Archive for the ‘Get This!’ Category

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Mono-Lithic

December 21, 2015

mono

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

monolithic

[mon-uhlith-ik]
Adjective

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

darlene love phil spector

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

Ronnie recalls her time in the studio with Specctor:

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

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

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ruined, the record failed to find airplay amongst the bulletins lamenting the President’s death and was quickly withdrawn from sale.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

Darlene LoveChristmas (Please Come Home)

darlene love phil spector 2

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

Darlene LoveJohnny (Please Come Home)

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

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The Steal Council

December 9, 2015

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

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

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

style council

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

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

Brinsley SchwarzSurrender To The Rhythm

The Style CouncilSpeak Like A Child


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

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

Harper & RoweThe Dweller

The Style CouncilHave You Ever Had It Blue?

*Bonus Track!

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Grand Speed Record

November 30, 2015

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

mcal butler live

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

Who knew the charts went that far back/down?

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

 

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Head Music

October 23, 2015

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

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

talking heads blurry

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

Talking HeadsI Zimbra (LP Version)

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

tina weymouth

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

The extended 12″ version is even better…

Talking HeadsI Zimbra (12″ Version)

Altogether now,

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

A couple of things….

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

talking heads i zimbra

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Hang On Sloppy

September 30, 2015

Louie Louie by The Kingsmen is the basest, crassest, lowest-level, stoopidest rockist frat-boy thunk ever committed to vinyl. Which happens to make it just about the best record ever. But you knew that already. The fact that it is sloppiness in excelsis; badly played and full of mumbled, mistimed vocals only heightens its appeal.

louie label

Louie Louie was written and recorded in 1955 by Richard Berry, who, along with his band The Pharaohs released it as a single to mass indifference. Shame, as it‘s a mighty fine piece of skronking, doo-wop inflected rock ‘n roll.

Louie LouieRichard Berry

The Kingsmen first became aware of Louie Louie not via Richard Berry’s original, but from another cover. Rockin’ Robin Roberts‘ version was a regular on the jukebox in Seattle’s Pypo Club where the band often gigged.

Louie LouieRockin’ Robin Roberts & The Wailers

They quickly spotted it was a guaranteed floor filler, so The Kingsmen began incorporating it into their sets of lounge standards and easy listening classics.

kingsmenAll the King’s horses and all The Kingsmen

To say the recorded version was a departure from their usual sound would not be an exaggeration. Look at the band. Hardly The Stooges, or even The Troggs, are they? But with this one record they unwittingly created the caveman stomp of the Garage Band movement. Three chords? Check! Farfisa organ? Check! Nagging, repetitive chorus? Check, and check! Those Troggs’ and future Stooges’ ears pricked attentively at the hot-wired sound emanating from their AM radios.

Louie LouieThe Kingsmen

In order to give the record a live feel, the one vocal mike was hung suspended from the ceiling of the small studio and singing guitarist Jack Ely was forced to shout into it over the noise of the band. Just after the scratchy solo, he comes in to the verse a bar too early, checks himself and is saved by an on-the-ball drummer who casually flings in a recording-saving drum fill.

The fact that the teenage Ely was wearing braces on his teeth meant that when he wasn’t coming in on the wrong cue, he was mumbling his way through much of the song, a point that lead to the band and record being investigated for obscenity by the FBI. They were even banned from playing live in some States. As has been proven time and time again, this is exactly the sort of promotion a record needs in order to scale the charts.

If you listen carefully, more carefully then the FBI as it would appear, at the 54 seconds mark you’ll hear the crystal clear exclamation of Lynn Easton the drummer shouting “Fuck!” as he fumbles his sticks mid fill. Check it out.

Shock, horror: the Kingsmen performing live, possibly singing Loui Louie.

The whole record took as long to record as it does to listen to – done and dusted for $50 in one imperfect take and sent to the pressing plant before the band had any time to object.

The Kingsmen hated the version that was put out, although they mellowed slightly when it finally settled in the number 2 slot of the actual Billboard Hot 100 –  a somewhat bittersweet tale, as by this point they had split up. To promote the single, drummer Lynn Easton (who named the original band and therefore ‘owned’ the name – although I’m sure a Drifter or a Bay City Roller or 2 could contest this in court) put together The Kingsmen Mark 2 for all promotional work around the single. As long as they played it with the required loose limbed sloppiness, who would even have noticed?

*Bonus Tracks!

toots

Here’s Toots & The Maytals skanking take, all clipped guitars, tippy-tappy hi-hat and stoned Jamaican harmonies. At 5 and a half minutes long, it kinda outstays its welcome, but it’s beautiful all the same.

Louie LouieToots & The Maytals

oj zeke

And here, with eyebrow permanently arched, is the typographically mischievous Louise Louise by Orange Juice. Shimmering, jangling and all the way fae fey Bearsden, it‘s a totally different song. Methinks the band had the title before the song.

Louise LouiseOrange Juice

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Rods & Mockers

September 13, 2015

I Wish You Would by The Yardbirds is a nagging, insistent blast of garage blues from 1964.

The YardbirdsI Wish You Would

yardbirds 64

It was their debut single, lifted hook, line and sinker from Billy Boy Arnold‘s 1955 track of the same name and re-sold as the hot new thing. It’s the sort of track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Nuggets or Pebbles compilation.

When David Bowie heard it and/or saw The Yardbirds at the Ricky Tick or Marquee or whatever venue was most hip and most happening that week, something stuck with him. In 1973, pre-dating Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets theme by a good few years, he put together Pin Ups, a fine fine album of parochial r’n’ b stompers from his formative years; The Kinks, The Who, The Pretty Things…. all corners of the Brit beat group movement were covered, including The Yardbird’s Chelsea-booted stomper.

David BowieI Wish You Would

bowie 73

In typical Bowie fashion, his version sounds less like the original and more like a wired, paranoid blues from outer space.

Just a few short months on from the Ziggy album and tour, The Spiders From Mars band are all over it like a glam-slamming racket, Mick Ronson’s Gold Top set to boogie before wigging out in a brief Eastern ragga towards the end. I used to think it was the definitive version until I heard this…

glittery rod

Rod StewartI Wish You Would

He’s an easy target, is Rod. He’s certainly had his knockers (arf) but believe me, this is terrific from start to finish! Mock Rod at your peril.

Rod’s version is a full-on mic swinging, hip swiveling, spandex clad romp. It‘s proof that, despite the nickname he was always more rocker than mod. It recalls a prime-time loose ‘n lairy Faces. Listen to him bark out the commands in that voice that’s equal parts sandpaper and sawdust; “First verse!” “Second verse!” “Bridge!” “Sow-low!” You can picture him, strutting across some Mid-Western balloon-filled stage or other, chest puffed, leaning back into the mic the way he does.

Rod’s voice is superb, all mock cockney and nary a hint of the Scots blood that he’s so proud of. He carries the track from start to finish, his band doing the best bar-room blues that can be coaxed out of them. “And away we go! Whatever happens happens! Let’s just do it!” he instructs, his band hanging on in there right until the end, dive-bombing bass runs, runaway harmonica solo, 3-note riff and all. It’s crackin’!

What’s all the more amazing is that Rod’s take on I Wish You Would is from a long-forgotten studio session sometime in the mid 80s, when he really had no right at all to be recording stuff as thrillingly essential as this. See when he was jumping about in his videos wearing a pink tracksuit and a yellow sun visor on his head? He coulda been filing the charts with dumb rock ‘n roll like this instead. What a wasted opportunity.

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Callin’ All, Radio Transmit!

September 8, 2015

REM‘s output falls into two camps – the hard jangling college rock of the IRS years and the radio-friendly unit shifting Warners years. Fans are often divided over which era constitutes the band’s ‘best era’, which is a bit like arguing over whether tomato soup or tangerines are better. Both are magic, both are different. Me? Despite the dramatic tail-off in quality towards the end of the Warners era, I like ’em both equally.

rem 81

REM were born into the world on the back of Radio Free Europe,  first released on their own promotional ‘Cassette Set’, of which only 400 were made. The track was pretty much fully formed from the word go. Counted in on a pistol crack snare and carried in the verses by a tightly coiled spring of a guitar riff, it explodes in a colourful burst of glassy 12 strings and up-the-frets bass.

REMRadio Free Europe (Cassette Set version)

There’s also an extremely rare ‘Radio Dub’ version which has novelty appeal, interesting for the treated vocals and rudimentary special effects.

REMRadio Free Europe (Cassette Set ‘Radio Dub’)

*credit where it’s due – these tracks came a few years ago via The Power Of Independent Trucking blog. I think at the time they were almost shut down over the inclusion of them, so shhh!

Local label Hib-Tone were suitably impressed by the demo cassette to offer the band a one single deal, and Radio Free Europe was committed to 7″.

 rem hibtone

REMRadio Free Europe (Hib-Tone Single)

The band themselves weren’t overly impressed by the finished results, but Radio Free Europe is the perfect defining introduction to the band – great musicianship fighting for earspace with the sandpaper vocals of Michael Stipe. Stipe is clearly a passionate vocalist, but you’d need a degree in WWII code cracking to work out what he’s on about here. Even when you can make out the words and phrases, many of them make little sense.

The silent silver radio’s gonna stay,

Reason it could polish up the grey

Put that! Put that! Put that! In you wha

Badness isn’t country at all

Ray-dee-stay-shu…….

That’s not right, of course (Taking my cue from the chorus, I don’t even think I’ve got the right title for this piece), but that’s what I’m hearing. The first time I heard it, I actually stopped the record after a minute to check I hadn’t a build-up of fluff on my Grundig ‘music centre’ stylus.  A quick Google of the lyrics just now (there was none of that in 1989) doesn’t help either. There are many websites offering you their definitive take on the lyrics and, like much of the internet, the information is only as good as the person who put it there. I’m not convinced any of the lyric sites have the words 100%. Just as you most certainly shouldn’t be convinced by my ham fisted attempt above. Not for nothing was REM’s first LP called ‘Murmur‘.

rem 83

Radio Free Europe and the band was picked up by IRS. Re-recorded and re-released, the track also kicked off side 1 on Murmur. 

REMRadio Free Europe (Murmur version)

rem irs

It was slower and less murky, perhaps on the instructions of producer Mitch Easter, but Michael’s mumblings were all over the record like the fuzz on a Georgia peach. There’s also an annoying hi-hat ‘tick tick tick’ all the way through the verses that, once heard, can never be dislodged.  The best bit is still towards the end when, on one of the final choruses, all instruments bar the beat-keeping drum drop out before returning a second later.

rem stipe

The band played it live less and less as the years grew. In fact, you can probably chart it’s appearance in set lists in direct proportion to the introduction of the mandolin in their sound. It was something of a surprise to this audience (venue unknown) in 1992 when REM played a rare version. No doubt inspired by Nirvana and their ilk who were all the rage at the time, this version is a somewhat muscled up, balls-dropped shitkicker when compared to its original form. It brings to mind the harder sound of future LP Monster. Mike Mills plays like a demon possessed on this. Thankfully Peter Buck hadn’t yet discovered the tremelo pedal that would spoil much of the upcoming LP.

REMRadio Free Europe (Live 1992)

 

 

 

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