Cover Versions, Get This!

You’re Not Looking Forward And You Are Not Looking Back

Girls At Our Best!  – that exclamation mark is important – were the product of a fertile Yorkshire post-punk scene. The Leeds band bore all the hallmarks of the era; individuality, style, self-administered haircuts, socialist tendencies, scratchy guitars and articulate lyrics that when sung teetered on the edge of being in tune. In an ‘anything goes’ era, GAOB! grabbed it and ran, half a pace behind front runners Slits, but easily keeping up with the likes of Au Pairs and Delta 5.

Fiercely independent, their self-financed debut single is arguably their best known. 1980’s Getting Nowhere Fast is a riot of fizzing guitars, shouty refrains and sudden endings. 

Girls At Our Best!  – Getting Nowhere Fast

Metronome tight, the guitar shoots angry sparks, the bass bounces up and down the octaves – that repeating, descending and divebombing run is a beauty – and the drums punctuate the end of every verse with a window rattling rat-a-tat military precision. I bet this sounded absolutely brilliant in a wee room with a low ceiling and a couple of pints swilling about inside the stomach. Being 10 going on 11 at the time of its release, I can only imagine.

I first discovered Getting Nowhere Fast via fellow Leeds band The Wedding Present. Their Anyone Can Mistake A Mistake single had a version on the b-side and although I’d worked out it was a cover, in a pre-internet era it would be a long time before I would track down the original. By default, The Wedding Present’s version – slightly throwaway but honest – was long-considered the definitive one, even if I’ve come to really like GAOB!’s more disciplined approach.  

The Wedding PresentGetting Nowhere Fast

Eschewing the original’s solid and steady mid-paced chug for something altogether more immediate and frantic, Wedding Present attack the track with everything they have  “Quick lads!” shouts the tape op. “We’ve got two minutes of tape left…see what you can do.” And off they fly, shaving a full 20 seconds off the original’s already brief running time.

All Wedding Present markers are in place; rattling, chattering electric guitars that by the middle eight are being played by knackered wrists and bleeding, raw knuckles, a bassline as solid and gnarly as an old tree, drums that sound like they might be falling down three flights of tenement stairs, the meat ‘n potatoes delivery…If you didn’t know it was a cover you’d swear it was one of David Gedge’s very best, although he really missed a trick by not renaming this version Getting Nowhere Faster

 

Alternative Version, Cover Versions, demo, Hard-to-find

Double Dekker

It miek‘ is Jamaican patois for ‘told you so‘ or ‘serves you right‘. You get caught doing something you’ve been told not to do? It miek, man. It miek.

Desmond Dekker took the phrase and used it as both title and hook for his summer of ’69 smash hit. A proper slice of lilting rudeboy reggae, It Miek is aural sunshine for the start of September. Summer over? Not round here, mate.

Desmond Dekker & The AcesIt Miek

I’ve always wondered about the wee vocal precursor that opens the track. Stone me if it ain’t a sweet ‘n soulful, adlibbing vocal warm-up of Ave Maria, nudged gently aside when the skanking beat comes in, driven by rootsy bass and rocksteady drums. By the time Desmond has started his vocal proper, the guitars are doing the chicken scratch on the off-beat, a clanging bar-room piano is bashing out the chords and, most thrilling of all, honeyed horns from heaven burst their way in and herald the vocal refrain.

If y’listen carefully, you might notice the bit where it’s almost impossible to tell where the trombone slide ends and the vocal slide begins. If y’listen really carefully, you might hear a young Kevin Rowland scribbling notes and plotting his future. As I type, a little bit of bare wood floor has been worn away and polished as my feet do a soft shoe shuffle in time to the infectious rhythm. If y’don’t like this, y’don’t like anything.

Desmond Dekker was a clear influence on that late ’60s mod scene. The close crop, the three button mohair suits, the attention to detail in both sound and vision, he’s an embodiment of Mod’s ‘clean living under difficult circumstances’ mantra.

Over in mid ’80s Manchester, another gang of music obsessed clothes horses with an eye for the minutiae were doing their best to steal without anyone noticing. Shaun Ryder, magpie-eyed thief-in-chief of Happy Mondays liberally went about strangulating some of the melody from The Beatles’ Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – itself a skanking reggae tune, as you know, where McCartney namechecks ‘Desmond’ – and, with the help of that clattering industrial funk that HM do so well, turned it into a new Happy Mondays’ tune called, unashamedly, Desmond.

Happy MondaysDesmond

I mean, it’s not really Ob-La-Di… is it? Maybe if Shaun had sung the first couple of lines in tune it’d have been more apparent, but that lolloping, elastic band bassline and incessant, chirping guitar steers it far from the mouth of the Mersey and deeper towards a whole new sound that was brewing at the time.

Nonetheless, Michael Jackson, who at the time owned the rights to The Beatles’ catalogue, sent his lawyers straight round and quicker than you could yelp ‘Beat It!‘ the Mondays were forced to withdraw their debut album from sale, delete the offending Desmond and replace it with another tune. It miek, Shaun. It miek.

That other tune though would be Twenty Four Hour Party People and would propel Happy Mondays onto the more discerning turntables around the country, with fame and infamy not much further away than the width of a Joe Bloggs hem. A lucky break.

*Bonus Track!

Here’s a fantastic light and sparkling, piano-free run through of The Beatles doing Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da from one of those Anthology albums from yesteryear. Jigsawed together from a couple of takes, this joyful and carefree outfake gives the offically released version a decent run for its money, sprightly scrubbed acoustic guitars and lightly toasted ‘la-la-la-la-la-la‘ backing vocals vying for earspace between the skronking sax and occasional ‘chick-a-boom‘ interludes. McCartney’s woody, thunking bassline is a beauty too. Get on it!

The BeatlesOb-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (Anthology version)

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten

Melancholic Cowboy Noir

I once blew the chance of an interview with Nancy Sinatra after she took exception to the ‘Phil Spector’ handle under which I wrote.at the time. “Why on earth would I want to be interviewed by Phil Spector?” she asked aghast, failing to realise that it wasn’t yr actual wig-headed murderer that was cold calling and asking for the chance to chat about making records with Morrissey. “He was a strange, strange, man and I want nothing to do with him.” Fair point, Nancy. Fair point. Lesson learned – never use daft pseudonyms on the internet. I should have signed up to her long-gone fan forum under my real name.

Those records Nancy Sinatra made with Lee Hazlewood defy both time and pigeonholing. Often kitsch and sometimes countryish yet nearly always lush and orchestral, their parping brass and earthquaking vocal lines may well have wafted straight offa the grooves of a Tindersticks or a Cat Power record. Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue vamping it up on ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow‘? Pure Lee ‘n Nancy, The entire whispered, gothic ouvre of Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell? Total Lee ‘n Nancy. Their influence, committed to wax over half a century ago, still resonates.

If James Bond had been a lonesome, wandering cowboy, Summer Wine may well have been his theme tune.

Summer WineNancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood

This version of Summer Wine wasn’t the first one Hazlewood had recorded with a female sparring partner – the first version features little-known actress Suzi Jane Hokom – but the better-known take, using the original backing track slowed down to treacle-wading levels of sluggishness, is the one you need.

Road-worn and roughed up, yet clean and pretty, it’s the perfect summation of all things Lee ‘n Nancy. The ping-ponging vocals – she crystal clear and high registered, he singing from the soles of his grit covered cowboy boots – sound like they’ve been recorded in separate studios and miles apart, yet they’re woven together into a time-shifting storyline of mutual seduction with a twist in its tail. Lee is the silver-spurred outlaw, a stranger in town that jingles his way into the consciousness of bored local flirt Nancy. Together, (adopts Hart To Hart voiceover) it wasn’t quite moida, but (spoiler alert!) Lee awakes after a night of metaphorical summer wine to find both Nancy and his boots have gone.

It’s a great record, from the sweeping strings that droop and divebomb in direct proportion to Hazlewood’s handlebar moustache to the honeyed brass section that vamps its way towards John Barry’s signature Bond riff hoping that no-one, least of all Barry’s lawyers, will notice. The assembled musicians, most likely members of the Wrecking Crew although information on that is scant to non-existent, strum, scrape and snap their way through it, laid back and louche, melancholic cowboy noir in a clip-clopping minor key. Stirring stuff.

Summer Wine is practically a standard these days and has been recorded by many.

Lana del Ray and her then-partner, Barrie-James O’Neill (from Scots nearly-weres Kassidy) soundtracked a terrific home video of hazy Californian beaches, Laurel Canyon porches and windswept hair with their take on the track. Adding the audio to the visuals makes the video feel like some bleached-out, drawn-out Hollister advert, but don’t let that discourage you from what is a great version. Lana’s suitably femme fatale-ish vocals; sultry, close-miked and just on the right side of huffy are a good foil for O’Neill’s tobacco-coated Scots’ croon. Extra points for the none-more-Lee moustache.

Cover Versions, Live!

Punch And Judy

D’you know those stop-frame films you see of flowers coming to bloom; papery petals uncurling delicately, jerking their way outwards and skywards, opening fully at the end to reveal their true beauty? That’s exactly like the understated elegance of a Rufus Wainwright melody.

We went to see him for the first time on Saturday night. We knew his music – we’ve long steeped ourselves in those early album career highs, Want 1 and Want 2 and we’d marvelled once again at the classy major 7ths and restrained dynamics of the pocket symphony that is Going To A Town many times over as we got ready to go – so we know how his melodies start simply enough before taking a life of their own to soar upwards beyond the sun and moon, but we weren’t quite prepared for just how powerful it all is in the live setting.

Man! That Rufus can sing! At Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Bandstand it’s just him, his ruby red slippers and his piano, occasionally his guitar, so there’s nothing to hide behind. It’s open aired, the cultured audience is supping on wine and gin and craft beers and the weather is dry. They want to be entertained and Rufus’s voice wafts across the venue, ear therapy for the non-moshers of the world. The voice is the one true star. That and the piano playing. He can play the fuck out of that thing. Triplets on the bass notes, rippling runs from the very top of the scales that cascade down and up and down again, thunderous chords and jarring discordant atonalities – Rufus can do it all.

That’s a bit too Tchaikovksy,” he self-deprecates as he brings one of Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk‘s final verses to a flamboyant false ending, before proceeding to play Satie-inflected freeform jazz to close it out. Genius is an oft-overused word these days. Not so much virtuoso, perhaps, but Rufus is clearly a bit of both.

He plays Vibrate, its Britney Spears-referencing lyric resonating with the capacity crowd. The voice is crystal clear, fluttering between notes, finding in the spaces new notes that don’t exist in normal singers’ registeries. He fluffs a line in the chorus, mutters ‘fuck it‘ and keeps going. He arrives at the big, showstopping ‘Viiiii….iiii…..iiii….iii….braaa…..aaaaa…..aaaaa…..te‘ line and the audience as one holds its breath for a good 30 seconds until he reaches the end. Get a stopwatch and try it. Then imagine performing it in front of a full house on a Glasgow Saturday night, while playing a grand piano and dressed from the ankles down like Judy Garland. Balls doesn’t begin to describe it. And as for ‘showstopping’…it was third or fourth song in. There was plenty way to go before Rufus would arrive at ‘showstopping’.

The beauty and power and brilliance of the voice is even more obvious whenever Rufus picks up his guitar. He’s a rudimentary player at best, open handedly strumming open chords as if he’s only just been acquanited with six strings. Greek Song‘s clip clopping rhythm, interspersed with a stomp of the red-bowed Dorothy flats at appropriate moments, is a good example. A couple of chords in the verse, the same chords in the chorus, it’s real beginner’s guitar stuff here, yet the voice transends it all. ‘You who were born with the sun above your shoulders,’ he sings to some Greek god, real or imaginary, ‘You turn me on, you turn me on, you have to know.’ The guitar playing is primary school level, but the voice is unteachable. You don’t need to be special on the guitar when the one instrument you’ve been God-given is so divine. How exactly do you squeeze such flyaway melodies from a D chord and an A chord? Exactly where that comes from is anyone’s guess. David Gedge never managed that. I doubt even McCartney could reach some of the melodic heights Rufus reaches.

Rufus WainwrightGoing To A Town

(Pinched from Twitter)

Back for an encore, he slays us with a one-two of Going To A Town and Hallelujah. Going To A Town is stripped back, angry, beautiful and resonant. ‘Do you really think you go to hell for having loved?‘ It’s missing those high female ‘tell mes’ that colour the recorded version, but you barely notice. When he gets to the ‘I may just never see you again‘ line, his voice takes off into orbit, two thousand folk hanging on to its wispy trail. Astonishing stuff.

I can’t be doing with Hallelujah, truth be told. It’s overplayed. TV reality shows have killed that for me. Even Jeff Buckley’s peerless version hasn’t been heard within these four walls for many a year. Yet Rufus nails it, the voice off and out into the West End ether as he takes a theatrical bow and leaves us with a final glimpse of his beautiful hair, backlit in orange and red and blue, the crowd on its feet and ecstatic. I might’ve liked a 14th Street or a Go Or Go Ahead to complete the night, but I ain’t complainin’. Rufus Wainwright understands the old adage of leave ’em wanting more. A proper showman, he more than delivers.

*Bonus Track

From one golden voiced vocalist to another, here’s George Michael‘s faithful reworking of Going To A Town. A master interpreter, he knew a good tune when he heard it. You knew that already though.

George MichaelGoing To A Town

Cover Versions, Football

Grim Fairytale Avoided

To enjoy the feast, you must first experience the famine.

That’s me misquoting Chick Young, BBC Sport Scotland’s football reporter, a man much-maligned but one who seemingly has a soft spot for the wee teams and community clubs who win little in the way of silverware and league titles, but who continually go to-to-toe with the commercial nous of the big two Glasgow clubs.

In something of a role reversal, it was my team Kilmarnock who were considered the big team, the big scalp, this season. Relegated a year ago in front of 500 socially-distanced supporters, we’ve huffed and puffed in a Championship where we were expected to take the game to our under-funded and under-supported opponents each week and sweep them aside in a display of breathless, free-flowing, attacking football. I’d say each Saturday, but, being the big team, many of our games were televised on the Friday night; games in which we regularly self-imploded by contriving to lose an early goal and then frustratingly fail to break down the opposition. Twenty minutes away to our bitter rivals Ayr aside, where we were three up before anyone’s pie had gone cold, breathless, free-flowing, attacking football was rather thin on the ground.

And yet, we found ourselves top of the league and by Friday night we would wrap up the title if we could only beat Arbroath, the tiny part-time team who had continually out-fought, out-thought, out-played and out-pointed every other team in the league.

Managed by the ‘charismatic’ and ever-quotable old-school manager Dick Campbell, Arbroath were everyone’s second-favourite team. Just as Scotland go head-to-head with Ukraine soon in a match that no-one outside of Scotland wants to see Scotland win, Killie found themselves in the position of being the panto villains, the party spoilers, the most-hated team in the country. If you weren’t wearing blue and white stripes, you were wishing and hoping that wee Arbroath could pull off the (not really a) shock required. In our three previous encounters, Kilmarnock had failed to score a single goal and had they scored one more than us on Friday night, they’d have leapfrogged us into first place with one game remaining. Everyone; the BBC commentators, Rangers fans, neutrals, all wanted an Arbroath fairytale win.

Arbroath did their bit, aided by a poor referee who saw nothing wrong in a bad tackle on the edge of the Arbroath box, and, as the Kilmarnock players remonstrated, an Arbroath player ran the length of the pitch, squared the ball sideways and a cool tap in saw the perfect conclusion to their counter-attacking breakaway. Killie 0 – 1 Arbroath.

The game was turgid, Killie dragged into playing long-ball football and frustrated by a team who slowed the game down at every opportunity, wasted time and employed every level of shithousery known in the name of anti-football football. Effective, though. Outside of East Ayrshire, the country celebrated and dreamed. By half time, the fairytale was within touching distance, but a fired-up Killie would sweep aside any notions of upset in a fly-past and one-sided second half. We left it late. Very late.

Wee Burke came off the bench. Off-form since being injured early in the season, this was rumoured to be the veteran’s last game. If so, he kept his best performance for a night when 10,000 home fans would be chanting his name in delight at the drive, determination and dribbling skills he had in his last twenty minutes locker. He sent over dangerous corner after dangerous corner and, after Shaw had seen his powerful downwards header sclaffed off the line,Taylor followed it up and slammed it into the roof of the net. The 80th minute equaliser was met with an explosion of noise heard as far away as deepest, southest Ayrshire. One goal wasn’t enough to win the league though. Continual Killie pressure prevailed. The Arbroath goalie was playing the game of his life, clearly injured yet turning shots round the post, over the bar, like Dino Zoff in his prime. Real Roy of the Rovers stuff. We battered and battered his goal. A winner would surely come.

It did. Late in the 89th minute, a beautifully-weighted long ball down the right saw Lafferty cooly control and pass it in one sweeping movement. Shaw, our number 9 controlled on the edge of the box and, as the clock turned to 90 minutes, laid it off for the on-rushing Alston, an attacking midfielder who for most of the season has come in for an unfair amount of stick. Alston shifted the ball smartly from left foot to right and, without breaking stride, stroked it home. Bottom right corner, the keeper static. Alston’s top was off and windmilling wildly above his head before the ball had even nestled properly in the net. The entire team, the subs behind the goal, even Hemming our goalie, displaying a Bolt-like sprinting ability to run the length of our hated plastic pitch, piled on Alston the hero. Watching back on the telly, I spotted a former pupil, a ball boy for the night, right in the middle of the celebrations. Scenes, as they say. A real, scripted, Hollywood ending, even if, for most of the country, the wrong team won in the end. Grim fairytale avoided.

Killie last won the league in 1965. Since then, they’ve been relegated to the lowest league, worked their way back up through the ’80s – never winning a title, always going up as runners-up – and, until last season, had spent 28 years in the top flight. It’s not often then that Killie fans see their team win a league. Any league. It’s great to be back where we belong.

Otis ClayThe Only Way Is Up

Many (most?) folk assume that The Only Way Is Up was written for Yazz. Not true. Matt Black and Jonathan More – Coldcut to you and I – had a microscopic knowledge of rare and under-appreciated soul and recognised the potential in Otis Clay’s 1980 little-known original. Adding snatches of samples and a busy, train-like rhythm to a glossy, hi-nrg house production, they sat back in their swivly producers’ chairs and watched as it rattled and thumped its way to the top of the charts.

The original bears all the hallmarks of classic soul; chicken scratch guitar, sweeping disco strings and stabbing brass. If you didn’t know better, you could be be convinced it’s a street-smart cover of a ubiquitous ’80s pop classic, when in fact Clay’s version is the original. You knew that already though.

 

Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Won’t You Tell It To Me Doctor?

I’m particularly fond of this wee Teenage Fanclub curio. One half of a 2004 split single with International Airport (the side project of long-time Pastel Tom Crossley), each act has their version of the ‘Airport’s Association! on either side of the 7″.

Teenage FanclubAssociation!

Teenage Fanclub’s version is a lovely mid-paced chugger that grooves along at exactly the same pace and rhythm as Gerry Love tapping a battered desert boot while snapping a gub full of Juicy Fruit in time to the beat. It’s head nodding sunshine pop, all fruggable bassline and lazy, hazy double harmonies where Norman’s voice and Gerard’s seemingly mesh and melt into one another. The guitars, scrapy and scratchy at the start but clean and chiming fromm thereon in, rise and fall and ring and sparkle behind the vocals, acceding on occasion to the faintest of tinkling pitched percussion and the same thrumming atmospheric organ that fades in at the beginning.

It’s just about missing a handful of swinging fringes and some John Sebastian-conducted Lovin’ Spoonful on-the-beat handclaps, but feel free to add your own where you know they should go. You’ll probably want to pick it up a bit after the band drops out before coming back in alongside those ghosting backing vocals – “Won’t you tell it to me doctor?” Lovely stuff, it must be said.

Association! wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place on the following year’s Man Made album, but as you know, all the best bands  – The Beatles, XTC, New Order, The Smiths, (add your own selection  here: ________) – leave some of their greatest material off of the albums and keep them instead as stand alone tracks. Despite being a cover, Association! endures to this day as one of TFC’s best-kept secrets.

It’s somewhat difficult to make out lyrically, and not being well-known enough to appear on any of the internet’s lyric sites means much guesswork is required to work out what’s being sung. Repeated plays – and I’ve been playing it non-stop again for the past couple of days – throw up references to Castle Bay, boats, moving water, on the wreck of the Association – it’s about a boat! – and, I’ve got myself convinced, something about a Rubik’s Cube.

I mean, I dunno. The Fanclub could sing the obituaries page in last week’s Herald and make it sound like throw-away sun-kissed perfection, but on this track their melodic mumbling prevails. Phonetically though, it sounds wonderful.

I’m part of the association, the circle of the free….

stereo music…yeah it’s a part of me.”

Or something like that.

The original throws up no further clues…

International AirportAssociation! Channel Mash

Even tinklier than TFC’s version, and that’s a melodica in there too, isn’t it? – International Airport’s take has a home-made rough around the edges feel to it that I suspect most acts would have trouble capturing in their own way. There’s a lovely cyclical bassline to it, different to Gerry’s but no less wonderful, and some off-kilter harmonies that only add to the charm. Aggi Pastel wafts in and out at the tail end of some of the lines – “now you gotta wait and see” – and the drop-out on this version has some lovely rudimentary wheezy slide guitar accompanying the overlapping vocals.

What’s clear to hear is that International Airport had grand plans for their song – it’s lo-fi but with hi-fi ambitions – and that perhaps those plans could only be realised through Teenage Fanclub’s gift for a close-knit harmony and a closely-mic’d vintage guitar. Great songs are great songs are great songs though, no matter the bells and whistles you can hang on them. But I suspect you knew that already.

Now, does anybody have a full lyric for the song?

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten

Love Me Two Times

Part voodoo, part gumbo and part mumbo jumbo, Bo Diddley‘s Who Do You Love? comes at you skifflish and rhythmic, a one chord groover that’s endured for 65 years and counting. It’s the sound of the deep south; bluesy yet beat-driven, insistent and instantly catchy, Bo’s lyrical swagger and braggadocio doing its best to woo the object of his desires. You can stick with him on the safe side of the street, he’s saying, or you can cross over to the dangerous side with me and my rattlesnake whips, cobra snake neckties and human skulls. What’s it to be, baby?

Bo DiddleyWho Do You Love?

The guitar tone is pretty fantastic. It’s knee-tremblingly jittery and juddery, all echoing tremelo action and muted left palm and when Bo’s lead guitarist ventures beyond the fifth fret call-and-response riffing to let loose the solo, the electric guitar squals and squeals for possibly the first time in recorded rock ‘n roll. Future household names sat bolt upright in box rooms the world over, senses tingling with electricity and brains jangling with endless possibilities.

Almost rockabilly in feel and execution – play it back to back with Chuck Berry’s Maybelline for full effect –  Who Do You Love? hasn’t quite yet got that Diddley Beat that would become his signature, but rattling away somewhere in the background, behind the railroad snare and the tea chest bass, are a pair of maracas that would prick at least the ears of a blues-obsessed Welshman and give birth in time to the Rolling Stones. It’s an important record for sure.

Who Do You Love? is a standard for garage bands and bar room bawlers everywhere. It’s been covered and recorded by a gazillion artists, from faithful facsimiles of the original to more outlandish and unique takes.

The Jesus And Mary Chain‘s version kerb-crawls on a path of fuzz bass and monotonous, reverb-heavy drum machine, a street-smart, street-walking panther clad in black leather.

The Jesus And Mary ChainWho Do You Love?

Jim Reid’s vocals are mogadon-heavy, slo-mo and slurred, all faux Americana, menacing and sinister and hung-off-the-microphone at ninety degrees. Plus ça change, as they say in East Kilbride.

By the time the JAMC’s version has oozed its way, oil slick thick, to the halfway mark, you’re acutely aware that brother William, usually already fifteen rounds gone in a fight with a bucketful of feedback and crashing shards of glassy, ear-splitting sonic terror is, on this record, comparatively understated. He’s there though, happy to be in the background, hitting the odd sustaining, reverberating chord and slopping splashes of sonic colour to the palette whenever the urge makes itself known from beneath the bird’s nest on his giant, Stooges ‘n Velvets-filled heid.

By far his most important job it seems though is to abruptly turn off the drum machine, just as the JAMC did when playing live.

How do we end this, William?

By doing this, Jim.

 

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Bum Notes

I came to Hamilton Bohannon‘s Dance Your Ass Off back to front. I had no idea, back in 1987 when I first flipped That Petrol Emotion‘s Swamp to the other side (the double A side, no less) that the track was a cover. I had never heard of Hamilton Bohannon. I had no idea Dance Your Ass Off began life, not as a hard-riffing indie rock thumpalong, but as a string-swept, four-to-the-floor disco funk number.

Hamilton BohannonDance Your Ass Off

In hindsight, it was obvious. In an era when Stone Roses were still a leather-clad goth band and the phrase ‘there’s always been a dance element to our music’ had yet to be uttered by plooky, bucket-hatted chancers with no end of shame-faced brass neckery, That Petrol Emotion were cross-pollinating the best of dance with loud guitars and danceable rhythms and creating their own niche in a post-Smiths, pre-Roses landscape.

Listening to them 30 or so years later, That Petrol Emotion still stand up. Not of their time, but out of time. As it turned out, there always was a dance element to That Petrol Emotion’s music, not least when they turned up to play a gig in Glasgow’s Sub Club, mecca of dance music for discerning clubbers throughout the west of Scotland and beyond.

When you learn that Hamilton Bohannon was a born-again, God-fearin’ devout Christian, Dance Your Ass Off comes as something of a surprise. Many of Bohannon’s tracks were syrupy, slow-paced love ballads to the higher order, so that he decided to kick loose with swampy, chicken scratchin’ guitar and bad ass bass nailed to bubbling, fluid on-the-one funk should be celebrated with carefree, arms aloft in the air abandon.

Make a lotta noise!‘ he instructs. ‘And dance all night!‘ That’s easy to do when the rhythm laid out in front of you is so single-minded in its mission to get you to move. Double-time handclaps drop in and out, see-sawing strings saw their way through the middle while the drummer – possibly Bohannon himself – holds the beat steady for a full eight minutes.

There’s some crowd pleasin’ call and response as the strings waver their way ever-closer to Mayfield territory, all Blaxploitation shimmer and underlying menace, but the groove never abates. With the thick soup of guitar, bass and drums at its core, Dance Your Ass Off comes across like The Meters transplanted to Studio 54. And there ain’t nuthin’ wrong wit dat.

That Petrol EmotionDance Your Ass Off

That Petrol Emotion were first and foremost a guitar band but they understood the appeal of a steady rhythm section and some wildly interlocking riffage. Swamp on the a-side would make that explicitly clear to any doubters. Their take on Dance Your Ass Off is a testosterone-fuelled, muscled-up triumph.

With sights firmly set on the indie dance floor, it locks into its groove and rocks hard in half the time of Bohannon’s original. The guitars, all feral Telecaster twang and snap, fall somewhere between hard jangle and post punk rage, concrete thick yet flab-free and linear. A gnarly, growly bassline replaces the uber funk of the original.

The little scratching noise you hear in the background under Steve Mack’s enthusiastic north-west American yelp is that of Faith No More making notes to crib the punk/funk bassline for their own end. We care a lot, indeed. It’s a groovy cover, all things considered.

Cover Versions, Get This!, Hard-to-find

Cultured

Two Sevens Clash by Culture is, to me, ubiquitous with the John Peel show. I’m probably distorting fact with reality through the wonky prism of time, but I’m sure he played it regularly throughout the mid ’80s. Entry-level reggae, if you like, for roots ‘n radicals explorers wanting to dig deeper than Bob Marley, Two Sevens Clash is everything that’s great about the genre; it’s cavernous, it features a head-nodding groove and it’s sweet ‘n soulful. You knew that already though.

Before they went by the one word moniker, Culture were known as The Cultures and cut Trod On. Released in 1977, Trod On foreshadows the constituent parts that made Two Sevens Clash such a great record at the end of the same year.

The CulturesTrod On

It features a steady Eddie one-and-two-and-three-and-four rhythm, all concrete bass and chicka-chicka offbeat guitar, a toasting singer (Ranking Trevor) backed by some lovely falsetto vocals (that’ll be The Revolutionarys, you’d have to think) and a horn refrain that carries the whole track from beginning to end. With its ricocheting rim shots and vapour trailing vocal-ocal-ocals, the extended version above nicely skirts the outer limits of dub. It’s a great wee record.

As happenstance and kismet would have it, Trod On‘s earthy groove found its way east to 185 West Princes Street, Glasgow. Or to be more precise, it found its way east to the ears of Orange Juice, resident happening band at Postcard Records, the label that championed the sound of young Scotland and whose maverick supremo Alan Horne resided in the 2nd floor flat at that very address. 

Orange Juice had barely learned to walk when they stumbled upon (trod on?) Trod On. In need of a flip side to accompany the frantic knee tremble of their debut single Falling And Laughing, the band set about deconstructing The Cultures’ mid-paced groover and appropriated the horn refrain to their own ends.

Orange JuiceMoscow Olympics

Like all early Orange Juice tracks, when the band was still learning how to play together, and doing so in full view of the listener, Moscow Olympics fairly gallops along on a rickety bed of enthusiasm and wide-eyed self belief.

Amazingly/inspiringly, it sounds no different to the dozens of rehearsal room tapes that were recorded down the years in the bands I played in; ghetto blaster facing the wall and ‘record’ depressed in the hope it might magnetise some of the magic swirling in the air (sometimes it even did) but if you are able to focus between the the gaps in the scratchy ‘production’ and the faraway racket of drums (played somewhere near Sauchiehall Street while the other three apparently thrash it out over on Argyle Street), you’ll hear that Davy McClymont’s bass line on this recording is fantastic, a proper tune within a tune. The horn-aping guitar line is supremely confident too, never out of time or tune, and with nary a bum note to be heard.

The boys are on fine form, with drummer Daly and svengali Horne (Alan Wild, indeed) enthusiastically barking, yelping and football-chanting ‘Moscow!‘ at all appropriate points. It might only be the b-side of their first single, but despite the knees-out-the-new-school-trousers approach, the shambolic seeds of something special are being sown right before your very eyes and ears. It’s there in the interweaving guitar interplay and disco hi-hats; cheeky and Chic-y.

Being Orange Juice of course; arch, wry and post-punk rule breakers, they stuck two versions of the track on the b-side. Just for good measure. Because they could. And why not?

Orange JuiceMoscow

My dad’s old SLR camera, with its Moscow Olympics logo, used to fascinate me.

 

 

Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

New. Order.

In A Lonely Place first appeared on the b-side of New Order‘s debut release, Ceremony.

New Order In A Lonely Place

Unlike its flip side (a great introduction to a brand new band, but essentially (perhaps) Joy Divison’s Transmission given a fresh coat of paint), In A Lonely Place is a headswim of swirling, Hook-piloted bass and womb-like ambient atmospherics.

Continuing where he left off with Joy Division, Stephen Morris plays all manner of unexpected, inventive drum patterns; regimented and military-like in some places, free form and skittering in others, but always with a tectonic, glacial pace that might, when I stop to think about it, make him the lead instrument on the track.

Icy laters of synth coat the whole six and a half minutes in a sheen of glistening permafrost, with the warmth of a blown-in melodica and Morris’s cymbal splashes adding the requisite colour.

Turning the filters up from stark monochrome to an off-white sepia, a still-reluctant Sumner on vocals goes full-on Curtis, downbeat, downtrodden, down down down, grinding the gears of this New Order to a juddering, rumbling, fading halt. It’s bleak, it’s spacey, it’s elegant.

Caressing the marble and stone
Love that was special for one
The waste and the fever and hate
How I wish you were here with me now

Written by Ian Curtis and rehearsed by Joy Division, In A Lonely Place could well be Curtis’s eulogy to himself. In reality though, the song takes its title and subject matter from an old noirish Humphrey Bogart movie. The plot has all the ingredients of a classic pot-boiler; a down-on-his-luck writer, a murdered actress, a hard-boiled, finger-pointing cop, and presciently, as the movie poster says, a surprise finish.

It’s a year since the passing of Andrew Weatherall, and to mark the anniversary, his brother Ian has joined with Duncan Gray under the moniker IWDG to record an elegiac tribute to him. They’ve taken New Order’s In A Lonely Place and updated it for the clued-in and open-minded amongst us.

More uptempo and lighter on its feet that the original, it is nonetheless respectful of the source. The melodica is still there, dubby and ethereal. The vocal, when it chooses to appear, is synth-like and robotic, its ‘how I wish you were here with me now‘ refrain taking on new meaning. And New Order’s imperial engine room, the star of the show on the original version, has been shunted sidewards, replaced and replicated by a couple of anonymous chrome and silver machines. It’s a really great version…

(It’s four really great versions, in reality.) Spread across the other three tracks you’ll find mixes by Weatherall associates David Holmes, Keith Tenniswood and the Hardway Bros. From the brief snippet you’ll find online, that Tenniswood one, all 17 downtempo minutes of it, sounds incredible. The EP is both reverential yet forward-thinking. I think you’d like it.

If Weatherall is your kinda thang, you might want to head over to Bagging Area where you’ll find Adam and his always-authoritative take on all things Andrew.

A digital release is out now, with a vinyl release to follow in June. You’ll find more details at Rotters Golf Club.