Archive for the ‘Gone but not forgotten’ Category

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Band Aid

December 8, 2014

I’ve been enjoying the recent latest release in the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series. Number 11 shines a light on the Basement Tapes, the name given to the set of landmark recordings Bob did with The Band in 1967 in the basement of Big Pink, the cabin in the woods that served as a commune/writing/rehearsal space for The Band.

As any music scholar knows, the Basement Sessions unwittingly became the first bootleg LP, when some tracks were spirited out of Big Pink, into the ether and onto a record titled ‘The Great White Wonder’. Bob fans lucky enough to lay their hands on a copy marvelled at the down-home, rootsy feel of it all. Taken in context, the musical world was ingesting heaps of hallucinogens, dressing up in silly clothes and humping anything that moved, under the guise of ‘free love’.

 Bob Dylan

A burnt-out Dylan eschewed all this nonsense by totalling his Triumph in a motorbike crash and taking to time to convalesce at his own speed. The recording at Big Pink found him running loosely through a set of songs that had their roots in long-forgotten Americana, creating an arcane set of mystical wonder.

For years it’s been easy enough to uncover complete sets of this stuff in the darkest corners of the internet, but much of it is poor quality and while you might be of the notion that the song is key, a lot of it is unlistenable.

The official release comes in a couple of formats – the eye-wateringly expensive Complete Sessions that I’d assume is just that, though I’m certain that some Bob Cat somewhere has a version of Yea! Heavy And a Bottle Of Bread or Don’t You Tell Henry sung by Rick Danko’s dog that the compilers missed for some reason or other. Look in the darkest corners of the internet and you can no doubt find it too. I went for the recession-friendly 2CD set, which compiles all the essential stuff at a far better sound quality than my old CD bootleg from years ago.

bob and band bw

Recorded on a mobile recording unit loaned to them by Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman through microphones borrowed from Peter, Paul and Mary, it’s terrific stuff, with Bob leading The Band through first versions of never-since played originals and exhumed olde worlde tunes. It’s not music Dylan intended for mass consumption. It’s him and The Band (and the occasional dog at their feet) merrily running through whatever the hell they like, however often they feel like it. Had they known it would become the stuff of legend, it’s possible the group would’ve tried to make it more contemporary. Thankfully, this music remains as pure and clean as the air around Big Pink. Nowhere on the Basement Tapes will you hear the sound of the beat group, nor will you hear “the sun’s not yellow it’s a chicken”-type lyrics.

Following the constant record/tour/release schedule that had eaten up all of his time for the previous 2 years, Bob essentially used the sessions as a way of recording new stuff that could be somewhat cynically sent to other artists to have hits with, ensuring Bob’s pockets stayed healthily full whilst maintaining a low public profile. Much of the stuff from the sessions did indeed do this;

Both The Band and The Box Tops put out versions of I Shall Be Released. The Mighty Quinn became a hit for Manfred Mann. The Byrds made You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere the lead track on their Sweethearts Of the Rodeo LP.

My favourite is This Wheel’s On Fire, a weird ‘n wonky slice of claustrophobic nonsense, all walking basslines and odd chords.
Bob Dylan & The Band – This Wheel’s On Fire

bob basement

Even better than Bob’s one take wonder is Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll’s, who released the definitive version in 1967; all swirling psychedelia and phased vocals, with shimmering Hammonds and eerie mellotron.
Brian Auger and Julie DriscollThis Wheel’s On Fire

 

No stranger to a Bob tune, Rod Stewart wraps his gravelled tones around a version that is too rock for solo Rod but not swaggering enough for The Faces. A rather misplaced cover, if y’ask me. As a ballad singer, he did Mama, You Been On My Mind far, far better. Worth searching for.
Rod StewartThis Wheel’s On Fire

 

Siouxsie & the Banshees had a good stab at it too, going for an eastern gothic feel more in tune with Auger and Driscoll than Dylan’s, 12 string guitars competing with both a rattling snare and Siouxsie’s ice maiden vocals for attention.
Siouxsie & the BansheesThis Wheel’s On Fire

 

Predictably, both The Band and The Byrds had a go at it. You’ll know where to look if you need to hear them.

basement cover

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Keeping It Peel 2014

October 25, 2014

JOHN PEEL EADT 20 10 05

Keeping It Peel is the brainchild of Webbie, who writes the excellent and informative Football And Music blog.  An annual celebration of all things Peel (this year’s event is especially poignant, given that it’s 10 years since John died), it’s purpose is to remind everyone just how crucial John Peel was to enlightening and expanding listening tastes up and down the country; to ‘Educate and Inform‘, as was the motto of his employer. Be it demo, flexi, 7″, 10″, 12″, EP, LP, 8 track cartridge, wax cylinder or reel to reel field recording, the great man famously listened to everything ever sent his way, and if it was in anyway decent he played it on his show. Sometimes, he played the more obscure records at the correct speed. Sometimes he didn’t. And sometimes, no-one noticed.  John Peel is the reason my musical tastes expanded beyond the left-field avant-garde edginess of Hipsway and Love And Money and the reason why my mum stopped singing her own version of whatever it was I was playing (“Take a ri-ide on the Suga Trayne!”) and started asking me to “turn that racket down” whenever she passed my teenage bedroom door. Thank you, John.

This year’s Peel Session selection features Pixies from October 18th 1988.

The PIXIESThe thin ‘n hairy years

Pixies in 1988 were betwixt and between releases. Surfer Rosa (their best album, and don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise) was 7 months old and still stuck to the turntables, and Doolittle was but a sparkle in Black Francis’ eye. They were a PHENOMENAL live act around this time; full-on and feral and could do no wrong.

Their session for Peel in October was a cracker. Half of the songs were barely a minute and a half long, little blitzkrieg blasts of wonky time signatures, heavy breathing, strange chord structures and larynx-loosening primal screams from Black Francis – “Uriah hit the crapper! The crapper! Uriah hit the crapper….DEAD!” – what the devil was he on about? Who knows, but who cares? This was a thrilling taster of the new stuff still to come. Tame, Dead and There Goes My Gun would all end up on the Doolittle LP the following year. Dancing The Manta Ray would eventually see the light of day as the b-side to that LPs big single, Monkey Gone To Heaven.

I thought I still had the old TDK of this session with Peel’s introductions, but I fear it’s lost and gone forever. It’s certainly not in the first (and only) place I looked. For authenticity’s sake I was going to post those versions, but instead Tame comes from the Rough Diamonds bootleg and the other three come from the official BBC Sessions CD.

Tracks in order of broadcast;

Dead

Tame

Dancing The Manta Ray

There Goes My Gun

These tracks and a gazillion more are released shortly on the 3CD Doolittle 25 release, available at the recession-friendly price of £12. A bargain for sure. Available via Pixies’ online shop here.

pixies-doolittle-inlay

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Ari Styles

October 21, 2014

I Heard It Through The Grapevine was first committed to vinyl by Gladys Knight & The Pips, although it’d be Marvin Gaye who would have the first hit with the song. But you know all that already. If not, I’ve written about it before. For me, the most interesting (but not necessarily the best) version of  …Grapevine comes from The Slits.

  slits

In ye olden days of punk rock, Slits stood out. A female 4-piece, their lead singer was a 15 year-old German girl whose mother would later marry John Lydon. Guitarist Viv Albertine lived in a squat and was Mick Jones’ girlfriend. Drummer Palmolive was born in Spain and lived for 2 years with Joe Strummer. Not at all like the ‘typical girls’ they sang of on their debut single.

They under-rehearsed, they dithered over releases and they supported The Clash on a couple of tours (To quote Joe Strummer – “They need to do thirty gigs in thirty days and they would be a different group. Then they’d be great.”)

Formed in 1976 at the birth of punk, it took The Slits 3 years to release their debut LP. In those three short years, music progressed by several light years but Slits stuck at it, honing their talents in a couple of John Peel sessions. It’s been said that Slits couldn’t play their instruments, but that’s clearly punk talk from the blinkered few who wanted to keep them authentically ‘4 Real’.

The Slits could play! They eschewed all forms of rock music (a dirty word in Slits’ world) preferring instead to form a unique sound built from reggae and the more interesting musical corners of the world. Itchy, scratchy, claustrophobic and defiantly dubby new wave pop music. Nowadays, lazy writers would call it ‘angular’, a term thrown at everyone from Franz Ferdinand to the Kaiser Chiefs. But at the tail-end of the 70s, no-one sounded like The Slits.

the slits

Their demo version of I Heard It Through The Grapevine is terrific – in equal parts quirky, jerky, punky and funky.

The SlitsI Heard It Through The Grapevine (demo)

Like an aural sharp elbow to the gut, it’s designed to irritate, grate and annoy. It’s very uncomfortable – twitching away like Thom Yorke’s gammy eye in the midday sun. The scratchy guitar and dubby bass, coupled with the rat-a-tat percussion is as far removed from ‘punk rock’ as you’d care to imagine, making it a west London cousin to Talking Heads, its catholic musical policy a precursor to that band’s Tom Tom Club alter ego.

By the time Island Records had enlisted Dennis Bovell to produce the album, the band’s sound had rounded out slightly. He took the blueprint of the demos and added a cavernous, bottom-of-the-well booming reverb to it all, enhancing bits here and there with wonky, skanking keyboards and banshee wailing backing vocals. I Heard It Through The Grapevine comes out of all the whole process sounding mightily fine. Indeed, if you pay close attention, that sound you can hear in the background is the sound of a thousand soul boys wailing in despair at what The Slits have done to the Marvin version.

The SlitsI Heard It Through The Grapevine (LP version)

The album and associated singles still stand up to repeated listens today, a bona fide alternative classic in a Mojo-endorsed world of Dylans ‘n Beatles ‘n Zeppelins ‘n Stones. You should investigate further….

 

Slits play the Electric Circus, Manchester, in 1977.

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Wackawackawackawackawacka

September 29, 2014

The Curtis Liggins Indications were from Kansas and only ever released one single…..but what a single!

A game of two halves on 7″ vinyl, one side drips in pseudo-Stax sweat while the other skips along like Curtis Mayfield on a summer’s day. Is it funk? Is it soul? Is it northern/funk? Who knows? Who cares?

curtis liggins indications

A Side Funky Monkey Right On is a magic piece of late 60s funk. Beginning with a rickity-tickity Theme from Shaft hi-hat pattern and ‘Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!‘ crie du guerre, it quickly morphs into a soup of clattering funk.

Underneath the slightly generic vocal, there’s a great band at work. The massive bass line sounds as if it was recorded in a cave. The drummer rattles and rolls his way through a couple of key changes with all the loose-limbed dexterity of a seasoned jazz player, never once stopping to catch breath. The incessant twin guitar riff could be Happy Mondays at their most industrial. Sean Ryder and co. should’ve done a version of this back in 1990. Slowed down to half the pace and Joe Blogged to within an inch of its life. “Is your monkee foonkee? Foonkee Moonkey Riiight On!

curtis liggins 7

The B Side is even better.

Like its partner, What It Is sounds as if it was recorded live in one take. What It Is leaves behind the frantic funk of the a side and instead grabs a hold of Curtis Mayfield’s coat tails as he heads further towards socio-politico soul. The falsetto vocal flits and floats across a bed of woo-oo-ooh backing vocals, lightly toasted bongos and the sort of chords Marvin Gaye employed on What’s Going On, all major and minor 7s  (I think), stopping now and again to allow the guitar player to play a familiar, ripe-for-sampling three note riff, bum notes ‘n all. “Right on! I heard someone yell.” Does it matter that none of the band sound as if they’re playing in time with one another? It matters not a jot.

What It Is is truly life-affirming and beautiful, the sort of record I could play over and over. Which I have been doing as I write this. Not the actual record, sadly. Given away by the band at their shows at the end of ’69, start of ’70, only 50 copies are thought to be in existence. Not long after cutting it, Curtis and the Indications died in a tour bus crash. If you’re lucky enough to unearth one of these singles, you won’t get much change out of £250.

Curtis Liggins - What it is

Someone who probably has a copy of this record is Paul Weller. He MUST have a copy of it. To these ears, he modelled much of the musical manifesto of the Style Council on it. Close your eyes while you listen and you can ‘see’ for yourself. Just imagine a guitar-free Weller backed by his pop-soul playing multicultural band, cricket jumper thrown over his shoulder as he forces his white-man-sings-Otis vocals into one of those none-more-80s skinny microphones. Good for you if you can listen to this record without hearing this. And sorry if I’ve now spoiled it by saying so.

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Miracle Worker

September 1, 2014

I’m a total sucker for 60s-70s soul. If you visit these pages from time to time you’ll know that already. I’m more of a Stax man than a Motown man. I’ve always considered Stax to be the rough ‘n tumble, snotty nosed version of its more well-known big brother. If Stax and Motown started school on the same day, it’d be Stax who came home with the knees out his new trousers, while brother Motown’s hair would look the same as it did at 9.00am and the creases in his trousers would still be sharp enough to put new life into an old pencil.

It’s amazing to think that at Stax, it was a relatively small band of musicians who played on much of the stuff. And it was the same at Motown. The Funk Brothers were the go-to band if you needed a recording in a hurry. Between 1959 and 1972 they added their signature breaks, beats and bouncing rhythms to many a radio standard – Baby Love, My Girl, Please Mr Postman, You Keep Me Hangin’ On, Let’s Get It On….the list is practically endless. They were in many ways Detroit’s answer to LA’s Wrecking Crew; seasoned studio pros who went about their business with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of funk.

marv tarplin

Marvin “Marv” Tarplin was never considered one of the Funk Brothers. You might never have heard of him, but you’ll certainly be familiar with his music.

Marv was Smokey Robinson‘s guitar player of choice, discovered when he accompanied a brand-new girl group called The Primettes at an audition for Smokey, then working in his capacity as in-house Motown producer. Smokey encouraged the girls to change their name to The Supremes and helped them on their way to stardom, but at a price – he nicked their guitar player for his own group.

It’s Marv’s clean, chiming picking that opens The Tracks Of My Tears and carries it to the heartbroken crescendo;

(Michael Caine voice) Not a lot of people know this, but Marv’s inspiration for The Tracks Of My Tears came from playing along to Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song at 33rpm. That wee drop in the middle, when it’s just Marv playing a couple of chords? Until I’d heard Steely Dan’s Peg, I was convinced De La Soul had nicked it for Eye Know. (I know, I know…I can practically hear the ‘tut tut tuts‘ from a gazillion sample-spotting soul boys ‘n girls). Someone else should probably nick Marv’s bit. Thinking about it, somebody else probably has.

Back in my days of music retail, I had a loooong conversation with a regular customer over Charlie Parker’s playing style. The customer swore that Parker added little fluttering riffs at the end of the phrases he was playing and that, once he’d pointed it out I’d be able to spot a Charlie Parker solo a mile off. D’you know what? He was right.

As a guitar player, Marv was the polar opposite of Charlie Parker, with seemingly no distinctive style of his own. Clean and clipped, equally at home chopping out barred riffs or picking little runs, Marv’s style could best be described as The Ubiquitous Sound of Motown, which is not a bad playing style to have at all.

His playing graced a gazillion Motown hits – Going To a Go-Go, I Second That Emotion (above), but mainly Motown misses – I’ll be Doggone, Cruisin’, Still Water and many other minor tracks I’d need to Google. He loved a hammer-on with the pinky, he loved a simple-yet-effective running riff up and across the bass strings, and he was part of the reason Smokey Robinson and The Miracles made heartbreak sound so life-affirmingly uplifting. A real Miracle worker, if you will.

It wasn’t only Smokey who benefited from Marv’s guitar…

Marvin GAYE

Marvin Gaye‘s finger poppin’, hand clappin’ Ain’t That Peculiar features Marv’s ringing riffs and clipped guitar. A belter of mid 60s pop/soul, all pistol crack snare, stabbing brass and coo-cooing, doo-be-doo female backing vocals, Ain’t That Peculiar was a favourite of Phil Spector, who heard something in the piano breakdown midway through and went on to model the main riff for River Deep, Mountain High around it. S’true!

 

 

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Stax O’ Soul

August 18, 2014

Eddie Floyd was the big haired, big voiced vocalist of such soul nuggets as Knock On Wood, I’ve Got To Have Your Love and Big Bird. An ode to flight, Big Bird was reputedly written by Floyd in Heathrow Airport as he waited to board a plane to Memphis for Otis Redding’s funeral. That’s how the legend goes at any rate.

 eddie floyd

Floyd was also a staff writer at Stax, and co-penned all manner of lesser known gems recorded by the likes of William Bell, the Staples Singers and Carla Thomas. You could do worse than spend an evening digging deep to uncover his work. It’s all terrific stuff, but one Eddie Floyd song stands afro’d head and shoulders above all others.

Eddie’s masterpiece is 1968’s I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do).

eddie floyd stax 7

A great little slice of call and response Southern soul, it see-saws between major and minor chords, swept along by brass and strings and carried from middle to end by the stolen melody of Percy Faith‘s Theme From A Summer Place;

Played by Floyd with the help of in-house Stax guns for hire Booker T. Jones (who played bass, guitar and keys (!)) and Al Bell, and produced by the MGs Steve Cropper, the song would eventually peak at #2 on the US R&B charts.

As a wee aside, you could do worse than spend another evening comparing Booker T’s guitar solo on this track with much of Edwyn Collin’s Memphis chording on some of those mid period Orange Juice records – the intro to I Can’t Help Myself for example.

alex chilton live

Cult hero to the stars Alex Chilton has recorded a couple of versions of I’ve Never Found A Girl, most thrillingly in Glasgow backed by a Teenage Fanclub who gamely hold steady the backbeat and offer enthusiastic backing vocals whilst he chops out gritty little riffs of electrified southern soul atop it.

Recorded at the 13th Note in 1996, in this pre (for me) internet era, I walked into work the morning after the show to hear all about it for the first time. Nowadays of course, you’d never get a ticket for this kind of thing for sticky fingered touts. But back in the day it was good old fashioned lack of information that meant only the hippest of the hip, with a finger to the pulse and an ear to the ground, got to such events. The bastards.

Alex Chilton & Teenage FanclubI’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do);

*Bonus Track!

Here’s Al Green‘s version, rather tame by comparison, but nonetheless a worthy inclusion to this post.

 

 

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I Found The Piano Player Very Crosseyed But Extremely Solid

August 12, 2014

Few bands have gone through the mill quite like The Charlatans; Jail. Rip-offs. Death. And few bands have managed to subtly change their sound from album to album, forging new ground while sounding instantly familiar and recognisable.

 The Charlatans on Rage

If 1995’s eponymously-titled LP was the band’s stab at swaggering Sympathy-era Stones grooves, all shaky shaky maracas and rollin’ and tumblin’ bar-room piano fills, 1999’s major label debut was The Charlatans’ nudge nudge wink wink love letter to Bob Dylan.

It’s not obvious to many except the obsessive Zim-head, but its all there. The warning signs were already in place with 1997’s Tellin’ Stories LP, an album that featured the soon-to-be single and Dylanishly-titled North Country Boy.

Another track, One To Another, went on to become one of their biggest selling singles, replete with the very Bob ‘Can you please crawl out your window‘ line towards the end.

One To Another:

Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? was a little-known Bob Dylan single from 1965, recorded with The Hawks as backing band during Dylan’s quest for the ‘thin wild mercury sound‘ that he arrived at on Blonde On Blonde. Little more than a footnote in Bob’s history, it remains groovy proof  that the Rayban’d Dylan could do beat music as well as anyone. As Tim Burgess and co. knew fine well.

Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?:

charlatans us and us

1990’s Us And Us Only LP is, for me, The Charlatans’ absolute peak. Weird, wonky but still packed full of hummable tunes, it makes a good Anglophile companion to Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs LP. But I digress.

The key to the weirdness lies in the album’s submergence in mellotron. Where previously the full fat riffs of the Hammond had directed the band’s sound, Us And Us Only is carried along by the gossamer-thin weirdness of the most unlikely of lead instruments. Not on every track, but you don’t have to listen too hard to hear it weave its magical spell throughout. Isolated out of context though, the more straight-forward tunes are secretly in debt to Dylan.

There are three in a row on the first side alone;

Impossible:

That ham-fisted bashed acoustic guitar combined with wheezing harmonica and held together by a nasal vocal singing unnecessarily elongated words – pure Dylan!

Even the lyrics could’ve come from the hand of Bob himself; “I can help you, will you only ask me kindly“, “my freedom is a vision you seek“, “this song kind lady is my only hope“, “Y’know he looks like a plastic surgeon“, “Your new friend he seems to love you, I hope he cries himself to sleep“. It’s all very Bob. I can actually hear him sing it every time it plays. In fact, Impossible might well be the best Dylan track he never wrote. It is a cracker.

Following Impossible you get the waltzing light and heavy shades of The Blonde Waltz.

The Blonde Waltz:

blond waltz

The Blond Waltz (no ‘e‘ in Dylan’s version – see above) was taken from the name of a passage (or chapter? who knows) in Dylan’s answer to the jabberwocky and stoned ramblings of Lewis Carroll. You could call it experimental prose poetry. Or cut ‘n paste stream of consciousness. Either way it’s a frustrating read – if you persevere long enough, brilliant little moments of clarity peek out from behind an amphetamine fug. The Charlatans have read it though.

Tim doesn’t quite sing A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall‘s “where have you been my darling young one” at the start, but you know he wants to. There’s a good chance some of the album’s lyrics came from Tarantula. Pure speculation on my part of course….

A House Is Not A Home takes its cue from ’66 Dylan. Heavy of Hammond and rich of riff, the tune is a clever appropriation of the version of I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) that a hot-wired Bob and the Band played to a few appalled folkies and a thousand grinning Cheshire Bob cats up and down the UK in the spring of that year. It’s electric in every sense of the word. Judas my arse.

Contrast and compare:

A House Is Not A Home:

I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met):

 dylan hawks

The track that follows is called Senses. Stealing its musical cue from the mellotron madness of the Stones in all Their Satanic Majesties Request pomp, it goes on to liberally lift lyrics from Jagger and co’s Sweet Black Angel. Elsewhere, you’ll hear a straight-forward photocopy of Only Love Can Break Your Heart in the intro to I Don’t Care Where You Live and the beating pulse of Another Brick In The Wall in My Beautiful Friend . But those are other stories for other days.

Post Script

You should dig out your copy of Us And Us Only forthwith. It’s a truly terrific album, one that still stands up to repeated plays today. It plays best when listened to as a whole. Aye, you can pick holes in the individual tracks all day long, but the album doesn’t deserve that.

If you don’t have it, on account of thinking The Charlatans were nothing but bowl-headed baggy chancers, now is the time to find out there’s more to them than that.

Post Script 2

Of course, The Charlatans have form for this kind of thing. Talent borrows, genius steals ‘n all that. Step forward Pink Floyd…

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