Happily Everly After. It sounds like a throwaway Stanley Unwin line. Perhaps something he’d have spokey-woke on the deeply joyous Small Faces’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake album. Or perhaps not. In any case, I’m referring to Phil and Don, The Everly Brothers. But you knew that already.
The Everlys were so close to the front of the queue at the birth of rock ‘n roll they were practically the midwives. Little Richard might’ve been around pounding his piano to welcome this kicking and screaming new born thing into existence, and Chuck Berry would’ve been somewhere by his side, but it was the Everlys who sat by the bed mopping the fevered brow and shouting perfectly harmonised words of encouragement. A close-knit singing duo with a dual love of country music and a twangin’ guitar, they created a vocal style like no-one else. Big brother Don sang the low parts. Phil, two years his junior, did those keening highs. Added to a rattlin’, rollin’ skiffle rhythm, they suddenly had a sound and found themselves at the forefront of the late 50s music explosion. The Beatles were huge fans, approximating the vocal style of the Everlys’ Cathy’s Clown onto their own Please Please Me like the fanboys they undeniably were.
Paul McCartney’s love for the Everlys went as deep as writing On The Wings Of A Nightingale for them in the mid 80s, giving them a hit single long after they’d been confined to the dustbin of yesteryear and oldies radio.
The Everly’s legacy was cemented not by what they did well, but by what they failed at. Between them, Phil and Don had six children and went through half a dozen divorces – five from actual matrimonial wives and one colossal split from one another. To say they didn’t really get on with one another would be something of an understatement, but nonetheless they muddled through for a good few years, their warm harmonies disguising the icy coldness each felt towards his sibling.
Like many acts of their era, they suffered the somewhat obligatory bad management/bad label deal in the late ’50s. Their golden early 60s period was knocked off the rails, initially by the advent of Beatlemania and latterly through their failure to capture the mood of a nation during the Vietnam War. This led to drug and alcohol problems, which led on to other issues…..the loathing and hate that each felt for his brother reached its peak in 1973 when Phil threw his guitar down mid Cathy’s Clown and walked off stage. To paraphrase Don (I can’t find the actual quote) – “The Everly Brothers are dead…..though we died 10 years ago.” Despite possessing fine musical skills and supreme singing voices, a lukewarm and half-arsed approach to what constituted their individual solo ‘careers’ meant that the Everlys became obsolete in the singer-songwriter-rich’70s. Save their father’s funeral, it would be a decade before they spoke again, brought together by Albert Lee who produced their Live At The Albert Hall comeback show, and a mediating McCartney and his gift of the hit single a year later.
Proper musicians’ musicans, the Everlys have left an influence far and wide throughout popular (and not so popular) music.
AnthonyRed Hot Chili WilliKiedis named his son Everly. Thanks, Dad.
Paul McCartney (again) namechecks them on Wings’ Let ‘Em In; Sister Suzie, brother John, Martin Luther, Phil and Don…
Neil Young brazenly nicks the riff from Walk Right Back, slows it down a touch, and with the aid of some good ol’ homegrown, writes Harvest Moon and bags himself a proper critic-pleasing return to form in the process. Contrast and compare:
Walk Right Back:
Elliott Smith‘s eye-wateringly perfect Waltz #2 opens with the couplet; First the mic, then a half cigarette, Singing “Cathy’s Clown”.
And tucked away on the b-side of Lloyd, I’m ready To Be Heartbroken (in itself a we’re not worthy bow-down to Lloyd Cole), you’ll find Camera Obscura‘s lilting countryish ballad, Phil And Don, bathed in pathos and regret and sounding like the heartbreaker it really is.
Here’s the Everlys doing When Will I Be Loved. A microcosm of all that is good about the Everly Brothers – twangin’ guitar riff, skiffley backbeat and harmonies like glue.
Now grab your coat and go and get yourself a copy of an Everly Brothers Greatest hits compilation. No home should be without one. And get yerself a Camera Obscura album while you’re there. You’d like them.
(crop this image carefully and you’ve got a Smiths 7″ sleeve that never was)
I’ve been doing a lot of cycling recently, up and down Ayrshire’s sun-baked coast, and much of it has been soundtracked by Neu! I’ve become a bit fed up of my self-compiled iPod ‘Cycling‘ playlist, a playlist that was put together a year ago with great care and attention, added to sporadically since and been sequenced and resequenced numerous times to reflect the ebbs and flows of an average 30 mile ride – a blood-pumping fast one to start (a track by the essential yet horribly-named Fuck Buttons, the name of which escapes me at the moment), before settling into the groove and rhythm of cycling to the combined output of Underworld, Land Observations, Kraftwerk and the likes. And Mogwai’s The Sun Smells Too Loud. That’s always a good one when it pops up. But I got fed up with all of it and started listening to complete albums instead. Searching for the ideal cycling companion. Did you know, you can cycle from Prestwick to Kilwinning in exactly the time it takes London Calling to play? If it’s not too windy…
Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother of Neu!
As much as I love my guitar bands though, I prefer to cycle to electronic music. Music with a pulse beat. Music that plays repetitively. Music that is enhanced when, between the gaps in the tunes, you catch the whirr of a well-oiled chain snaking through the sprocket. Which is where Neu! come in. Not really pure electronic music, Neu! They play guitars and stuff. It’s just that, in amongst the found sounds and random ambient noises they’ve commited to tape, the band have a knack of locking into a good groove and can go at it for ages. Proper head-nodding music. But you knew that already.
Their track Hallogallo has been a cycling staple for over a year. Rhythmic, repetitive and driven by that very motorik, Krauty pulsebeat that’s required for my type of cycling (“I wanted to be carried on a wave like a surfer”, said Rother, explaining his music a few years back), it’s almost as if it was made with me in mind. Which is frankly ridiculous. If someone had told the band in 1972 that their 10 minute opus would be able to be freely listened to on a portable device whilst someone wheezed their way along the highways and byways of the national cycle network, they’d have accused you of smoking something more potent than the jazz cigarettes they were willingly ingesting.
Imagine if after leaving The Beatles, Pete Best had gone on to form The Rolling Stones. Not content with being the founding father in one extremely influential group, he goes on to build another. Dinger and Rother did just this. Both were in a prototype Kraftwerk, before splitting and forming Neu! To paraphrase an old joke, I’d say Neu! play both types of music – arty and farty. The three albums they released in the 70s – 1972′s Neu!, ’73′s Neu! 2 and ’75′s Neu! 75 are hugely influential (not then, of course, but now) and greatly important in the development of the Krautrock sound – “an ambient bassless White-light Pop-rock mantra,” as Julian Cope described it in his excellent (and recently reprinted) Krautrocksampler. Remarkably, I picked up an original in a book sale in Kilwinning library for 25p!
If you’re expecting to hear verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus/fade to end, look away now. If you’re made of sterner stuff, jump right in. It’s a bit like drinking alcohol for the first time. Initially, you pretend to like it, but secretly find it hard to stomach, but before long you wondered how you got by without it.
Für Immer is the opening track from Neu! 2. “A greener richer Hallogallo“, to quote Julian Cope again. It’s another terrific example of the Neu! sound – a relentless, motorik driving pulse with textured layer upon layer of chiming, ambient guitar and occasional whooshing flung in for good measure. I think you’ll like it.
Barry Adamson, baritone booming bass player with Magazine has a terrific back catalogue of albums released under his own name. Successfully walking the tightrope that straddles imagined film noir soundtracks on the one side with spoken word, sample-packed beat happenings on the other, they’re the sort of albums that would and should (and maybe even have) appeared on those Mercury lists every September. Perfect for late night/early morning listening, hip to the jive advertisers and marketers have used his music to great effect over the past 15 or so years.
For me, the jewel in a particularly shining crown is 1996′s Oedipus Schmoedipus, an excellent assortment of Tom Waits-ish gravelly Gauloises rumbles, Massive Attack samples and other borrowed jazzy interludes that might’ve fallen into the ‘trip-hop’ pigeonhole all those years ago, Miles Davis covers and big, fat, beat-driven affairs that swing like the John Barry 7 on steroids. There are a number of stellar contributions from a just-famous Jarvis Cocker, an almost dead Billy MacKenzie and Adamson’s old band mate from Bad Seeds days, the perennial Nick Cave.
Gliding by on a rush of gospel hysterics, jigsawed-together old soul records and whispered Cocker vocals, the Jarvis contribution (above) isn’t particularly Pulpish, but with its talk of damp beds and asthma inhalers and the suggestion of afternoon you-know-what bubbling under the surface, the lyrics certainly are. Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Pelvis indeed. Equally superb, but poles apart in terms of sound, the Billy MacKenzie track, Achieved In The Valley Of The Dolls places Mackenzie’s high falsetto alongside twanging guitars, bubbling synths and none-more-90s-drums, creating a highly polished piece of slick AOR pop.
Without being glib or anything, the Nick Cave track sounds well, just like Nick Cave. Fine if you like that kind of thing, although to be honest, Nick Cave has never really been my kind of thing. I know, I know, shoot me…..Here‘s the Massive Attack-sampling Something Wicked This way Comes instead.
Barry’s best remains his re-interpretation of the Bond theme. From 1992′s Soul Murder LP, 007, A Phantasy Bond Theme alternates between skanking blue-beat rhythms, twanging Bond guitars, Jamaican spoken word patois and a brassy, swingin’ big band. How that idea ever formed in Adamson’s head we’ll never know, but somehow he managed to create an absolute belter of a record. If you only download one thing this week….etc, etc….
No excuse required really, but here‘s Magazine’s debut single Shot By Both Sides. Written by Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto and featuring a terrific lead guitar riff. But you knew that already….
Beatles For Sale wouldn’t be many people’s choice of favourite Beatles album, but it’s by far my favourite Beatles album cover. You can marvel at the druggy, warped close-up that heralds Rubber Soul, and Klaus Voormann’s pen and ink collage on the front of Revolver, and it’s hard not to appreciate the vision behind Peter Blake’s Sgt Pepper concept, but no album cover then or since probably froze the zeitgeist of a precise moment in time quite like the Robert Freeman shot for Beatles For Sale. Taken in London’s late Autumn Hyde Park, it cryogenically captures the band in the clothes they turned up in, battered, brusied and bloodied by Beatlemania, baggy-eyed and bored of it all, desperate for their beds and a bit of peace and quiet. Great hair though.
Beatles For Sale was the 4th Beatles album in 21 months. That’s four LPs. In less than two years. Coming hot on the heels of the phenomenal A Hard Day’s Night LP (their first to feature all-original material), Beatles For Sale represented something of a dip in quality for the band. And, as outlined above and below, no wonder why…
In late 1964, Beatles found themsleves in the unenviable position of requiring material to release in time for the lucrative Christmas market. EMI suddenly owned the biggest, fattest cash cow of them all and, what with this pop music lark being a short-lived affair and whatnot, were keen to milk it for all it was worth. Recording started only one month after A Hard Day’s Night was released and many of the songs were written in the studio and recorded there and then during any free days between shows. All associated with The Beatles (including the band themselves) knew they were being somewhat exploited.
George Martin: “They were rather war-weary during Beatles for Sale. One must remember that they’d been battered like mad throughout ’64, and much of ’63. Success is a wonderful thing, but it is very, very tiring.”
Paul McCartney: “We would normally be rung a couple of weeks before the recording session and they’d say, ‘We’re recording in a month’s time and you’ve got a week off before the recordings to write some stuff.“
Neil Aspinall: “No band today would come off a long US tour at the end of September, go into the studio and start a new album, still writing songs, and then go on a UK tour, finish the album in five weeks, still touring, and have the album out in time for Christmas. But that’s what the Beatles did at the end of 1964. A lot of it was down to naivety, thinking that this was the way things were done. If the record company needs another album, you go and make one.“
And to think Prince had the cheek to scrawl ‘Slave‘ on his face in protest at how Warner Music treated him.
Stuck for material, the band resorted to Cavern Club cover versions of yore. Indeed, almost half the LP (6 out of 14 songs) is made up of twanging country rockers and raucous rockabilly re-hashes. Not bad, all the same, just not the great leap forward you might’ve expected following A Hard Day’s Night. Of the original material, Lennon is in full-on Dylan mode (he met him around the same time in New York), harmonica wheezing like an asthmatic tramp, acoustic guitar high in the mix, and McCartney treads water slightly, looking for the inspiration to guide him towards Help and Rubber Soul. In the UK, no singles were taken from the LP, although I Feel Fine (written when Lennon riffed along to a playback of Eight Days A Week) and She’s A Woman, recorded at the same Beatles For Sale sessions were released on the one single, which duly rocketed to the toppermost of the poppermost just before Christmas. Despite the mood surrounding The Beatles at this time, I Feel Fine remains a defiant high point of early-mid period Fabness.
Ever since I heard it (and bought it) on that terrible, none-more-eighties Stars On 45 single, I’ve always had a something of a soft spot for No Reply. Maybe it’s because it reminds of BB discos when, loaded up on Kwenchy Kups and cheap maize-based crisps, I’d slide across the church hall floor from one end to the other while the ‘DJ’ played all 15 minutes of the terrible non-stop pumping Beatles karaoke just to annoy all of us who wanted Baggy Trousers and Stand & Deliver.
Contrast and Compare:
No Reply (Mono)
No Reply (Stereo)
Anyway. No Reply. As done by The Beatles. I like how Lennon starts it straight away, before breaking into the hysterical “I nearly died!” section. And I like McCartney’s bridge, with its rush of handclaps and Little Richardisms in the backing vocals. Over and done with in little over 2 minutes, it’s a muted melancholy masterpiece.
Elliott SmithI’ll Be Back
Here‘s Elliott Smith‘s terrific version of A Hard Day’s Night‘s I’ll Be Back, all double-tracked vocals and sparkling electric guitar. Nice nod to John, Paul, George and Ringo at the end. Super-rare, I’ve featured it before. But it’s worth giving it the space again. And for entirely different reasons, a great cover too.
Och, go on then…
(Stars on 45, all 15 minutes of it. Download available only on request. You don’t need it.)
This could be a never-ending pub argument amongst (mainly middle-aged) men who should know better, but let’s cut to the chase here – Stoned Love by The Supremesis the best pop/soul 7″ ever.
It’s in the measured intro – Jean Terrell’s Diana-aping whispered cooing that gives way to the insistent four-to-the-floor snare ‘n tambourine Motown beat. It’s in the stinging fuzz guitar riff (fuzz guitar!!) that plays like the demented half brother of Ernie Isley throughout the whole thing. It’s in the boot stomps and handclaps that give it that talcummed Northern whiff. It’s in the backing vocal performance, with all the ooos and aaaahs and vocal gymnastics that alone confirms it as a whole mini Motown symphony in itself. But most of all it’s in that wee breakdown around 48 seconds, when everything bar the vocals and kick drum drop out momentarily before it all comes back in again in fantastic, glorious technicolour, strings sweeping in life-affirming joy. Don’t you hear the wind blowin‘? The best pop/soul 7″ ever.
Released in 1970, Stoned Love was essentially The Supremes’ American swansong, albeit a high-charting and successful one, much to Motown mogul Berry Gordy’s disgust. With Diana Ross long-since solo, and Berry Gordy focussed on her and her alone, the 3 Supremes – Jean Terrell, Cindy Birdsong and Mary Wilson – were able to record without the interference of the hit-obsessed Gordy. Both Birdsong and Wilson had rarely featured on previous Supremes records, their vocals instead being sung by anonymous but greater talented sessioneers. Not here. Stoned Love features both their vocals much more prominently. You could argue that Stoned Love is slightly less-polished than the other more well-known Supremes material, but that would surely be nit-picking of the highest order. The vocals soar like a bird on a summer breeze, although, having listened to the media player above, you’ll know that by now. If you don’t want to handclap like a mains-wired marionette and cry even the tiniest tears of joy whenever this record comes on you might as well bunker down with your crap beard and your Biffy Clyro records and fester forever.
Written by Detroit teenager Kenny Thomas as Stone Love and misheard along the way (despite The Supremes singing Stone Love, someone decided it was called Stoned Love, and it stuck) before being fashioned into the best pop/soul 7″ ever by Frank ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)‘ Wilson, Stoned Love is essentially a plea for peace and love. The general sway of the times may have been towards living and loving in harmony, the hippy movement, the ‘legalize it’ campaign, not to mention the war raging in Vietnam (A love for each other will bring fighting to an end, Forgiving one another, time after time…) but the censors heard things differently. Stoned Love was clearly about D.R.U.G.S. drugs! TV appearances were cancelled. Radio stations dropped it from their playlists, although not before the record had charted and gone to #1 on the RnB charts and #7 on the Hot 100 (and #3 in the UK). Berry Gordy washed his hands completely of it and The Supremes were left to limp on a few more months, to ever-decreasing returns.
For such a sacred cow, there have been mercifully few butcherings of Stoned Love over the years. There was a terrible Motown Remixed album that came out a few years back (possibly for a Motown landmark anniversary, though I can’t be sure) where Stoned Love was remixed, rejigged and extended to within an inch of its life, but apart from that there seems to be a healthy respect for it and it’s so far been left otherwise untouched. The Stone Roses last year chose to use it as their intro music, the ‘love between our brothers and sisters‘ seeming to be pretty apt for the event. They play Glasgow in little over 2 weeks and if it’s anything like the last time they played Glasgow Green, this writer will be praying that the audience of grown-up neds and nedettes heed the words wisely. You can read all about that particular event here. Poignant and Beautifully Written were John Robb’s words to me. Just sayin’.
Baby What You Want Me To Do was written at the tail end of the 50s by blues guitarist Jimmy Reed.
Not that he’d have known at the time, but Reed penned something of a blues standard. In its 50+ years amongst the canon of popular song, Baby What You Want Me To Do has been recorded in a whole range of styles by a whole range of artists. Here are some of the better ones.
Ol’ Elvis Himselvis was Jimmy Reed daft, and by the time of the ’68 Comeback Special, after he’d strapped on a guitar for the first time in ages, was intent on sneaking the Jimmy Reed riff into as many parts of the set as his band would allow. Every time rehearsals stopped, The King would find his sweaty fingers forming around the swampy tune. With quiff collapsed and lip curled high, he’d be off and running, his band of A-list sessioneers falling in behind him with a forced goofiness and much hootin’ and hollerin’. “We’re goin’ up, we’re goin’ down…” and off they’d go once again….
The Live Show:
Elvis, dressed head to toe in Wild Ones leather and looking like a Texas oil slick played his guitar with a twanging punk ferocity not heard since Gene Vincent Raced With The Devil almost a decade earlier. That he and his band were playing inside a boxing ring rather than a stage only added to the pugilistic undertones eminating from the Presley 6 string. Terrific. There are a couple of ’68 Comeback albums worth looking out for – the edited essentials Tiger Man and the warts ‘n all Memories; The ’68 Comeback Special album, which features more versions of Baby What You Want Me To Do than you could possibly ever need. Or perhaps not. If you buy one record this month…etc etc…
Delectus ‘Dee‘ Clark was a ten-a-penny soul/RnB singer. Most famous for having fronted Little Richard’s band after the real Richard had his calling from the Lord, Dee Clark would’ve romped the 1958 series of Stars In Their Eyes, such are the carbon-copy facsimiles of Little Richard in his earlier records.
But Dee could turn his vocals to many styles, and inbetween the high camp quiff Richardisms and duh-duh-duh-duh doo-wop stylings, he found time to cut a version (above) of Baby What You Want Me To Do that instantly conjures up lazy images of the deep south and makes me want to pour a decent measure of sour mash, fire up a crawfish gumbo and let the good times roll. Terrific too.
Everyone should clear 5 minutes a week to hear an Everly Brothers record – you’ll feel better for it. Battlin’ brothers Don and Phil cut a version that is classic Everlys – a polite country-ish rockin’ guitar, some barrelhouse piano and enough good time vibes that belies the fact that they hated one another with a passion. You can imagine them in the studio sharing the mike, just as Lennon & McCartney would do a few years later, their close-knit harmonies fusing together like honeyed glue, all the while angling for greater personal share of the spoils, Don doing the low parts, Phil the outrageous highs.
Likewise Dion. Not Celine, just Dion. Clear 5 minutes a week etc. No stranger to Plain Or Pan, Dion’s take comes from the suitably named Bronx In Blue LP, a somewhat laid-back affair, all twangin’ acoustics and groin-botherin’ bass. It was nominated for a Grammy, dontchaknow? Unusually for a Dion record, his version was cut in the mid 2000s, when he wasn’t smacked off his face on Class A’s, and he doesn’t quite break into that doo-wop falsetto of his, but don’t let that put you off.
The Great Pyramid of Giza. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. The Colossus of Rhodes. The Lighthouse of Alexandria. The Seven Wonders of the World. You’d think that by now, the 21st Century, someone somewhere might fancy updating that list. I think I missed the appeal when they were asking folk to write in with their suggestions for the 8th wonder, but if it’s not too late, I’m putting forward the Glasgow Barrowlands for inclusion.
To be more specific, I’m putting forward the Barrowlands when it’s packed-to-the-gunnels full and the band on stage is on fire. I’ve been to the Barras plenty of times. It’s always good. Often, it’s great. Other times, it’s really great. Last night, the second night of The Specials double header, it was electric; right there and then the best place to be on the entire planet. It was packed-to-the-gunnels full. The band was on fire. You didn’t want it to end. A greatest hits and more was played out to a mongrel swill of a crowd; from old suedeheads in too-tight Fred Perrys and braces, spit-shiny Docs and straining-at-the-waist Levis, to ageing mohican’d punks and punkettes, to 40-something numpties in pork pie hats, the weekend rude boys who really should know better, the same guys who take their tops off and still chant “We are the mods!” at Who gigs, to the young team in misguided Liam Gallagher feathercuts and Superdry mod parkas. Punks, teds, natty dreads, mods, rockers, hippies and skinheads, as Do The Dog says, all united on the famous sprung dancefloor that, to paraphrase that Scandinavian football commentator from way back when The Specials first mattered, took one hell of a beating.
It’s life-affirming when you realise at the age of 43 you still want to get involved at a gig, that you’re not content standing at the side debating the merits of the setlist with yourself, but you’d rather go for it, jump right in and get into it. I lost a stone and a half in the first 20 minutes alone. My polo shirt stank of other people’s beer on the way home. As I type, I’m looking at my battered desert boots, who look like they’ve been in the trenches at the Somme. The opening four numbers came at you like a breathless, skanking Ramones – Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! I can’t be certain what was played, or in what order (it might’ve been Do The Dog and Concrete Jungle and Rat Race and Gangsters). One into another, a storm of ricocheting pistol cracks from the snare and Roddy Radiation’s spaghetti western twang, glued together by the Hall hangdog vocal. Then the brass section came on. Then the strings. And the band cherry-picked their way through a back catalogue rich in dubby textures and exotica flourishes. Pinch yourself for a minute. That’s The Specials! Playing International Jet Set! I took a particular shine to the three pouting string players, bobbing their heads from side to side in perfect unison whenever the dub swelled and the need for strings reduced.
Picture courtesy of Cameron Mackenzie. Cheers!
This clearly isn’t some half-arsed in-it-for-the-money Stones tour. This is a band playing better than ever to an audience somewhat largely made up of people too young to have seen them first time around (I was 10 when I bought Do Nothing for 99p with my £1 pocket money). The Specials are on fire right now and demand your attention. We were lucky enough to get an extra, unplanned encore, a Terry-free Guns Of Navarone, played by a band who’d wandered on after the outro music had begun and some of the audience had filtered off towards the exits and Central Station. Nae luck, non-believers.
There’s no youth culture anymore. Cast your eye over the appearance of any youngster and you wouldn’t know if they were into Pink or Pink Floyd. Last night showed why tribal music matters. If you do one thing this year, go and see The Specials.
When I first picked up the plank of wood I had the cheek to call a guitar, I hadn’t yet mastered changing from a D to an A and back again before I realised something was missing. I needed something, anything, to disguise the bum notes from the badly-played chords I was trying to strangle out of my instrument at parent-bothering volume through my wee practice amp. That something was the fuzzbox. What a revelation! I could play along to most of The Buzzcocks‘ What Do I Get and mangle a passable version of Everybody’s Happy Nowadays, fire off Janie Jones from the first Clash LP and play almost all of The Ramones‘ It’s Alive LP, riff for riff and legs akimbo, just like Johnny. Look at me, I can play guitar! 1! 2! 3! 4! Gggzzzzzssss! Hey ho and indeed, let’s go. The intricacies of Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others and Blackbird were a long, painful way off, but that fuzzbox was the thing that spurred me on to those greater things.
Nasty Punks, Funk Off
Eventually tired of the fuzz and with ears open to a wider variety of music, that wee pedal was retired from duty, to be ressurected a couple of years later by better musicians. If you listen very carefully to One At A Time on the Trash Can Sinatras‘ I’ve Seen Everything album, that same £20 fuzzbox gets a good workout from Davy Hughes’ bass guitar. Or so they tell me.
But that’s another story for another day. After mastering the complete works of Johnny Ramone and the odd Beatles tune and sickening myself by tying my fat fingers in knots whilst trying to unsuccessfully learn Johnny Marr’s best riffs, I spent a great many hours poring over the guitar parts on James Brown records.
The guys who played the best of them (Catfish (brother of Bootsy) Collins and Jimmy Nolen) were as yet unknown to me, but they were just as vital and exciting and talented as the three Johns. I could sit for hours and listen to I’ll Go Crazy but I’ve never yet quite mastered the fluidity of the riff. Sex Machine was the big one. The one chord groove was a bee aye tee see aitch to learn in those pre-internet days. Starting with the top string and working backwards to the bass, I held down all sorts of permutations of strings and frets until one day the funk planets aligned and my fingers fell on the strings and frets in the correct position. For any technically-minded musicians amongst you, the chord I was playing was an Eb9 (with a hammer-on on the 8th fret), although I was yet to know that. To me, it was the chord that unlocked the funk.
Using the 9th chord, Jimmy Nolen laid the foundation of funk. Stop/start slides from the 4th to 5th fret, pinky hammer-ons 2 frets above, muting the strings with his right hand to get the distinctive chicken-scratch sound, he’s the guitarist who anyone who’s ever played a note of funk guitar owes a debt to. James Brown changed his guitar players as regularly as you or I change our underwear, but from listening to the records you’d never know. All guitarists after Jimmy Nolen followed his distinctive chordings and ryhthm. Got a guitar to hand? Try it! Slide the same chord shape (above/below) up and down the frets and you’ll find all sorts of James Brown songs - Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. I Feel Good. Super Bad. Talkin’ Loud & Sayin’ Nothing. Soul Power. Persevere, you’ll find them all.
Get Up (Feel Like Being A Sex Machine)
e|--(start with an upstrum)----6-6----6---8--6----------6-6----6---8--6-----------------|
Stick on the wah-wah pedal and you can riff your way to funky oblivion like an extra in a 1975 episode of Starsky & Hutch. Sly Stone, no stranger himself to a 3-in-a-bed romp with a wah-wah and a 9th chord,got in on the act. His Sing A Simple Song is an absolute monster of E9 riffing (see tab below. S’easy!). Booker T and The MGs did their own Hammond ‘n 9th-heavy version. And Ike Turner quite blatantly/beautifully ripped it off for his ‘own’ Bold Soul Sister, a young Tina coming across like the less-vulgar wee sister of Betty Davis. I think even Led Zeppelin used it on Houses of the Holy‘s The Crunge, such is the chicken-scratching Jimmy Nolen-ness of it all. The 9th. It’s a well travelled chord. Kick out the jams and play it, brothers and sisters. Now that’s an order.
Last summer I went to the Glasgow screening of the above film about The Wrecking Crew, the crack bunch of LA sessioneers who played anonymously on a whole host of things, from film and TV scores via advertising jingles to some of the biggest-selling and best-loved songs of that golden period in early-mid 60s pop music. Tommy Tedesco was a jazz guitarist, and somehow found himself part of that inner-circle of session men and women. Made by Tommy’s son Denny, the film is a celebration of the life and work of his father and The Wrecking Crew. It’s terrific. Denny has, for the past couple of years, been touring the world showing his movie at Film Festivals and special screenings in a bid to drum up the finance required to support the publishing rights of the film. It’s impossible to make a movie about such great music without actually featuring that same music, and seemingly it costs a whole lot of money to negotiate the publishing minefield that the lawyers and money men have put in front of him. If you ever win the lottery and want to help someone out, I’m sure Denny would be more than happy to take your call. If you ever get a chance to see his film, grab it with both hands. Much of the music featured throughout the years on Plain Or Pan is a product of The Wrecking Crew, so if you’re a regular on here, I’d even go so far as to say it’s right up your street.
The Wrecking Crew were the go-to guys in the LA recording industry. Slicker than the Brycleem covering Bing Crosby’s bald bits and packing more swing than Sinatra with a six iron, they swept aside the old shirt ‘n tied brigade with little regard for history or unwritten rules.
“I coined the name The Wrecking Crew,” explains ace drummer Hal Blaine. “We came into the studio with our Levis and t-shirts, smokin’ cigarettes, and the older guys were sayin’ ‘They’re gonna wreck the music business!’”
Working quickly and cheaply, and with the ability to read charts and scores of music at the drop of a cocked hat (they had backgrounds in jazz and classical) they were able to turn their hand to anything at all. Often, they came up with the licks and riffs that we all still whistle and hum today. Uncredited. The intro to Wichita Lineman? The intro to These Boots Were Made For Walkin‘? Plucked from thin air by The Wrecking Crew. Working on flat union fees rather than the gamble of percentage royalties, each musician knew that if they played more than one session a day, by the end of the week after they’d multiplied up the standard session fee, they’d be rich. They were so much in demand that playing only one session a day was not ever likely. Producers would request The Wrecking Crew, then hold off the recording session until the Crew could fit them in. The Wrecking Crew did them all. In and out the studio in the time it took to learn the part and record it before going off to the next one. And the next. And the next.
Without the benefit of hindsight of course, they had no idea that this music they were playing would shape the sound of popular music forever. The roll call of records and groups bearing The Wrecking Crew’s stamp is a super-long embarrassment of riches. Off the top of my head – all of Phil Spector‘s epoch-defining Wall Of Sound records, many Beach Boys records, including the sessions that would produce Pet Sounds and Smile, the Elvis ’68 Comeback Special for TV, The Byrds first album (only Roger McGuinn was considered good enough to play on it. The other Byrds sang, but the rest of the music was provided by The Wrecking Crew), a ton of Dean Martin stuff, Frank Sinatra‘s Summer Wind, the Pink Panther theme, Aquarius by the 5th Dimension, most of The Monkees records (Mike Nesmith was The Monkees’ version of Roger McGuinn), Somebody Groovy, California Dreamin’, Monday Monday and countless other Mamas And Papas tracks, Harry Nilsson‘s Everybody’s Talkin‘, Sonny & Cher‘s And the Beat Goes On. And on. And on. And on. You get the idea?
The Wrecking Crew were seemingly involved in everything. Hal Blaine alone estimates he’s played on 35,000 sessions. Thirty five! Thousand! Playing 3 sessions a day for 7 days a week, that’d take him about 30 years going by my calculations. At the height of their activity, I reckon The Wrecking Crew must’ve been doing 50 sessions a week, easy. One day alone might produce The More I See You for Chris Montez and Coconut Grove for The Lovin’ Spoonful before lunch, Dizzy with Tommy Roe and It Never Rains In Southern California with Albert Hammond in the afternoon and a longer session with Simon & Garfunkel in the evening – Homeward Bound and off to tuck the kids into bed. (In the chronology of it all, doing these 5 particular records might’ve been impossible, but you know what I mean). Not a bad day’s work, and, it seemed, every day in The Wrecking Crew calender was like that.
Of course, sadly, frustratingly sadly for some, without the benefit of hindsight, who knew that they’d be involved in so many solid-gold standards? Taking the gamble of percentage royalties would clearly have been the smart thing to do. Every member of The Wrecking Crew would still be a millionaire now. Hal Blaine knew the value in working hard and to paraphrase from the film wanted to make the ride to success as quick as possible and the inevitable decline as slow as could be. By the mid 60s, artists would want to play on their own records. Crucially, the record companies would allow them to play on their own records, and the slow demise of The Wrecking Crew was set in motion. But at the time, The Wrecking Crew were coining it in. As super-cool bass player Carol Kaye points out, “I was making more money than the President of the United States!” Hal Blaine was also earning enough to have a huge house and a yacht, but divorce saw to the end of that. When the sessions dried up, he ended up taking a job as a security guard, spending his days listening to the radio blaring out the countless hits he had played on. The irony was not lost on him. Go and see the film when you get the chance, it’s all in there. Check the website for details: http://www.wreckingcrewfilm.com
You know all the biggies, so here’s a few less well-known selections from the absolute embarrassment of Wrecking Crew riches…
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Plain Or Pan
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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.