Archive for the ‘Hard-to-find’ Category

h1

A Crack In The Sky And A Hand Reaching Down To Me

January 11, 2016

Cancer. Is there anyone, anywhere, who so far remains unaffected by its evil shadow? My wife’s family has been blighted by it. My father’s life changed for the worse 2 years ago because of it. And just last week, a friend I hadn’t seen since leaving school in 1987 got in touch. His father was ill through cancer, he was home from Australia and wanted to meet up to catch up. The filthy, under-the-radar stink of it is everywhere.

  
And now David Bowie. He was supposed to live forever, was he not? An ever-changing, omni-present lightning rod to the future, forever young and forever valid. Those wee ‘Six of the Best’ features I occasionally run? It’s no surprise when you find out that Bowie turns up in them more than any other artist. Maybe that says more about the contributors, I don’t know, but Bowie holds the record for most appearances. How great must it have been to have grown up in the 70s with a new Bowie LP and haircut to look forward to every year? He meant so much to so many. There’ll never be another like him. A true original, a true great. Hot tramp, I love you so.

  
 

h1

We Are 9

December 30, 2015

Somehow, some way, Plain Or Pan has turned 9. Or, to be more accurate, is just about to turn 9. But at this time of year, when you can never be entirely sure if it’s Sunday morning or Thursday night and inspiration goes out the window along with routine and work ethic, it’s tradition that I fill the gap between Christmas and Hogmany with a potted ‘Best Of‘ the year compilation, so I’ve always made this period in time the unofficial birthday for the blog.

i am nine

Not that anyone but myself should care really; blogs come and go with alarming regularity and I’ve steadfastly refused to move with the times (no new acts here, no cutting edge hep cats who’ll be tomorrow’s chip paper, just tried ‘n tested old stuff that you may or may not have heard before – Outdated Music For Outdated People, as the tagline goes.) But it’s something of a personal achievement that I continue to fire my wee articles of trivia and metaphorical mirth out into the ether, and even more remarkable that people from all corners of the globe take the time out to visit the blog and read them. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, one and all.

Since starting Plain Or Pan in January 2007, the articles have become less frequent but more wordy – I may have fired out a million alliterative paragraphs in the first year, whereas nowadays I have less time to write stuff and when I do, it takes me three times as long to write it. To use an analogy, I used to be The Ramones, (1! 2! 3! 4! Go!) but I’ve gradually turned into Radiohead; (Hmmm, ehmm, scratch my arse…) Without intending it, there are longer gaps between ‘albums’ and I’ve become more serious about my ‘art’. Maybe it’s time to get back to writing the short, sharp stuff again. Maybe I’ll find the time. Probably I won’t.

The past 9 years have allowed me the chance to interview people who I never would’ve got close to without the flimsy excuse that I was writing a blog that attracted in excess of 1000 visitors a day (at one time it was, but I suspect Google’s analytics may well have been a bit iffy.) Nowadays, it’s nowhere near that, but I still enthusiastically trot out the same old line when trying to land a big name to feature. Through Plain Or Pan I’ve met (physically, electronically or both) all manner of interesting musical and literary favourites; Sandie Shaw, Johnny Marr, Ian Rankin, Gerry Love, the odd Super Furry Animal. Quite amazing when I stop to think about it. You should see the list of those who’ve said they’ll contribute then haven’t. I won’t name them, but there are one or two who would’ve made great Six Of the Best articles. I’m not Mojo, though, so what can I expect?

pop9

A quick trawl through my own analytics spat out the Top 24 downloaded/played tracks on the blog this year, two for each month:

  1. Michael MarraGreen Grow the Rashes
  2. Wallace CollectionDaydream
  3. Jacqueline TaiebSept Heures du Matin
  4. The TemptationsMessage From A Black Man
  5. New OrderTrue Faith
  6. Bobby ParkerWatch Your Step
  7. Jim FordI’m Gonna Make Her Love Me
  8. DorisYou Never Come Closer
  9. Ela OrleansDead Floor
  10. Mac De MarcoOde To Viceroy
  11. Teenage FanclubGod Knows It’s True
  12. Iggy PopNightclubbing
  13. George HarrisonWah Wah
  14. MagazineThank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again
  15. Future Sound Of LondonPapua New Guinea
  16. Bob DylanSad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands (mono version)
  17. Richard BerryLouie Louie
  18. REMRadio Free Europe (HibTone version)
  19. The CribsWe Share The Same Skies
  20. Johnny MarrThe Messenger
  21. McAlmont & ButlerSpeed
  22. Talking HeadsI Zimbra (12″ version)
  23. Style CouncilSpeak Like A Child
  24. Darlene LoveJohnny (Please Come Home)

And there you have it – the regular mix of covers, curios and forgotten influential classics, the perfect potted version of what Plain Or Pan is all about. A good producer would’ve made the tracklist flow a bit better. I just took it as I came to them; two from January followed by two from February followed by two from etc etc blah blah blah. You can download it from here.

See you in the new year. First up, Rufus Wainwright. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

h1

Mono-Lithic

December 21, 2015

mono

[mon-oh]
Adjective
monophonic sound; monophony, the favoured recording method pioneered in the 1960s by Phil Spector.

monolithic

[mon-uhlith-ik]
Adjective

characterised by massiveness, total uniformity, rigidity, invulnerability, etc.

darlene love phil spector

Darlene Love‘s Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) is massiveness incarnate. Invulnerable, invincible and right at the top of the Christmas tree when it comes to the best musical festive fare ever recorded. The only original track to appear on Phil Spector‘s A Christmas Gift For You LP, it’s a thumping major to minor rock ‘n roll tearjerker about lost love. Phil Spector originally put it together with the intention of having his wife Ronnie along with the other Ronettes record it. But after a few false starts and failed takes, he quickly realised she wasn’t singing it with the requisite oomph and instead drafted in Darlene Love.

Ronnie recalls her time in the studio with Specctor:

“Phil worked everybody so hard on the album and the days kind of blurred into each other, thinking about it now. But there was a real Christmas party atmosphere in the studio, even though it was the height of summer, and a lot of great musicians were involved. They weren’t that well-known at the time but so many of them went on to become famous in their own right, like Leon Russell. Sonny Bono and Cher were involved in a lot of the stuff too, so was Glen Campbell. We worked hard, though, some days we’d be in the studio for eight or nine hours just doing one verse of one song.”

Darlene was way down the pecking order with Spector. She’d sang lead on He’s A Rebel for The Crystals and had applied her Noo Yoik drawl to umpteen of Spector’s kitchen sink productions, but Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) was one of the first times she’d been allowed to fly solo and, as you’ll know if you’ve heard the record, she soars gloriously.

The song was released with high hopes ahead of Christmas 1963, but in a bizarre twist of fate found itself released on the very day JFK was assassinated in Dallas. Holiday spirit instantly ruined, the record failed to find airplay amongst the bulletins lamenting the President’s death and was quickly withdrawn from sale. What could’ve been the greatest Christmas number 1 of all time never came to be.

Darlene LoveChristmas (Please Come Home)

darlene love phil spector 2

Spector loved the finished version. So much in fact, (and no doubt stung by the record’s withdrawal), he felt the record had year-round appeal. Such a brilliant cacophony of sound shouldn’t be kept under lock and key and only let out for one month in twelve, so he asked Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich to re-write it as a ‘boyfriend song’. Minus a few sleigh bells but not much else, it still sounds brilliant, yet somehow not quite right. Years of associating it with Christmas makes it a bit of a strange one.

Darlene LoveJohnny (Please Come Home)

This version was hidden away on an obscure b-side and failed to live up to Spector’s wish. Indeed, not a lot of people know it even exists. There you have it.

h1

The Steal Council

December 9, 2015

There were a few Whistle Test repeats on BBC4 last week, one of which jumped out at me. Nick Lowe was leading Brinsley Schwarz through a great, soulful version of Surrender To The Rhythm, a track from their 1972 ‘Nervous On The Road’ LP. I’d never knowingly heard Brinsley Schwarz before and I was getting into the song’s groove when it hit me: That wee occasional keyboard riff! The phrasing in Nick Lowe’s delivery! I’ve heard this song before!

Placed in time somewhere post glam and pre punk, Brinsley Schawrz were part of the pub-rock movement, a gritty, back-to-basics scene where ‘real’ musicians were more concerned with the make-up of their songs than the make-up on their face. Keen and earnest, the scene nonetheless spawned Kilburn & The High Roads, who would morph into the Blockheads, the 101ers (who featured a pre-Joe Strummer John Mellor on guitar) and Dr Feelgood, a major influence on the young, impressionable Paul Weller (to this day, Weller still plays From The Floorboards Up without a plectrum, choosing instead to adopt the open-handed Wilko strum whenever he plays it live).

Weller, as it turns out, is more brazen about stealing things than you maybe realise. He has form – not only a strumming pattern from Wilko Johnson but also a career-long vocal delivery cribbed from Steve Marriott, a haircut half-inched from everyone from Worzel Gummidge to Muriel Gray and, more blatantly than any of this, the riff for Changingman that he heartilyappropriated from ELO’s 10538 Overture, something I’ve pointed out before. But long before the heady days of Brit Awards and Stanley Road etc, he was borrowing the mood, the feel and sometimes the chords and melody from more obscure tracks and passing them off as his own work.

style council

Time has been kinder to the much maligned Style Council than the dissenters might have thought back in the day (C’mon! This might cause a row down in Slough, but some of those tracks are ace – pretentious, aye! Ludicrous, aye! But ace – check out Weller’s recent tour for unarguable proof!) They were a deliberate move away from the Jam’s laddism; cricket jumpers, cycling gear, blokes with arms draped around one another, Weller at the back, pastel sweater hanging off his shoulders like a C&A catalogue model. All reference points lay somewhere between Dusty In Memphis, Curtis in Chicago and tongue firmly in cheek, and you either got it or you harked back to a time when Eton Rifles was the only thing that mattered.

Their debut single Speak Like A Child (in itself the title of a Herbie Hancock LP on Blue Note) is to this day a high point in The Style Council’s back catalogue, even if (as if turns out) you really have heard it before. With its breathy vocal delivery and airy Hammond lead, it isn’t entirely a million miles away from Brinsley’s Surrender To The Rhythm. Contrast and compare:

Brinsley SchwarzSurrender To The Rhythm

The Style CouncilSpeak Like A Child


Not content with pilfering blatantly from the past for his more soulful numbers, Weller went on the rampage through the more obscure parts of sunshine pop, alighting at Harper & Rowe’s 1967 bossanova boogaloo The Dweller and stealing the best bits for Have You Ever Had It Blue? This track was a highlight of the recent tour, the band kicking out the jams to play their blue notes under blue lighting, an inward-looking circle of nodding, noodling jazz-heads, but how many of the appreciative audience knew they were in effect listening to a carefully restructured cover version?

I’ve always loved The Style Council’s track, with its Gil Evans-arranged trumpet motif, the non-rock time signature and wordless Dee C Lee doo-be-doo backing vocals. As a 16 year-old, I thought Weller was a bit of a genius for having ‘written’ something so finger clickingly jazz. Great tune ‘n all that, Paul, but really, how did you manage to get away with it?

Harper & RoweThe Dweller

The Style CouncilHave You Ever Had It Blue?

*Bonus Track!

Here‘s The Style Council‘s With Everything To Lose, essentially the first version of the above track. No brass, different words, carefree flute etc etc

 

 

 

 

 

h1

Grand Speed Record

November 30, 2015

McAlmont & Butler will, for many, be forever known as ‘one-hit wonders’, the answer to a thousand pub quizzes thanks solely to the dynamic duo’s three octave, four minute single Yes. That it’s a sensational record is not up for debate. The full-length version is particularly thrilling, all reverb ‘n twang ‘n handclaps ‘n kitchen sink thrown in for good measure.

But they have another, far less well-known track that is almost just as skyscrapingly brilliant.


During the sessions for what would’ve been the duo’s third album, aborted after Butler teamed up with his ex Suede partner in crime, Brett Anderson, for the short-lived Tears project, they recorded Speed.

It starts off slow and measured, kinda like a soulful cousin of the Jesus And Mary Chain’s Sidewalking, but while the JAMC fling a bucket of feedback and forced Americanisms over the lot of it, McAlmont & Butler continue where they left off on Yes. If Dusty In Memphis had been Dusty In East Kilbride….

Faster than the Bullet trains in the east it goes, before the guitar, electric and wired, zooms off out into the air and the female choir come in on the chorus.

Lazy folk might point to the fact that it seems to take its cue from the Yes blueprint – deliberately mid-paced with tumbling toms, a Spectorish percussive backbeat atop sweeping strings, Butler’s guitar heroics and up-strummed chords, that sensational triple-octave vocal, but that would be to ignore the fact that Speed is something of a masterpiece all by itself.

It may be mid-paced, but I swear that by the time it floats and flounces its way to the end, it’s slightly faster, slightly louder and slightly further burrowed into your brain. You won’t even realise you’re doing the measured handclaps until you catch a sight of yourself doing a Jagger pose into the mirror, feather boa ‘n all. At least, I didn’t.

mcal butler live

It’s a shame that after being released on 7” and download, it managed only to scrape to a lowly number 193(!) on the charts.

Who knew the charts went that far back/down?

Had Speed been released 9 years earlier in 1995 as the follow-up to Yes, it’s a stick-onthat McAlmont & Butler would never have been left on the shelf alongside those other pub quiz answers Baha Men, Nena and 4 Non Blondes, even if they’re as far removed as possible from the talent-free lucky hit makers just mentioned – their recent tour had rave reviews every night. But you knew that already.

 

h1

A Long-Haired Mule And A Porcupine Here

November 17, 2015

In ‘No Direction Home’, Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan bio-documentary, a twinkling-eyed Bob recounts how he stole essential folk and blues records from a friend. “Just being a musical expeditionary,” is how Bob put it. Clearly, the records had an influence on the young magpie-eyed Zimmerman, and you could argue that they helped shape his first few forays into songwriting. You could even argue that it was a good thing he liberated the vinyl – he might never have written the melody to a song like ‘Girl From the North Country’ or ‘With God On Our Side‘ without them. Someone else’s loss is everyone else’s gain. Think about that for a minute.

 dylan cutting edge 1

I’ve been living for the past few days with the latest, stupendous collection in the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series. Volume 12 (entitled ‘The Cutting Edge’ – which is exactly what it is) comes in a multitude of wallet-busting formats. Keeping in line with my purchases of the previous 11 collections, I went for the sensible 2CD version. It’ll fit snugly on the shelf next to the rest of them, a glorious potted treasure of some of the very best bits of Bob’s previously unheard work.

When this edition was first announced, there was a collective frothing of the mouth from Bobcats the world over. At the very top of the scale was the Deluxe 18 CD version, containing every note, every mis-placed harmonica parp, every cough, splutter and stumbling intro that Bob and his band had committed to tape in the whole of 1965 and 1966. A whole two years-worth of Bob outtakes from his most golden period – the alchemist at work, the ‘thin, wild, mercury sound’ in creation. A Dylanologists dream. And nightmare. Have you seen the price tag?

A steal at $600!” remarked my pal in an email. “Which is exactly what I’ll be doing as soon as it makes its way into the darkest corners of the internet!

And now that those 18 CDs have indeed made themselves very comfortable in a dark Dylan-shaped corner of the world wide web, steal them we did. Someone else’s loss is everyone else’s gain, and all that jazz.

dylan cutting edge 2

What is there to say about the recordings? That they’re fantastic almost goes without saying. It’s a wonderful glimpse into Bob’s psyche, into his working process in the recording studio. The collection quickly debunks the myth that Bob was a spontaneous worker, that he pulled the songs from the air, assembled his band and recorded them in the time it took to batter through them.

Bob DylanVisions Of Johanna (Take 7 Complete)

There are multiple versions of every track. Some replayed as frantically scrubbed skifflish Bo Diddley rockers, some as barrel house blues worthy of a scene in Boardwalk Empire. Many sound like the versions you know and love, half-baked and not quite right but essentially the blueprints for the finished versions. The sequencing of each track takes you on a journey from first sketch to final run through, a trip that’s often wild and wandering, but never less than thrilling. Stinging electric guitars vie for your attention with honey-coated keys and rasping brass, though central to the mix is always Bob’s voice; close-miked in the acoustic ones, bawling like a garage band rocker in the fast ones, all the time (to quote David Bowie) that perfect mix of sand and glue. Anyone who says that Dylan can’t sing is a moron, right?

Bob DylanJust Like A Woman (Take 16)

dylan cutting edge 3

Now and again a favourite track will pop up disguised as a New Orleans funeral dirge or a full-blown electric rocker. It can be good fun playing ‘name that tune‘ or spotting a lyric from one song that finds itself embedded in a different song by the end of the session. And Bob has a wicked way with a title. Whether or not he has the ‘real’ titles in his head or not, he plays merry havoc with the engineer.

83277 Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat Take 1

No! No! This isn’t Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat…this is Black Dog Blues!

Oh…I’m sorry…Everyone’s startin’ together. Right on the beat. Black Dog Blues Take 1. I want everybody together from the top and all the way through, because one take is all we need on this, man. It’s there! Ok! We’re rollin’ on one…

And what follows are umpteen takes of Obviously Five Believers. Obviously.

Dylan’s wild phrasing is all encompassing throughout. He runs through Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again a gazillion times, each time the melody stretching and bending just a little bit further than the previous time, but clinging gamefully to the tune the way a rowing boat might struggle to keep course on a choppy sea. He can make whole verses fit into two lines, and he can make a couple of lines stretch to a whole verse with his eee-long-gay-ted approach. S’beautiful!

Bob DylanStuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again (Take 1)

The studio chatter is what you pays yer money for. You can be a fly on the wall in New York or Nashville as Bob painstakingly arranges and rearranges lyrics, verses, whole tunes. His band, while handsomely paid, remain extremely patient. During a handful of takes of Tombstone Blues, Bob continually chokes over the same line.

Aw man!” cries Bob. “I’m sorry!
Would it help if you put the lee-rics on a stand, Bob?”
Naw, it wouldn’t, man!

And off they go once more, the beat group backing their Messiah jester until he gets what he hears in his head out his mouth and onto tape. It’s all ridiculously essential music. But you knew that already. Here’s a rollickin’ fuzz bass-enhanced run through of Subterranean Homesick Blues, never before available until now.

Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues (Take 3)

dylan cutting edge 4

h1

Head Music

October 23, 2015

As fresh as it sounds, this track coulda been recorded an hour ago by some hep band of skinny-jeans ‘n slick-backs from Brooklyn. Listen again and you could be forgiven for assuming that it was spawned a decade earlier in the windswept deserts of Africa, playing out tinny AM radios anywhere between Mali and Mozambique.

The more switched-on amongst you could be forgiven for suggesting Can in one of their relatively straightforward moments; foreign chanting, infused with the groove and with nary an eye on the clock. Squint, and it could even be Happy Mondays around their first album; chiming and repetitive, a hands-in-pockets baggy-trousered circular mooch around the scuzziest parts of town. Slow down the little counter riff that plays between the chanted lines and it’s almost the later-era Loose Fit.

talking heads blurry

Truth is, it was recorded in 1979 by Talking Heads and featured on their 3rd LP, ‘Fear Of Music‘.

Talking HeadsI Zimbra (LP Version)

It’s African in origin – a twin guitar attack – one playing the incessant, loping guitar riff that rises and falls with the tide of the song, the other playing a demented desert blues somewhere beyond the 12th fret, both fighting for ear space with poly-rhythmic Afro beats pinned down by the muscle of Tina Weymouth’s  solid ‘n steady bass.

tina weymouth

It’s snake-like, enhanced somehow, someway, by sonic architect Brian Eno. He’s credited with adding guitar to the stew, but I doubt we’ll ever really know for sure. Done in the days before his oblique strategies, perhaps he told himself to play more orange, or something like that. Either way, the combination of musicians, producers, instruments and ambience created one groovy mover.

The extended 12″ version is even better…

Talking HeadsI Zimbra (12″ Version)

Altogether now,

Gadji beri bimba clandridi
Lauli lonni cadori gadjam
A bim beri glassala glandride
E glassala tuffm I zimbra!

A couple of things….

  1. On the LP credits for I Zimbra, the conga player is Gene Wilder, Surely not the wild-eyed actor of the same name? Anyone know?
  2. Drumming ‘Head Chris Frantz once agreed to do a ‘Six Of The Best‘. I must chase him up…

talking heads i zimbra

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 342 other followers

%d bloggers like this: