Alternative Version, demo, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Rollin’ and Tumblin’

What’s in a name? They may have been The Rolling Stones to plummy BBC announcers and chummy American TV hosts, but by the ’70s, they’d fallen mononymously into just the Stones; a name that suited the music that would come to define them.

The Rolling Stones was all about frantically scrubbed Bo Diddley rhythms and snake-hipped shaken maracas, three minutes of pop r’n’b that when played with a pout made the front row wet their knickers. As the principal players slowed down the gear changes in inverse proportion to the length of their songs and the length of their already-collar bothering hair, they became The Stones; dangerous, devious and undeniably dynamite.

Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone? asked Andrew Loog Oldham in the ’60s? No chance, mister. And there was absolutely no chance you’d want her anywhere near a skinny, sexed-up and strung-out Stone a short handful of years later. No chance at all.

There’s a guitar alchemy in the Stones that you’ll find in no other band since or ever. It’s all over Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street like A-class-enhanced quicksilver; a fluid melding together of Mick Taylor’s straightforward yet beautifully executed 6 string bluesisms and the loose riffing of Micawber, Keith Richards’ mangled Telecaster, bastardised to just 5 strings and tuned to open G.

Mick’s guitar sounded like this, Keith’s guitar sounded like that…and when they played together, they created an unattainable third sound; a new, harmonious chord full of air and promise, a new feel, a new something; magical, otherworldly and impossible to replicate. Sure, anyone can have the tools, but only Mick and Keith had the talent, the telepathy and the feel. (Well, later on, Ronnie would come to disprove that theory, but let’s not let that get in the way of things for now). And it’s only Mick and Keef (that’s the other Mick, the more famous Stone) who have the know-how to turn the rough stuff into polished diamonds.

The StonesTumbling Dice

My favourite Stones track will always be Tumbling Dice. It’s got everything; telepathic guitars, horns, soul, swagger, groove. That slinky, double-stringed opening riff is suitably louche and rakish, a setting out of the stall like no other.

As Keith is wont to do, he had been toying with the riff and feel of the track for a year, leaving it aside, allowing it to stew and marinade in the swill of Stones’ rehearsals, coming back to it time and again until the Stones found themselves avoiding tax in the south of France when, by this point, it was a tune ripe for recording. Initial versions were faster, less-focused and featured a hackneyed Jagger vocal that he’d be quick to abandon.

The StonesGood Time Woman (Tumbling Dice early version)

The whole of Exile On Main Street is a masterclass in studied looseness and the session track above plus the finished Tumbling Dice is the epitome of this. It might appear ragged and funky, but that sure takes a lot of practise. And alcohol. And drugs. And beautiful women wherever you turn. To have been a Stone in ’72…

Keith plays it initially with a gentle touch, feeling his way in with the opening riff until his band arrives – a decidely unusual version of the Stones for once. There was no Bill Wyman for starters. He’d gone AWOL somewhere in the south of France, fed up while the others worked all night and slept all day. He’d be back, just not in time to add his signature to what would become the lead single from Exile On Main Street. Bass duties were taken instead by Mick Taylor. To compensate for lack of rhythm guitar, Jagger himself was encouraged to get on board. Once they’re locked in and zoned out, Keith plays harder. Charlie follows, swinging the groove with understated power. And Keith plays harder again. Chugga-chugga-chugga. It’s rock’s most famous (some might say cliched) riff, played exactly the way you’ve been trying to master it since it first kissed your ears. Five strings, open G, remember.

The Stones worked up the slack rhythm track in Nellcôte, their rented French villa, but it wouldn’t be until Jagger had a random conversation with his housekeeper in L.A. about gambling that he’d have a lyric he was happy with. Dropping the ‘good time woman‘ lyric of the initial version, Jagger instead compares the sins of gambling to the sins of cheating and creates a lyric in simpatico to the music.

By the time Exile… was released, the Stones had overdubbed Atlantic soul brass courtesy of honourable Stone, Bobby Keys and piano, courtesy of the ubiquitous Nicky Hopkins. The ace in the pack was the three-girl choir, sashaying in on a riot of “ooooh-yeahs” and harmonised “bay-bees”. They duet with Jagger throughout, he rubbery, with a mouthful of mid Atlantic Cockney vowels – “yeo caaahn be mah paaaa-tnah ein cra-ah-aha-ahm” – and they stately and majestic, just on the right side of controlled.

Factor in the dueling guitars, the breath-gathering drop-out, the slide part that I’m not even sure is there but sounds like it is and you have one of the very best – the very best, if y’ask me – Stones’ tracks. Not Rolling Stones. Stones.

 

 

 

Gone but not forgotten

In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning

It begins on a static crackle of marching snare drum and tacked-on wack-a-wack DJ scratching and, as the dirty needle scrapes its way across a soundbed of Fender Rhodes and murky jazz, muted trumpets colour the scene as a gently reverberating electric guitar hints at a brewing storm. It’s Spinning The Wheel, the greatest single that neither Portishead nor Massive Attack put their name to.

George MichaelSpinning The Wheel

Spinning The Wheel was the third single from George Michael’s Older album. Released in 1996, it channels the sounds of the mid ’90s counter culture and offers it up to the mainstream; while the airwaves were clogged to the point of pollution by a Be Here Now-era Oasis and the multitude of bands who swaggered in on the one dimensional jetstream of their success, George was looking to the brooding darkness of trip-hop for inspiration.

Spinning The Wheel is crackly, claustrophobic and tunnel-visioned, a brooding and introspective track that would’ve sounded just almost as great being wrapped in the pained vocals of a Beth Gibbons or a Tracey Thorn as it does in George’s resigned three-in-the-morning delivery. He floats across Spinning The Wheel, cooing with his ‘Baby Love’ backing singers, double-tracking himself to great effect – “Spinning!” – at the end of verses, calling-and-responding in the overdubs, never anything less than pitch perfect and crystal clear throughout. Imagine being in the studio when they had the first playback of this! Aw man!

Five o’clock in the morning, you ain’t home… Six o’clock in the morning, you ain’t phoned… It seems that everybody takes their chances these days…

Clandestine, cheating, undercover sex. Spinning The Wheel. You got a thing about danger…aintcha gettin’ what you want from me? You got a thing about strangers…baby, that’s what we used to be.‘ It’s a seemingly autobiographical account of George’s lifestyle at the time; the open relationships and wandering eyes that lead to paranoia and fear – something he was very much happy to discuss in detail upon its release. You’ll find plenty if you Google it.

And I will not accept this as a part of my life…I will not live in fear of what may be… I would rather be alone than watch you spinning the wheel...’

George looked great around this time. Close-cropped Roman hair inked to his skull, ever-changing but always immaculately groomed facial hair that, if you waited long enough, would grow and morph in front of your very eyes, and he was too, never anything less than dressed head to toe in perfectly-fitted designer-casual suits. He had style, with the voice to match…as distinct, iconic and unmatched as Frank Sinatra, although what happened in Frank’s wee small hours were, I daresay, markedly different to George’s. Not one flying fuck was given by George over what anyone might’ve thought of his personal life, hence the subject matter of a song that was kept off the top of the charts by another act who really only wanted to zig-a-zig-ah too.

It was playing one time when my dad was round. He was going to help me decorate, so we were measuring the walls to work out how much wallpaper we’d need. As I foutered around the kitchen drawer in search of my tape measure I could hear my dad whistle and doo-de-dooing his way through the tune, probably listening out for a spot where a banjo should be playing. Eventually, his participation tailed off as he started listening to and then making sense of the lyrics.

Who’s this we’re listening to?” he shouted, wanting to sound casually curious but failing.

D’you like it?

Who is it?

It’s George Michael. Good, isn’t it?!

“…Ehhh…hmm, aye…” he offered by way of agreement. I reckon he was still smarting at my mum making him return Dirk Wears White Sox to Makro many years before. Back then it was mild, punkish swearing that just wouldn’t do at all, and here I was these days listening to clandestine gay confessions set to downtempo jazz. Just a step too far for his generation.

Gone but not forgotten, Live!

Heißer Tramp

If you happen to find yourself in an isolation situation over the coming days and weeks, you could do worse than while away the time by watching this two, three, four, more times. It’s David Bowie at one of his creative peaks – a 45 minute show from 1979, Musikladen in Bremen, filmed for German TV and up on YouTube (or just below here) for you to gawp and gasp at any time you like.

Beginning with HeroesSense Of Doubt, all Clockwork Orange menace and icy, crystalline strangeness, it finishes to muted applause – “Where’s the rest of my band?” asks Bowie rhetorically – before they ease their way into a thumping, swirling Beauty and The Beast, the band waking up, falling into step and coming alive.

Where on Heroes the track is the sort of processed art rocker that Bowie would make his own as the ’70s played out, on this live version, the band grind it out with a jarring rhythm uncannily like The Stranglers on Down In The Sewer. Now, I’m not suggesting that Bowie stole from The Stranglers – he didn’t really need to – but Heroes was released six months after Rattus Norvegicus, and it’s possible…just possible…that he’s magpied a riff and feel from the punk scene and reinterpreted it in his own way. That’s a very Bowie move, after all.

Bowie’s band is disparate. It’s a line-up that, when read on paper, really shouldn’t work – a 7-piece gathering of hot shots and big hitters including Moog protege Roger Powell on synth, desperate to coax futuristic sounds from his instrument whenever a space in the music allows and the jazz-trained Sean Hayes on complementary keys.

At the back, there’s Carlos Alomar, his slick rhythm guitar as steady and regular as the Soul Train and just as dependable. There’s an all-in-white ‘n mirrored shades electric violin player (a dead ringer for BA Robertson, but clearly, it’s not) who perfectly plays the arty scratchings of a prime time Velvets’ John Cale with no expression of emotion whatosover. And stage right, hanging there like a long drip of docile, grinning water is Adrian Belew, colouring the fantastic mish-mash of sound with notes as loud and outstanding as the choice of shirt he’s worn for the occasion.

Magicking up whammy bar-driven howls of electrified liquid mercury from a battered old Stratocaster, Belew plays no chords, only unconventional hair-raising solos; long and winding, full of squealing and screeing sussss-ttt-aiaiaiaiai-nnned n-o-o-o-o-t-essss that last entire rhyming couplets and in the case of Heroes, entire verses. At various points, Bowie looks on in quiet admiration. Fuck, he’s thinking, my band is good…and this guitar player is on a whole other level altogether. Before long, Belew would be enhancing Talking Heads’ live sound in similar fashion, but for now he’s Bowie’s.

Bowie’s band are out of this world, totally against the times – it’s 1979, remember, and the musical world is largely constrained to three minutes of jerky riffing and laddish ramalama – and they are flying. Having fun too. As is Bowie himself.

All teeth and cheekbones, and dressed in high-waisted leather trousers and a billowing, massively-collared shirt that my dad might have described as flouncy (a get-up that Spandau Ballet would later sell their plastic souls for), he’s serious, majestic, stately on a brilliant version of Heroes, playful and relaxed on a rollin’ and tumblin’ run through of Jean Genie, and having the time of his life on a rockin’, noo-wavey TVC15, with nothing less than great Bowie hair throughout.

All facets of his personality are duly covered, with the period from Station To Station and the Berlin trilogy captured wonderfully for anyone (like me) who was far too young or unborn to appreciate it at the time. Imagine living in a world where David Bowie never existed. Unthinkable.

Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Rob a Dub-Dub

If you’re a regular reader of this parish, chances are you’ll own some music that features the basslines of Robbie Shakespeare. The bass players’ bass player, he died in Florida yesterday aged 68 following kidney complications. A pioneer of reggae and its many and varied offshoots, his basslines are as iconic as the genre itself; booming and thudding but always playing a tune within the tune.

Such is the fluid and ambivalent nature of the haphazard approach to such essential things as credit and copyright in those early, formative years of reggae, many of the recordings that Shakespeare played on remain uncredited. He’s there on Bob Marley‘s breakthrough Catch A Fire album, an honorary Wailer filling the spaces between the offbeat in Concrete Jungle, his melodic solidness providing the four stringed groove courtesy of his McCartney-inspired Hofner bass.

He’s there on Gregory IsaacsCool Ruler album, providing a steady rhythmic counterpart to Issacs’ sweet-toned lovers rock and uplifting spirituals, the noodling, head nodding, dread-shaking yin to Isaacs’ yang.

He’s there too (credited this time) on Peter Tosh‘s self-explanatory Legalise It album, a lamppost-sized spliff wedged between his teeth, his ganja-fuelled basslines meandering wide and expansive, slo-mo and steady. I’m listening to it now as I write this and his playing, in all its room shakin’, filling-loosenin’, flare-flappin’ majesty is really brilliant.

On many of the albums that will remain his legacy, he was joined by drummer Sly Dunbar, with whom he formed a formidable partnership that did as much for a fertile, ever changing but always grooveable scene as Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards did with Chic. Just as Nile and Bernard crossed over into unexpected territories with Madonna, Bowie and co, so too did Sly and Robbie. Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and even Serge Gainsbourg sought solace in their rocksteady riddims. Go and listen to Dylan’s Jokerman to hear the results of what happens when ascerbic folk and loose and spacey reggae collide.

Grace JonesPrivate Life

Some of Shakespeare’s (and Dunbar’s) greatest work remains the stuff he/they did with with Grace Jones. Marrying reggae and funk basslines to new wave guitars and synths, Grace’s band created ambient, atmospheric and always revealing music, incredibly unique and stylish y’know…just like the singer who had hired them.

You’ll be well aware of the big ones – Slave To The Rhythm, Private Life, Pull Up To The Bumper, their electro-fried version of Iggy Pop’s Nightclubbing, etc etc, but it’s their little-heard take on Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control that pulls me in every time.

Grace JonesShe’s Lost Control

It’s, well, kinda boing-y, isn’t it?! A rubber band bassline, augmented by bicycle cranks, a trampolining wonky background noise and the guitar scrapin’, chain rattlin’ ghost of a horrified Ian Curtis, it’s spectacular (even if the 12″ version above goes on maybe a wee bit too much). It’s all in the production – rich and deep enough to make the heart vibrate, light and airy enough to tingle the senses. It’s cavernous and widescreen and just about as long and interesting as the career itself that Joy Division carved out. It is, you’ll notice, the bassline that carries it, played effortlessly by Robbie Shakespeare, the true root at the base/bass of roots reggae.

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Plant-Based Diet

How are your eating habits these days? With COP26 taking place a couple of farmers’ fields and a few country miles over the horizon from my back window, I, like everyone else I suppose, should be making more of an attempt to cut out the red meat. Our eldest is full-on vegetarian, something I’m proud of her for having the conviction to stick to, but it does make dinner time a mess of multi-cooking. As a family we try and have a couple of meat-free meals a week, but we could be doing more. Mike Joyce (clang) told me that when Morrissey (clang!) pointed out to the other Smiths one day that you wouldn’t eat a dog, so why would you contemplate eating a cow, he had no answer to it and turned vegetarian there and then. I nodded earnestly while in a non-preachy way Johnny Marr (clang!!) outlined the benefits of veganism and urged me to “give it a try for a bit“, but an hour later I was in a chip shop stuffing a smoked sausage supper down my brass neck. Shamefully and with a side dollop of regret, I must say, but still…

Someone I doubt very much who, in their early days, gave much thought to being carbon neutral and eco-aware is Robert Plant. Led Zeppelin came galloping into town like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, cruising on the jetstream of The Starship – their own private Boeing 720, crash-landing only to pillage and plunder and play some rock and roll before gallivanting out again in a haze of hennaed hair and the sighing swoons of every female within radius. Simpler times the ’70s, so they say. Eco-schmeco.

I met Robert Plant once. July 1995. I was working for Our Price, helping train the counter staff to use a new-fangled barcode scanning stock control system we’d invested in. The job took me everywhere from Inverness to Leeds and many places in-between. I travelled mainly by rail, read a ton of books as I did so and spent the duration of the job finding out where my £15 a night meal allowance would stretch to best. (The Qismat Tandoori in Elgin, if you’re interested.) In the July I was to go to our new shop at Glasgow Airport and begin training the staff on the ins and outs of our new payolla-proof system. Emptying my bag at my mum’s, I dumped most of the stuff I now deemed unnecessary for my time at the airport, including, crucially, my well-thumbed copy of Hammer Of The Gods, the infamous, unauthorised Led Zeppelin biography that dug the dirt on groupies, snapper fish and the physical and metaphorical muscle of Peter Grant. Of course, the first customer – the first customer! – through the door was only yer actual Robert Plant. As he arrived at the counter and the wee stack of CDs he was buying were being rung through, I engaged him in conversation.

I’ve just being reading a book about you.”

Oh yeah?” he said, genuinely interested.

Yeah… Hammer Of The Gods…” I offered.

Oh!” he said, with a wry smile, looking straight at me. He didn’t quite twirl those golden curls through his fingers the way he absent-mindedly did mid set in ’73, but he might as well have done. He was still a bit of a looker. The light from the Albert King CD he had been inspecting glinted in his clear blue eyes – rock god eyes that have seen more than you or I will ever see – and he spoke his words of wisdom.

Yeah… Jimmy didn’t come out of that one looking too good, did he now?!

It was at this point I was wishing I could get him to sign a CD, but with the counter being small, narrow and unpassable, there was no opportunity to squeeze past the most famous rock star I’d ever met and pick one from the racks. And by now I was cursing myself for having dumped the book from my bag. Then, out of the blue, the girl serving him presented him with the shop’s autograph book. “Yeah, sure,” he smiled, taking the pen she had offered.

Whoever had the foresight to stick an autograph book at the till in an airport record shop deserves a medal for quick thinking. It was full of all sorts – Bjork, Keith Floyd, Robert Downie Jr. There was even a wee Rolfaroo in there. Can we still mention that? Anyway, Robert happily obliged, adding his name in a large, swooping, blue inked signature. I noticed at the time (and can still picture in my head now) that it looked very similar to the ‘ZOSO‘ logo on Led Zep IV. A neat coincidence.

 

I’m not a rock fan by any means – all that pillaging and plundering and bare-chested daftness and whathaveye – but I do love a good amount of Led Zeppelin; those first four albums mainly, plus selected parts of Physical Graffiti. They’ve had their shameful moments, well-documented in that (genital) warts ‘n all book, but sometimes – most of the time? – it’s OK to separate the art from the dubiously-moralled artist. And shallow as I am, I am a sucker for a sloppily-played, turned up to 10 guitar riff. Sometimes, when the urge strikes, and usually only if the house is empty, nothing other will do than a proper baws oot blasting of Led Zeppelin.

Led Zeppelin Custard Pie

Custard Pie is the perfect example of that tight-but-loose label that Led Zep acquired, Jimmy’s guitar to the fore, slapdash and funky but ultra-together, propelled by a wall of thunder behind, the drums almost leading on the off-beat, John Paul Jones riffing around on a clavinet or something similar in the gaps in-between. Robert opts for a restrained guttural croon, rockin’ yet soulful. Swathes of wah-wah and wailing harmonica carry the song to its conclusion, a no-frills, no nonsense rock and roll boogie, Jimmy up the frets and playing to the very limits of his abilities.

Custard Pie is the riff my fingers fall into whenever I pick up a guitar these days. It’s a beauty, ideal for stretching the pinky and working on the timing of the right hand, although I usually give up sometime around the first notes of the lightning flash solo. I’ve no patience for cock rock wizardry such as that. Nor have I much truck with the outdated and iffy subject matter (a Plant-based diet of a very different sort). Great rockin’ tune but.

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?

Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Sampled, Studio master tapes

Hey DullBlog

The healthy song-writing one-upmanship in The Beatles meant that after Paul McCartney had presented the others with the music hall-by-way-of-Fats Domino Lady Madonna and had it committed forever to tape, John Lennon sat himself at the piano to compose a worthy response.

The result was Hey Bulldog, a driving barrelhouse blues rocker, with ascending, augmented chords in the chorus and some epoch-defining stinging lead guitar throughout.

The BeatlesHey Bulldog

It’s truly fab four in execution; Lennon pounding away at the ivories, his sandpaper-roughed and double-tracked vocals just on the right side of raw, McCartney playing melodic lead bass, a whole tune within the tune, and harmonising the key lines from start to finish, Ringo going tribal for the song’s intro then jangling heavy rhythmic tambourine to keep the beat from thereon in and George, quiet George, brilliantly colouring the whole thing with some rasping fretboard fireworks, minimum fuss but maximum fury.

For years I’d believed the solo to be played by McCartney – in tone and technique it’s very him – but research points to George and his Gibson SG, so the cap is duly doffed. There’s a tiny wee lick he throws away towards the end of that stinging solo upon which Badfinger, Jellyfish and countless others have based entire careers. If you know, you know.

With the Lady Madonna session wrapping up quicker than expected, and Abbey Road’s Studio 3 still booked for use, the plan was to use the time to film The Beatles working in the studio so that the footage could be used in a promotional film to promote Lady Madonna around the world. Such is the speed of things in Beatleworld though, that by the time the cameras were rolling, The Beatles were already beating and barking Lennon’s brand new tune into shape. The footage that duly accompanied the Lady Madonna promo is actually film of them recording a handful of the ten takes it took to nail down Hey Bulldog.

The BeatlesHey Bulldog – isolated McCartney bassline

Amazingly, incredibly, written on the spot and played no more than ten times – how many times did YOU go away and learn your part before daring to step into a recording studio? – Paul’s muted palmed and woody thunk is the constituent part that drives the whole track. 98% flatwound Rickenbacker snap and 2% forgivable slop, McCartney’s bass playing in this phase of The Beatles is never anything less than peerless, inspired and beautiful. You knew that already though.

In the pantheon of indispensable Beatles lists, it’s only in recent years that Hey Bulldog has crawled its way on there, finally recognised as one of the band’s great tracks.

A sampler’s nightmare – pinch a portion of Beatles and you’d better have a good lawyer at the ready, it’s for that very reason you rarely encounter a Beatles sample. Yes, you can point to The Sounds Of Science on Paul’s Boutique, cut ‘n pasted together in the last century, way back when waters were murkier, but since then, there’s not been much. Cypress Hill took McCartney’s cooing opening bars to Your Mother Should Know and looped them into hip hop heaven on a track (a remix perhaps) that I can no longer locate. Jay Z’s official/unofficial Grey Album dismantled the White Album with varying degrees of brilliance, and that’s about it.

The Roots – switched on that they are – appropriated the Hey Bulldog riff into their own Thoughts At Work, a track that appeared only on original vinyl copies of Phrenology then, following a hard rap (ba-dum tish) at the door from suited and booted legal heavies, never again.

The RootsThoughts At Work (orig. vinyl-only release)

Welded to a beat created from the oft-sampled Incredible Bongo Band’s version of Apache, it’s a sweary blast that’ll make you want to drive the Fiat Punto slowly down the High Street, Detroit leaning with the windows down, like the hep cat you secretly always wished you could be. A pretender, a nearly-was, much like the track that rides on the coat tails of the sample it stole.

 

 

Gone but not forgotten

Mega Watts

Charlie Watts died,” I say to Mrs Plain Or Pan when she gets in from work.

Oh…I know him,” she says, recognising the name from somewhere…and proceeds to sing the opening ‘fa-fa-fa fa fas‘ from The Kinks’ ‘David Watts‘. “He was the drummer in The Who, wasn’t he?

Every day is Give Us A Clue in our house and the sad, sudden, unexpected news regarding the metronomic heartbeat of the Stones provided yet another beauty.

I’ve been in the same environs as Charlie Watts three times, yet I’ve set eyes on him just the once. Or maybe twice.

The first: The Rolling Stones’ Urban Jungle tour at Hampden Park in Glasgow, July 1990. Derek and I were in the traditional Rangers end – a great place to be in the mid ’80s when Scotland were rampaging their way towards another World Cup finals, but not so great for the current Stones show. The stage set was so massive and clunky that we found ourselves watching them side-on. A never-ending flood of fence-jumpers made their way from the terracing around us and melted anonymously into the standing section, their stick-it-to-the-man actions loudly cheered whenever the Rock Steady security guy tripped and fell while chasing them, but I’m ashamed to say that I was too scared of getting caught and turfed out before opening act Gun had hard-rocked their way through their 17th guitar solo or third number, whichever came first, so with a grumpy but understanding Derek, we watched from our acute angle afar.

Mick and Keef did their thang, front and centre. Ronnie prowled just behind them. Bill Wyman’s replacement was…somewhere…(who cared?) and Charlie? His kit was stuck so far at the back that, even when they came to bow at the end, he ended up being obscured by a massive, deflating rubber doll that had popped up during Honky Tonk Women. So, although I saw the Stones in concert – “We should really see them before they break up“, contended Derek, thirty one summers ago – I never did see Charlie and that nonchalant face of his as the band ground through the gears of Tumbling Dice and Brown Sugar and Miss You and a gazillion other greats. Gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues indeed.

The second: Lake Ontario, Toronto, September 1997. We’re on honeymoon, Mrs Pan and I, and out on a wee tourist pleasure cruise on Lake Ontario. It’s a roasting hot day, even out on the lake, and it’s all going on; an enthusiastic tour guide pointing out significant buildings on the Toronto skyline, free drinks, a reciprocal beep and wave from other passing pleasure cruisers and then… from nowhere, up glides this big boat. It’s blasting rock music. It’s got the MTV logo all over it. And it has a host with a microphone.

Hey you guys! We got the Stones on board!” And there they are – Mick, Keith, Ronnie, the Wyman replacement and Charlie, jazz-cat cool and riffing across his snare and hi-hat, staring off into the middle distance, lost in his playing. And just as quickly, there they went. Stone me! Literally. No photos were taken, of course. Oh no! I wasn’t always as smart as I am these days.

The third. Edinburgh a couple of years ago. We had tickets for Wicked at the Playhouse. I very kindly gave mine to my mum. Musicals ain’t my thing, I reasoned. And while they’re at the theatre, I thought to myself, I can check out the record shops without feeling I’m pushing my luck. So that’s the plan. I leave everyone at the Playhouse, I walk the short walk up Leith Street and at the top I’m met by a heaving throng of people, all gathered around the Balmoral Hotel. The road is sealed off. Half a dozen limos are circulating outside. The word on the street is that the Stones are, at any moment, leaving in the fancy cars to soundcheck at Murrayfield, where they’ll play later that evening. Well, what can a poor boy do, but hang around and catch a glimpse of a Stone or two.

A good hour and a bit later and suddenly there’s a burst of activity and yer actual Mick Jagger is standing at the top of the stairs that lead in and out of the hotel. With well-practised schtick, he holds court. “Awl-right!” he camps from below a red baseball hat, his linen suit looking expensively louche from 20 metres away. While I’m fumbling for the phone I’d long-since stuck in my pocket, he does a wee wave, one of those where the fingers bend at the knuckles and that’s about it, and, with a hop and a skip and a jump, he’s bundled by half a dozen burlies into his car. Wow, I think. He’s the same age as my father-in-law. How daft is that?! I catch myself laughing and a foreign tourist moves slightly away from me. Next there’s Keef. I think I manage to snap the top and/or back of the bird’s nest on his head. The wee twisted red ribbon is, I think, the giveaway. Or maybe it was Ronnie. I dunno. The photo, on later inspection, proves inconclusive.

This nonsense goes on for what seems like forever and then, suddenly, there’s another swell of noise, a shouldery jostle from the tourist beside me and there…I think…yes…eh?…aye!…hmmm…definitely…it’s Charlie Watts; whippet thin, nice suit, grey hair atop a Mount Rushmore of sagging lines…and then he’s gone. Just like that.

The Rolling Stones have oft-featured on these pages and without checking, I’d imagine Charlie gets a mention every time. This doesn’t always happen when you spend your time writing about guitar bands, especially ones with such iconic guitarists, but there’s a fair argument to be made that the Stones wouldn’t have rolled quite so smoothly with anyone else keeping time at the back.

Always that tiny half beat behind the group, Charlie provided the groove and swagger, the calmest man in the crew as the madness and mayhem spiralled around him. To have been a part of that group during their golden years must have been quite something indeed, yet even when knee-deep in (and on) hard drugs, Charlie appeared to be never anything other than in control at all times. With his hands on the reigns, he gave the others the permission to push forward, instructed them when to hold back and allowed them the space in which to play some of the grooviest, bluesiest rock ‘n roll of all times, dapper as a dandy and nonchalant as fuck.

See y’later Charlie. I’ll have my camera ready the next time.

 

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.

 

Gone but not forgotten, Kraut-y

Kitchen Sink Drama

Famously, The La’s hated their debut album. Where the record-buying public heard it for what it was – a great collection of well-constructed chiming, rattling and rolling songs, Lee Mavers rubbished it as a mismatch of tracks recorded at various sessions with a variety of producers over a couple of years; a guide vocal here, an unfinished guitar part there, a work in-never-ending process. Given a sprinkling of magic dust by Steve Lillywhite and released against the band’s wishes, it lacked, shouted Mavers, spontaneity, cohesion and the requisite ’60s dust. Chas Smash, once of Madness and at the time The La’s A&R guy told me recently of the band’s American tour to promote the record when Lee, faced with the wibbling and gurning jocks on ButtKiss FM – “I love your shit, man!” – would slap a beat-up C90 in front of the presenter and declare loudly and proudly, “Dis… (slap!) is da fookin’ album, la. Play dis one instead!” The record company people, with the promotional weight and might of Polygram behind them, would hold their heads in their hands in despair as, station after station, Mavers would repeat his trick until eventually, the stations stopped playing any La’s at all.

Likewise the Beta Band. They certainly weren’t the first band to disown their debut album, but they were equally as vocal as The La’s. “It’s definitely the worst record we’ve ever made,” announced Steve Mason when it was released in 1999, “and it’s probably one of the worst records that’ll come out this year. It’s fucking awful.”

Coming a year after the celebrated ‘Three EPs‘ compilation, the band took the magpie ‘n kitchen sink approach that they’d developed over those three singles and threw everything, literally and metaphorically, into the self-titled debut album proper.

They wanted to make it a double album, with each of its four sides recorded in a different continent; Asia, South America, and so on. Economics had the final say unsurprisingly, and so much of the record was put together in a shed that belonged to the grandfather of the band’s keyboard player/sampler/DJ John Maclean. An ambient companion piece was eventually shelved, trimming the intended double album to a single ten track record.

It was a difficult record to pigeonhole, and thank goodness for that. In an era when bands were defined by the trainers they wore or the records they never namechecked, The Beta Band was almost unclassifiable. It bulges and bursts with ideas; wonky Scottish raps, carnival drums, filling-loosening dub reggae bass, frazzled and meandering psychedelic guitar lines… sometimes within the one track.

Beta BandBroken Up Adingdong

Goat Fell and Glen Rosa on the Isle of Arran given a psychedelic makeover

Broken Up Adingdong is almost every idea considered for the album realised in miniature. Beginning on a rhythm of pattering handclaps and what might be someone playing makeshift drums with the palms of their hands on the back of an acoustic guitar, it motors along on a steady, skifflish two chord shuffle that falls somewhere between the scrubbed to the knuckles approach of The Woodentops and the measured discipline of Can or the Velvet Underground.

Tumbling waterfalls of acoustic guitar – similar to the occasional riff that permeates The Patty Patty Sound‘s ‘Monolith‘ – chime their way in and out of the tune, panning from left to right and back again (try it with headphones on for full effect) and as it builds to a crescendo of overlapping vocals, repetitive chants and frantic, double-time claps, it gives way to a collage of beats.

Calypso drums dance and weave in and out. Loosely tightened drums thunder with Bonhamesque brute force. Hairspray hi-hats hiss their way across the top, disco without the glitterball, as some sort of Donna Summerish string sweeps in and then out again just as abruptly. One of those old-fashioned bicycle horns hee-haws its squeaky guffaw between the tapestry of pots ‘n pans percussion and the whole thing rattles and rolls to a stuttering close, as dignified as the Eastenders theme tune tumbling down ten flights of tenement stairs. It’s messy, hypnotic and groovy as fuck.

Time has been kind to the Beta Band and The Beta Band. It’s certainly not the clunker the band suggested it was, and not for a minute do I believe Steve Mason when he said as much. Twenty years on, I suggest you revisit that debut album as soon as you can.