Gone but not forgotten

TV Aye

On my trip to New York last year, I was dead set on returning with a specific record. A modern repress was no good – you can get them anywhere after all – it had to be an original ‘70s pressing of an album recorded in the city, by a group from the city, with the grime and grind of lower Manhattan embedded deep within its grooves for added, authentic punkish effect. A ‘pre-loved’ and battered sleeve could only add to the funk of it all and I wouldn’t rest until I had tracked one down.

D’you know how hard it turned out to be, to find a decent record shop in Manhattan, let alone find one that had that one copy of Television’s Marquee Moon sitting idly and unloved at the back of its racks, waiting for the day when I’d show up with twenty bucks to rescue it from forgotten-ness for ever?

Dead hard to impossible, that’s how hard.

At the bottom of the High Line near the entrance to Chelsea Food Market was a wee artisan boutique where various local artists sold their wares. And right in the corner was an old disinterested guy selling records. They were packed in torn and ripped cardboard boxes, handwritten labels denoting the music genres within. Damn! Two guys were digging deep in the ‘Punk/Noo Wave’ box. And they weren’t moving anytime soon. I ignored the ‘Rawk/Hard Rawk’ selection, found the ‘Funk/Soul/Disco/‘70s Shit’ box and, with one eye on the two guys who, I was convinced, would unearth a Rocket To Russia or Plastic Letters or, no!, a Marquee Moon any second now, began rifling through a box of records that had seen better days.

I pulled loose a copy of Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul, horrified first at the price – $50 – and then at the state of the thing. A well-worn sleeve suggests a life well-lived, the untold stories of get downs and skin-ups that were soundtracked by the record within. I don’t mind a tatty sleeve at all – you should see the state of the mouse-nibbled copy of Sandinista! I found in Liverpool a few years ago – but this record…all these records here…were wrecked to the point of uselessness. If I’d found this copy for £1 in the British Heart Foundation shop at Irvine Cross, I’d have swithered over the pros and cons of parting with my money. Fifty bucks?! Get real! Those two guys making their way through the box I really wanted to explore weren’t going anywhere fast, and by now the family had caught up with me, eager to move on. I’ll never know what was in that box, or what New York prices were being asked…but it still eats away at me that I’ll never find out.

We weren’t in New York, Craig, to spend hours looking for and then browsing through record shops, but I managed to syphon off some me time to spend scouring the Rough Trade that’s next to Radio City. Right at the back was a second-hand section. No Marquee Moon here either, but in amongst the overpriced jazz reissues and (bizarrely) Gerry Rafferty’s back catalogue, I fell upon an original ‘76 press of Dylan’s Desire, replete with its original 1970s price sticker, for a mere $8. Re-sult, as the crate diggers say.

On the way to the counter was a display of ‘Classic NYC Albums’ – I’ll let you work out which records were displayed – and, in an impulsive move, emboldened by the original Dylan and happy that I’d finally found a New York-ish record that met my stringent criteria, I picked up a minty fresh and shrink wrapped copy of Marquee Moon to complete my purchase.

Cool rekkid,” said the counter girl through her dyed black fringe and piercings. “Great guitar playin’ awl ovah it.”

I know,” I smiled. “When in New York…

You gotta,” she finished for me, giving nary an acknowledgment to the Bob record she was ringing up. “Have a great day!

I was delighted. Not particularly with the Marquee Moon which I’d had forever anyway – it was one of the first CDs I bought, but with the Dylan record which, after a quick Google while sitting on the wall opposite Rough Trade, I discovered was originally sold in Jordan Marsh, an NYC chainstore with its own record department. Not the New York record I had my heart set on, but a New York record all the same.

Unfortunately then, my vinyl copy of Marquee Moon comes not with the essence of the Bowery engrained in it, nor the mucky fingerprints of some speed-damaged old punk rocker across it, but still with the greatest free-form guitar playing that sets it out as the most individualised trailblazing record in an era chock-full of individualised trailblazers.

The band Television first entered my teenage orbit on the back of The Family Cat’s forever support-band sounding ‘Tom Verlaine’. Who was the titular Tom that had this loud and caterwauling indie rock track named after him? I soon found out.

The sound Television made was, especially when you consider the mid ‘70s, the sound of the future. Think how many of your favourite bands have replicated Tom Verlaine’s guitar playing since; spidery thin then creamy thick, loose and ragged then fat-free but flashy all at once. Will Sergeant… John McGeoch… the entire alumni of Scots’ post-punk six string alchemists… you can perhaps trace a direct line from the hot wired fretboard of Verlaine’s Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster to any number of single coiled, solid bodied fetishists the world over, but you won’t find any other examples of the guitarist’s initials mirroring the band in which he plays. A happy accident, for TV and Television for sure.

TelevisionFriction

I’ve always loved Tom Verlaine’s playing on Television’s Friction; the jerky riffing, the unexpected notes in the solos that are always strictly non-blues, but especially the little electrified sound effects he coaxes from the wound strings as the, ‘my eyes are like telescopes’ line creeps out. You can ‘see’ those eyes, pirouetting out on little stalks as the music matches the vocal.

EFF, ARR, EYE, SEE, T-I-O-ENN!’ it goes, wired and paranoid, a thousand bedroom guitar players tuning in intently. Not all guitar players would match Verlaine – few ever will – but that free-flowing metallic sound will ring forever, whether it’s from an old and battered copy of Marquee Moon or a bog standard original that’s straight from an Eastern European pressing plant. Great rekkid, with great guitar playin’ awl ovah it. Shine on, Tom Verlaine.

 

 

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

It’s Funk, Jah, But Not As We Know It

This record will be 50 years old this year…half a century young and still sounding like nothing that’s been before or since. Well, to a point…

Lee Perry‘s Jungle Lion is vintage Perry, from the stoned, lion roaring madman-isms at the beginning to the sun-baked skank as the record’s groove kicks in, to the echoing brass refrain that lifts the recording up and out to the moon and back, the hook that keeps the whole acid-fried masterpiece from falling apart.

Lee PerryJungle Lion (7″ mix)

The production on Jungle Lion is insane. The band is locked in and tight, bass and drums laying the groundwork, that wet slap of chicka-chicka guitar adding the scratchy colour like a toddler with a crayon dragged across a piece of paper; messy, unique and creative. Perry toasts over the top in his own freeform fashion, the needles of the mixing desk accelerating far to the right and stuck in the red as he ‘Ughs’ and ‘Aows’ and ‘ch-ch-chs’ his way across the top. ‘Dan-dee-layon! Jung-gal layon! Fay-ah!‘ It’s funk, Jah, but not as we know it.

That brass refrain. The hook. You’ll definitely have heard that elsewhere. The keener scholars around these parts will point to Al Green‘s Love And Happiness and take the bonus round for 15 points, please, Jeremy.

Al GreenLove And Happiness

Now, I don’t know quite what wizardry The Upsetter was capable of manifesting inside Black Ark, but it seems to me – and I may be well off the mark here – that Perry sampled, yet didn’t sample, the horn refrain from Al Green. What I mean is, the refrain on Perry’s track is the same music, not merely a version played by Perry’s horn section, but sampling wasn’t a thing in 1973…or was it? Exactly what technology was available to maverick studio heads with no boundaries and serious creativity overload?

My thinking is that Perry simply played Al Green’s track and, using a studio microphone set up next to the speaker where Love And Happiness blasted forth, recorded what came out. Remember how, back in the days before ghetto blasters with in-built radios, you used to tape the charts? Yeah, exactly like that.

So Perry takes Green’s track – the delicious guitar riff in the intro as well as the horn refrain – and builds his own warped and inventive take on a soul classic. Nothing new in this of course – most reggae tracks began life as sun-baked covers of the soul music that crackled and crept across the US services airwaves and onto the Caribbean – but Lee Perry’s masterstroke is in the direct lifting rather than the direct copying that his peers would do.

Al Green’s original is such a great track. Stately yet understated, quietly assured and coasting on a slow fever bed of warm hammond and honeyed brass, the perfect foil for the Reverend’s measured, restrained vocal.

He always surrounded himself with great musicians, did Al, from the Rhodes sisters on backing vocals, to the slow ‘n steady Al Jackson Jnr on drums and Leroy Hodges on bass, to his guitar player and sometime-co-writer (and brother of Leroy) Teenie Hodges. I’ve written about Teenie before, a relative unknown in the guitar world but, for me, a guitarist whio appeals to me far more than some of the usual names who appear on those ‘Best Guitarists Ever’ lists. He’s such a fluid player, Hodges, clean and clear, with the most delicate of touches. Those fingers can hover an inch above the frets and his guitar will sing, clean and chiming, bluesy and soulful. No wonder Lee Perry was keen to employ him in whichever manner he could get away with.

One great horn refrain, two outstanding records.

 

Gone but not forgotten

Thinking Of You

The Specials were one of the very first groups I truly loved. Later life would open my eyes and ears to their stance, but as a 10 year old I had no idea they were in any way political, or that by even lining up in that defiantly multicultural manner they were flicking a two-fingered salute to the dangerous undercurrent of right-wing extremism that was simmering just below the surface of Thatcher’s Britain. Friendly antagonists, they fought back through well chosen words and haircuts and clothes. Me? I just liked jumping around Mark Richmond’s room to Do The Dog and Rat Race, Nite Klub and his single of Too Much Too Young. “Ain’t you heard of con-tra-cep-shun!” we’d shout, oblivious to what that actually was, our tasselled loafers ripping our heels to bits as we clacked the segs off his mum’s kitchen floor. Far too young for the 2 Tone tour of ’79 when it made its final stop in the rundown seaside town of Ayr, just down the coast from my house, it wouldn’t be until The Specials reformed in the early 2010s that I’d finally catch them in full flight. I’m glad I did. They were dynamite from start to finish.

Terry Hall, Barrowland Ballroom 2013

Terry Hall was the unlikeliest of frontmen. Despite being the King of the suedeheads, he never seemed like he was very much into it. He always looked fed up, disinterested at times, perhaps depressed at others. Hangdog and emotionless, he’d hang from his mic stand like Eeyore, down in the mouth, staring at the floor, as his bandmates whipped up a not-so-quiet riot around him. Of course he was into it though. The music would occasionally spark a jolt of electricity through him and he’d pull himself tight, knuckles whitened around the mic, shoulders up and into his ears and he’d fly off in a whirl of suit-jacketed skanking, turning to face Neville or Lynval to lose himself in the punkish ramalama before the brief musical interlude ended and he was pulled magnetically back to his real job as downbeat frontman in one of our greatest and most accurately-named groups.

The news of Terry Hall’s sudden death has hit me far harder than I could have anticipated. I’m working from home just now, putting together stuff that should be turned in before Friday, but I can’t properly concentrate. I’m listening, not to The Specials – they’re night-time music – but to Virgins and Philistines, the album he made with/as The Colourfield in the mid ’80s. It’s rich and inventive and packed full of unravelling melodies, as well as bona fide classics; it opens with Thinking Of You, and its rich mix of Spanish guitars, plucked strings and groovy acoustic bass runs has almost set me off, its upbeat melancholy taking on a whole new meaning. Powerful thing, music. I’m not sure I can handle Forever J just now. I’ll save that particular beauty for tomorrow, maybe.

The ColourfieldThinking Of You

A funny thing happens when popstars die. You don’t know them…and yet, you do. They pop round far more often than yr old Auntie Margaret, for starters. You know them, and they know you far better than anyone else. They get you. They instantly uplift. Immediately heal and soothe. Always in tune with your feelings, they never disappoint (well…Morrissey, but…) Pull them out of that alphabetised collection of yours and they’re right with you in the room, familiar old friends reigniting old memories of the past, shooting to the surface like lava from a volcano and spilling out in unstoppable order.

As my own years roll on, and friends and heroes die, I find myself getting increasingly nostalgic for a past that surely couldn’t have been as idyllic as I remember. One whiff of Gangsters and I’m right back in Mark’s mum’s kitchen, an orange rolling from the top of the fruit bowl and onto the floor as our uncoordinated earth-quaking and enthusiastic skank tips first the fruit and then his mum over the edge. Mark is also no longer with us, so the music of Terry Hall, and especially The Specials, has all sort of meaning suddenly attached to it.

I’m back in the living room of our old house as my mum pulls out the catalogue and asks if I want peg legs or flares for school trousers. Thank you, whoever you might be up there, who prompted me to ask for peg legs just as 2 Tone was filtering its way to Bank Street Primary School. I’m back in the playground, half a dozen of us shooting bright yellow sparks from our segs.

And I’m in the wee shop in Irvine High Street agonising over which of the badges my 15p will go on this time. A Specials badge, the group scowling in miniature? A Madness logo? My original one was lost somewhere in or near the Magnum and I’m still annoyed about that. That spray-painted Jam logo, maybe? Nah. I’ll go for The Police this time. Just, as always, on the wrong side of cool. When you’re that age, music is just music. Leaving aside the Y cardigans and the burgundy Sta-Prest and those painfully cutting loafers, tribal identity wasn’t so important at primary school. So there the badges were; The Beat, The Selecter, Adam and the Ants, The Police. And Status Quo. Fight me.

 

Gone but not forgotten

Glory To The King

I read this thing about Elvis a few months ago – around the time of the Baz Luhrmann biopic coming out, as it happened – that suggested that the market for Elvis memorabilia had crashed to the point of irrelevence; the collectors, it pointed out, were all dying off and the younger generations just didn’t identify with Elvis in the same way.

The King of Rock ‘n Roll? From a Gen Zeder’s perspective, that’s a sad (as in embarrassing) label to tag anyone with. Get hip, daddy-o, Elvis is dead, in every sense of the word. He rocks in his box and in his box only. Unlike the timeless appeal of say, The Beatles or Queen – young kids love Queen – or AC/DC or Fleetwood Mac, artists whose music soundtracks films, appears on catch-all streaming playlists, is referenced by the pop stars of today and therefore is still culturally relevant, to young folk, Elvis is just a tragic fat guy in a white suit who died on the toilet. His records, antiquated artefacts of a sepia-tinted bygone world at best, middle of the road karaoke fodder at worst, will never be streamed, let alone spun, by anyone under 40. The King is dead, man. The King is dead…

But, but, but…let me tell you, you in the Balenciaga and you in the Yeezy Boost, Elvis could sing…he could swing…and for a while, he mattered.

The purists might point to the Vegas years; if you can, see past the bloated excess of an Elvis deep in all sorts of personal trouble, you’ll revel in his sensitive treatment of the standards. And there are definitely gems to be found amidst his army ‘n movie years of the ’60s. But to these ears, his ’50s output is easily his most exciting period. If you’re a doubter, a naysayer, a cloth-eared fool, then his version of Santa Claus Is Back In Town won’t go any way to swaying your opinion, but as far as rough ‘n ready Christmas rockers go, it’s right up at the top of the tree.

Elvis PresleySanta Claus Is Back In Town

Beginning with a mesh of close-harmonied vocals from The Jordanaires – “Christttmass, Christtmas!” – and some searching, tentative piano, the track kicks into gear immediately once Elvis takes an Olympic athlete’s run-up to that first, ‘Weeeeeell‘, his arm windmilling in time to his seesawing pelvis as he uncurls his bee-stung lips and finally lets his vocal go. “Well, it’s Christmas time pwitty bay-bee, and the snow is fallin’ h’on the ground...”

His singing, almost a parody of an actual Elvis impersonator, is full-on fun. He sings from the creped soles of his shoes in the low parts, straight off the toppa the ducktail in the high sections, the voice lightly sandpapered and soulful enough to convince the uninitiated that it belongs to a black bluesman from the Mississippi delta. There are parts where the band drops out and it’s just Elvis and his air of dangerous mystery filling the spaces. He rhymes ‘sack on my back‘ with ‘big black Cadillac‘. He breaks into a guttural laugh in the instrumental breakdown. He sings the title as one word. ‘San’aclawzizbagintaah‘. Elvis’s whole vocal schtick, in fact, can be heard in just this one tune.

There are bits on the record where everyone and the kitchen sink is getting in on the hot seasonal action. The drums, swinging like ol’ Bing Crosby on the 14th tee at Palm Springs, bash and crash like Benny and Choo-Choo’s trash cans tumbling down Top Cat’s alley. The piano plays its own unique, slurred honky tonk, soaked in Christmas spirit and half an egg nog too many. Low rasping sax fleshes out the bottom end as a swing-time jazz double-bass walks its way carefully between the notes, a drunk man on an icy pavement trying to look sober on the return home. The whole thing is over and out in less than two and a half rockin’ (yes!) and rollin’ (yes!!) minutes. It’s a daft record, but totally essentially at this time of year.

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Knuckles Rapped

There was a terrible version of You’ve Got The Love a few years ago, a windswept and earnest cover that was drama school in delivery and hive-inducing in reception. Florence & The Machine had chosen to close their festival slots with it and there were enough enthralled and taste-free people giving thumbs up around the band that their record company rush-released a version. It was all over the radio like a rash in need of antihistamine, its Asda-priced Kate Bushisms making me almost crash the car more than once. Sting. King.

The source (aye!) of Florence’s version was the deep throb of The Source‘s track, recorded with finger clickin’ soul survivor Candi Staton on vocals.

The Source feat. Candi StatonYou’ve Got The Love

Taking her vocal line from the motivating commentary on a keep fit video – ‘sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air…sometimes it feels the going is just too rough…I know I can count on you‘ – Staton’s delivery ensured something of classic cut status for the track.

Many people wouldn’t have realised the record was essentially a cover. Indeed, for most chart music-buying folks, the record’s 5-note bassline and viralish, ear-worming keyboard motif would be their first unknown introduction to Frankie Knuckles.

Waaaay back in the years when house music was first thumping and throbbing its way from the sweaty basements of Chicago to the switched-on fringes of the mainstream, New Yorker Knuckles teamed up with Chicago soul singer Jamie Principle and hotwired his original soulful vocal to a tune that was at once progressive, deep, emotional and zeitgeist-riding.

In an era when (Stateside especially) hair metal was the mainstream’s thing, when The Smiths were putting out The Queen Is Dead and every other guitar band in the country was hanging on to their jangling coat tails, Knuckles was busy programming sequencers and drum machines – MC80s, 303s, 707s and 808s – to create a record that still resonates today. If How Soon Is Now is, as was said, the indie Stairway To Heaven, Frankie Knuckles’ Your Love is dance music’s She Loves You.

Frankie KnucklesYour Love

The record kicked doors down. It gatecrashed the notion of what ‘dance music’ was, and what it was not. It wasn’t a hundred mile an hour electro pogo. It wasn’t base and derivative. It wasn’t (always) an anonymous guy hiding behind a rack of technology while a lip-synching beauty mimed her way atop the caterwaulings of a session singer. This particular brand of dance music was forward-thinking, cerebral and deeply soulful. As it turned out, it was pretty much timeless too.

Your Love‘s rattling, reverberating snare must’ve sounded wonderful clattering off the walls of the Hacienda, even on a half-empty Wednesday night in February. Me? I wouldn’t know. I was too busy twisting my fingers into Smiths riffs and worrying about the length of the sleeves on my cardigan. I caught up in time though.

The sequenced keyboard line that formed the melodic hook of The Source’s cover is, at source (ha, again) hypnotising and trance-inducing, the Jungle Book’s Kaa and his spiralling snake eyes set to music. Its bassline is massive; instantly recognisable and capable of inducing Proustian rushes in even the most pasty-faced of guitar band-lovers when heard unexpectedly. It builds beautifully, from sparse electro through keyboard swells and man/woman gospelish harmonising to deep-breathing backing vocals, tasteful foreplay to the wham-bam of Lil’ Louis’ French Kiss, if you will.

I can’t let go’, sings Principle, as the song builds to its steamy-windowed climax, a notion that I wholeheartedly subscribe to. Your Love is a great record, propulsive and soulful house in the vein of Promised Land, both Joe Smooth’s original and the Style Council’s faithful reworking. I can’t let go indeed.

Gone but not forgotten

Snippets

“…and he was buh-leeding awl ovah the apartment…I dunno, John, it cawsts a lotta dough…Then he jumped on the window display and pretended to be a mannequin! Hur hur hur!!!…I can do dat forya, shoo-wa…It’s like, 40 degrees in they-ur…Whadda fuggin’ joke…Is everyone in the West Village ho-mo-sex-you-al nowadays?!…

You can spend fortunes going up tall buildings and sailing down the Hudson, eating in or dining out, but in New York the streets give you all the free entertainment you need.

New Yorkers slalom through crowds with an impatient arrogance that borders on Olympic levels of skill. They gots ta be somewhere and they gots ta be there fast. I think that’s maybe why the bankers and wankers of Wall Street pair their expensive suits with pristine white sports shoes. They conduct their telephone business as they zip around, shouting, mostly, into the ether as their wee white ear buds transmit the conversation to their recipient…and everyone else within two blocks of earshot.

“…they was nuthin’ like THESE rats, though…All I want is to be successful and live in a nice apartment in TriBeCa…The Yankees last night! Huh? Huh!!…I can give it to ya straight or I can suga’coat it in a little bullshit if you’d prefe-uh…Way da go, Amir…Have you noticed those shoes he we-uhs?…Fuck you, asshole…

It makes for great entertainment. Stand with your back to the sandstone wall of a fancy department store or a graffitied bodega or a tacky Times Square tourist trap and watch and listen. Tune in and you’ll hear languages from all corners of the globe; hand-gesturing rat-a-tat-tatting South Americans, vowel-spitting Italian tourists, slow talkin’ African-Americans. Even in the jammed aisles of Macy’s, the odd Scottish tourist’s voice will cut through the stew.

Yer da’ telt me tae try them oan, bit ah thought they wir bogging’, bit they’re actually no’.”

God knows what those whispering Japanese make of it all. A half-heard snippet here and a half-heard snippet there makes for interesting listening.

“…extra bacon? Fo’ a tip?…She’s playin’ the long game, man…I was like, I DON’T THINK SO…y’only tell me y’love me when y’fuggin’ me…I used t’be afraid of the Bronx…I heard chow chows are adorable…My social life is a gawd-damned diz-ass-tuh…”

Every one of them could be an opening line from a movie; a voiceover perhaps, or maybe the main character in conversation with their co-star.

They tell you that New York looks like a movie set, but believe me, it sounds like one too.

“…can you buh-lieve it? Can you?!…Nah. They-ur bagels taste shitty. You-uh bettuh awf going ta…The Nets? Ugh. Dead to me…I’m kinda fed up wit dat place…I dunno, Joe. Whadda YOU think?…They-ah was a lotta laughin’ and A LOTTA flirtin’, y’know?……Dis city is fuckin’ alive, man. Alive!”

Beastie BoysAn Open Letter To NYC

If this Beastie Boys video doesn’t make you want to visit NYC post haste, there’s clearly sumthin’ wrong witchu. Fast cut, metaphorically fast-paced and full of the sights the five boroughs has to offer, it’s almost got me misty-eyed for a city I’m still very much wandering around in. Kennedy Airport can wait a couple more hours.

An Open Letter To NYC is the Beasties’ post-9/11 love letter to their city of birth, and its ‘Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten, from the Battery to the top of Manhattan…’ refrain has been playing in a continual internal (and occasional external) loop as I’ve walked the hard miles this past week. At some point or other, the boy has picked up on it too. I’ve caught him rapping it with unselfconscious gusto when he’s unaware anyone is listening. It has a great lyrical message running through it, and with every othuh WORD! being empha-SIZED!, it’s SHOUTY! and OBNOXIOUS! and AmericanIZED! – just like those snippets of conversation that have also worked their way into the internal hard drive the last few days.

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Cross Pollination

To have been even a peripheral cog in that late ’60s/early ’70s Laurel Canyon songwriting wheel would have been quite something, I’d imagine. In houses tucked deep into the lush Californian flora and fauna, bands shared players and partners – of both the writin’ and romantic kind – and created a stoned immaculate co-operative of epoch-defining music.

The beautiful and not so (hi, David Crosby) plucked all manner of floaty harmonies straight out of the west coast ether and entangled them in gently strummed 12 strings and carefully picked alternatively-tuned Martin guitars and, with the help of a passing drummer or two – Buffalo Springfield’s Dewey Martin perhaps, or maybe crack sessioner Eddie Hoh, or, if he was looking for a quick gig in-between sessions, Hal Blaine (the drummers’ drummer) – commited to vinyl tracks that still ring and resonate half a century and more later.

Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name album – check it out! – reads like a Wikipedia who’s who of the era’s Californian singer/songwriter scene. Graham Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and assorted Grateful Deads and Jefferson Airplanes show up to add their lightly toasted harmonies and frazzled, sloppy guitar playing to the record. The result is something of a one-off, recorded spontaneously (mostly) and sent to the pressing plant before anyone had the bright idea of tinkering with it. As rough ‘n ready albums go, it’s hard to beat.

I’m a sucker for the meandering and hippy Laughing, a track written in memory of the time Crosby met George Harrison at the height of Beatlemania and they bonded over Eastern philosophy and Ravi Shankar. It’s a tapestry of highly strung guitars, weeping pedal steel and overlapping, multi-stacked harmonies and it just might soothe your troubled post-millenial soul.

David CrosbyLaughing

Recorded while Crosby was in the heavy depths of grief following his girlfriend’s death in a car crash, those in attendance would often find the singer curled up on the studio floor, overcome to the point of uselessness. Yet, when he made it to the mic, you’d never have known.

With a voice coated thick in heavy drugs and alcohol, he sang his melody-rich songs; some entirely wordless, their meaning conveyed by multi-stacked Eastern-tinged vocal-less harmonies, others thinly disguised accounts of life as a free lovin’, easy ridin’ Laurel Canyon troubadour.

Cowboy Movie, for example, is the sprawling musical story of the end of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, with Young himself riffing on a loose ‘n funky guitar duel with Jerry Garcia. It’s Down By The River by way of Cowgirl In The Sand, while Crosby outlines (via lyrical aliases) how Rita Coolidge came between he and Graham Nash, to the detriment of their band. You should seek it out.

Just out of the eye of the storm, and slightly more peripheral to the machinations of the scene were The Monkees. Desperate to be seen as credible and serious, they employed the best writers, the best sessioneers and called in the best favours to ensure their records sparkled and soared like the best of ’em. Dig beneath the hits – and there are plenty – and you’ll discover a catalogue rich in introspective melancholy and sef-deprecating balladeering.

The Stone Roses, yesterday.

Written by Carole King and sung by Micky Dolenz, As We Go Along first appeared in the film Head and then crept out on the b-side of the movie’s lead single, the trippy and non-hit Porpoise Song – a track that probably requires a blog all of its own at some point.

The MonkeesAs We Go Along

As We Go Along is so un-Monkees. There’s no obvious poppy hook. It’s downbeat, languid and loosely strummed, a raggle-taggle Rod and The Faces soundalike played on gently scrubbed acoustic guitars and thunking, woody bass. Carole King’s embeded melody eventually finds its way to the fore between the skirling acoustic strings and flutes, electric guitars riffing off into the Laurel Canyon sunset. You’ll want to play it again and again. It’s a beauty.

Alternative Version, Gone but not forgotten

Quiff Richard

The old iPod shuffled up this wonderfully anonymous curio tonight. So enamoured with it, I was forced to break into something of a treadmill sprint so that my arms could get close enough to my trusty wee portable friend resting on the machine’s control panel and replay it. This I managed without breaking stride, which is something of a record. As indeed is this (something of a record).

I couldn’t place it. It swings like Ella ‘n Louis, but there’s no high parping trumpet or any of Armstrong’s sandpaper vocals, so it ain’t Ella Fitzgerald. It’s too cultured to be Big Mama Thornton but not stately enough to be Nina Simone. Bessie Smith? Do I even own any Bessie Smith? The darkest corners of my iPod are crammed with music from those heady days when the combined joys of wireless broadband and a decent file sharing site allowed you to download the entirety of The Beatles’ back catalogue faster than you could shout, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” – all very silly and unnecessary, as we all know nowadays – but back then I was a fiend for the stuff I thought I should have but didn’t, so Bessie Smith was a good guess. By the second play though, I’d convinced myself it wasn’t bluesy enough to be her either.

What I could picture as it played was, annoyingly, Jools Holland’s Big Band easing into a 12 bar blues at his Hootenanny, seasoned old pros shuffling to that wonderfully infectious backing, with perhaps Alison Moyet or Beverley Knight getting ready to let rip at the mic. Then, when the vocals began, I could imagine that headless, broom-wielding cleaner who chased Jerry around the kitchen in endless Tom & Jerry cartoons. I know she could scream, but I bet she could sing too; a big, housekeepin’ mama with a voice as deep as the south but as clear as the air in the cotton fields.

It’s an old blues singer I haven’t paid attention to before now,’ I rationalised, majorly annoyed by now that I couldn’t place her voice. ‘I’ll find out who she was when I stop.’ And on I ran for eight, maybe nine more steps and stopped. And checked the iPod.

Stone me if it wasn’t Little Richard!

Of course it is! I mean, it’s not one of his better-known tunes (you can name them all, so I don’t need to be doing that). There’s none of the high camp screaming that’s as outrageous as the oil slick-thick conk that’s plonked atop his head. And there’s none of the mad eyed hootin’ or a-hollerin’ that so lit a spark in the teenage McCartney, but The Most I Can Offer (Just My Heart) is a beauty. Here’s another take…

Little RichardThe Most I Can Offer (Just My Heart)

Richard’s voice is both feminine and tinged with the same burnt umber of the saxophone that provides the descending backing. The high barroom piano shifts from major to minor in the bridge – of course – and then, well! – there’s Richard right there. A little rasp at the back of the epiglottis, an unseen shake of the quiff, an imagined James Brownish drop to the knees. It’s Little Richard all right.

And then he’s back to being the vampish torch singer, his band playing out their chops with regal grace and understated beauty.

Without Little Richard there’d be no ______ (fill in the blanks) or ________ , or even ______ , or perhaps even, bizarrely, Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You. Another thing that had been bugging me as I clattered the flat-footed kilometres on the treadmill to nowhere was, ‘where have I heard those opening lines before?‘ Now I know. And you do too. Check them out!

 

Gone but not forgotten, New! Now!

World Touré

Ali Farka Touré was the guitarists’ guitarist, his bony-fingered multi-flowing rhythms sending chattering and cascading African blues out into the dusty ether. His speciality was in finding the sweet spot in which to riff, his band of tribal-robed desert bluesmen laying down and locking in to the steady groove to allow him the freedom of expression on top. His playing was nothing short of breath-taking; dextrous and elastic, primal yet boundary-pushing, a Saharan sand-coated John Lee Hooker, flash but without the player himself being flashy. When Ali took off, you took off with him.

Out this week is something of a tribute record to his songs and legacy. Ali’s son Vieux has teamed up with everyone’s favourite Texan guitar artists Khruangbin and, in what’s becoming something of a habit with the trio, created an interesting and highly musical collaboration.

Named simply Ali, the album is a real beauty, with Vieux taking the essence of his father’s music and passing it over to Khruangbin to add their respectful and reverential twist.

Midway through you’ll find the effortless Tongo Barra, five and a half minutes of clean and chiming, freeflowing high line guitar, an ever-moving, shape-shifting enigma with more melody per mile than the entirety of your record collection combined.

It’s a magnificent example of what happens when two worlds collide. Vieux, with his chanting, expressive Malian vocals and peerless guitar playing surfing atop a glorious gumbo of Khruangbin magic. Drums and bass are locked tight but loose, verging almost towards Fools Gold territory in places; solid and repetitive, driving forward but with space to breathe, to stand aside and admire.

Touré’s guitar is non-stop and continual, intertwined with Mark Speer, his Winkleman-fringed six string foil in Khruangbin, gushing like a burst and overflowing NYC fire hydrant in the sun. Hammer ons, pull offs, double and triple stops, spidering up the frets and slinking back down again, a funky one chord head nodding groove, powered, if these old ears don’t deceive me, by a cranked-up Roland Jazz Chorus and played with nary a hint of effort.

Right now, Tongo Barra hangs above all other music like an omnipresent and fluid dust cloud. I can’t get enough of it.

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten

Melancholic Cowboy Noir

I once blew the chance of an interview with Nancy Sinatra after she took exception to the ‘Phil Spector’ handle under which I wrote.at the time. “Why on earth would I want to be interviewed by Phil Spector?” she asked aghast, failing to realise that it wasn’t yr actual wig-headed murderer that was cold calling and asking for the chance to chat about making records with Morrissey. “He was a strange, strange, man and I want nothing to do with him.” Fair point, Nancy. Fair point. Lesson learned – never use daft pseudonyms on the internet. I should have signed up to her long-gone fan forum under my real name.

Those records Nancy Sinatra made with Lee Hazlewood defy both time and pigeonholing. Often kitsch and sometimes countryish yet nearly always lush and orchestral, their parping brass and earthquaking vocal lines may well have wafted straight offa the grooves of a Tindersticks or a Cat Power record. Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue vamping it up on ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow‘? Pure Lee ‘n Nancy, The entire whispered, gothic ouvre of Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell? Total Lee ‘n Nancy. Their influence, committed to wax over half a century ago, still resonates.

If James Bond had been a lonesome, wandering cowboy, Summer Wine may well have been his theme tune.

Summer WineNancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood

This version of Summer Wine wasn’t the first one Hazlewood had recorded with a female sparring partner – the first version features little-known actress Suzi Jane Hokom – but the better-known take, using the original backing track slowed down to treacle-wading levels of sluggishness, is the one you need.

Road-worn and roughed up, yet clean and pretty, it’s the perfect summation of all things Lee ‘n Nancy. The ping-ponging vocals – she crystal clear and high registered, he singing from the soles of his grit covered cowboy boots – sound like they’ve been recorded in separate studios and miles apart, yet they’re woven together into a time-shifting storyline of mutual seduction with a twist in its tail. Lee is the silver-spurred outlaw, a stranger in town that jingles his way into the consciousness of bored local flirt Nancy. Together, (adopts Hart To Hart voiceover) it wasn’t quite moida, but (spoiler alert!) Lee awakes after a night of metaphorical summer wine to find both Nancy and his boots have gone.

It’s a great record, from the sweeping strings that droop and divebomb in direct proportion to Hazlewood’s handlebar moustache to the honeyed brass section that vamps its way towards John Barry’s signature Bond riff hoping that no-one, least of all Barry’s lawyers, will notice. The assembled musicians, most likely members of the Wrecking Crew although information on that is scant to non-existent, strum, scrape and snap their way through it, laid back and louche, melancholic cowboy noir in a clip-clopping minor key. Stirring stuff.

Summer Wine is practically a standard these days and has been recorded by many.

Lana del Ray and her then-partner, Barrie-James O’Neill (from Scots nearly-weres Kassidy) soundtracked a terrific home video of hazy Californian beaches, Laurel Canyon porches and windswept hair with their take on the track. Adding the audio to the visuals makes the video feel like some bleached-out, drawn-out Hollister advert, but don’t let that discourage you from what is a great version. Lana’s suitably femme fatale-ish vocals; sultry, close-miked and just on the right side of huffy are a good foil for O’Neill’s tobacco-coated Scots’ croon. Extra points for the none-more-Lee moustache.