, today, I bring you another one in this very sporadic series.
Druggy, fuggy, and slightly Eastern-sounding, It’s All Too Much was born in the summer of 1967, just as an unprepared world was anticipating the release of the Sgt Peppers album. Pencilled in for inclusion on the Beatles’ next project (Magical Mystery Tour) it didn’t see the light of day until the Yellow Submarine soundtrack was released in January 1969. In Beatles terms, that’s an awful long time from written-to-released. Why? The answer is simple – it wasn’t written by Lennon or McCartney. George always had to play second fiddle to his two elder bandmates. He’d had his own Blue Jay Way appear on Magical Mystery Tour, and one George song per album was the norm.
It’s All Too Much
One of George’s best compositions, composed whilst in the midst of a heavy LSD trip (and it sounds it), It’s All Too Much is a microcosm of all that’s best in Beatles psychedelia, grooving along on a one chord bed of feedback, clattering drums, stabbing keyboard and wonky sounding backwards guitars. The production is, I think, intentionally cluttered – It’s All Too Much after all – but that’s why it’s stood the test of time. Each repeated listen brings new things. Hidden depths of sound float to the surface; A full-fat fuzz bass pops itself in and out of the mix. Slightly out of time handclaps catch up with George singing bits of The Mersey’s Sorrow. Trumpets apeing Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince Of Denmark March (you’ll recognise it if you’ve ever seen the pomp and ceremony of a Royal wedding) fanfare your arrival into a higher state of consiousness. Almost half a century later, it sounds new! and fresh! and now! The Flaming Lips would give everything to sound like this.
It’s All too Much is one of the few Beatles tracks not to have been recorded at Abbey Road. Why it was recorded instead at Soho’s De Lane Lea Studios is unclear, but that’s where it was hatched. And plenty years ago today on the 2nd June 1967, those trumpet overdubs were completed. At 8 minutes long the track fell foul of the Beatles editing process. One and a half mind-expanding minutes were chopped out of the mix, leaving the released version a shorter 6 and half minutes long. Still a trip, just not as long a trip as George would’ve liked you to have.
The full length version has been bootlegged countless times…
It’s All Too Much ( ‘Much Too Much‘ unreleased version)
Teenage Fanclub‘s Gerry Love is a big fan of It’s All Too Much. He even went so far as to include it in his very own Six Of The Best mix for Plain Or Pan, saying “The Beatles had more than their fair share of groundbreaking productions, but this is by far my favourite.” Me too Gerry!
She’s On It was the Beastie Boys’ third single. A big, dumb, frat-boy rock/rap crossover, it provided the Beastie Boys with an instantly identifiable sound.
Prior to She’s On It, the Beasties had played tinny, rattly 150mph thrash punk with all the melodic appeal of Courtney Love’s fingers being scraped down a blackboard. She’s On It transformed their outlook towards music and was essentially the blueprint for the Beastie’s early career from thereon in, setting the stall out for what would follow until the end of the 80s – a trio of shouty/whiny/immature white boys’ voices hot-wired to a primitive beat box with a lowest common denominator rock riff welded underneath. Utterly fantastic, of course.
With all the unspoken telepathy of a bickering old married couple finishing one another’s sentences, from She’s On It in ’85 all the way to the band’s 40th and final single, 2011′s Don’t Play No Games, what I really like about the Beastie Boys is that almost every couplet they ever wrote is SHOUTED! for added emphasis;
There’s no conFUSION in her conCLUSION!
She wants to waste my TIME and that’s no deLUSION!
Get on it!
She’s On It has the mercurial hand of Rick Rubin all over it. The guitar riff that underpins the whole thing, something I’d always thought to have been an unlicensed sample from some straight up 70s rock anthem or other, appears to have been written and played by Rubin himself. I’m happy to be corrected, but if you ch-ch-check the credits on the record, that’s what it looks like.
By the time the solo has kicked in, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re actually listening to Fight For Your Right. All that’s missing is a sticky-fingered Volkswagen badge around your neck and the ‘KIIIIIICCCCKKKKK IIIIITTT!’ at the start. Considered too low-brow even for the Licensed To Ill LP, She’s On It was only ever released as a stand-alone single, although it appeared on the soundtrack to pseudo Def Jam biography Krush Groove and subsequent Beastie’s Best Ofs. But if you want the real Best Of the Beastie Boys, you need to buy Check Your Head. The critics might say Paul’s Boutique, but the smarter among us know differently. Don’t we?
Around 1993 I saw the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion open for the Beastie Boys at the Barrowlands. I can’t say I remember too much about their show except that Spencer kept hollerin’ “Bloooze Explozhun!” through one of those distorting 1950s bullet mics like a hooch-soaked preacher from the deep south. That and the fact I ordered then waited about 2 months for the band’s Afro 7″, which, at that point in time was just about the most exciting thing I’d ever heard.
By some strange quirk of coincidence, the JSBX recorded a version of She’s On It for this year’s Record Shop Day.
A group playing sans bass can go one way or t’other, but the Blues Explosion nail She’s On It to the floor, staple it to r’n’b standard Jack the Ripper and give it a good Chelsea-booted, skinny-legged kicking, Big Muffs on overdrive, bullet mics in the red. All that’s missing is that “Bloooze Explozhun!” shout repeated more than once.
By another strange quirk of coincidence when I first heard this, I thought it was just about the most exciting thing I’d heard this year. Not now though. That honour goes to Frank Ocean’s Hero track. Hip hop doo wop with half the Clash on backing instrumentation. You should seek it out.
That’s the haunted figure of Robert Johnson, womanisin’, gamblin’, soul-sellin’ deep South bluesman with a hell hound on his tail. Robert had the uncanny knack of channeling all sorts of bad voodoo via his unnaturally long fingers into his music and into the ether forever. To this day, the dusty grooves on his old 1930’s 78s spark with the crackle and pop of a life gone wrong.
Robert Johnson – Stop Breaking Down:
His songs, all rudimentary strumming and picking, have been picked up and picked apart by all manner of blues-influenced groups, not least the Rolling Stones.
No strangers to a stolen blues riff and a Robert Johnson tune (their version of Love In Vain is the definitive country/blues weeper), the Stones really out-did themselves when they came to tackle Stop Breaking Down. It’s a completely different song to the original.
Rolling Stones – Stop Breaking Down:
A total groove with Charlie playing just behind the beat, it’s a beautiful soup of chugging, riffing rhythm guitar and an asthmatic wheezing lead hanging on for dear life like the ash at the end of Keith’s ubiquitous cigarette. Between Jagger’s verses, the band swagger in that tight but loose way that no band has ever since equalled. Listening to it you can almost see Jagger prancing around some massive American stage or other, wiggling his 26″ snakehips to those lucky enough to be able to see them from the back of whatever enormodome they happen to have found themselves in.
Totally telepathically in synch with one another, the Stones in ’72 would be my time machine moment. Actually, they wouldn’t. Given the chance I’d be going back to 1965 to watch my team win the Scottish league for the last time, hang around a year and catch Dylan go electric then hope for some malfunction or other that would allow me to wait around for 6 years until it was fixed. To be Keith for a day while recording Exile On Main Street. What a time of it. Great hair. Great clothes. Great guitars. Great women. And everything else that goes with it. Like your own plane…
…or drinks cabinet on stage…
The Rolling Stones version of Stop Breaking Down comes towards the end of Side 4 on Exile On Main Street, the loosest, funkiest, grooviest Stones LP of the lot. But you knew that already. That they chose to sequence it where they did (although sandwiched between the blues rock of All Down The Line and southern soul gospel of Shine A Light makes for a strong ending) suggests the Stones had no particular fondness for it, that they considered it an album track at best, perhaps even (gasp) album filler. It certainly never gets a mention in the same breath as the big tracks from the LP (Tumbling Dice, Happy, Rocks Off, Loving Cup…I could go on and on) but to me, as something of a hidden Stones gem, that’s kinda what makes Stop Breaking Down so special.
Evoking the spirit of the early, earthy Stones with a punk/blues ferocity not heard since, ooh I dunno, Pussy Galore or someone were whipping up a frenzy at the end of the 80s, the White Stripes version of Stop Breaking Down appeared on their first, self-titled LP. If you’ve not heard it before, it’s just as you might imagine it to sound.
White Stripes – Stop Breaking Down;
Thump. Crash. Thump. Crash. Thump. Crash. “Whooo!”. Screeee. Thump. Thump. “Whoooo!”. Screeeeeeeeeeee!
Two folk standing in a room with a handful of basic instruments between them has never sounded so feral and primal. Nowadays, it’s all the rage. Isn’t it, Black Keys? I know Jack White splits opinion, but for what it’s worth I love the White Stripes.
Later on, they tackled the same track for a BBC session, extending it to twice its length and playing it as a walkin’, talkin’ slow blues.
Thump. Crash. Thump. Crash. Thump. Crash. “Whooo!”. Screeee. Thump. Thump. “Whoooo!”. Screeeeeeeeeeee! At half the speed.
White Stripes – Stop Breaking Down (BBC Session);
Whatever happened to The Bees? I had them pegged as the equal of the Beta Band. Terrific players with a slightly psychedelic take on things. Not so much under the radar as off it completely, they deserved better. Their take on Stop Breaking Down is clearly modelled on the Stones’ version, but with a dual vocal and a nice, understated Hammond holding the whole thing together.
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…
Number 17 in a series:
JJ Gilmour is the silver haired, silver tongued ex-Silencer from Lanarkshire*.
In a career that spans 25+ years in the business of music, he’s had his fair share of highs and lows.
But mainly highs.
With The Silencers, he was a regular concert attraction all over Europe. He’s topped the bill at some of the best-known music festivals. He’s worked with some of the top producers of the time (yer actual John Leckies and Michael Brauers for starters). He’s been managed by Miles Copeland. He’s written songs for Kenny Rogers;
I was challenged by my manager to write a song about a cowboy who fell in love with a belly dancer. So I did it! It’s called The Cowboy’s Lament and it’s the happiest I’ve ever felt after finishing a song. Kenny’s sat on it for two years. I don’t know if he’ll ever release it.
He’s sold half a million albums in numerous ‘territories’ (record company speak for ‘absolutely everywhere’). In fact, if he cared to do so, JJ would be able to fashion the walls of his house with gold discs the way a teenager might be inclined to paper their bedroom with popstar posters.
Being part of a successful band, JJ found it difficult trying to get all his ideas across. So in the 90s he took the brave step of going solo. Since then, fads and fashions have come and gone. Today’s bright young things have become tomorrow’s laughed-at losers. Entire ‘careers’ have burned briefly before being consigned to the dustbins of pop. And JJ continually ploughs his own furrow.
Five albums later and Jinky’s never sounded better. He’s a terrific live act – equal parts raconteur and wreck on tour, his milk bottle-thick glasses belying his talent. Less Buddy Holly and more bloody helly, the gaps between his songs are filled with the sort of occasionally sweary banter that wouldn’t sound out of place at the Stand Comedy Club. He’s a very funny man, but more importantly, JJ can sing like the best of them. His songs are stories and beg to be heard in the confines of a small environment. He’s all about intimate gigs and plays live regularly. If you ever get the chance, you should go and see him.
And guess what…
If you’re in Ayrshire, you should get yourself down to the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine, as JJ Gilmour will play the HAC this Friday (7th March). There’s nothing more intimate than a gig at the HAC, and this has all the makings of an absolute cracker.
Like a tip-top athlete who’s fitness has peaked at the right time, JJ’s coming to Irvine in the best possible form. Just a week after his annual Portpatrick show(s) – acoustic one night, plugged in the next, electric both nights, he’s guaranteed to be at his very best.
JJ took time out from rehearsals at his home in Belfast to give Plain Or Pan the low-down on what records inspire him.
Take it away Jinky…..
I suppose we should start at the beginning. The first record I ever heard that made me want to spend my own money on music was Ian Dury and The Blockheads‘ ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick‘.
It was full of funny words and references to strange, far-off places. The deserts of Sudan. Japan. Milan. Yucatan. What did it all mean? It took you on a geographical journey. Eskimo. Arapaho. Two fat persons click, click, click. Fan-tastic words! Then of course you got the bonus of There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards on the b-side. The Blockheads were a terrific band. Great, great players. They could play anything. I was fortunate enough to meet them a couple of times.
Ian Dury was a true original. That whole punk scene, when Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood were forming the whole image, they took it from seeing Ian around town, his ears full of safety pins. No-one else was doing it at the time. What a leg end. (JJ pronounces this as two words).
After punk, I began listening to what you could call ‘intelligent musicians’, classically-trained folk who weren’t afraid of showing off their talents in the face of 3 chords. I loved the huge sound that ELO made.
‘Wild West Hero’ epitomises that for me. The strings. The story. It‘s a terrific sound. Jeff Lynne is someone I want to work with at some point.
My next choice is by someone who, personally takes himself far too seriously….but what a songwriter! Sting has the knack of writing really clever pop songs. The Police‘s ‘Message In A Bottle’ has it all – great rhythm, a brilliant guitar riff from Andy….
When I first heard it I thought, ‘This guy’s some writer!‘ Of course, later on he’d totally rip off Stand By Me for Every Breath You Take, but Message In A Bottle is a classic.
It has never been more finely used than when it soundtracked Jim Royle pissing into a bottle in an episode of the Royle Family;
Around this time I discovered The Beatles. Everyone goes through a Beatles phase and I’m no different. I came to them when I realised where everyone else was stealing their ideas from.
I’m more of a Lennon man than a McCartney man but I could pick any Beatles tune really, even the George Harrison ones that the other two tried to suppress. I huvnae much time for Ringo, but y’know, without him they weren’t truly The Beatles. If I had to choose just one Beatles track, it would have to be A Day In The Life. It’s big. It’s huge, actually. We used to use it as intro music at gigs. It built the audience up before we came on.
JJ’s last 2 choices are personal favourites of mine. I was delighted that he chose them…
I feel I must tip my hat to Scotland’s finest song writer, lyricist and poet – Michael Marra. Michael wrote brilliant songs, but my favourite of his is ‘Hamish‘, written about the Dundee United goalie Hamish McAlpine and the time when Grace Kelly came to watch Monaco take on Dundee United at a European game at Tannadice.
(Now, I could wax lyrical about Michael Marra, someone who in another time and place might’ve been considered a Scottish Tom Waits. He once turned up at Irvine Folk Club with a battered old ironing board under his arm, the sort of ironing board you might find at Irvine dump if the owner had the gall to be seen throwing such a battered old relic out in public. Michael casually set up the ironing board and used it as his keyboard stand. He’s dead now, and sometimes we don’t appreciate our best writers until they’re not there to be told. Michael was one of the very best. His song Hamish ebbs and flows in melancholy fashion, and the string swell at the end is pure Hollywood. Anyway, that’s this writer’s tuppence-worth).
Have a read at the lyrics:
Up at Tannadice,
Framed in woodwork, cool as ice,
Keeping out the wolves in his particular way,
With a smile and a wave, A miraculous save, they say,
Out runs Hamish and the ball’s in Invergowrie Bay.
Up at Tannadice,
As they gently terrorise,
Called the sentry “Oh Hamish, give us a song”,
Raising the voices as high as the bridge is long,
Nasser said ‘hello’ and did you miss him when his voice was gone?
I remember that time it was an evening game,
A European tie in the howling rain,
Gus Foy pointed at the side of the goal,
And said, there’s Grace Kelly by Taylor Brothers Coal, …at Tannadice.
Up at Tannadice,
Watching as the fortunes rise,
Smiling when he hears, ‘ah it’s only a game’, Win, lose or draw you’ll get home to your bed just the same,
But Hamish stokes young mens’ dreams into a burning flame,
Hamish stokes young mens’ dreams into a burning flame.
I’ll leave the final word on Hamish to JJ
- You should check out the Leo Sayer version on You Tube. He’s not kidding.
My final choice is absolutely The Best Pop Song Ever Written Since The Beatles. Has there ever been a song about mainlining heroin quite so beautiful as The La’s ‘There She Goes’? No, there’s not!
We’ve heard it so many times. It never sounds tired or jaded. It always sounds fresh. There’s not a chorus in sight, just spot-on verses and a perfect guitar riff with a wee breath-catching breakdown in the middle. Absolutely perfect.
I love what wee John (Power) is doing with Cast – Walkaway and all that, but nothing he does is as close to perfection as There She Goes. Lee really should try and get himself back together again.
(I’ll not bore you with my La’s stories. You can ask me the next time you see me.)
JJ Gilmour plays the HAC this Friday, 7th March. At Jinky’s request, support comes from terrific up-and-comers The Sean Kennedy Band. You can buy tickets here. A limited number will be available on the door, on a first-come, first-served basis.
Don’t you dare miss him now!
* And don’t ask Chris Eubank to say that.