Back in 1990, when I provided shaky lead guitar and wobbly vocals in a promising local band that would soon cease to be, myself and two of my bandmates, deep in the midst of a songwriters’ block, visited the local market where an old guy sold older records at knock-down prices. We went specifically to look for records no-one had ever heard of in order to rip off a chord change here or a melody there. It would be the nail in the coffin of our creative process and we limped into insignificance shortly after.
Last week I was flicking through my records, looking for something different to play, when I chanced upon one of the albums we’d bought. Quite what ‘Try To Be Mensch‘ by Element Of Crime brought to the world of guitar-based music is anyone’s guess. I’d picked it up after spotting John Cale credited with keyboard duties. Whether or not it’s THE John Cale is open for debate. A quick Google has proven fruitless and the record, if my 27 year-old memory serves me well bore little resemblance to anything like the Velvet Underground. At 99p it proved to be a waste of money. However….
…when I pulled it out to look at it the other day, wedged inside was my copy of Black Market Clash, an album I’d long-since assumed to be lost forever. How The Clash album had managed to find its way inside the sleeve of a record I’ve never ever played all the way through is a mystery, but when it fell out, it was greeted like a long lost pal. And ever since, it’s been spinning on heavy rotation.
I love Black Market Clash. It’s a pot pourri of everything The Clash were; rare mixes, re-recordings and interesting cover versions, all helped along by a generous sprinkling of filling-loosening reggae basslines. It’s as far-removed from the spitting, snarling, rabid dog of punk as is possible. You might go so far as to say that with all their eclecticism, yer Clash were rock’s answer to Brian Wilson; ideas fully realised, gung ho experimentation, risk-taking, rule-breaking, chart-making hits. The full version of Bankrobber/Robber Dub is nothing short of sensational. Crucially, the version on vinyl is a full minute and a half longer than the slightly edited but still superb CD edit. Technology being what it is in my house, you’ll need to make do with the shorter take though…
The Clash – Bankrobber/Robber Dub (CD edit)
Elsewhere, there’s a version of Booker T‘s Time Is Tight that somehow failed to make the cut on Sandinista! and a faithful reworking of Willi William‘s Armagideon Time that first saw the light of day on the b-side of the London Calling single.
The Clash – Time Is Tight
Booker T and the MGs – Time Is Tight
The Clash – Armagideon Time
Willie Williams – Armagideon Time
These days you can buy Super Black Market Clash on CD (although it’ll be missing (Armagideon Time as well as the extra 90 or so seconds from Bankrobber) a turbo-charged version of the original 10″ EP/LP, but if it’s a quick fix of eclectic Clash you’re after, that midi-sized slab of vinyl with a police-defying Don Letts on the cover is all you’ll need.
There’s a wee bit of a media-fixated Beatles renaissance going just now, what with Sgt Pepper turning 50 and fortnightly reissues of their back catalogue racked up in the Spar alongside Tank Commander Monthly and Build Your Own Millenium Falcon Weekly. It’s a great time to be discovering them for the first time. Who cares if someone’s first exposure to Hey Bulldog is via De Agostini publishing?
Fast track back to the mid 90s and arguably the first flourish of serious Beatles reappraisal since the demise of the band. With their self-proclaimed monobrowed monopoly on all things Fab you could be forgiven for thinking that Oasis had cornered the market in Beatles-influenced music. Just because they shouted louder and played louder and just were louder in every sense didn’t mean they were the only ones with a fevered fascination for the Fab Four. The louder the gob, the bigger the knob ‘n all that. If you listen closely to their music these days, is it even possible to spot The Beatles’ references? Is it? Well, aye, it is. A wee bit. Some of their less-ballsy records have the ‘feel’ of late-era Beatles – All Around The World‘s universal message sounds like the sort of song a lazy advertiser might come up with if tasked with creating a Beatley tune in an afternoon, and Liam is awfully fond of doing his best Lennon sneer atop a grandly played piano. Many of their harmonies are quite clearly direct second cousins of the real deal, but after that, I’m stumped. There are far better bands who’ve dipped deep into the best back catalogue in popular music and pulled out their own skewed version of Fabness. You’ll have your own favourites.
And so to Elliott Smith. If you’ve been visiting Plain Or Pan since the glory days of 2007, you’ll know he’s a big favourite round here. He still is. Indeed, his 4th album, 1998’s XO is currently spinning for ther umpteenth time this week. After years of being out of print on vinyl, it finally made it back onto wax a couple of weeks ago. My eye was off the ball when initial copies went on sale and I missed out on the very limited (500 copies, I think) marbled vinyl version, so I had to settle for the standard black 180 gram edition instead. No big deal really. Really. No, really! I’ve lived with the CD since the day of release, discovered when I was working on the counter of Our Price where it was a ‘Recommended Release‘ that week. I played it three times straight through that afternoon in a fairly empty shop, each subsequent play making my jaw drop a notch closer to the sticky carpet. His voice! Gossamer-light and as fragile as fuck. His playing! Beautifully picked arpeggios one moment, brightly ringing fancy chords the next, no solos but lead breaks that aped the vocal melody – just like Paul McCartney. His arrangements! Double-tracked and beautifully harmonised vocal effects, weird ‘n wonkily off-key pianos, little melodic runs up and down the fretboards and keys….. total Beatles! While the Mancunian magpies were belching loudly about their love for The Beatles, here was Elliott Smith very quietly and unassumingly wearing his obvious love for them, not only on his sleeve, but in the grooves inside the sleeve.
XO is a fantastic album. It was Elliott’s major label debut and followed hot on the heels of Either/Or, the undisputed ace in his back catalogue up until then. Either/Or is also packed full of introspective, whispered songs. Alameda. The Ballad Of Big Nothing. Say Yes. Between The Bars. Angeles. All are what you might loosely call ‘Greatest Hits’, had Elliott been fortunate enough to have had such things. All feature the signature double-tracked vocal (like Lennon), the melody-chasing guitar (like McCartney) and the unassuming resignation of George Harrison; always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Even at the Oscars, when a crumpled and bemused Elliott performed after the Good Will Hunting soundtrack received a nomination, he was the outsider. Celine Dion might’ve beat him to the gong, but who in their right mind would want to play that Titanic song 20 years later? Conversely, Elliott’s music endures.
What Either/Or lacks is clarity and sheen. It’s very lo-fi and indie. Coffee house music for misfits who’ve fallen on hard times and hard drugs. XO has a bright and shiny polish to it, reflected (gettit?) in the fact that much of it was recorded in California and LA.
Opener Sweet Adeline was the clincher for me. Just Elliott and his guitar, with descending riff and wonky chord included, the clouds part at the first chorus and sunlight bursts in in the form of glorious harmonies and barrelhouse piano, the drum sound not a million miles away from something Ringo might’ve strived for around 1967.
Elliott Smith – Sweet Adeline
I knew there and then that this was an album I was going to love. By the breakdown at the end, the whole thing sounds a wee bit like the breakdown from Sgt Pepper’s Lovely Rita. This is immediately followed by Tomorrow Tomorrow, Elliott singing counter melodies to himself while he plays the most amazing ringing guitar – a 12 string with 4 strings missing, closely miked and double-tracked (again) to sound like a whole orchestra of guitars. The songs that follow on are stellar. Waltz #2 was the album’s near hit; a piano and acoustic guitar fighting for top billing, lilting and waltzing (aye) to a cinematic end with sweeping, swooping strings. And did he really sing about ‘Cathy’s Clown‘ in the first verse? Yes! This was confirmed on the 2nd listen.
Elliott Smith – Waltz #2
The only Everly’s reference I’d ever heard in song was McCartney’s ‘Let ‘Em In‘ and here was another. It was a sign. Three songs in and I had discovered an album that remains to this day an essential album, one of my very own Recommended Releases. To paraphrase Brian Clough, I wouldn’t say XO is the best album ever written, but it’s in the top one.
There’s plenty more Beatleisms throughout; Bottle Up And Explode has an ending that George Martin would’ve loved putting together, layer upon layer of vocals and guitars and strings and weird effects and kitchen sinks. It’s very Fab.
Elliott Smith – Bottle Up And Explode
As is Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands, a song that sounds as if it’s going nowhere until Elliott drops a clanger of a swear word and the whole thing ramps up a gear on the back of it. The ending has a great clash of sighing cellos, sighing backing vocals and a crescendo half-way between The Smiths’ Death Of A Disco Dancer and a DIY Day In The Life.
Elliott Smith – Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands
Bled White is another. Ringing guitars, electric organ and a fantastic (fabstastic?) call and response vocal. This is music made in the studio, deliberately written to sound as good as possible in recorded form.
Elliott Smith – Bled White
Many acts go for the feel of the music, the spontaneity that a live performance brings. Elliott live was by all accounts a very hit and miss live act, and going by the numerous bootlegs I’ve listened to over the years, this would seem true. No stranger to stopping songs midway through if he wasn’t feeling it, he’d half-heartedly and quite possibly deliberately lead his band through a lumpen car crash of a song one night then play a spellbinding acoustic version the next. Tracks like Bled White could never sound great live. But recorded for posterity on XO, they sparkle immortally.
Elsewhere, you’ll find the bedsit Beach Boys harmonies on Oh Well, Okay have the potential to induce real tears. The wee cello swell after a minute or so is your starter for ten.
Elliott Smith – Oh Well, Okay
Album closer I Didn’t Understand wafts in on a raft of a-cappella vocals, just like Because on Abbey Road – a track Elliott would go on to cover on the aforementioned Good Will Hunting soundtrack, funnily enough. I could go on and on. Suffice to say, XO is well worth investing in if you’ve never had the pleasure.
To finish, here‘s Elliott doing The Beatles. Reverential and respectful.
With an extreme burst of lethargy I managed to stretch for the laptop, determined to commit this week’s musical musings to virtual print, despite my flagging limbs and sweaty heid telling me otherwise. Outside, balls bounce-bounce-bounce to the point of major annoyance. Kids scream with excitement as water is scooshed from someplace unknown. Lawnmowers with engines in various states of poor health noisily scalp my neighbours’ front and back gardens. Not quite what Joni Mitchell had in mind when she was titling one of her albums ‘The Hissing Of Summer Lawns‘ but then, this is (nearly) Irvine, Ayrshire, and not Irvine, California.
This heat! Melting minds, slowing the pace, turning everyone wabbit. Good Scottish word, wabbit. It means extreme tiredness, unable to function, total exhaustion. Everyone though is smiling. Everyone. The good, the bad and the ugly. Out in shirt sleeves and last year’s shorts. Ill-fitting Old Firm tops, freshly inked limbs turning a pinker shade of transparent white in the Ayrshire sun. Taps aff on the building sites and sunburnt shoulders on the hard shoulders on the drive home from work. Big bellies oot and we don’t care. Summers here and the time is right for prancin’ in the street. To quote Van Morrison, wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?
Exodus was Bob Marley‘s 9th album. The previous 8 are a fine mixture of occasionally Perry-produced bluebeat ska and herbal-infused political riddims, but album number nine was the big international breakthrough. Recorded in London following an attempt on Marley’s life in Jamaica, it’s the first truly mass-market appeal reggae album. Purists might rightly argue that it’s almost reggae lite, but the tunes therein still pack a filling-loosening bassy punch. The subtle emphasis on the Mayfieldish wah-wah pedal and the decision to push the brass section to the fore lends the album a more soulful feel. The whole thing is very laidback – there’s not a single ‘fast’ track amongst any of the ten – and it makes for a brilliant soundtrack to this heatwave we’re currently experiencing.
Side 2 is where all the big hitters are; Jammin’, Waiting In Vain, Three Little Birds and One Love/People Get Ready were all hit singles on both sides of the Atlantic. The track that gets my vote every time though is Turn Your Lights Down Low, the only track on the second side not to be released as a 45 and along with album opener Natural Mystic, the track most likely to top my non-existent list of favourite Bob Marley tunes.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Turn Your Lights Down Low
It’s a cracker, isn’t it?
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Natural Mystic
If you listen carefully to this, you might just hear the scrape-scrape-scraping of Sting’s pencil as he writes out his blueprint for The Police. But don’t let that put you off.
Here’s Lauryn Hill doing one of those ghost duets that was all the rage a few years ago. Soulful, respectful and with added hip-hop flavourings. Lauryn would later go on to partner Rohan Marley, one of Bob’s sons. Broke my heart that did. I had high hopes for me ‘n Lauryn.
Bob Marley & The Wailers with Lauryn Hill – Turn Your Lights Down Low
To finish off, d’you know how The Wailers like their doughnuts?
I’m not sure, but, aye, I hope they like jam in too.
Jah like it? as Bob often said after one pun too many.
And off we go on the most thrilling song about shoplifting you’re ever going to hear. Stealing to live. Stealing to give. Stealing just because. “I enjoy stealing things, it’s a simple fact.” sings Perry Farrell in that helium nasal whine of his.
Janes Addiction – Been Caught Stealing
Janes Addiction rock. And not in a (gads) Red Hot Chili Peppers way. That word ‘rock’ brings to mind images of middle-aged men in designer ripped jeans. Accountants in band t-shirts and Rocha John Rocha leather jackets. The weekend bikers at Largs seafront. Those kinda guys. Livin’ the dream, safely, soundtracked by Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and all that rubbish.
Janes Addiction were (are?) skinny, itchy, disease-ridden junkies. Lowlife ne’er do wells. Manky jeans. Mankier hair. Battered, slept-in leather jackets. Damaged livers and syphilis givers. With a healthy Led Zep obsession, they re-booted riff rock for the pre-grunge generation. Been Caught Stealing is arguably their masterstroke. Certainly, it’s their best-known track. Anyone who tells you they don’t like Janes Addiction still likes Been Caught Stealing. It’s just a simple fact, to coin a phrase.
The bit in the middle is, crucially, when Janes not only rock, but roll. The drums, fantastic-sounding and grooving, the handclaps on the second beat, the rolling bassline, it’s a head-nodding breakdown that’ll never be bettered. Truly, it swings like Sinatra with a 7 iron.
Here they are on the Late Show, the precursor to the long-past-its-best Later….With Jools Holland.
Perfect! If The Muppet Show had been briefed with creating a gonzoid, disfunctional, rockin’ band with a penchant for PVC ‘n leopard print, they’d have created exactly this. The anti rock star at the front – check those less-than-perfect mercury-filled teeth during the close ups, his voice drenched in echoey delay for added whine….a bass player and guitarist, both lost in their own worlds, all hair ‘n sunglasses ‘n bangles ‘n beads ‘n casually fired-off lightning bolts of alt rock….a bare-chested drummer who out-Animals The Animal….Perfect!
Here’s a terrific studio outtake of the same track, acoustic-ish with added sc-sc-sc-sc-sc-scatting for free.
Janes Addiction – Been Caught Stealing (Studio Out-Take, 1989)
There’s a scene in Roddy Doyle’s Commitments when Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan is talking to band manager Jimmy Rabbitte’s dad about his time spent working with Elvis. A picture of Mr Rabbitte’s favourite singer hangs above the mantlepiece, noticeably just above a picture of the Pope.
“Tell me Joey,” Jimmy’s dad asks with pleading eyes. “Did ye ever see him take drugs?”
“No, Mr Rabbitte. Never.” As he fixes him in the eye, Joey replies with a genuine plausibility, but given that most of his stories are taller than the quiff atop The King’s head, even Mr Rabbitte must’ve taken it with more than a little pinch of salt.
Likewise The La’s. To clarify, Lee Mavers grinning, gurning, mop-topped Mersey head doesn’t take pride of place on my living room wall, nor do any leaders of world religion, but in this house he holds God-like status. A nutty, 60’s dust-covered, guitar-tuned-to-the-humming-of-the-fridge God-like status, up there with all the greats. One album in and then nothing. The odd low-key comeback where he was hellbent on sabotaging affairs should be quietly forgotten about. But not the tunes. They live on, immortal. The one bona fide rhyming, chiming hit on his hands allows him to live in relative luxury forever. If you want to hear Lee singing live, these days you’re more likely to do so on the terraces of Goodison Park.
“See that song There She Goes? It’s about mainlining heroin, so it is….”
That’s a common concensus and it fair pisses me off.
Now, I once spent a week on Minorca with Lee Mavers and AT NO TIME did I see him mainline heroin. No, Mr Rabbitte. Never. This is a true story – I was on holiday with my missus, so was he. We were holiday pals. One night in his company chatting about The Who and The Kinks and The Beatles – favourite Beatles song? “She Loves You, man!“, said as if it was the most obvious answer in the world, was good enough for me. ‘I’ll leave him in peace,’ I told the future Mrs Pan. ‘I can’t be pestering him for the next week.’ Unbelievably, thrillingly, it was he who pestered me for the next week. ‘Don’t look now,’ said the missus over a midday breakfast the following day, ‘but your pal’s coming over.’ With an ‘Alright kiddo?!?‘ and a punch on the arm, he sat down to join us and we were new best friends.
Over the next few nights he’d beat me at pool, introduce me to gin pommades and sing, SING! La’s songs across the table to me.
“I love ‘Man, I’m Only Human’ I told him one night. “D’you know all the words?” he asked, and before I could reply that I didn’t, he sang them to me, right there at the table, with the same high, floaty voice he’d used a few months before in the Mayfair in Glasgow. Putting extra emphasis on the ‘Man, I’m only wo-man‘ line, he sat back, arms folded as if to say, ‘What d’you make of that, then la?‘ The bar was full of folk oblivious to who was in their presence and it was magic.
He told me about the 2nd La’s album, due for release in “one nine nine four“. It’d be called Cocktail and would be the defining album of the era. It would knock ‘the Stoned Poses‘ off their perch and restore The La’s in their rightful position at the top of the musical tree. Lee envisaged a mountain with the sides littered with all the bands of the day climbing to the top (but not quite getting all the way there), drawn by a flashing blue light. “Callin’ All, la. Callin’ All. And who’s at the top, above them all?” he asked rhetorically.
Now, at no time did I see my new best pal mainline heroin. No, Mr Rabbitte. Never. But he did have a fondness for disappearing into the trees and returning a short while later with a certain sparkle. If Jimmy ‘The Lips’ Fagan told tall stories, Lee’s stories were perhaps taller. Higher, even.
A band with more line ups than Lulu roon’ the back o’ the Barras
Here’s The La’s when they were a skiffly, Beatlish, band from the Merseyssippi, full of promise, mysticism and tunes to die for. April 1987 – 3 whole decades ago! – found them working with Mick Moss on one (just one) of the sessions for their ill-fated, beatifully flawed one and only LP.
The La’s – Callin’ All
The La’s were seemingly never happy with any recordings of Callin All’, ever. It’s one of the few La’s tracks not to have seen an official studio release. La’s trainspotters have multiple versions, of course, from the rootsy, acoustic version above to full on sultry Stones We Love You-era inspired takes. Each one a classic, every one a lost gem in the small but perfect La’s back catalogue.
The La’s – Come In, Come Out
Come In, Come Out exists in better form, on the b-side of There She Goes and on ‘Lost Tapes‘, a long-forgotten download-only release from the embryonic days of the first legal downloads. The Mick Moss version is missing the percussive back beat on those two versions, but skips along with frantically scrubbed acoustics and a full-on ‘n funky bassline. Not for nothing did The La’s tag ‘Rattle ‘n Roll’ onto their record label. I know someone who knows someone who knows John Leckie quite well and he told me (so it must be true) that Mavers often strapped a box of Swan Vestas round his strumming hand for this one in order to achieve a more rhythmical effect. Can’t hear it on this version, but I believe it to be fact, Mr Rabbitte. Fact.
The La’s – Way Out
The debut single. A brilliant lilting, waltzing introduction to the band. Some weak vocals on this take, possibly as the band run through it for the first (or hundred and first) time. Who knows? Lee’s vocals provide the blueprint from which all future versions are hatched, John Power listening with a keen ear to appropriate the backing vocals.
The La’s – Doledrum
Unlike the previous track, here’s a fully-formed take; skiffly guitars, walking bass, harmonising backing vocals, the whole shebang. Really great rhythm playing. It swings with a certain confidence, knowing it’s a great song.
Mavers can fair pluck the melodies and the tunes out of the air with ease. If only he’d done so a bit more regularly.
*all pictures used are in black & white for authentic analogue retro appeal
‘You can take The Lexicon Of Love away, but I’m keeping Remain In Light….‘
The Mystery Jets, in their (as it would turn out) ironically-titled ‘Greatest Hits‘, knew the score when they were penning their great break-up song. ABC’s album is a masterclass in heaven-sent melodies and hit singles, but stuck in the 80s with slightly more style than substance and a Trevor Horn production to boot. Talking Heads‘ 4th album endures, remains in light even, to this day.
Arty, smarty, punky and funky, Remain In Light benefits from the combined talents of the four ‘Heads, Brian Eno on sonic architectural duties, Bowie foil Adrian Belew on weird ‘n wonky guitar textures and R’n B belter Nona Hendryx on occasional backing vocals. It’s an astonishing album which, as the cliche goes, sounds as relevant and fresh today as it did in October 1980.
Side 1 (Pffffft. Everyone’s a hipster nowadays) begins with the knockout blow of Born Under Punches, a track that starts as if you carelessly dropped the needle near enough, but not quite at the start. Not for Talking Heads a gentle warm-up to ease into the flow. From the off, Frantz and Weymouth, the symbiotic, married rhythm section drive the track with polyrhythms and a body-poppin’ bassline that George Clinton might’ve strived his whole life to perfect. ‘Take a look at these hands!‘ barks David Byrne, before his own call-and-response vocals allow the chorus to ebb and flow. The music though is relentless throughout, a fantastic opener that sets the scene for what follows.
And what follows is more of the same. Crosseyed And Painless maybe even betters the opener. Short, sharp, barking verses and crooned choruses, with the band whippersnap tight and taut. Eno’s contribution is undeniable. The band are on fire, but the extras he adds lifts the whole thing into the stratosphere. Whooshes and effects, possibly heavily-treated guitar, possibly cutting edge keyboard technology are liberally splashed across the top adding colour to the Talking Heads’ stark noo wave punkoid funk. ‘I’m stiiiiiill waiting!‘ points out David Byrne, as he’s doubletracked with himself into oblivion.
Talking Heads – Crosseyed And Painless
Even more incredibly is the 3rd track, side 1 closer The Great Curve. Without ever dropping a beat, Frantz and Weymouth’s incessant funk continues. Thers’s space here for both Nona Hendryx to do one of her skyscraping hollers in the chorus? The verse? The bridge? Who knows?!? and Adrian Belew to get in on the act with a metallic squall of lead guitar that coulda come straight from a Bowie ‘Lodgers‘ session. It’s just as well you’re forced to get up and turn the record over at this point, as to this day, I still need to catch my breath when the side closes.
Side 2, without being glib, is more of the same; one chord grooves, polyrhythmic percussion, effect pedal-heavy guitar and Eno’s golden ambient touch. Houses In Motion, the flop second and final single from the album is the perfect juxtaposition of Sly Stone’s pitter pattering skeletal funk and Talking Heads’ own Slippery People, still 3 years from release, but surely conceived in this very moment?
Talking Heads – Houses In Motion
Seen And Not Seen is an atmospheric spoken word groove, with a backing track that Grace Jones might’ve utilised to her advantage. Second last track Listening Wind is very Can. Or maybe Can is very Talking Heads. Chanting vocals, meandering, textured music….. there’s lots going on here. It’s great late-night headphone music. You should try it. Pour yourself a drink of whatever, maybe supplement it with an extra something of your choice. Then close your eyes and see where it takes you, but remember to get up before final track The Overload kicks in. If the previous track is very Can, then The Overload is very, Very, VERY Bowie. More chanting vocals and more ambient textures, it closes the album with a sense of impending doom. Scary Monsters indeed. Perhaps they should’ve left it off the album. It still scares me half to death whenever I forget to lift the needle before it starts.
The big track on the album is Once In A Lifetime, the number 14-with-a-bullet hit single. It’s omnipresent and, I’d wager, so ingrained in the fabric of most of the readership on here that you can hear it just now as you read. You can call it up from the virtual iPod in your brain and it’ll play for you from start to finish, with no need for you to go and find the actual track. The chorus is playing just now, I bet. Amazing that, isn’t it? But have you ever stopped to truly listen to it? It’s an incredible piece of music.
Talking Heads – Once In A Lifetime
How do you even go about writing a song like that? Did it come from the band riffing on the light ‘n airy grooves of Fela Kuti, whose ‘on the 1’ influenced James Brown? Once In A Lifetime starts ‘on the 1’, but as Eno has since said, each member of the band had a different ‘1’ to follow. That’s what makes the track sound so different. There’s that brilliant opening bass whoomph and bam! we’re on the one and away with it…..
Did Tina Weymouth come to the session with a killer bassline looking for a song? Did Jerry Harrison, swapping guitar for synth, say, “Hey! I’ve got this little synth riff that I kinda stole from the Velvets’ What Goes On – let’s build a song around it!” Did producer Eno pioneer his Oblique Strategies on the track, the four Talking Heads plus guests individually recording overdubs, unaware of what their fellow band mates had played? The answer really is that the song is (even) greater than the sum of its parts.
Want more? Here’s the extended version of Once In A Lifetime.
Talking Heads – Once In A Lifetime (Extended Version)
Random fact. Bassheads‘ 90s rave anthem Is There Anybody Out There? samples the wee tingaling bleeping and blooping keyboard track that weaves it’s way throughout Once InA Lifetime. But you knew that already.
As if to underline that Fela Kuti reference, sounding like a manic Moroccan market in the height of summer, here’s Fela’s Riff, an African-influenced unfinished outtake from the album.
Talking Heads – Fela’s Riff
If you’ve never heard Remain In Light, I suggest you rectify this forthwith. You can thank me later.
I have a distinct memory from the mid 70s of being plonked in front of the telly to watch what must’ve been a repeat of Concorde’s maiden flight, all far-off (and far-out) shimmer and vapour trails and soundtracked by Fleetwood Mac‘s Albatross. It would be years later before I knew what the music was, but it fitted the imagery perfectly. The one note pulse of the bass and drum beat like the wings of some giant bird (an albatross, I suppose, now that I think about it) while the atmospheric cymbal splashes and swoops and sweeps of the slide guitar mirrored the way Concorde banked up and away to the right after take-off. The main riff is , I think, the reason I’m a total sucker for a harmonising guitar. On Albatross, the twin guitars harmonise practically throughout; tasteful and understated and nothing like the peacocking poodle rockers who appropriated it as their own in the coming years.
Living closed to Prestwick Airport, our skies were regularly ripped apart by Concorde’s impressive thunder. No matter how many times we’d seen it before, the school playground would be full of parka’d kids pointing at the sky. If the nose was up, the plane had just taken off. If the nose was down, it was coming in to land. That was playground fact. No matter how many times I’d seen it before, the same thing always happened. The world around me would fade away. The focus of everyone’s attention would magically drop into slow motion and Albatross would start playing in my head.
Fleetwood Mac – Albatross
One time (1984 perhaps) the actual Space Shuttle re-fuelled at Prestwick, piggybacking atop a jumbo jet. Even then, as we stood, mouths agape and pointing towards the most exciting thing in the world, the slow motion blues of Albatross played in my head. I still didn’t know it was called Albatross at the time, or who it was by, or anything about it, but it was inextricably linked with man-made flight and Concorde. It still is.
For such an iconic tune, it’s surprising to find Albatross hasn’t been covered more than it has. Perhaps it’s the reverence in which it’s held that excludes respectful musicians from butchering it. Hank Marvin could never resist the lure of that twang though, so it’s not surprising to find The Shadows have their own sterile, Asda priced version kicking around like Val Doonican in the 100 Club. It’s not hard to find, but you won’t find it here.
More interesting is the version by Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, accompanied by fellow noisy Fender bender J. Masics. It’s soulful, respectful and sounds exactly as you might expect…
Lee Ranaldo Band feat. J. Mascis – Albatross
Maybe it’s the textured layers of feedback, or the liberal dosing of effect pedal chaos, but it’s amazing version. I like to think that if (as rumoured) Concorde takes to the skies again, it’ll be this version that plays in my head if I ever catch it in the skies above Ayrshire.
Perhaps even more interesting than the version above is the remix/reinterpretation/call it what you will by ambient producer Chris Coco. A self-titled tastemaker, DJ, broadcaster, producer, music curator, musician and journalist, (phew!) Chris has been at the forefront of dance music since the acid house days in the 80s. At the start of the new millenium he co-presented Blue Room on Radio 1, a show that gave a platform to left-of-centre and new, emerging dance acts. I’m not the most qualified of people to write about such a show, but if you’ve ever been into warped-out, dubby, spacey, downtempo dance music, chances are it first appeared here. That Chris would then go on to become Robbie William’s Tour DJ of choice should not be held against him.
Chris Coco – Albatross
This 11+ minute version of Albatross is magic. Beatless and atmospheric, it takes the original, coats it in a sheen of tinkling electronica and processed trickery and stretches it for maximum blissed out effect. I doubt Peter Green ever had any idea his original would end up in such an altered state, but if it had been him and not Dave Gilmour who’d ended up playing with The Orb a few years back, we may well have had a whole album like this. Imagine that!