Archive for the ‘Hard-to-find’ Category

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Un Paso Adelante!!!

December 15, 2014

Hey you! Don’t read that, read this! This is the heavy heavy monster read! The nuttiest read around!

One! Step! Beyoooooond!

 Prince-Buster

One Step Beyond is a skankin’ slice of primo Jamaican ska written by Prince Buster. It first appeared on the b-side of his single Al Capone, itself the blueprint for The Specials Gangsters.

One Step BeyondPrince Buster

 

It’s largely instrumental, a rasping saxophone-led knees-up, occasionally punctuated by some frantic chickaboom-chickaboom-chickaboom-chickaboom-chick ska-tting and Prince Buster’s titular cry.

But you knew all that already. Thanks to Madness, you’ll be more than familiar with the tune. If you’re of a similar age to myself, you’ll be well aware of how important the tune was to your formative years. It was one of the first tracks I heard that made me appreciate the power of music. It was loud, catchy and novel enough to grab the ears of young listeners everywhere. We didn’t know it wasn’t an original, we just loved doing the primary 7 approximation of the nutty dance to One Step Beyond by Madness.

madness

Madness owe a lot to Prince Buster. After a brief flirtation as The North London Invaders, they named themselves after one of his tracks, which they themselves covered on the b-side of their first single, a single they called ‘The Prince‘.

Prince Buster - Madness

To further cement the Prince Buster connection, Chas Smash’s opening vocal earthquake on One Step Beyond is hotwired and paraphrased directly from another Prince Buster track, The Scorcher.

Prince BusterThe Scorcher

The Madness take on One Step Beyond is practically a photocopy of Prince Buster’s version (why would you try and improve perfection?) but if you listen closely, really closely, you’ll maybe catch the incessant thuggish background chant of “Here We Go! Here We Go!” that plays throughout most of the track.

The released Madness version was actually a demo that originally lasted all of 70 seconds. Madness knob twiddlers of choice Langer and Winstanley looped the original track to double the length, but before they were able to mix it properly, the track had been sent off to the pressing plant and was skanking its way up the charts by the time anyone else had noticed.

Realising they had a multi-national hit on their hands, the people in charge of such things thought it’d be a good idea to have Madness release language-specific versions for various territories.

Hence the Spanish version, Un Paso Adelante

 

..and the Italian version, Un Passo Avanti

What a great idea! I love these versions!

two tone

*Bonus tracks!

Prince BusterAl Capone

The SpecialsGangsters

 

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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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High Kimpact

November 18, 2014

Kim Fowley is a throwback to the record industry of old. A wheeler, a dealer, a mover and a shaker, he’s had his fingers in as many musical pies as he could manage at the one time. He’s done it all; manager, writer, producer, artist, promoter, you name it – a great example of a jack of all trades yet master of none.

From the late 1950s onwards he seemed determined to involve himself in as many projects as possible, in the hope that one of them might stick long enough to guarantee himself a financially secure future and his place alongside Andrew Loog Oldham, Phil Spector and Brian Epstein on the Mount Rushmore of pop.

 kym fowley 60s

Fowley might not be as well known or commercially successful as the names above and although he always seemed to be a half-step out of time with the trends of the day, his influence went far and wide.

As The Beatles were clanging their first augmented 7ths off the Cavern Club’s walls, Kim was plying his trade as a West Coast Tin Pan Alley-style in-house writer. His daft novelty pop records credited to fictitious groups like The Hollywood Argyles sold by the bucket-load, even if you’d have trouble whistling them today (Alley Oop and Like, Long Hair, anyone?) His ear for A&R led to The Rivingtons having a hit with Papa Oom Mow Mow, a slice of duh-duh-duh-duh-duh doo-wop so blinkin’ catchy it spawned Surfin’ Bird, a tune that was the catalyst for bringing the brothers Ramone into the same rehearsal room. So, (at a creative stretch) no Kim Fowley, no Ramones.

By the mid 60s, Kim was recording and releasing his own little blasts of garage punk strangeness. Selling less than zero, they quietly found their way back to obscurity before being picked up years later. Fowley’s original material has been oft-bootlegged and deserves to be heard. You’d like it.

kim fowley girls

Animal Man

1968’s Animal Man is the jewel in an off-kilter crown. A Hendrixian squall of strangulated Strats, it riffs along like the snotty-nosed big brother of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a bass-less, thrilling ramalama. Kim comes across like a proto Iggy, yelping and yowling, barking and burping his way through a list of sexual desires – “I’m a pig! Oink Oink!”, getting pervier and pervier by the second until it fades out in more of that ear-splitting lead guitar.

Bubblegum

Another from 1968, Bubblegum grooves along on organ, restrained percussion and more of that wild guitar. Very of its time. But in a good way. Given that it comes out of the speakers sounding like a tank going into no man’s land, I think this version is the full-fat mono recording.

Underground Lady

66’s Underground Lady is a one chord blues stomp, the kind you’ve heard a million times before, Kim sneering like a young Van Morrison fronting Them, Cuban heels stomping out the beat on the floor below. Young bands like The Strypes would kill for this sound.

The Trip

The Trip famously appeared on the original Nuggets LP. It‘s the claustrophobic, street walkin’, jive talkin’ oral equivalent of being 3 acid tabs to the wind. Itchy, scratchy and faintly unpleasant. It’s an essential listen, obviously.

Following his failed assault on the pop charts, Kim moved into writing and producing, then management. In the 70s he wrote for artists as varied as Alice Cooper, Leon Russell, Kiss and Kriss Kristofferson. He also produced material for Jonathan Richman, although it failed to make the band’s debut LP.

runaways

 

He then recruited 5 disparate female musicians, dressed them head to toe in figure-hugging denim, lycra and the occasional basque, called them The Runaways and set the pulse of every 15 year old mid-Western male racing. The Runaways paved the way for future all-girl acts such as The Bangles, The Go-Gos and Girlschool, proving that for once in his musical life, Kim was a step ahead of the curve.

He’s still going strong, is Kim Fowley. In 2012 he published the first part of his autobiography and just a couple of months ago, at the age of 75, he married his long-term girlfriend. The second part of his story will be written on his death bed and published posthumously. Not your average Joe at all.

Interview, 1977

Kim Fact #1.

When a nervous John Lennon and Yoko Ono appeared at the last minute as special guests at 1969’s Toronto Rock & Roll Revival show, it was Kim’s idea for the audience to greet them by holding aloft their lighters and matches. Thus began a 70’s cliche…

Kim Fact #2

He looks a wee bit like Lou Reed, aye?

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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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The Hardest Working Band In Slow Business

October 15, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, the NME published a list of ‘50 Unfashionable But Brilliant 80s Bands That Time Forget‘. Considering the bulk of the 50 bands listed were still gigging going concerns that made, y’know, actual records and that, it was a bit shoddy. Perhaps the list would have been better titled ‘50 Brilliant Beard-Free And Therefore Not Trendy Bands.’ Sitting snuggly between The Replacements in 3rd place and the James Taylor Quartet in 5th (both still going strong) were the Trashcan Sinatras.

tcs 2014

Yep, they’re still around too. Aye, they take their time to release their music, but it’s always worth the wait. Many bands have had entire careers between Trashcans LPs. But that’s OK. TCS fans are famous for their patience. As I’ve said before – fads ‘n fashions will come and go, but there will always be a Trashcan Sinatras. Split between America and Scotland, the band are even less productive than they once were. But no less brilliant as a result. MP3s regularly zip between laptops in Pasadena and Glasgow, each time embelished and enhanced before being returned. This is 21st century songwriting, grandpa, and it works just fine.

And now, yes!, the fruits of their labour are about to be realised. On Friday, 10th October, I returned from work to discover that the band had released details of their 6th album. It’s written, but it’s not been recorded yet. The recording part is where the band need your help.

Free from the madness that seems to follow them whenever they sign a recording contract, the band have opted to go it alone. They’ve set up stall on Pledge Music, where fans pay in advance for a product yet to be made. You can contribute any amount. The more you contribute, the more you’ll benefit. $10 gets you a download of the album. $24 gets you a download plus a CD. An extra $5 will get you a signed CD, and so on. Those with fatter wallets may choose to pledge $250, where Paul from the band will pop round for a guitar lesson and teach you any Trashcans’ song you care to fancy.

Amazingly, the most expensive item ($2509), the ‘Executive Producer’ package, has sold out. But there are a multitude of fan-grabbing items. You can do your bit for the band by visiting here. Many of you already have – as I type, the band have reached 77% of their intended target. If you haven’t so far, you probably should get across and do your bit. There are still some handwritten lyrics sheets, coloured vinyl, signed birthday cards… all manner of Trashcans’ memorabilia just waiting for you.

Way back in the good old/bad old days, the Trashcans were regular visitors to Japan. The Japanese really embraced the band and they have fond memories of their times there. Stephen who plays drums told me once how weird it was playing in venues that were inside 24hr shopping malls, where the audience would sit in total silence until the very last of the cymbal crashes or feedback had faded to nothing before politely clapping a round of applause then quickly settling back down before the next song started.

During their time in Japan, the band recorded a couple of tracks. One of them, ‘Snow‘ was a cover of the Randy Newman track. Very good it is too, and although it’s quite rare, it pops up on eBay from time to time. If you’re a copmpletist (and most Trashcans fans are), it goes without saying you need it. Snow was one of the very first things I blogged about, way back in the good old/bad old days.

town-foxes-cover

More interesting to Trashcans fans is the band’s Town Foxes ep.

Made especially for their Japanese tour in March 2010, only 500 copies were pressed. It could well the be Holy Grail of Trashcans collectables. The a-side (if a CD single can have an ‘a’ and a ‘b’ side) was the band’s own version, more of a demo than a finished article, of a song dating back to I’ve Seen Everything days. Town Foxes grooves along on some slightly wah-wah’d guitar playing atop some of those signature Trashcans major 7ths. To these ears it sounds like it owes a wee debt to Odyssey’s Native New Yorker, which is in no way at all a criticism of it. It’s not the best TCS song you’ll ever hear (probably why it’s never really seen the proper light of day) but it’s a great wee song.

sds

The b-side features the vocal talents of Sokabe, singer with Japanese touring partners Sunny Day Service. Long-time friends and admirers, Sokabe from SDS is given the Jim’ll Fix It treatment (can you still say that?) by taking over Frank Reader’s lead vocal, making him briefly (for 3min, 30seconds) the singer in the Trashcan Sinatras. It’s in Japanese, obviously, which goes some way to explaining the collectability of the Town Foxes ep.

It was a nice surprise, then, when around the time of that Japanese tour a jiffy bag dropped through my door. Two copies of the Town Foxes CD, both cases smashed to bits through mishandling across the continents, but both covers and discs thankfully blemish-free, accompanied by a short note;

AWRIGHT CRAIG! I hope ye like it. It’s only a 4 track demo – no’ as guid as we played it in Japan.”

There you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. The other CD was for Colin who does the excellent Five Hungry Joes site. Don’t go thinking I cashed in on an excellent freebie.

It’s almost impossible to buy Town Foxes. But you can do your bit for The Hardest Working Band In Slow Business by pledging to the new LP. You really should…

http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/trashcansinatras

 

 

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(Senti)Mental Machine Music.

October 5, 2014

Although it was actually released at the end of January, 1994, this week sees the 20th (20th!!) anniversary reissue of Underworld‘s ‘dubnobasswithmyheadman‘ LP. Given the kind of music Plain Or Pan normally features, you might be surprised to learn that I’m really looking forward to this. Indeed, my excitement might only be surpassed if The Queen Is Dead or Blonde On Blonde were to be suddenly released as 5 CD super-deluxe box sets featuring scores of previously unheard session outtakes and retailing for a tenner. Along with those two releases, dubnobasswithmyheadman holds a place in the higher echelons of my favourite albums of all-time list.

undworld dub

It’s dance music, Jim, but not as we know it.

For starters, dubnobasswithmyheadman dispenses with the notion that dance music is all about the ‘now’ – it may well be the first dance album with genuine longevity. In that respect, it opened doors for Leftfield and the Chemical Brothers. But to these ears, both those act’s various LPs now seem a tad dated. Twenty years on, dubnobasswithmyheadman still thrills.

Opening track Dark & Long is exactly that:

What is ‘Dance music’ anyway? Dark & Long could almost be Joy Division.

dubnobasswithmyheadman sounds nothing like its ‘contemporaries’. There’s none of that generic hysteric female vocal that was prevalent on every release at the time. And sure, it has it’s four-to-the-floor moments, but nothing as crass as the handbag house hits of the day that cluttered up a gazillion Ministry Of Sound compilations and their ilk. There’s not a James Brown sample or a “Baby! Baby! Baby!” anywhere near it.

At times the album sounds as if it’s running on the same sort of energy that pulses through I Feel Love. Elsewhere it sounds as if someone’s turned every knob on every keyboard all the way round as far as they’ll go, drowning the listener in a bath-full of acid squelches and road drill beats.

Occasionally it sounds stoned and other-wordly. River Of Bass could almost be Can, with its repetitive guitar riff and whispered vocals.

undworld1

dubnobasswithmyheadman is a true one-off – it’s percussive, it’s relentless and it ebbs and flows like all good albums do. It’s got guitars on it! Lovely chiming, echoing, layered guitars that fade in and out when the mood arises. The vocals are a one-off; half-spoken snippets of overheard conversations and cut ‘n paste phrases, mirroring the cut-up, random cover art.

I see Elvis!

“‘I’m just a waitress’, she said.’

Don’t put your hand where you wouldn’t put your face.

undworld3

Cowgirl is perhaps the most instantly-accessible track.

Nagging and creeping, like a virus worming its way under your skin it’s a full-on four-to-the-floor smash, glo-stick techno at its longest, loudest and best, a precursor for sure to the band’s big Lager! Lager!Lager! breakthrough hit a couple of years later.

You can take each track in isolation and get something from them, but the best way to listen to dubnobasswithmyheadman is to bunker down and swallow the whole in one go. In amongst the rollin’ and tumblin’ sequencers and rat-a-tat percussion there’s a fluidity to it and because of that it’s been a recurring soundtrack to my cycling, speeding me up hills that I have no inclination to go up, whisking me back home when I’d rather take the last few miles a bit easier. Now and again I’ll hear the sound of the chain snake its way through the sprocket bleeding into the mix and this just adds to it.

When it comes out this week with all manner of weird and wonderful remixes, lost tracks and souped-up remastering, it’ll help me get many extra miles in on my bike.

  undworld2

 

 

 

 

 

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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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