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.
Truth is, it was recorded in 1979 by Talking Heads and featured on their 3rd LP, ‘Fear Of Music‘.
Talking Heads – I 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.
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.
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 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 Louie – Richard 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 Louie – Rockin’ 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.
All 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 Louie – The 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.
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?
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 Louie – Toots & The Maytals
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.
I Wish You Would by The Yardbirds is a nagging, insistent blast of garage blues from 1964.
The Yardbirds – I Wish You Would
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 Bowie – I Wish You Would
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…
Rod Stewart – I 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.
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 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.
REM – Radio 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.
REM – Radio 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 – Radio 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
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‘.
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.
REM – Radio Free Europe (Murmur version)
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.
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.
Back at the start of the 90s I was anti ‘dance’ music. It almost goes without saying that I liked Chic, Sly Stone, James Brown…all that kinda stuff, and I was fond of doing my rhythmically-challenged thang to In Yer Face and Voodoo Ray when no-one was watching. But on the whole, dance music, the one real alternative to indie music and chart music, the one true genre of music guaranteed to annoy parents and anyone over the age of 25 did nothing for me. Which is somewhat ironic given I was neither a parent nor a quarter centurion.
Thump thump thump thump thump. Soulless and repetitive, it was a four-to-the-floor car crash with all the sex appeal of a just-landed trout from the River Irvine. Given the option, I much preferred repeat-playing the b-side of the latest Chapterhouse or 5.30 single than give in to anything of a dance bent. Quite a ridiculous choice in hindsight. But in those days, if you wanted to stay out late, it was dance music that inevitably soundtracked your night. To go home early and potentially miss out on whatever I might be missing out on, I tended to stick it out, tolerating rather than enjoying the tunes.
And then I heard this.
The Future Sound Of London – Papua New Guinea
What a fantastic record! It was Future Sound Of London’s debut single and, as it turned out, one they would never better.
Here‘s a shortened version, taken from a Hacienda compilation that I like to stick on now and again while I’m cycling.
Papua New Guinea is that rare thing – an electronic dance record that’s synthetic yet soulful. It’s not just Lisa Gerrard’s skyscraping vocals (sampled from Dead Can Dance‘s ‘Dawn Of The Iconoclast‘, with thos oo-ah-oh vocals coming lock, stock and barrel from a dance track called ‘Shelter‘ by the mysterious Circuit) that go straight to the heart and it’s not just the staccato bass (sampled from Meat Beat Manifesto’s Radio Babylon, much to their displeasure) that goes straight to the feet, it’s the whole thing; the clattering breakbeat drums, the wee keyboard pings and dings, the swooshes and whooshes and the way it all drops out before revving into gear again, lead always by the ubiquitous bass and vocals.
Papua New Guinea was put together by a couple of stereotypical studio boffins (the bald one and the ponytailed one) that most folk would fail to recognise as the creators of one of the best records ever.
Everything about this record is perfect. Even Lee Mavers, the bowl-cut skiffle king of 1989 rates it as one of his most favourite records. And I bet he never cared much for what constituted ‘dance’ music much either.
Here are those constituent drum parts, sampled from FuzzyHaskins‘ The Fuzz And Da Boog and Bobby Byrd‘s Hot Pants and stuck together with invisible ambient breakbeat glue:
A truly groundbreaking record, like most of its contemporaries it came in a multitude of re-releases and remixes. In fact, by the end of 2013, Papua New Guinea had been re-pressed and re-released over 30 times. Maybe you could download those tracks above and have a go at doing it yourself, though you’ll be hard pushed to better the original.
Here‘s a longer, more ambient version, illegally remixed and released by Ozgur Ozkan.
“Vox’s fabulous new wah-wah pedal opens the door to a variety of great new sounds!”
So says this epoch-defining trade ad from 1967. “Make your guitar grrrrowl! Make it sound like a see-tar! Listen to the funky bass guitar sounds you get!”
Vox Wah-Wah Ad (5 minutes long and worth listening to every minute):
The wah-wah was created by happy accident, when Vox engineers got the circuitry mixed up in a new range of Beatles-inspired amps they were producing. Realising they’d just created an electronic version of the effect jazz trumpeters had pioneered in the 20s by muting their horn with a hat, they seized on the potential and began producing wah-wah pedals.
Almost immediately, guitar players saw their appeal. Jimi Hendrix was an early adopter of the effect – Up From the Skies on Axis: Bold As Love was one of the first tracks recorded with a wah-wah, and from then on in, it featured heavily in Jimi’s incendiary output. The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, All Along The Watchtower, Voodoo Chile (of course) – all featured the screamin’ sound of the wah. There he is above, quite literally rockin’ the wah.
Before long, no self-respecting psychedelic act was without a wah-wah, and the the pedal became an integral part of the sound of the era. As a general rule of thumb, the wider the flares, the wilder the wah. The Electric Prunes even went as far as endorsing the effect.
George Harrison, newly freed from the shackles of The Beatles and with a sackful of songs he was eager to release under his own name employed Vox’s pedal on the self-explanatory Wah-Wah from 1970’s All Things Must Pass.
George Harrison – Wah-Wah
It’s a cracking track, almost throwaway pop, although it maybe buckles a wee bit under the pressure of Phil Spector’s over the top production. Sleigh bells? Aye! 35 backing singers? Of course! More brass than a colliery band? Well, it is being produced by Spector. A multitude of guitar tracks? Well, it is being played by George Harrison. The main riff is suitably Eastern-influenced, a call and response one chord groove that swaggers like Muhammad Ali in the 15th round. It soars with each key change, guitars free-forming over the top while the original riff underpins the whole thing. George even has the cheek to steal the chorus from that Vox ad at the top there. Listen again to the last 30 seconds. Who noticed?!? Kula Shaker certainly did – George’s track practically gives birth to the daft four-piece, but don’t hold that against him. Om shanti shanti shanti.
By the 70s, the wah-wah was being employed to great effect by the soul community. Curtis Mayfield….Sly Stone….The Temptations….they all had wah-heavy records out. Rather than solo, (that would be far too ‘rock’), the players created the distinctive wacka-wacka sound that’s now become the ubiquitous sound of the wah-wah. Y’know, Theme From ‘Shaft’ ‘n all that.
Temptation Dennis Edwards, far left, and cast members party at the Gordy Mansion, April 13, 1970. (Motown Record Corp.)
Here‘s the lesser-known (by Shaft standards at any rate) Psychedelic Shack from The Temptations:
Since then, the wah-wah pedal has featured on all sorts of tracks by all sorts of musicians, from Joni Mitchell and John Martyn to Metallica and The Melvins. It’s reassuring to know that in any given record collection, you’re never more than 30cm from a track featuring a wah-wah.
Here’s Fools Gold, of course….the full-length version, of course…
Ela Orleans is a Glasgow-based composer of experimental electronica. She has been releasing music under various guises for ages. She’s recorded scores for theatre productions, written an opera and lived in New York where she recorded avant-garde soundscapes and was on first-name terms with Thurston Moore. She’s just about the coolest figure on the Glasgow music scene right now, with everyone and anyone from Stephen Pastel to Ian Rankin lining up to sing her praises. Her latest offering, Upper Hell, is her 6th LP. She describes her music as ‘movies for ears’, which is just about the perfect summation.
Upper Hell was produced by Howie B, the mastermind behind some of the most popular leftfield albums of the past 20 or so years. Tricky’s Maxinquaye and Bjork’s Homogenic both benefited from his magic touch, wrapped in warm ‘n woozy ambient textures whilst at times still sounding darker than Black Sabbath Vol. 4. Howie is the go-to guy when mainstream acts look to reinvent themselves – U2, Annie Lennox and Everything But The Girl have all called upon his services when looking to take their music on an unexpected turn. Howie ended up working alongside Ela after his sister played him some of her stuff. Ela didn’t have to go to Howie and ask to be produced. He found her.
I need to declare some self-interest at this point. Many years ago, Ela and my sister were friends at Glasgow University, and I’ve kept a close ear to her music ever since. She was once round for Christmas dinner when returning to her native Poland wasn’t an option and we had great fun at her expense as she thought in Polish but swore in English while playing charades or some other daft game no-one plays any other time of the year. I couldn’t have forecast at the time that at some point in the future she’d be sound-tracking my commute to work and my wheezing bike runs around Ayrshire, but this week she’s all I’ve listened to.
Upper Hell is terrific. It’s full of glitchy, twitchy electronica, organic bass lines and cut ‘n paste beats. In fact, it’s exactly the sort of thing Radiohead have been praised and derided in equal measure for – there are no ‘tunes’ in the traditional sense, but you can easily lose yourself in its ebbing and flowing digital soundscapes. There’s even a spoken word track (2nd one in, River Acheron) that, just like OK Computer‘s Fitter, Happier… I kinda know I’m going to skip before too long. If Thom Yorke had been involved in Dark Floor, the opening track, the internet would’ve simultaneously wet itself and melted.
Ela Orleans – Dark Floor
I was playing this last night and Mrs Plain Or Pan popped her head round the door, with a screwed-up look on her face.
“This is Ela!” I said.
“Does it get any better?” asked the missus.
“No, it doesn’t,” I replied, with no hint of irony. “No. It doesn’t.”