Edwin Starr‘s 25 Miles is a four-to-the-floor, solid gold soul belter, just over 3 minutes of pounding Funk Brothers rhythm and blast furnace brass that drives Starr’s phlegmy guttural grunts to the sweaty limits.
Edwin Starr – 25 Miles
Released in 1969 and re-released a couple of times since, it’s gained ‘classic’ status thanks in no small way to the northern soul scene where regular spinning has seen it become a talcum-dusted dancefloor filler.
25 Miles has had its fair share of cover versions. The Jackson 5 cut a version in 1969, all Motown-lite backing, call and response vocals and a fuzz guitar break that the other Edwin (with a ‘Y’) must’ve been subliminally channelling alongside Ernie Isley’s signature sound when he was recording A Girl Like You. The Jacksons’ version stayed in the Motown vaults until the mid 80s before appearing on a rare-ish Michael Jackson compilation, but if I want this blog to remain spinning happily forevermore in hyperspace, I’ll resist the urge to post it here. You can find it on the YouTube, if that’s yer thang.
Cult American band White Denim have a track that’s currently being used to soundtrack the latest Nintendo gaming advert. Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah) was the lead single from their latest album, ‘Stiff‘, and if you listen carefully, you’ll spot more than a subtle nod to 25 Miles.
White Denim – Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)
A band that defy pigeonholing, White Denim can be both proggy and punky and Pagey and Planty and sound terrific for it. Amazing musicians, they have a unique way of trimming their tracks of excess until it’s just the bare bones of guitar, bass and drums that are left…..but what a fantastic sound they make. Definitely on the ‘to see’ list, I’ll be keeping a keen eye on any upcoming tour announcements.
But back to 25 Miles.
By far the best version is the 2011 Skamla Motown (aye!) take by the mysterious Tenoshi. I’ve always thought that Tenoshi was an underground hip-to-the-jive Japanese mod/soul DJ, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if it turned out he/she was none other than someone like Paolo Hewitt or Eddie Piller (Rocksteady Eddie, anyone?), moonlighting in spectacular fashion from their regular day job. My friend and yours, Google, has proven fairly elusive, so who knows?
Tenoshi – 25 Miles
A scuffed-up, spliffed-up skanking take on the Motown original, this 25 Miles has been taken down to Studio 1 and given a rankin’ Rude Boy makeover. It rocks, which, if it’s playing as you read, you’ll just about have worked out for yourself by now. Anoraks will enjoy spotting the great wee nod to Prince Buster/The Specials with the horn motif at the end.
If you’re lucky enough to own a 7″ of this (long-since deleted, it’ll set you back around £40 if it ever comes up for sale) you’ll also be aware of the lightly toasted remake of a Temptations’ classic on the flip side. Papa Was Rolling Stoned indeed. Worth seeking out, I tells ye.
It’s well-documented that David Bowie was something of a non-stop workaholic. That long golden run he went on, from Hunky Dory in 1971 to Lodger in ’79 – 10 amazing albums in 9 short years, all killer and no filler (’74’s Diamond Dogs might faintly be described as the runt of the litter, though it yielded Rebel Rebel as well as the album’s title track, so scratch that, naysayers) remains unparallelled, unlikely to ever be equalled, let alone beaten.
What’s all the more remarkable is that while he was on this winning streak, David was sustaining himself on little more than milk, red peppers and the finest Class As that came his way. Not only that, but when he wasn’t changing musical direction and band members and haircut and trousers every nine months, or sticking out the odd non-album track to keep the fans happy between releases (betweenreleases! d’ye hear that, Radiohead?!?), he was still finding the time to help out other artists.
An on-the-brink-of-break-up Mott The Hoople famously kickstarted their attack on the charts with their version of Bowie’s All the Young Dudes. Last time I checked, Mott were still playing the odd Hall Of Fame gig here and there, thanks in no small way to yer man Dave.
A not-quite-post-Velvet Underground but fed up Lou Reed went spinning into orbit on the back of Satellite Of Love and its parent album, Transformer. Satellite… had been written, much like Bowie’s Space Oddity, on the back of the public’s fascination with space. Reed had high hopes for the song, reckoning it was perfect hit single material. Satellite… was considered, then disregarded for inclusion on the Velvets’ Loaded album, so when Bowie entered his orbit showing an interest in his music, Lou was keen for his song to be taken seriously second time around. Both the single and album were produced and enhanced by Bowie, his uncredited vocals on Satellite… worth the price of admission alone.
Iggy Pop, careering out of control on a spiral of illicit substances and ever-decreasing sales (Stooges were hardly big-hitters to begin with) found himself on the receiving end of a post-Ziggy kiss of life when Bowie, fresh from minting his second stone-cold classic in as many years, helped produce, or rather re-produce, Raw Power, Stooges’ third album.
Iggy himself had taken the producer’s chair, creating a chaotic mess of almost unsalvageable pre-punk rock. Of the 24 individual tracks available to him at the mixing desk, he chose to put the entire album onto just three – the band on one, the vocals on another and James Williamson’s lead guitar on the third. When Columbia heard it, they refused to release it until it was cleaned up somewhat and made more presentable.
Cue Bowie. The man with the golden touch. Using all manner of up-to-the-minute recording technology, he twisted and turned Iggy’s 3 track raw Raw Power into something slightly more commercial and releasable. Perhaps not the radio-friendly unit-shifter that Columbia had in mind. Not that many folk bought it anyway, but those that did – cliche klaxon alert!!! – ended up forming bands of their own. But you knew that already. Listen to the album and you’ll hear the embryonic howls of The Jesus And Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and a million other six string stranglers. The teenage Johnny Marr was fixated by the feral guitar playing on it. His bequiffed foil was in love with Search & Destroy‘s glorious abandon and poetic lyrics; streetwalkin’ cheetahs, handfuls of napalm ‘n all.
“I’m the world’s forgotten boy,” drawls the Ig at one point, poetry indeed to the ears of the bedroom bard of Salford’s Kings Road. No Stooges, no Smiths. No Iggy Pop, no indie pop. Imagine that.
Iggy & The Stooges – Search & Destroy
In the mid-90s, ahead of a Stooges reissue campaign, Iggy himself was given the opportunity to remix Bowie’s remix – are you still following? – and used his time to unravel all of Bowie’s work, replacing every guttural grunt and primordial proclamation that had been wiped from the first release. He turned the faders up, up and away into the red until the guitars became ear-splitting, spitting shards of broken glass from both speakers.
Iggy & The Stooges – Shake Appeal
For much of the record, it’s a painful sonic assault on the ears, even during the two ‘ballads’, one on each side, where the guitars somehow still manage to creep into dog-bothering levels of pain.
Shake Appeal, above, surfs above the racket like the noisiest garage band in the world having their first go at a Motown track, all Jagger-pouting handclaps and barking yelps, Iggy’s skinny backside (what waist size was he? 24″? A chunky 26?) bending and jerking like a pipe cleaner in time to the fuzz bass, the Four Tops if they were fighters, not lovers. It’s a sloppy, angry, petulant, white riot of a record. Quite fantastic, of course. Beautiful music wrapped in a beautiful sleeve. What’s not to like?
One of the good things about being off work is that while you do things around the house at a Doctor’s orders sloth-like pace – cooking inventive new meals, the occasional trip to the cupboard under the stairs to retrieve the hoover every couple of days, a bit of ironing maybe, emptying the dishwasher, rearranging the record collection – you can listen to what you fancy at neighbour-bothering volume knowing that 1) the neighbours are at work so won’t be bothered and 2) the house is empty, save yourself.
The past week or so I’ve massively rediscovered Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division. It was played that often in my late teens it became embedded in the music section of my brain, hard-wired to be heard without the necessity of having to actually play it again. Long before Steve Jobs had thought of the iPod, I had my own non-tangible music file that could be recalled at will and played wherever I happened to want to hear it. Sandwiched between the back catalogues of The Beatles and The Smiths and an occassional Dylan and Bowie, it keeps esteemed company. Super Furry Gruff Rhys has said similar things about The Velvet Underground And Nico, so I know I’m not alone. It’s been a while since Unknown Pleasures was actually played though, and played at volume at that, so the past few days have been soundtracked once again by its cold, uninviting touch.
I came to the album in a very round about way. Like many, I’d wager, I discovered New Order before I’d even heard of Joy Division. It’s an age thing – while Joy Division were initially thrilling those teenagers who were outside looking inside (that’s a wee label reference for any geeks out there) with their other-worldly post-punk, I was doing the Nutty Dance and ah-ha-eh-ha-ing my best Adam Ant impressions, but once I started reading about New Order and discovered they’d been a different band in a previous life, I was curious enough to look for a Joy Division record in Irvine Library.
Simultaneously, just as I was having my moment of enlightenment, Paul Young’s No Parlez album happened to be something of a popular record in my peer group at the time. Go on! Judge us all you want…
On Paul Young’s album he did a version of Love Will Tear Us Apart, all rubberband fretless bass and other such 80s wankery. Being a trainspotter-in-training, I noticed the writing credits on the label and put two and two together. So, if it hadn’t been for the unlikely bedfellows of New Order and Paul Young, I may never have got to Joy Division until much later in life.
When I first heard Unknown Pleasures, it sounded other-worldly, claustrophobic and not entirely pleasant. But I stuck with it. Nowadays it’s synonymous with the record sleeve imagery and Kevin Cummins’ iconic, epoch-defining monochrome shots in the snow, graphics that mirror the cold intensity of the music created and played by these serious young men. It’s the drums that get me. While the guitar, a howl of electrified cheesewire, bites in all the right places and Hooky’s trademark bass meanders up and down the frets with determined focus, the drums sound both futuristic and olde worlde.
The rudimentary synth pads hiss like a steam-powered Victorian workhouse, military in precision, rhythmic, never losing the pace. It wouldn’t be long until Depeche Mode and Yazoo took the blueprint and ran with it in their own chart-chasing directions, but Joy Division were the originators. Or maybe that was Kraftwerk…
Eerie whirring sounds (on Insight) were the sounds of the actual lift inside Strawberry Studios, where the album was created. At one point, the density of I Remember Nothing is punctuated by a shattering glass. That used to make me jump, even after I’d heard it 10 or 15 times. The album still sounds quite like nothing else. Imitators have managed to spit out Tesco Value versions of the real thing ever since, but Unknown Pleasures is peerless.
Every listen transports you back to the dark days of the end of the 70s. Now, to be clear, my end of the 70s was a brilliant time; Scotland had a decent football team, I was discovering pop music, I lived near a big field where we could play in safety, I was never off my bike, all my pals lived in the same street as me….being young at the time was magic. But Joy Division, a decade or so older than me captured the bleakness of their times perfectly. Set against a backdrop of social division, mass unemployment, strikes, Thatcher, the music becomes the only possible soundtrack. It’s much more sophisticated than Lydon’s “nO fUTuRe!” gobby snarl. Nothing wrong with Johnny’s war cry, but Joy Division did it far more artily. And I like my music on occasion to be arty and self-indulgent. Stick with it and it offers up greater rewards. A BBC4 documentary last year on the band had fast-cut, black and white film footage of inner city Manchester soundtracked by Shadowplay. And it was perfect.
Joy Division – Shadowplay
The first copy I had of Unknown Pleasures was on a hissy C90 version I’d taped from that LP I borrowed from Irvine Library. For all its scrapes and scratches (every time I hear Day Of The Lords, I expect my CD or needle to skip half-way through, and it always throws me when it doesn’t), that record had real life in it. If you held it up to the light, it changed colour from black to a deep maroon. I borrowed it more than once, to play loudly – it sounded far better than the tape I’d recorded – but sometimes just to look at and impress any pals who may have shown half an interest. It never occurred to me that I could buy my own, pristine copy. It was enough for me to have a badly recorded version on tape. Certainly an original Factory release, Irvine Library’s copy would command a high fee well into triple figures if it was still around and up for sale. Makes you (or me, at any rate) wonder what other treasure – unknown treasures? – loitered unassumingly in their racks.
Keeping It Peel is the brainchild of Webbie, who writes the excellent and informative Football And Music blog. An annual celebration of all things Peel, its purpose is to remind everyone just how crucial John Peel was to enlightening and expanding listening tastes up and down the country; to ‘Educate and Inform‘, as was the motto of his employer.
Be it demo, flexi, 7″, 10″, 12″, EP, LP, 8 track cartridge, wax cylinder or reel to reel field recording, the great man famously listened to everything ever sent his way, and if it was in anyway decent he played it on his show. Sometimes, he played the more obscure records at the correct speed. Sometimes he didn’t. And sometimes, no-one noticed.
John Peel is the reason my musical tastes expanded beyond the left-field avant-garde edginess of Hipsway and Love And Money and the reason why my mum stopped singing her own version of whatever it was I was playing (“Take a ri-ide on the Suga Trayne!”) and started asking me to “turn that racket down” whenever she passed my teenage bedroom door. Pfft! Never Understand, indeed.
Thank you, John.
Not quite a Kennedy moment, but I distinctly remember where I was 12 years ago when I first heard of his death. Midway through a month-long placement in a pre-school nursery as part of my teacher training, it was my wife who told me. Being a student, we ran just the one car and she picked me up that day.
(I’m paraphrasing here)….
“Shops…school….I’ll be taking it back….this happened earlier…’Loose Women’….butternut squash soup…school….I’m taking that back too….oh yes – that DJ you like died today. John Peel? Is that his name?”
It was fairly shocking. Certainly, for a ‘celebrity’ death it hit me far harder than it had any right to. I didn’t know him, yet I did. Nightly I’d have a sweaty finger hanging over the pause button on my tape recorder, with the sole aim of capturing every note of the latest House Of Love or Inspiral Carpets or Wedding Present session, minus any of his speaking. I was good at it too.
Somehow, I wished I had failed slightly in those self-imposed tasks and had managed instead to capture him forever on my crappy 3rd generation C90s. The odd moment survives – “Hey man! The bongos are too loud!” (whispered after The House Of Love premiered The Beatles & The Stones) but in the main I managed to get all of the music and nearly none of the great man.
I like to think if he was still educating and informing us with his 45s at 33 inbetween the Stump tracks and Electro Hippies sessions, Peel would’ve found time to play this:
It’s perfectly Peel.
Mysterious. Who are/is TVAM?
Influenced by all the right things west of East Germany.
George Harrison, the youngest Beatle, bullied by John and Paul into 2nd tier status in the band, was essentially the runt of the litter yet wrote some of their most enduring songs. When writing sessions were underway ahead of a new Beatles’ recording, poor George had to bide his time while the other two writers hogged the limelight with their latest offerings. Only after they had been given careful consideration would George be allowed to show off what he’d been working on. In any other band, he’d have been the principal writer and held in higher esteem, but in The Beatles he was lucky to get more than one of his tracks onto each album.
By 1968’s ‘White Album’, George had a handful of future classics under his belt. Writing sessions in Rishikesh in northern India proved particularly fruitful. The Beatles plus associated wives/girlfriends along with a raggle-taggle mismatch of musicians and actors (Donovan, Mike Love, Mia Farrow and her sister ‘Dear’ Prudence) gathered at the feet of the Maharishi to find out the ways of tanscendental mediatation.
The trip was not without incident; Ringo visited a doctor due to a reaction to the inoculation he’d taken before going, John complained that the food was lousy (Paul and Jane Asher loved it) and the Maharishi, as peace-loving and spiritual as he may have been, turned out to be a randy old man, intent on bedding as many of the female guests as he could.
George was particularly taken with meditation, leading John to quip, “The way George is going, he’ll be flying a magic carpet by the time he’s forty!”
Against this backdrop, John, Paul and George wrote many songs that would appear on the new Beatles’ album at the end of the year. Donovan turned John onto a new style of fingerpicking that he’d picked up from the folk clubs and Lennon put it to good use on Dear Prudence. George might’ve been equally inspired, as the descending bass run that characterises Dear Prudence makes it into a couple of his own songs on the White Album.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps began life as a downbeat campfire singalong; folk in a minor key, with the ubiquitous descending bass line offest by an uplifting bridge. It’s understated and simple, nothing like the album version.
George Harrison – While My Guitar Gently Weeps (demo)
George had to wait an agonising 8 weeks from the start of the album sessions before being given the chance to showcase it. Quite how he kept his mouth shut as John ran through days and days of tape loops creating the arty (but tuneless, let’s be clear) Revolution 9 while Paul completed dozens of takes of the reggae-lite Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and even Ringo had his moment in the spotlight with his honky tonkin’ Don’t Pass Me By is very impressive, but when given his moment (“I always had to do about ten of Paul and John’s before they’d give me the break,”) he rose to the occassion.
The demo of While My Guitar Gently Weeps was used as the blueprint and added to with layer upon layer of guitar and vocals through the use of an 8-track recording machine (the first Beatles’ track to do so) until it was the super-heavy version that appears on the album. An uncredited Eric Clapton was asked by George to play guitar on it. George had been bemoaning the fact that he’d spent hours aimlessly trying to recreate a weeping sound for the track and asked his pal instead to play the solo, which he did with majestic, understated aplomb.
The Beatles – While My Guitar Gently Weeps
It’s a perenial favourite, never bettered than when Prince put the other ‘stars’ – heavyweights Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood – firmly in their place with his outrageously brilliant cameo at the 2004 Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame. Two questions, the first rhetorical. How overjoyed does Dhani Harrison look when the wee man steps up and takes the song to a whole new level?
Secondly, what happens to Prince’s guitar at the end? Watch….
The mid 60s was an extremely fertile period for James Brown. By then he’d moved away from the tear-soaked, down-on-his-knees gospel/soul that defined much of his early career. Relatively straightforward 12 bar song structures were replaced instead by jerky, jagged one-chord grooves. Brass stabs emphasised the first beat – “On the one!” as he’d instruct his musicians, and the tracks would tick along with well-timed metronomic precision. No-one knew it at the time, but the Godfather of Soul was inventing funk.
To be in James’ band then must’ve been terrifically exciting, yet extremely stressful. Here you were, creating this new form of dance music, all the while unable to enjoy playing for playing’s sake, lest you miss the beat and risk a fine from the boss. James Brown records are littered with phlegmily barked instructions; “Horns! (Bap! Bap!) Maceo! (Toot! Toot!) Pee-ann-er! (rinky dink dink dink) – every musician hitting his part with laser precision. Miss the beat and you’d find your pay packet a wee bit lighter come the end of the week.
When you strip the records down into their component parts, they’re extremely simple affairs. Take 1965’s Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. Individually, there’s fairly little going on; a rickety-tick drum beat played by Melvin (brother of Maceo) Parker, a repetitive, a see-sawing, octave-hopping bass line, a simple horn section, blasting ‘on the one’, a chicken scratching guitar, stuck forever on a Major 9th chord (I think it’s Db, though the released recording was sped up half a tone to make it faster and more energetic, so this, muso minds, would in effect make it an E major 9th) and James’ gravel-throated lyric about an old guy who’s discovered he likes the new dance all the kids are doing.
James Brown’s Star Time box set – one of THE essential additions to any serious music collection features the complete, unedited take of Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. When the track was originally released as a single, it was edited so that ‘Part 1’ became the a-side, and the extended funk workout that followed was renamed ‘Part 2’ and featured on the b-side.
James Brown –Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag (Parts 1, 2 and 3)
The box set includes James Brown’s declaration that, “This is a hit!” before a note is even played, and for the next 7 or so minutes, the band follows their leader with an unnerving mechanical rhythm. The whole recording sounds tight and taut, lean and mean, stripped of unnecessary excess and flab. It fair packs a punch.
A favourite dancefloor filler in this part of the world, it can make my pal Greg move in ways a white man from the west of Scotland has no real right to. Soul of a black man, feet of a rhythmically-challenged Glaswegian. Right on.
You know this already, of course, but James Brown’s influence goes far and wide. Early 80s DIY punk/funk collective Pigbag named their signature instrumental Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag in clear homage. An instantly catchy 8 note riff, it failed to chart initially.
Pigbag – Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag
Nowadays, Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag is ubiquitous with over-zealous, celebratory football chants and montage soundtrackers who think they’re still making yoof programmes for the TV, thanks in no small part to Paul Oakenfold’s ‘monsta!’ souped-up makeover around 20 years ago, but Pigbag’s original version took 2 or 3 goes before it went chart-bound. The Jam, in particular their keen-eared, sticky-fingered bass player Bruce Foxton, must’ve been blushing slightly when it eventually started gaining airplay.
By this time their own Precious, out as a double a-side with A Town Called Malice was starting to get played on the radio and you couldn’t help but notice the (cough) similarity between the two tunes.
The Jam – Precious (12″ version)
The Jam even went as far as naming their posthumous live album Dig The New Breed, a line from the James Brown tune that kicks off this post. Which just goes to show, what goes around comes around.
1985. 15 years old. Too young for pubs (I looked about 12) and too old for weans’ stuff like skating and swimming at the Magnum, it was the worst of times. My pals and I started going to a youth club every Sunday night at the church. There was table tennis and pool and a cheap tuck shop. Nice-looking girls went and everything. Now and again you’d have a hormone-filled and hormone-fueled shaky game of pool with a lassie you had absolutely no chance of getting anywhere with, but it certainly brightened the times.
There was one stipulation to attending Youth Fellowship: once a year you had to represent the church in the area Bible quiz. For 50 weeks of the year you got cheap Cola and stilted access to fanciable girls as long as you agreed to mug up on the finer points of the Good Book and answer questions in front of an audience. My one and only participation in this was a truly enlightening moment, though probably not for the reasons the church would have liked.
The quiz always took place in one of the ante-rooms or small halls upstairs above the Grand Hall in Kilmarnock. This particular year, the quiz took place the same night as The Pogues were playing downstairs. I had never heard of The Pogues, didn’t know they were playing until we arrived in the church mini bus, but when I saw the queue snaking round the corner, I knew where I’d rather be going. All manner of youth tribes were there; pasty-faced, back-combed goths (I recognised one girl from school who looked nothing like she did on an ordinary day. The guy she was with looked at least 17 years old and she pretended not to see me. Pfffft), old punks with daft-looking triple-pronged mohicans and bondage trousers, a couple of teddy boys and a whole army of Docs ‘n leather and denim jackets, interspersed with the odd Celtic top. I had no idea why folk would wear a football top to a gig, but it wouldn’t be long until I made the connection between the green and white hoops with MacGowan and co.
Anyway, we shambled upstairs into the stuffy confines of the small hall where we’d be quizzing that night. After a few formal introductions from a tweedy man who looked as old as the Bible itself, we got underway. It was all fairly straightforward to begin with; “Who cut Samson’s hair and deprived him of strength?“, “Which Sea did Moses part?“, “What occupation did St Andrew have?“, all that sort of stuff. Then, as the wheat began to separate from the chaff and the questions got tougher, The Pogues took the stage.
“In which Book of the Bible….”
“Kscscscscshhh..thump thump thump….”
(Raising his voice a little) “…meet the Lion?”
(cue nervous giggling and shuffling of feet).
This Pogues lot sounded like just the thing I’d been looking for. The rest of the quiz was punctuated by a whole host of punky, rootsy, rebel shouting, banshee wailing and liberal swearing coming from the floor below, slightly dulled and muffled, but clear enough for all of an offended nature to hear. It was this event that led me to believe in the power of live music. So, thank you Youth Fellowship, for making sure I never missed out.
A year or so later I found myself browsing in Walker’s Record Shop at Irvine Cross. It was the best wee record shop bar none. The two elderly ladies who worked there had an extensive knowledge of music and knew exactly where to find what you were looking for. Years later, when I worked at Our Price and had a good understanding of the mechanics of ordering and returning stock, I realised that Walker’s was so good because they never returned any un-sold stock, so over time the shop had become an Aladdin’s Cave of waiting-to-be-discovered classics. Flicking through the racks one day I chanced upon The Pogues ‘Poguetry In Motion‘ EP. With memories of the previous year’s Bible quiz/Pogues swear fest still fresh in my mind I bought it. My first Pogues record, but certainly not my last.
It’s a tremendous EP, a Pogues in miniature for the short-of-attention.
Side 1 kicks off with London Girl, the ‘poppy’ one, all skirling accordion and battered snare, a chicken dance for those folk in Docs ‘n denim I’d seen in the queue the year before, MacGowan growling his way through the London A-Z with youthful abandon.
The Pogues – London Girl
This is swiftly followed by A Rainy Night In Soho, another London-referencing song, one I didn’t immediately take to (it was too slow for this hopped-up teenager) but in time I’ve come to accept it as the classic it now is.
The Pogues – A Rainy Night In Soho
A romantic, (aye, romantic! That drunk ‘singer’ could fair write a love song, eh?) lilting, waltzing gem of a song, it’s the equal of anything Tom Waits might have written had he been an Irish immigrant in London rather than a Californian who lived on the Mexican border. It always annoyed me how MacGowan sings the “now this song is nearly over” line twice, once mid-way and one when it is in fact nearly over, but I like to think his lyrics on the recorded version were a work in progress that he never quite got around to changing. We’ll maybe never know.
Flip the record over and it starts with a thrilling rush of double-speed playing, penny whistles competing with a snarl of shouting and swearing and a tumble of military drums. There’s a great story in the lyrics and the juvenile in me regresses to that night at the Bible quiz every time I hear it. Who knows if it was played that night in the Grand Hall, but I’d bet it was. For its sheer ramshackle stomp, The Body Of An American remains my favourite ever Pogues track.
The Pogues – The Body Of An American
The last track on it is an instrumental two-fingered salute to the Irish traditional musician Noel Hill. He famously called The Pogues music ‘a terrible abortion to Irish music’. ‘Planxty’ is an old Irish pub shout, said the way we say ‘Cheers!’ nowadays. So, the band were saying Cheers! Noel Hill, ironic, like, before launching into a breakneck instrumental with wheezing accordions and marching band drums punctuated by the occasional war cry. Wake up, garandad, they (literally) say. This is where Irish music is at nowadays!
The Pogues – Planxty Noel Hill
It might surprise you to know that the first version of Fairytale Of New York was recorded at these sessions. Producer Elvis Costello had clearly caught The Pogues in a rich vein of form. You may also be surprised to know that Costello and MacGowan had a long-running argument over the arrangement of A Rainy Night In Soho. Shane eventually won, with his choice of flugelhorn solo taking precedence over Costello’s favoured oboe solo. Spinal Tap, eh? Pogues completists amongst you will also be aware that the Costello mix of A Rainy Night In Soho went on the American version instead.
Perhaps the biggest surprise though in all of this is that, in a year where our greatest living musical heroes are no longer actually living, Shane still walks among us, an advert for a debauched way of life that even Keith Richards would balk at.
Pogues completists will also be aware of this….Shane MacGowan having his own religious experience, just in front of Mick Jones as The Clash rage on stage: