Half a century ago this week, The Beatles were in the studio recording the tracks that would make up their Revolver LP. Amazingly, the first track worked on was Tomorow Never Knows, the cut ‘n paste, experimental, looped track that still sounds futurtistic, frightening and like nothing else in the entire Beatles’ canon. It was only three short and manic years since She Loves You, but it may as well have been three million light years, such is the leap in their vision and outlook. You could be forgiven for assuming that for the session the band reconvened in Abbey Road’s Studio 3 with a handful of solo acoustic tracks just waiting to be Beatlefied. Nothing could be further from the truth.
For Tomorrow Never Knows, the band set up in the studio to jam the main backing track, with Ringo’s compressed and relentless thunk driving the track in tandem with McCartney’s droning bass. Listen with eyes closed and you’ll hear a little organ, a wonky tonk piano in the fade out, a perisitent rattling tambourine and a couple of guitar tracks; the fuzzed out one manipulated to play backwards and the other fed through a Leslie speaker to give it that widescreen swirl that would in time become synonymous with the era.
On top of it all there are sound effects that could well be the calling sound of the Great God Pan himself; Fanfaring trumpet noises. Scraping, sweeping, jarring strings and what sounds like the divebombing seagulls that bother the fish and chip eaters at Largs shorefront. It’s fairly astonishing for 2016. Imagine hearing it for the first time in 1966. Wow!
The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows (released mono version)
Making the track involved more than just the four Beatles – George Martin orchestrated the whole affair, ably assisted by Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick who’s job involved deadening Ringo’s drum sound by stuffing an old jumper inside the bass drum and shuffling it about until the right sound was achieved. The backing track took just three takes over 2 days to perfect, before Lennon’s vocals were given the requisite attention.
Famously, Lennon’s lyrics came from Timothy Leary’s LSD manifesto, ‘The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based On The Tibetan Book Of The Dead‘ and flowed in a stream of epoch-defining consciousness…
“Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream,
It is not dying, it is not dying.
Lay down all thought, surrender to the void, It is shining, it is shining.
That you may see the meaning of within, It is being, it is being.
That love is all and love is everyone, It is knowing, it is knowing.
That ignorance and hate may mourn the dead, It is believing, it is believing.
But listen to the colour of your dream, It is not living, it is not living.
Or play the game ‘Existence’ to the end,
Of the beginning, of the beginning.”
At the mixing desk, after hearing how the guitar track sounded through the Leslie speaker, Lennon insisted his vocals were given the same treatment. “I want to sound as though I’m the Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountain top. And yet I still want to hear the words I’m singing.”
It’s also been said that John wanted the sound of 4000 monks chanting ad infinitum in the background. I’m not certain he achieved either goal, but what was eventually committed to vinyl was brave, bold and big of beat.
Here’s the druggy, fuggy first take:
The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows (Take 1)
Keen-eared Beatles spotters will be aware that the first copies of Revolver were sold with the wrong mix of Tomorrow Never Knows included. These records were quickly withdrawn and recalled, although not before a good many had disappeared into the hands of unsuspecting record buyers. Discovering this a few years ago, with shaky hand I checked the matrix number on the run-out groove of my ‘first’ pressing Revolver, bought for £4 in Irvine Indoor Market in the mid 80s when the Beatles were anything but cool. Pah. One digit out. Meaning it wasn’t technically a first issue, and nor was it worth the £20,000 it might have been. I wouldn’t have sold it anyway*.
Back in Abbey Road’s Studio 3, just after half seven that evening when Tomorrow Never Knows had been expertly finished, the band veered back towards the middle of the road to tackle Got To Get You Into My Life, another drug-inspired song and another story for another day.
Just out of shot, a young Paul Weller, keen to rip off George’s Taxman and apparently, his entire wardrobe.
Whatever happened to Bond themes? Save the fairly recent Adele effort, Skyfall (which at least attempted to recreate the 60’s heyday of lush orchestration, big vocals and bigger hair), pretty much every Bond theme since A-Ha’s The Living Daylights has been as sexy as yesterday’s Daily Mail.
Radiohead’s recent statement that the Bond franchise people had preferred Sam Smith’s idea of the Spectre theme to their own kinda sums it all up. It’s now lowest common denominator, appeal to the masses stuff, rather than edgy and out there. Perhaps this is a reflection, a metaphor for Bond himself. Once edgy and out there, he’s now lowest common denominator action hero, appealing to the masses with his suits, gadgets and beautiful women, just like yer Farrells, Damons and the rest of them.
Radiohead‘s theme is fantastic. Released for free on Christmas day without fanfare or prior warning, as is the Radiohead way, it’s edgy and paranoid, Thom Yorke’s falsetto surfing over the top of a heavily orchestrated backing track. “I’m lost, I’m a ghost. Dispossesed, taken host,” he wails, right eye no doubt twitching uncontrollably on the off beat.
Radiohead – Spectre
It fades in on a sweep of Bond-ish strings, not quite but almost playing that well-ingrained Barry motif. A piano holds the rhythm as a set of jazz drums straight outta the John Barry 7 skitter around the background. There’s the dramatic part in the middle when the strings soar and stab and jar until its brought back to earth with Yorke’s vocals about ‘bullet holes‘ and ‘mortal souls‘ and so on. Then, just as you’re getting the measure of it, it’s gone in a sudden brass stab and some wind tunnel effects. “The only truth that I can see is when you put your lips to these.” It’s by far the most Bondish of Bond themes in recent years and it was rejected.
Radiohead weren’t the only ones to fall foul of the rejection slip. Tom Jones’ brassy hip-swingin’ theme to Thunderball was chosen over a clip-clopping Johnny Cash effort. Considering the era, the producers got this spot on. Bond. Brass. Swinging London. Or the Man In Black singing roll ’em, roll ’em, roll ’em rockabilly country?
Blondie felt the sting of rejection when they submitted their theme for For Your Eyes Only. Sheena Easton’s at times out of tune and none-more-80s syrupy wallow got the nod ahead of the Noo Yoikers’ twangingly pedestrian (and frankly forgettable) mid-paced clunker. You can find it if you wish on late-era Blondie LP ‘The Hunter‘. Again, you have to say the producers got this spot on. You’re probably singing Sheena Easton’s version to yourself right now. And that’s something I never thought I’d be typing on Plain Or Pan.
By the mid 90s, anyone popular in music seemed to be draped in the Union Jack and aligned to some establishment-friendly updated idea of Swinging London. All manner of bands were discovering trumpets and strings and enhancing their weedy indie with overblown orchestration. I’m fond of some of it – Blur’s To The End, for example, and the opening track to Mansun’s debut album, but much of it was totally irrelevant.
Masters of the era were Pulp and Saint Etienne, both acts steeped in pop culture and history, with subtle nods to the unfashionable corners of the 70s, eyebrows permanently arched. Both submitted tracks for consideration as the theme to Tomorrow Never Dies. Both were rejected. Pulp’s was retitled Tomorrow Never Lies and found its way onto the b-side of the Help The Aged single. It’s not a bad tune, but alongside the stellar catalogue of existing Bond themes, it’s weedy and thin and very mid 90s indie by comparison.
Pulp – Tomorrow Never Lies
Incidentally, Help The Aged‘s parent album This Is Hardcore featured the track Seductive Barry. Either it was a song in celebration of the great arranger’s soundtracking or it was about a brown ‘n beige bri-nylon clad 2 up/2 down boy about town. With Jarvis you never know.
Saint Etienne‘s effort is more in keeping with the idea of a Bond theme; sweeeping orchestration, some wah-wah, breathy vocals, tinkling keyboards. Unfortunately it also suffers from sounding very of its time. A Bond theme should be timeless, peerless and ageless. Saint Etienne’s track most certainly isn’t. In fact, it sounds like something Dubstar might’ve rejected on the grounds of being too flimsy and wishy washy. The track has made just the most fleeting of appearances, being included only on 1999 fan club compilation Built On Sand.
Saint Etienne – Tomorrow Never Dies
The band claim that Bond du jour Pierce Brosnan owns the master tape of the track, saying it’s “seven times better than Sheryl Crow“, who’s song went on to lead the film. Really?!? Pinch of salt, surely. I’d have thought the Bond people could’ve found someone better than Sheryl Crow at the time. David McCalmont perhaps, who certainly knew a thing or two about a Bassey-inflected vocal range.
The one that really did get away though was Amy Winehouse. She was in the middle of lurching from one personal crisis to another and was passed over in favour of Jack White & Alicia Keys, who were chosen to duet the lead for the Quantum Of Solace film. Had Amy got herself together, she’d have been perfect for such a job. Composer David Arnold had worked out a contemporary orchestrated sixties-influenced piece for her and Mark Ronson sat patiently in the producer’s chair, golden touch unused. Amy’s ongoing problems meant that track was never completed.
They should’ve used Amy’s Love Is A Losing Game instead. Richly orchestrated, full of clipped guitar and bathed in pathos and heartbreak, it was the Bond theme wot got away. Amy’s voice is superb throughout.
Amy Winehouse – Love Is A Losing Game
Imagine it playing as those famous images of the silhouetted naked girls float and swim across the silver screen, then ‘see’ the camera pan downwards at the final string flourish to reveal Bond in some far-off desert or window ledge or hotel bedroom, licensed to kill and licensed to thrill. The best of the Bond themes that never were.
One week into a Bowieless world. Sadly, it takes the shock of an artist suddenly passing before their true worth is wholly appreciated. Words, paragraphs, articles, whole publications have been written in the past 7 days, waxing lyrical about every facet of his ridiculously rich back catalogue. Everyone’s tripping over themselves to declare the lost genius of Reality or ‘Hours…’ or even, unbelievably, 1. Outside. All have their moments, but calm down a wee bit at the back there, eh?
I’m not alone in this re-evaluation and appraisal. Last week’s commute to work was soundtracked exclusively by Bowie. Hunky Dory. Ziggy. Aladdin Sane. Station To Station. The big hitters. I was even asked to be a guest on a local radio station, introduced as ‘a knowledgeable local music blogger’ and encouraged to give my tuppence worth on what David Bowie meant to me – great songs, of course. Great, great albums, varied and deep with a superb hit-to-miss ratio. Even the less acclaimed material, like Loving The Alien (from Tonight) and Everyone Says ‘Hi’ (Heathen) would make it into the lower reaches of my Top 50 Bowie tracks (for years I’ve had a 40 Bits o’ Bowie playlist on my iPod, but if I were to expand it, those two tracks would be in there.)
He was also king of the catchprase-as-hookline, from Absolute Beginners‘ ‘Bomp Bomp Bah-Ooh‘, ‘Fa-fa-fa-fa-Fashion‘s beep beep‘ and Suffragette City‘s ‘Aaah, Wham Bam Thank You Ma,am!‘ right up to to Ziggy‘s ‘Woah Yeah!‘ in the outro. He had a real good way with them. You could probably think of half a dozen more in the next 20 seconds. But anyway, I digress. Where was I? Oh aye…
Reappraisal. Along with the albums listed above, I developed a new-found love of Low. Until now I always found it a bit hit ‘n miss. The highs – Sound And Vision, Be My Wife, offset by the (cough) lows of Weeping Wall and Subterraneans. They’re not really lows as such, but they’re more difficult to get into. Instrumental, for a start. Less immediate. More arty. Glacial and cold. Sometimes with Bowie you’ve just got to work at it before the true beauty emerges. That second side, all elegiac and funereal started to make much more sense last week. But it was a track on side 1 that became my ‘must play everyday’ last week.
David Bowie – Breaking Glass
Breaking Glass, the 2nd track in, was that song. Like much of the album, it‘s a cold and stark affair, with a cheesegrater-thin heavily processed guitar giving way to Bowie’s robotic funk; cracking steam powered drums, synth sweeps and rubber band bass offset by marching Teutonic vocals, half spoken, half sung, double-tracked for maximum effect. It’s soul music, Jim, but not as we know it. In a too-quick fadeout, it’s over and done with in under two minutes, managing to capture the spirit of 70s Berlin AND invent Franz Ferdinand at the same time. Which, for me, is the real reach of the artist. Loved universally by musicians from every possible genre, they all get something from him.
Bowie on Soul Train. Bowie with Lennon. Bowie with Bing Crosby. Cross dressing and crossing borders. And the outpouring of tributes since last Monday? That brilliant video of the DJ mixing and scratching Let’s Dance into a black hole…..Madonna and Springsteen both doing Rebel Rebel in concert…..David McAlmont vamping it up with a super soaraway Starman…..Elton doing Space Oddity…..Glasgow’s Broadcast venue packed on Saturday night for a heartfelt tribute from all manner of scuzzy no-mark indie bands. Bowie touched them all. Can you name any others for whom there is a universal love and respect? I can’t.
Here‘s the aforementioned Franz Ferdinand tackling another of Low‘s highs, with a little backing vocal assistance from Girls Aloud. Really.
Somehow, some way, Plain Or Pan has turned 9. Or, to be more accurate, is just about to turn 9. But at this time of year, when you can never be entirely sure if it’s Sunday morning or Thursday night and inspiration goes out the window along with routine and work ethic, it’s tradition that I fill the gap between Christmas and Hogmany with a potted ‘Best Of‘ the year compilation, so I’ve always made this period in time the unofficial birthday for the blog.
Not that anyone but myself should care really; blogs come and go with alarming regularity and I’ve steadfastly refused to move with the times (no new acts here, no cutting edge hep cats who’ll be tomorrow’s chip paper, just tried ‘n tested old stuff that you may or may not have heard before – Outdated Music For Outdated People, as the tagline goes.) But it’s something of a personal achievement that I continue to fire my wee articles of trivia and metaphorical mirth out into the ether, and even more remarkable that people from all corners of the globe take the time out to visit the blog and read them. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, one and all.
Since starting Plain Or Pan in January 2007, the articles have become less frequent but more wordy – I may have fired out a million alliterative paragraphs in the first year, whereas nowadays I have less time to write stuff and when I do, it takes me three times as long to write it. To use an analogy, I used to be The Ramones, (1! 2! 3! 4! Go!) but I’ve gradually turned into Radiohead; (Hmmm, ehmm, scratch my arse…) Without intending it, there are longer gaps between ‘albums’ and I’ve become more serious about my ‘art’. Maybe it’s time to get back to writing the short, sharp stuff again. Maybe I’ll find the time. Probably I won’t.
The past 9 years have allowed me the chance to interview people who I never would’ve got close to without the flimsy excuse that I was writing a blog that attracted in excess of 1000 visitors a day (at one time it was, but I suspect Google’s analytics may well have been a bit iffy.) Nowadays, it’s nowhere near that, but I still enthusiastically trot out the same old line when trying to land a big name to feature. Through Plain Or Pan I’ve met (physically, electronically or both) all manner of interesting musical and literary favourites; Sandie Shaw, Johnny Marr, Ian Rankin, Gerry Love, the odd Super Furry Animal. Quite amazing when I stop to think about it. You should see the list of those who’ve said they’ll contribute then haven’t. I won’t name them, but there are one or two who would’ve made great Six Of the Best articles. I’m not Mojo, though, so what can I expect?
A quick trawl through my own analytics spat out the Top 24 downloaded/played tracks on the blog this year, two for each month:
Michael Marra – Green Grow the Rashes
Wallace Collection – Daydream
Jacqueline Taieb – Sept Heures du Matin
The Temptations – Message From A Black Man
New Order – True Faith
Bobby Parker – Watch Your Step
Jim Ford – I’m Gonna Make Her Love Me
Doris – You Never Come Closer
Ela Orleans – Dead Floor
Mac De Marco – Ode To Viceroy
Teenage Fanclub – God Knows It’s True
Iggy Pop – Nightclubbing
George Harrison – Wah Wah
Magazine –Thank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again
Future Sound Of London – Papua New Guinea
Bob Dylan – Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands (mono version)
Richard Berry – Louie Louie
REM – Radio Free Europe (HibTone version)
The Cribs – We Share The Same Skies
Johnny Marr – The Messenger
McAlmont & Butler – Speed
Talking Heads – I Zimbra (12″ version)
Style Council – Speak Like A Child
Darlene Love – Johnny (Please Come Home)
And there you have it – the regular mix of covers, curios and forgotten influential classics, the perfect potted version of what Plain Or Pan is all about. A good producer would’ve made the tracklist flow a bit better. I just took it as I came to them; two from January followed by two from February followed by two from etc etc blah blah blah. You can download it from here.
See you in the new year. First up, Rufus Wainwright. Cheers!
Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…
It’s all the fault of James Grant that by 1987 I had beige chinos, a battered Levi’s denim jacket (later to be autographed/ruined by four fifths of the Inspiral Carpets outside Level 8 at Strathclyde University) and a mile-high quiff that was impossible to control. It didn’t matter whether I used half a gallon of goo every morning or battered it into shape with builders’-strength Brylcreem, by 2 in the afternoon it was wild and wayward and wavering in my eyes. Most folk at the time assumed it was in tribute to Morrissey, a reasonable assumption given that The Smiths were Kings of our world, but an assumption that was off the mark. If you’ve been reading the past couple of weeks, you’ll know that I was always far more of a Johnny fan than a Morrissey fan, and while I had a similarly collapsing coiffure (“…the rain that flattens my hair, oh these are the things that kill me…“), it was always modelled on the wee skinny frontman from Love & Money. Somehow, much to my annoyance, his never moved an inch. Which begs an obvious question….
“Haha! I didn’t use a lot of ‘product’. Maybe some Boots gel that everyone used in those days. With a wee touch of hairspray. Stick that on it and the quiff would stay like that for a week. I think I once mentioned on TV that I used Ellenet hairspray and the next day the record company took a call from them. I have what you call ‘a good head of hair’, so I never really used much. There was certainly no magic trick or anything!“
So. In the days before the internet there was Ellenet. If only I’d known…
James is a super-talented musician. Since his teens he’s been writing songs of substance that would put a writer with twice his experience to shame. In Love & Money he could effortlessly switch from neo Young Americans blue-eyed soul to sophisto-pop to Chic-esque rinky dink guitar riffing, and he couldn’t wait to fire off a flash guitar solo as slick as whatever it was that held his beautiful hair in place.
As a band we were lucky. In the early 80s, Glasgow was the epicenter of the music world. Edwyn and Clare Grogan were our standard bearers, bringing Glasgow pop to the world. Every gig we played, there were record company folk standing there waving cheque books at us. It was ridiculous but totally fantastic – everything we’d ever wanted was coming true. Love & Money signed a publishing deal and recording deal with Phonogram. They were responsible for putting out Dire Straits ‘Brothers In Arms’ – what’s the statistic? One in every 3 homes owns a copy on CD? Well, they had money to burn, and without being mercenary about it, if they weren’t spending it on us, they’d be spending it on someone else.
We ended up in New York recording studios, in LA, making videos in Tokyo. It was all quite ridiculous. Here I was, brought up in Bridgeton and Castlemilk, swanning about in some far-off place, being indulged with millions of pounds being spent on us.
My dad didn’t believe what I did for a living. He was a bin man. He’d worked as a store man in the Tennent’s Brewery. He’d fought the fascists in the Second World War. ‘You’re a whit?!?’ he’d ask. ‘A song writer?!? In a group?!?’ To him, only folk like David Bowie made records and appeared on telly. ‘Where were you this weekend?’ he’d quiz. ‘London, aye? Whereabouts? Bayswater? I know Bayswater quite well. Where did you stay?’ He genuinely didn’t believe I was doing the stuff I was doing. When (first single) ‘Candybar Express’ came out, we went on Razzamataz (Kids TV Programme) and I sat down with him to watch it. He looked from the telly to me and back again and I think then the penny dropped.
Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor took production duties on Candybar Express, a track that was promoted to within its life of an actual Top 40 chart placing. Subsequent singles always seemed to fall just as short, but while it was disappointing not to have chart success, they were given the opportunity to record the follow-up with Gary Katz, famed for his production duties with Steely Dan. Can you imagine any band today being afforded such a major label luxury? If you haven’t cracked the Top 3 with your first single (is there still a Top 3? Are there still charts?) you’re considered an ‘epic fail’, or whatever the parlance of the day is. Love & Money would go on to record 3 more LPs, to diminishing commercial success, but to much critical acclaim.
Third LP ‘Dogs In The Traffic‘ is my personal favourite, a view shared by The Scotsman who voted it the 30th best Scottish Rock and Pop Album Of All Time, just between the random pairing of Wet Wet Wet’s Popped In, Souled Out and Donovan’s Sunshine Superman (and 12 places higher than Love & Money alumni The Bathers’ Kelvingrove Baby). Opener Winter could almost be George Michael’s A Different Corner before it morphs into a multi-layered tasteful guitar wig-out. Johnny’s Not Here has a coda that could be straight off of the Sign O’ The Times LP.
Love & Money – Johnny’s Not Here
Elsewhere, muted trumpets fight for ear space with keyboard stabs, weeping pedal steel, the odd brass section and the occasional orchestral sweep. All this is incidental of course, as James’ guitar and vocals are central to a production worthy of a Dulux endorsment. Bluesy one moment, and finger picked with all the deftness of Bert Jansch the next, his instrument is the perfect foil for his voice, a voice that resonates with all the depth of a life lived in song. Mature and introspective, throwaway pop this is not. It also happens to be James’ favourite L&M LP too.
“Artistically, it’s my best body of work. I find it difficult to listen to. You might gather from the lyrics that I wasn’t in a happy place when I wrote it, it took a lot out of me, but it’s gained a longevity that I’m really proud of.”
James Grant is the real deal. If you don’t believe me, seek out any of his subsequent 5 solo albums and you’ll find out for yourself.
These days, James isn’t a touring artist in the traditional sense – he rarely puts together 15/20 date tours or leaves home for a month on the road. He’s more selective where and when he plays and as a result, is one of the hottest tickets in town. Ahead of this Friday’s (6th November) sold-out show in Irvine’s Harbour Arts Centre, James took time out to give us his Six Of The Best.
Slade – Cum On Feel The Noize
This was the first record I ever bought. 25p in Woolies, Castlemilk. I was really excited by the record. I loved Slade, and Cum On Feel The Noize is a brilliant record. I met Noddy (with Lemmy, believe it or not) after one of our shows at The Marquee. Lemmy suggested we enter the stage from a giant inflatable vagina, wearing buffalo horns. A while later, Noddy was a guest on Round Table. Our track ‘My Love Lives In A Dead House’ was one of the records played. “That!” declared Noddy. “Is a Number One record!” Noddy had come through for me!
Led Zeppelin – Whole Lotta Love
Led Zeppelin were a big influence on me. I bought a second-hand, scratched copy of Led Zeppelin II from Hi-Fi Exchange. From the opening riff I just thought, “This is it! This is for me!” It was a quasi-religious experience. And Zeppelin were so famous. It was all about the music. Getting into Led Zeppelin was like joining an exclusive club. I wanted to know about music. Led Zep told me.
Talking Heads – I Zimbra
This was also hugely influential. It’s all about the groove. The record just used phonetics and created something new. It’s a very intellectual record. Made by David Byrne, of course. An intellectual man. Hearing I Zimbra for the first time was a musical epiphany.
(By coincidence, this very track was featured here last week.)
David Bowie – Starman
I watched with my school pals when he sang this on that famous Top Of The Pops episode. Is he a boy or a girl? Or an alien from Planet Zorg?!? We just didn’t know. He was just so appealing. Beautiful, alluring, mysterious. Bowie is enormously talented. Even his demos have it. The demo of Lady Stardust when it’s just him at the piano singing it, extraordinary really.
Roxy Music – Love Is The Drug
This is luxurious debauchery. It’s so sophisticated yet easy and it gets me every time. The bass is played with a pick. That’s not how an American band would have done it. Very English. Rather, very European to be more precise. Which, I suppose, was Bryan Ferry’s shtick.
Bob Dylan – Visions Of Johanna
This is one of my favourite songs of all time. Some of the lines in it! The imagery! ‘The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face.’ What does that even mean? Yet, if you listen to Dylan, you know exactly what that means. Songs poured out of Dylan. He couldn’t help himself. As a rule, music lyrics should NEVER be compared with poetry…..but this is as close as it gets. Visions Of Johanna bridges that gap.
And there you have it – a perfectly balanced set of tracks very much in the Plain Or Pan mould. I expect you may own more than half of these yourself, but they’d make a terrific little compilation for someone less informed.
It’s also become apparent over the course of this series that David Bowie is the clear leader in the ‘most frequently selected artist’ category. And there ain’t nowt wrong with that.
You can keep up to date with all of James’ goings-on via Twitter @jamthrawn or on his excellent (chords for songs! interactive community!) official web page here.
Me? I’m off down the front on Friday night, big can of Ellenet doon ma jukes.
Louie Louie by The Kingsmen is the basest, crassest, lowest-level, stoopidest rockist frat-boy thunk ever committed to vinyl. Which happens to make it just about the best record ever. But you knew that already. The fact that it is sloppiness in excelsis; badly played and full of mumbled, mistimed vocals only heightens its appeal.
Louie Louie was written and recorded in 1955 by Richard Berry, who, along with his band The Pharaohs released it as a single to mass indifference. Shame, as it‘s a mighty fine piece of skronking, doo-wop inflected rock ‘n roll.
Louie Louie – Richard Berry
The Kingsmen first became aware of Louie Louie not via Richard Berry’s original, but from another cover. Rockin’ Robin Roberts‘ version was a regular on the jukebox in Seattle’s Pypo Club where the band often gigged.
Louie Louie – Rockin’ Robin Roberts & The Wailers
They quickly spotted it was a guaranteed floor filler, so The Kingsmen began incorporating it into their sets of lounge standards and easy listening classics.
All the King’s horses and all The Kingsmen
To say the recorded version was a departure from their usual sound would not be an exaggeration. Look at the band. Hardly The Stooges, or even The Troggs, are they? But with this one record they unwittingly created the caveman stomp of the Garage Band movement. Three chords? Check! Farfisa organ? Check! Nagging, repetitive chorus? Check, and check! Those Troggs’ and future Stooges’ ears pricked attentively at the hot-wired sound emanating from their AM radios.
Louie Louie – The Kingsmen
In order to give the record a live feel, the one vocal mike was hung suspended from the ceiling of the small studio and singing guitarist Jack Ely was forced to shout into it over the noise of the band. Just after the scratchy solo, he comes in to the verse a bar too early, checks himself and is saved by an on-the-ball drummer who casually flings in a recording-saving drum fill.
The fact that the teenage Ely was wearing braces on his teeth meant that when he wasn’t coming in on the wrong cue, he was mumbling his way through much of the song, a point that lead to the band and record being investigated for obscenity by the FBI. They were even banned from playing live in some States. As has been proven time and time again, this is exactly the sort of promotion a record needs in order to scale the charts.
If you listen carefully, more carefully then the FBI as it would appear, at the 54 seconds mark you’ll hear the crystal clear exclamation of Lynn Easton the drummer shouting “Fuck!” as he fumbles his sticks mid fill. Check it out.
The whole record took as long to record as it does to listen to – done and dusted for $50 in one imperfect take and sent to the pressing plant before the band had any time to object.
The Kingsmen hated the version that was put out, although they mellowed slightly when it finally settled in the number 2 slot of the actual Billboard Hot 100 – a somewhat bittersweet tale, as by this point they had split up. To promote the single, drummer Lynn Easton (who named the original band and therefore ‘owned’ the name – although I’m sure a Drifter or a Bay City Roller or 2 could contest this in court) put together The Kingsmen Mark 2 for all promotional work around the single. As long as they played it with the required loose limbed sloppiness, who would even have noticed?
Here’s Toots & The Maytals skanking take, all clipped guitars, tippy-tappy hi-hat and stoned Jamaican harmonies. At 5 and a half minutes long, it kinda outstays its welcome, but it’s beautiful all the same.
Louie Louie – Toots & The Maytals
And here, with eyebrow permanently arched, is the typographically mischievous Louise Louise by Orange Juice. Shimmering, jangling and all the way fae fey Bearsden, it‘s a totally different song. Methinks the band had the title before the song.
The Small Faces were the perfect group; a pint-sized pocket dynamo of r’n’b and soul, windmilling guitars and swirling Hammond. They dressed the same, sported the same haircuts and were a walking, talking, living and breathing advert for Carnaby Street and Swinging London. None of the four of them stood taller than 5′ 6″ (it was the 60s, therefore imperial units of measurement counted) and were mod to the core. In the street parlance of the day, a ‘face’ was the most respected, sharpest looking mod about town. The band name wrote itself.
With disparate roots in American blues and soul and cockney music hall (thanks in part to Steve Marriott’s training at the Italia Conti stage school), The Small Faces cooked up an original brew of heady mod pop.
As the sixties progressed and trouser legs widened, The Small Faces’ sound drifted away from the cor blimey Pearly stomp of the mid phase Faces to a more pastoral, whimsical and expansive psychedelic sound, but by 1968 the band were brought back to terra firma when Marriott penned Tin Soldier.
Small Faces – Tin Soldier
Tin Soldier was a no quibbles return to their r’n’b roots – an off-mic count-in gives way to piano and Hammond before Marriott’s stinging electric guitar and rallying cry of “Come on!” lead into the verses. It builds and drops before building again into a wonderful crescendo of tumbling toms, grinding riffs, gritty soul adlibs and a hysterical female (PP Arnold) hell bent on raising the roof. If The Small Faces are the perfect group, this is the perfect record. If you listen really carefully, you’ll hear a little scratching noise in the background – that’s Paul Weller writing his crib notes.
Sound affects, indeed.
Jenny Rylance. Whatever did Rod Stewart see in her?
Steve Marriott wrote Tin Soldier for the beautiful yet unattainable Jenny Rylance, a leggy model who was at the time Rod Stewart’s girlfriend. He intended to give the song to his current beau PP Arnold, but on completion, realising he’d created such a brilliant track, he gave Arnold If You Think You’re Groovy instead and kept Tin Soldier for The Small Faces. A wise move, as it turned out. When Randy Rod finished with Rylance, Marriott ended up wooing her and married her a year later. Like the Artful Dodger he once played on stage, Marriott ended up with both the song and the girl. The perfect ending.
I usually steer clear of sticking YouTube clips in posts, but this is fantastic – a top of their game Small Faces on French telly, live vocals, mimed instruments and with a little help from a somewhat sparkled PP Arnold. Check the eyes! Oh to have seen them in concert.
* Bonus Track 1!
Here‘s a live version of Tin Soldier from Newcastle City Hall in November 1968.
I get the impression the screaming and incidental crowd noise has been mixed in afterwards to create a more ‘live’ sound, though I may be wrong. Either way it sounds like The Small Faces are playing in a cave to 20,000 appreciative ace faces, and not the sweaty box bedroom-sized r’n’b club you might’ve expected. (Newcastle City Hall being neither, as it turns out.)