Double Nugget, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Electric Soup

1966. The decade was in full swing. Skirts grew shorter as hair grew longer. Some team or other won the World Cup. Bands were beginning to realise that there might be a bit of longevity in this fleeting thing called the music business after all. The album was at the point of becoming more important than the single. At the end of the summer The Beatles put out Revolver and played their last live show in front of a paying audience, turning their attentions instead to using studio technology to realise their artistic vision.

The Stones were just warming up though. Barely four years old, they were on a phenomenal run of records. In 1966 alone, they released their fourth album Aftermath and a run of half a dozen singles/EPs, all unique, all still instantly singable 55 years on; As Tears Go By, 19th Nervous Breakdown, Paint It, Black, Mother’s Little Helper, Lady Jane and, the cream of them all, September’s Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?

The Rolling StonesHave You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?

Riding in on a snarling lip curl of droning, wah-wahd Brian guitar, Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow? rattles along for two and a half frantic minutes, a downhill-without-the-brakes-on clash of badly recorded trumpets, thumping, divebombing bass and hard-to-hear percussion, welded for posterity to a rhythmic piano riff, all left hand and boogie woogie blues, and topped-off by one of Jagger’s more throat-ripping vocals, slightly too high a key perhaps, but one that all adds to the urgency.

Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow? was indeed an urgent record. Needing a new tune to premier on the Ed Sullivan Show, the track was commited to tape almost as soon as Jagger had jabbed the last full stop on his lyric sheet. If you could pick apart its constituent pieces you might be able to spot Bo Diddley maracas and handclaps, Keith’s clipped, staccato guitars fighting for earspace with Brian’s fuzzed-out proto-punk riffage, some rattling, brain-jangling electrics in the breakdown and a brass section that pre-dates the loose ‘n louche Exile On Main Street by a good few years.

There’s an awful lot going on in its electric soup, not least a nod and a wink to the American underground, a Nuggets for the mainstream if you may. Keith Richards hated the final mix. It was muddy, he said. The trumpets sounded raspy and far-off. The track’s original groovy rhythm was buried underneath a blanket of white noise and peripheral faff and yet…and yet…Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow? may well be the best Stones’ track of ’em all, Keith.

Take note of those Mick ‘n Keith call ‘n response vocals. Richards especially is having a ball. “I’m glad I opened your eye-eye-eye-eyes!” he goes, rhyming eyes with ice and time and fine on every other line, filling the spaces where the band pause for the briefest of respi-ay-ay-ites.

Charlie, always the backbone of the Stones, almost always a half beat behind the others but not on this record, makes the most of these mini-breaks, pausing for a nanosecond before driving the band home to its wonderful, widescreen, barre chorded end. You can practically see the impish Jones smirking from underneath that beautiful outgrown bowl cut, the devil making work for his less-than-idle hands as it plays out in reverbed slo-mo.

The next year would bring Let’s Spend The Night Together, Between The Buttons, drug busts, Ruby Tuesday, court cases, We Love You, Who Breaks A Butterfly On A Wheel?, Their Satanic Majesties Request…. It was quite the time to be a Rolling Stone.

It’s worth highlighting too the record’s b-side, a psychedelic barrelhouse blues number titled Who’s Driving Your Plane?

The Rolling StonesWho’s Driving Your Plane?

In it’s sloppy, midpaced booming fug, all emphasised vocals and eee-long-gated vowels, I can never hear this without imagining a hunched-up Shaun Ryder singing it. It’s all rather great, an underplayed hidden gem(Stone).

Get This!, Hard-to-find, New! Now!

Non-Rock, Non-Roll

One-man/one-woman bands tend to be easy to pigeonhole; talented multi-instrumentalist + laptop x headful of ideas = nattily-produced, hastily-manufactured, self-financed album, a bit scuffed at the knees, perhaps, a bit frayed at the elbows maybe, the rough charm grudgingly accepted as part of the deal. ‘Hey! I’m on my own here! I don’t have a record company behind me, I can’t make money from gigging and I just want to get my songs out there.’ We’ve all heard these musicians, more than ever in the current climate, earnestly bashing out their cottage industry wares into an overcrowded ocean of flotsam and jetsam for whoever happens to pass along at the right time. It’s admirable to the point of lunacy.

I’m not alone in this. Every second post on here since the turn of the year is another chapter in my own ‘book seeks publisher‘ serialisation of an admittedly flawed young adult novel. The irony of my opening statement is not lost on me. Fail we may, sail we must, as a great philosopher once said.

Blowing the preconception of the one man band clean out of the overcrowded water is Andrew Wasylyk. The nom de plume of Andrew Mitchell, sometime Idlewild bass player and guitarist/vocalist in Dundonian four piece The Hazey Janes, Wasylyk is a supremely talented individual. The Hazey Janes’ neat way with a twisted melody and an Americana-tinged acoustic arrangement has found favour in all the right places, yet despite tours with artists as disparate and massive as Wilco and Deacon Blue, the group never quite made the leap to the next level that might have been expected of them, and by them. Not that Andrew seems to mind.

For the past few years, Wasylyk has quietly gone about working on a loose triptych of gorgeous, free-flowing instrumental albums that study the themes of architecture, the Scottish coastline and the light on the land. Unlike anything remotely connected to his two bands above, these albums meander between neo-classicism, library music, sophisto-jazz and the off-kilter filmic soundscapes of David Axelrod. The most recent release, 2020’s Fugitive Light and Themes of Consolation was 6 Music’s Gideon Coe’s album of the year and, had I discovered it at the time of release, would very likely have been one of mine too.

The album was promoted through the second track, Last Sunbeams Of Childhood, an evocative title that is reflected in the pastoral groove within.

Wobbly Fender Rhodes, staccato bass and rippling jazz guitar ease you in on top of a soundbed of far-off playground shouts. Wandering saxophone and honeyed, textured brass add the requiste colour before the breakdown and the low-in-the-mix, wordless, chanting female backing vocals that elevate from somewhere below the surface. Layer upon layer of non-rock upon non-roll, it’s lovely, somewhere between Colin Tully’s Gregory’s Girl soundtrack and the orchestral sections in Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly score.

Save string arrangements from long-term collaborator Pete Harvey, it appears that Andrew Wasylyk has performed everything on the album himself. I mean, wow! Surely not?! This would elevate him immediately to Stevie Wonder levels of prodigiousness. Oboe, harp, flugelhorn (?), drums and percussion swirl around his cascading guitar and multi-layered pianos, adding light and shade, melody and counter-melody to what is a modern day, stone cold classic in its field, with nary a scuffed knee nor frayed elbow in sight.

Really, it’s great. Such was Wasylyk’s and his label’s (Athens of the North) limited expectations, both vinyl and CD are currently out of print, but I’d imagine a repress is very much in the works. Keep your eyes and ears peeled. I know mine are.

Support Andrew Wasylyk via Bandcamp

Get This!, New! Now!

Double Thumbs Up

Where are we going, fellas?

To the top, Johnny!

And where’s that, fellas?

To the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny!”

That tag at the top of this page – ‘Outdated Music for Outdated People‘ isn’t there for nuthin’ y’know. Joe Kane‘s latest project The Poppermost is exactly the sort of forward-thinking, retro-tastic music that floats this particular lockdown boat.

Released worldwide today, The A Piece Of The Poppermost EP is Beatles For Sale-era Fabs, all monochrome graphics and monophonic thunk. The attention to detail is obsessive; the structure and arrangements, the playing, the sentimentality… it’s all there alongside the in-jokes (Parlophoney – yes!!) and super-obscure references that even the most Beatle-obsessed Beatlehead might not spot first time around.

Borne out of a one man mission with his roots firmly planted in all things Fab – Joe has Rutled with Neil Innes, switched from right hand to left (such is his dedication and obsession with the minutiae) to play McCartney in all manner of Fabs ‘n Macca theatre acts – and he’s only gone the whole hog by recording his own music so in thrall to his idols as to be genuine rather than pastiche.

Not bound by such hinderances as, y’know, actual bandmates, The Poppermost finds Joe in his garage studio playing everything himself. Utilising an array of instruments, microphones and recording techniques, all glued together by bargain basement analogue junk – ‘shitty is pretty‘, says Joe, your innermost Fab Four desires will be sated by an affected Lennon-like ‘you wanted the werld and I gave you the werld‘ here, a woody McCartney bassline there, a multitude of 12 string chiming George middle eights, with everything held in place by multi-tracked handclaps and a Ringo-perfect compressed backbeat.

The EP is trailed by a terrific promo clip for the upbeat, clipped guitarisms of The Laziest Fella In The Realm. It’s quite spectacular.

See what I mean?

Elsewhere on the EP you’ll find Well I Will, a chugging, Beatle-wig flipping I Saw Her Standing There for the 21st century, replete with on-the-money Fab Four backing vocals, an era-defining guitar break and enough spontaneous yelps, woos and general Maccary to warm the heart of even the fiercest of Beatles naysayers. Great cowbell too.

The PoppermostWell I Will

The EP takes a minute to gather its breath with the downbeat and ballady Get It Down, all sharply ringing acoustics and pitter-pattering I’ll Follow The Sun rhythms before rounding off in ballsy rocking manner with In & Out, a mid-temp head nodding Cavern Club stomper, all descending guitar runs and tumbling vocals throughout. Joe’s claim to be the self-styled King of the cunning coda would appear to be spot-on, given the overlapping, overloaded Fabisms in the final half a minute.

If you like your Fabness pitched somewhere between the lo-fi authenticity of The Stairs and the technicolour dreams of Jellyfish, you could do worse than head straight over to The Poppermost’s Bandcamp page to pick up your copy of ‘A Piece Of The Poppermost‘. An album will follow in June.

 

Alternative Version, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Peel Sessions

Jukebox Dury

Released in 1977 at the height of Year Zero (or would this be Year1?), Ian Dury‘s Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll was, suprisingly, not a hit. Given its familiarity, I’d always thought of it as something of a late 70s monster smash, but apparently not. Neither was it an Ian Dury & The Blockheads record. Despite both Chaz Jankel and Norman Watt-Roy playing on it, Dury’s first single was credited to him and him alone.

Ian DurySex & Drugs 7 Rock & Roll (7″ version)

The low sales can be attributed to a couple of factors: it was wrongly thought of as a celebration of everything that punk was set on destroying, as bloated and offensive perhaps as anything by The Eagles or Rod Stewart. It just wasn’t cool to be seen buying a copy. Due to its title, the record found itself on the BBC’s banned list too and, unlike the unintended consequence of appearing on such state-sponsored naughty lists (see Relax, Je t’aime et al), this time round, the banning actually worked, snuffing out any possibility of Dury having a hit single. With less than 20,000 sales and next to no airplay, it was swiftly deleted. 

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll opens up side two of my charity shop-rescued, ‘previously loved’ copy of New Boots And Panties. Not on the original version (Dury had a strict ‘no singles on the album’ policy), but all future pressings of the album contained the non-hit following the Bockhead’s chart success with What A Waste and Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. And just as well.

It’s a great tune.

The Peel Session take from a couple of years later might be even better…

Ian Dury & The BlockheadsSex & Drugs 7 Rock & Roll (Peel Session, 12.12.79)

There’s a tin pot rattle of percussion and we’re off, all superfast snakehip slink guitar and a riff that’s slightly different, slightly further up the strings or frets or whatever than the single version you already know and love.

Coming a couple of years after its release, the Peel version finds the band dextrous to the point of muso, stretching out beyond the tight-trousered confines of their original take, because, well, just because they can.

Bopping along for a full minute longer than the original version, there are fruity keys on the offbeat, phased and flanged, thick and syrupy guitar in the bridge and a chittering, chattering guitar in the verse, clattering away like the false teeth on a couple of old chimney-smoking fishwives on the top deck of the number 37 up Kilburn High Road, surely an unintentional influence on those wee clang-a-langs that punctuate the singing in the verses of Orange Juice’s Rip It Up.

Then there’s the Hammond solo, a wonderful warm and cosy sound that predates Mick Talbot’s role in the Style Council by a good 36 months. Lovely stuff, all in.

It’s also a clear influence on the Merseyside Magpie himself. Lee Mavers cocked one ear at that riff and that clanging percussion and thought, ‘I’m ‘avin’ that.’ So he did.

Tha La’sCome in Come Out

And talking of Liverpool…

The Blockheads were great, great players. When Trevor Horn was constructing Relax and becoming increasingly exasperated at the technical limitations of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, he roped in The Blockheads to fix Frankie’s botched job. Not for the first time in history did a band barely play on their big hit record. I’m fairly certain you knew that already though.

 

Get This!, New! Now!

Captain Hook

You don’t know this yet, but Gorillaz are the band that passed you by. Damon Albarn’s cartoon collective of rappers and rockers will turn (blink!) twenty years old this year. That’s almost as old as the cor blimey mockney Cockney band he’s still synonymous with.

Since their Clint Eastwood single made number 4 in the charts in March 2001, Gorillaz have released no less than 7 studio albums (with an 8th just around the corner) and 43 singles. Go on – name some! Then there are the trio of compilation albums, the remix album, the double figures-worth of EPs. From somewhere, from nowhere, Gorillaz have created quite the back catalogue. You should dive in.

He’s clever, that Albarn. Gathering together the cream of a world far-removed from Blur and featuring them on Gorillaz records instantly takes him to a whole new audience.

From Grace Jones to Mick Jones, the list of Gorillaz collaborators reads like a who’s who of the great and groovy in music, an ever-shuffling iPod lassooed and coralled under the Gorillaz umbrella; Neneh Cherry, Terry Hall, Simonon, Snoop and De La Soul, Benson, Womack, Elton John, Mavis Staples, the list goes on…..the real Lou Reed and Dennis Hopper, Mark E Smith before he came a cropper…

…every one of them has been on a Gorillaz record. The clout of Albarn is mightily impressive.

On Gorillaz most-recent album, Song Machine Season 1: Strange Timez (‘Season‘ – tsssk!), party mode Beck rubs shoulders with a downtrodden Robert Smith, St Vincent sits side by side with Joan As Policewoman, Slowthai and Slaves battle it out in a noisy, sweary fight to be top dog… and everything is underpinned by the happy/sad signature sound of Gorillaz – sing song choruses to lift the mood after Albarn’s melancholic verses, a ripple of chiming electronic percussion here, a rumble of electronic bass there, room-shaking phat beats throughout. I’m not sure what wizardry Albarn employs to produce such glossy, shiny contemporary sounds, but whatever it is, it’s really great.

Thematically I suppose, the album runs a bit like a 6 Music show; you’re not going to like everything that’s on it, but there’s always a beat or a melody or a wonky background noise worming its way into your head and setting up camp in your cerebellum. You’re never all that far from an unexpected cracker.

The standout on Song Machine is Aries, the collaboration between Albarn, producer/rapper/drummer Georgia and Peter Hook. With her dad being half of Leftfield, rhythm is in the blood for Georgia, and once welded to the instantly recognisable sound of Peter Hook’s bass, it all makes for a fine noise.

Gorillaz feat. Peter Hook and Georgia Aries

Hook is in full-on, low slung Viking mode on Aries, his imperial, mercurial bassline slinking up and down the frets like prime time, box office New Order. The section at two and a half minutes where he plays in confident abandon could quite easily have flowed straight off the grooves of Power, Corruption and Lies or Low-Life, leather keks, Triumph Motorcycles t-shirt, beef with Barney…the lot. He even adds his spoken voice – ‘Aries!‘ to the start, much as he did in the past with those ‘You got love technique!‘ vocals on Fine Time.

Albarn knows a hook when he hears one. And who better to provide the hook than Hook himself?

FYI, there’s a regularly updated list of Gorillaz contributors here.

demo, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Iggypedia

Raw Power, Iggy & The Stooges 3rd album, the first to be credited to Iggy and… and featuring a slightly different line-up to the late 60s version is a loud, abrasive, violent album. Danger lurks around every panther-snarled verse and every slash of razor blade guitar. It’s uneasy listening and totally essential.

Bowie and Pop, Berlin drug buddies, relocated to Germany in a failed attempt to kick their habits and, in Bowie’s case, help kick-start his pal’s solo career. They even did so in matching outfits.

You can say what you will about the drugs, but they certainly made for prodigious times. Bowie crammed in an insane amount of work over this short period of time. His Berlin trilogy of albums with Eno notwithstanding, as well as manning the mixing desk for Iggy he regularly found time to be out on the randan with a visiting Lou Reed, a combined weight of 8 stones and a generous handful of grams.

Dave, Iggy and Lou. There’s your Berin trilogy right there.

One of the first tracks Bowie and Pop tackled was Tight Pants.

Iggy PopTight Pants

From the enthusiastic count-off and in, Tight Pants is overloaded gutterpunk blooze straight outta 1972; nagging, insistent, a proper primal scream of snakehip guitars with needles ramped round in the red.

There are Supremes handclaps perhaps, or maybe just a heavily slapped snare – it’s hard to tell from the cardboard box production – alongside riff upon riff of juddering guitar, vying for earspace with the Iggy barks and yelps, but far as garage band rockers go, it’s a whole lot of don’t-give-a-damn snarling fun, with a guitar solo in the outro that sounds like a wheezing tramp running over broken glass.

Tight Pants was eventually redone, louder, clearer, less murk and maybe perhaps less menace, renamed Shake Appeal and ended up on Raw Power, with Bowie firmly at the controls to ensure those needles (on the monitors not intravenously) stayed as far into the red as they could go.

Iggy & The StoogesShake Appeal

It’s oft-considered a sloppy production, out of step with the musical landscape of the era, but it certainly captures a proto-punk spirit that would, within a few years, be omnipresent in the underground.

Most of your favourite bands have listened to Raw Power back to front and inside out in an attempt to capture its flying majesty. James Williamson’s guitar in particular is a beautiful maelstrom of whirling feedback and ear-splitting, jagged riffing, the real star of the show in spite of Iggy’s hang-dog American drawl. Fantastic stuff. Play loud, as they might say.

 

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Make Me Up Before You Go Gio

In 1974’s embryonic form, Japan were a glam rock band. They had the peroxide and the platforms and the plastered-on foundation to prove it.

Vocalist David Batt, forever with an ear on the pulse and an eye on the future twisted his name into an approximation of the New York Doll’s Sylvain Sylvain. His guitar/keyboard playing brother Steve became Jansen in dyslexic homage to the Doll’s vocalist David Johansen. And to go with the name change, the music underwent an identity change of its own too. Out went the chipped polish sneer – check out their Adolsescent Sex single and album for proof – and in came a decadent and louche new sound, European in outlook and ice-cool in ethos. Dropping glam rock and the tail end of the second wave of punk like the lumpen crock of cack it had become, Japan instead took the stylings of Roxy Music and David Bowie and created a run of arty, obtuse and fantatstic tunes.

Life In Tokyo was the big one.

JapanLife In Tokyo (12″ version)

With a golden touch production courtesy of Giorgio Moroder, Life In Tokyo is the sound of cruising Jetstreams and elongated, curved aerodynamics, the decadent sound of a high society 80s that was still a year away, with helicoptering synth lines and slink-funk serpentine basslines wandering between the steady 120bpm disco beat with all the sashaying grace of a Bond girl in a Monaco casino.

Moroder got the band to play live in the studio, deconstructed it and then added his magic touch. Chrome and mirrored synth washes, spacey and linear, horizontal and widescreen, percussive pulsing with blasts of Mini Moog… a production as razor sharp as the cheekbones and jawlines on its principal players, Life In Tokyo is something of a masterpiece. 

Sylvian’s vocals, yawning yet urgent, are the finishing touch, pitched somewhere between Roxy’s vocalist and the Thin White Duke but instantly recognisable as Sylvian in his own right. Hero worship, yet true to himself.

He might’ve had the hair and complexion that Lady Di would, er, die for, but crucially his style transferred to record. He sounds as he looks. As it spins, you can almost picture him in baggy, high-waisted Bowie breeks, a wee thin microphone held at 270 degrees and a flash of blue eye shadow beneath a blow-dried fringe of Pearl Platinum.

It’s a great record.

That 12″ version above goes on for maybe a wee bit too long, but it’s noticeable for the background noises halfway through that you’ll maybe only spot after 2 or 3 closely-monitored plays.

It isn’t, as Moroder would want you to believe, the bleeding of the track’s reference pulse, and isn’t actually the sound of David Sylvian applying another layer of Elnett either (that’s the hi-hat you’re mishearing). It is in fact Nick Rhodes and the rest of Duran Duran frantically firing up the synthesizers and cribbing notes on how to have a glamorous-sounding hit single. Felt fedoras off to them too, for they made a good fist of it, and the rest. You knew that already though.

 

 

 

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

14

The record books show that this week Plain Or Pan turns 14. That’s about 800 articles and a whole lot of words on a whole lot of music that a whole lot of people have never read. If you’re a regular, please accept 14 years worth of thanks for adding to the wee electronic turnstile on the side there every time you visit. If you’re relatively new, welcome! Hopefully you’ll stick around.

Wonder Y by A Certain Ratio has been spinning regularly over the past few days. If you’re a neighbour you’ve probably heard its faint thump permeate your personal space. As you disentangle the Christmas lights from your garage guttering and wrestle the real tree out to the bins, that supersmooth fluid groove that you can hear pulsing through my living room wall is the very tune. You might even have caught me sillhouetted behind the blind on New Year’s Eve as my hips succumbed to its bubbling funk and forced me into some sort of spasmodic movement you’d have the nerve to call a dance. Great tune, innit? 

A Certain RatioWonder Y

In the grand, expansive and eminently investigatable ACR discography, Wonder Y and its parent album, Up In Downsville, signifed the band’s era-defining move from clattering, industrial, grey-painted post-punk funk (Joy Division with better clothes, to slightly misquote Tony Wilson) to the smoother-edged, electronically driven and chemically enhanced variant.

If it were a picture, early ACR would look like the jagged peaks of the Alps. By 1992, their sound was as smooth and rolling as the landscapes of Ibiza. Sequencers and samplers take prominence over scratchy guitars. Relaxed, whispered vocals replace urgent shouty ones. The bass is more rounded, less an assault weapon and more a rhythmic dictator. The jerky elbows and awkward jut of the 80s ACR have relaxed and grown into themselves. It’s a good look.

Wonder Y takes its lead from a spoken word sample and a Kraftwerk-inspired rippling rhythm, electronic stones making concentric circles when flung into rivers of fluid mercury, and floats off downstream from there. It’s a cracker.

ACR is joined on Wonder Y by the much-loved and instantly recognisable Denise Johnson. One of the defining voices of the Manchester music scene, Denise finds her spot in the track and surfs across the top, breathy and low one moment, skyscraping and divaesque the next.

By the time Wonder Y is halfway through, man and machine are as one, melded and welded together in holy head-nodding abandon. With Denise gradually taking control of vocal duties, the track is propelled further out into the stratosphere, its analogue bubbles and synth washes, keyboard stabs and nagging, three note bass giving it the auditory appearance of a long-lost melted remix of Primal Scream’s Don’t Fight It, Feel It. Joy and precision in better clothes, perhaps.

Get This!, Hard-to-find

Listing

I’m not one for end of year lists. I used to be. I used to spend hours refining ‘Best of the Year’ compilation CDs for my pals, sticking them snugly inside Christmas cards, eagerly received by the men, sniggered at by the wives. I enjoyed getting theirs in return – the contents equally considered, the sequencing just as agonised over, the sleeve art spat from equally temperamental printers. They functioned as snapshots of the year just gone, a ragbag of coulda been and shoulda been hits, now forgotten album tracks and one-off singles by artists who, for the main, have dropped off the radar.

Until the great PC crash of 2016, I’d spend a good fortnight in the run up to the festive period refining the running order of my Best of the Year double CD. Since the crash – and my steady return to vinyl – and the fact that my PC no longer has a CD drive (what’s all that about?!?) – my list making has stopped. My spidey senses no longer tingle in Springtime when a belter pops up on rotation on 6 Music. “Must add that to the Best Of,” I no longer think to myself. I’ve stopped appropriating the same volume of new stuff from the darker corners of the web too. That’s half the reason the old PC ground to a crashing, spam-filled halt. After deliberation, I buy from Bandcamp or the label or eBay or even Amazon, whenever the Cheap Records notification on my phone highlights something worth owning. And those wee download cards? Half the records I buy don’t come with them anymore. The ones that do lie unused. So my purchasing and playing habits have gradually regressed to the days of my youth. It’s records and that’s about it.

Crucially too, I listen to old stuff, if not exclusively, then certainly for the majority of time. I’m not blessed with a Rough Trade East or a Monorail or even an HMV anywhere near me, certainly not in a year when crossing county lines might land you in the jail. The one record shop anywhere near where I live is owned by an old rocker who stocks Japanese imports of Iron Maiden albums and overpriced Fleetwood Mac reissues. Tequila Sunrise by The Eagles is always playing whenever I enter and I always check in hope that that Small Faces album on display on the wall has perhaps lost a zero on its price tag, but it never has. It’ll still be there come the next Middle Ages. You won’t ever be tempted in there by racks of Waxahatchee and Moses Sumney fighting for shelf space with Taylor Swift and Fleet Foxes. Occassionally, a dip through the crates under the racks will produce a cracker that he places little value in – Scott 2 for £3, an unplayed copy of Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel Mighty Real on 12″ (“Och, here, if you’re taking the XTC album (also £3), you can have the disco shit on me, you’d be doing me a favour etc etc). I’d much rather find something of value in there than splurge upwards of £25 on the latest Perfume Genius record.

With so much old stuff still to rediscover, there’s no time for the new. I read these lists on social media and, honestly, I don’t know half the acts. And the ones I’ve heard of – yer Fionas ‘n Phoebes ‘n Microphones ‘n whathaveyou, I just don’t have the time or money to invest in them. I’m sure – actually, I know – I’m missing out on a whole load of great music. But…but… it’s just that there’s still loads of stuff from the 1970s to uncover. Just as you find little time or inclination to make new friends the older you get, so too do you find less time to get into new music. It seems like a lot of effort to me. It’s not that music’s a young person’s game by any means, but the music that soundtracked the formative years is the music that makes you feel young when be-slippered middle age creeps up on you and slaps you across the top of that salt ‘n pepper hair-do. I don’t care about Porridge Radio, I’m still working my way through This Is Radio Clash and Sandinista, thank you very much.

Having said that, with apologies to the acts I’ll remember and shins I’ll kick as soon as I’ve pressed ‘publish‘, I’ve very much enjoyed releases this year from;

  • Close Lobsters
  • Blue Rose Code
  • Khruangbin
  • Working Men’s Club
  • Laura Marling
  • Fontaines DC
  • Sault
  • Slow Weather

I suppose I could make that my Top 8 of 2020 – ‘in no particular order’ – and I’d fit right in.

Slow WeatherClean Living

The Slow Weather track above is great, a gently spiralling and unfolding slow burner, a sulky Lee ‘n Nancy if picked up by one of those vending machine claws and plonked into the Scottish heartlands.

You’re an optimist,’ they sing in unison. ‘I’m a realist‘. Music box percussion tinkles and the track wanders its way to a treacle-slow coda somewhere between Super Furry Animals and somnambulism. If tectonic plates made, er, rock music, it might sound like this.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The truth of the matter though is that I’ve also very much enjoyed rediscovering Loaded by The Velvet Underground, De La Soul’s first half dozen singles on 12″, Elvis Costello’s Get Happy!!, The Specials’ debut, Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman, I’ve Seen Everything by the Trashcan Sinatras, Another Music In A Different Kitchen by Buzzcocks, Wire’s Pink Flag, The House Of Love’s gnarled and shimmering back catalogue and a million other things I’ll always return to – my real Best of the Year.

The polls would suggest 2020 has been something of a good year for music releases. I’ll probably be able to concur sometime around 2045 – ‘a vintage year‘ – I might even proclaim, should I still be shuffling my shoes to the groove. Not for nothing is the tagline above Outdated Music For Outdated People.  

 

 

Get This!, Hard-to-find

Frankie Says…

…when the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.

To be fair, Jimi Hendrix said that, and it was far too long to fit on a Frankie t-shirt in any case. It’s a neat quote though, one that easily applies to the rule makers and breakers who are hell bent on prioritising their own agendas over the good of a nation who (didn’t quite) elect them, a boys club bash, an ‘I’m all right Jack’ knees up, where the joke is very much on the ordinary people. What. A. Shower. Frankie Says Revolution!

The marketing machine that rumbled behind every Frankie Goes To Hollywood release (and t-shirt) saw to it that each of their first three singles made it to the top of the charts. Coming after The Beatles and Gerry and The Pacemakers, they were the third Merseyside act to achieve three number one singles in a row, but whereas their 60s counterparts got there via non-stop touring and ubiquitous hourly spins on Radios Luxembourg, Caroline and London, Frankie took a different route.

When sales looked like tailing off, they’d release another version; remixed and extended, strung-out and funked up across a variety of formats; 7″, 12″, picture discs, even cassette singles. The CD was just around the corner, otherwise those variations would’ve been spread across even more formats. With each subsequent new variation, the record would maintain its place at the top of the pile.

There are, believe it or not, over 30 pulsing, throbbing Hi NRG mixes of Relax! Arguably, the weekly mixes that were released to keep Relax at number 1 in 1984 weren’t actually required – as soon as it was banned by Radio 1, a goldrush of record buyers ensured it lorded over everyone for yet another week.

I should know – I was one of the millions who bought it after the ban. Frankie weren’t quite our Pistols, but they did generate similar headlines and debate.

Second single Two Tribes followed a similar path. It surfed the zeitgeist of Reagan/Gorbachev’s Cold War cat and mousing, a high octane cocktail of propaganda and paranoia – ‘the air attack warning sounds like…this is the sound.

A barrage of taut, tense guitars, juddering bass and superbly giddy vocals (“Hau hau hau!” went Holly) propelled it straight to number one and one and a half million sales, helped, no doubt by the provocative video showcased on The Tube where two lookalikes played the part of the two world leaders in the wrestling ring. You knew that already though.

The third single was the surprise package. From a band known for grimy S&M inspired disco and anti-war political baiting, The Power Of Love was a genuine, heartfelt love song. The machinations of the ZTT marketing team – ‘The Group Of The Year‘ – ensured it was released strategically, all eyes focused on capturing the lucrative Christmas Number One slot. The Power Of Love reached the top in its first week of release at the end of November, and continued to outsell all others until Band Aid gatecrashed the party. In the event, 1994’s Christmas top three finished with Band Aid way out in front, with Wham’s Last Christmas at number two and Frankie in third spot. There’s an era-defining top 3 right there.

The Power Of Love has slowly crept up to be one of my favourite Christmas tracks. It’s not overplayed. It’s not omnipresent. It’s not short, sharp nor sugary sentimental. There’s not a sleigh bell or thumping office party beat within earshot, no Phil Spectorisms in arrangement or delivery, no ca-ca-ca-catchy chorus hooks or even a lyric that mentions the ‘C’ word. Simply, the song was accompanied by a video showing the three wise men following the star, and its message of universal peace rings true at this time of year, so a Christmas song it is.

Naturally, it’s the full-length, 12″ picture disc version you need.

Frankie Goes To HollywoodThe Power Of Love (full length version)

It begins with the sound of a Radio Fab! Mike Read soundalike talking over a string-swept instrumental, speaking word for word the DJ’s outrage as he cued Frankie’s debut to be played as part of the chart rundown.

And it at number 35….it’s Frankie Goes to Hollywood with Relax….waaay! I’ve just had a look at the cover…I think it’s obscene!…this record is absolutely obscene!…I’m not gonna play this y’know….no…thank you and goodbye!

Then the nylon acoustic thrums its way in, the sound of the Bunnymen’s Killing Moon played by Love on mogadon. It’s all minors to majors, orchestral sweeps, gently thunderous timpanis and a skyscraping guitar line that sounds like Neil Young as produced by Trevor Horn. A great sea swell of orchestra carries us forward and the brass section – the horns of Gabriel himself – builds and climbs and climbs and builds then drops. And then, out of the blue, we have a half-witted Ronald Reagan, reading a version of the Lord’s prayer. Mad and inspired, whoever came up with that idea. And then…

…piano. That famous tinkle that starts the record you’ll know from the charts. Hooded Claws and vampires. Holly’s vocal, all reverb and echo, accompanied by Spanish guitars and understated piano. “I’m so in love with you, hurts the soul,” and the strings swell once more, carrying the song to its message. “Make love your goal.” Tension and release in just under 10 minutes, a slowly unravelling cinematic widescreen beauty.