Alternative Version, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y, Live!


Plain Or Pan turns 15 this week. Since publishing the first post back in January 2007, the (ahem) power of the blog has seen to it that I’ve been commissioned to interview Sandie Shaw, rewrite articles for the national press (by ‘rewrite’ I mean take out the irreverent turns of phrase and my non-fact checked opinion) and write an actual book (The Perfect Reminder) very much in the style of Plain Or Pan. I’ve charmed half of The Smiths, pissed off an angry Boy George and remain on email-friendly terms with a handful of minor movers and shakers in the world of music. My clever and generous sister even compiled a ‘Best Of Plain Or Pan’ into a physical, one-of-a-kind coffee table-sized book for a big birthday a couple of years ago. If I never wrote another word, my legacy, it seems, is long and reaching.

Writing is a funny thing – some people hate the thought of it and would wilt at the thought of putting together 1000 or so well-constructed words on the bands and records that soundtrack their life. Me? I find it relaxing. Some choose yoga. Some go running. I write. I’d write every day if I could find the time. In the old days, I used to try and write at least two articles a week. I’d time their publication for teatime – peak reading time according to Google analytics – and I’d obsess over blog traffic and stats and suchlike. These days, I aim to write one new thing a week. It’s far more manageable and still frequent enough that the blog aggregators and number crunchers know that Plain Or Pan is very much alive, unlike plenty of other blogs who’ve tailed off to the point of extinction. Writing a blog’ll soon be so retro as to be trendsetting once more. And when that happens, POP, along with a handful of those other well-written blogs on the sidebar there, will be right at the forefront.

15 years. Not bad going.

15 Step by Radiohead sounds like an entire ‘50s typing pool simultaneously clattering out the compete works of Shakespeare in a roomful of Royal typewriters. It’s jerky, juddering and in 5/4 time. Imagine a skeletal and arty take down of Dave Brubeck’s Take 5 and, even if you’ve never heard 15 Step before, you’ll know how the rhythm goes.

Radiohead15 Step

Radiohead are possibly the most-discussed band on the internet. Theories abound over 15 Step. It’s so-called, some say, because there are 15 steps from intro to vocal; a Radiohead working title that stuck.

Others maintain it relates to death – throughout the song there are lyrical references to ‘the end’ and dying. Pistol-toting duelists in the Wild West would turn back-to-back then take 15 steps before turning and firing. There are, they say, 15 steps leading to the gallows and the ‘sheer drop’ that follows. I always thought there were 13 steps to the gallows (and 13 loops of the rope on the noose) but don’t let that get in the way of a good theory.

It relates, others say, to the Bjork-starring movie Dancer In The Dark. There’s a train of thought that every track on parent album In Rainbows relates in one way or other to a movie. Google the theories if you must. The only thing so far uncovered is a mind-blowing theory correlating the listening of In Rainbows to the synchronised viewing of The Wizard Of Oz. I dare say someone’s tried it though.

Radiohead15 Step (Live from The Basement)

But back to 15 Step. It may be rhythm-heavy and death-obsessed, but it’s also groovy as fuck, the perfect Radiohead marriage of technology and trad. Guitars play in weird time signatures (that’ll be that 5/4 thing again); all tumbling arpeggios and crunching riffs. Colin Greenwood’s bass line is pure Can; hypnotic, snaking and jazz-inflected. There’s a brilliant wee breakdown midway through that holds it all together as the players around him go off into their own orbits. There are sci-fi whooshes, sampled schoolchildren shouting “Hey!” now and again and enough head-nodding noodling parts to sate even the most chin-stroking of ‘Head fans.

Like all great Radiohead tracks, it’s not an immediate hit. It has become an inescapable ear worm only over time. More than a few plays down the years and it is, like the entire album it is featured on, one of Radiohead’s very best. But you knew that already.


Cop Yer Whack For This

Isolation has afforded me to the time to binge not on the latest Netflix must-sees or HBO’s can’t-be-misseds, but on ’70s cop movies. The grittier and grainier the better; exactly the sort of ones that influenced Beastie Boys when they shot their Sabotage video, where maverick cops in outlandish undercover clobber go rogue and off-radar to bring justice, but only after being barked at by bent, bull-nosed Irish-American superiors with names like Frank O’Connor who throw metaphorical rule books at them as liberally as the swearing and testosterone that soaks the concrete and callous locker room culture within.

The Taking Of Pelham 1, 2, 3, Mean Streets, Death Wish (1 and 2), Dog Day Afternoon, Klute… they’ve all re-grabbed the attention, 35 years or so (!) since first seeing most of them. They’re mostly (exclusively?) New York movies, soundtracked by skittering, anxiety-inducing hi-hats and brass stabs, swathes of wah-wah and jarring strings, backdropped by beige, low-rent apartments, adult book stores and litter-blown sidestreets, where cars big as bars (as the song goes) screech round corners populated by scruffy numbers runners, flashy, floppy hat-wearing pimps or down on their luck hookers-with-hearts. Even the Times Square neon and Manhattan glass and steel skyscrapers seem grubby and off-colour, nothing like the uber-polished, high-rolling landscapes that the Kims ‘n Kanyes backdrop their social media feeds with today.

One that really left a big impression was Serpico. It’s based on a true story, Al Pacino playing the titular Frank with full-on method acting. In late ’60s/early’70s New York, Frank Serpico was, as the movie poster tagline and gravelly trailer voiceover confirm, the most dangerous man alive – an honest cop who refused to adapt to the culture of the times; from the free sandwiches at the deli to the never-ending stuffing of fat envelopes full of hundred dollar bills into glove compartments in exchange for a blind eye. “Take it, Frank. You’ve earned it!” his colleagues will drawl through Cheshire Cat grins, as Pacino returns his doe-eyed, stony stare in return.

Hellbent on his mission to call out police corruption from the very top down, Serpico incurs the wrath of every department across the five boroughs to the point where he’s led to a drug dealer’s house and shot, almost fatally. Was it bad luck that he was nearly killed in the line of duty, or are waters a bit murkier? Did, indeed, his fellow officers perhaps set him up? That’s the part of the puzzle that’s kept the actual Serpico living abroad ever since.

As a film spanning 11 years, it serves as a microcosm of the fashions of the time, a Mr Ben, as it happens, of all your favourite musicians and styles. Pacino begins the movie clean-shaven, lean, mean and handsome, with great hair to boot. He looks a wee bit like an Italian-American Johnny Marr, all healthy tan and quiet, cock-sure confidence. As the movie lengthens, so too does Pacino’s hair. A moustache slowly crawls across his top lip before drooping, from Crosby to Zappa in five frames.

The hair on his head; black, glossy, superbly conditioned, billows out into exactly the same hair do as the Get Back era Paul McCartney. Just as you’re noticing this, so too do you notice that the Crosby/Zappa moustache has at some point morphed into the very same McCartney beard as well. But hang on… Just as you’re getting used to that, he adopts a bucket hat, a cheesecloth top and a pair of gently flapping jeans and he’s suddenly transformed into a refugee from Spike Island, maybe even John Squire himself.

Then, the headwear changes, from bucket to beanie and back to bucket again, and he’s first Badly Drawn Boy then Jeff Lynne. At various other points, Pacino is a dead ringer for George Best, half of Dexy’s Midnight Runners and that illustrated guy in the tattered copy of The Joy Of Sex that John Crichton found in that hedge that day round by Berry Drive in 1980.

Getchahaircut Serpico!” growls his superior in vain, which, ironically is how the movie was shot. Apparently, Pacino began the movie looking like one of the Furry Freak Brothers and everything was shot in reverse, a hairstylist and groomer on hand to shorten the locks and trim the facial hair until young Al was a fresh faced cop school graduate. Clever movie making.

Throughout Serpico, Pacino wears open-necked denim shirts, brilliantly fitted cord jackets, cool, dark aviator shades and never seems to have a problem with the ladies. Who wouldn’t want to be an undercover cop?


Shortest Day/Longest Day

The past few days have been full of positive results. Thanks to match abandonment on Saturday due to pea-souping fog, my team managed to avoid defeat for the first time in a few weeks. Result! Then, out of the blue, we sacked the manager! Result! He/we never saw that coming. (Fog joke there). And the boy has done well in his prelims. Result!

Yesterday was Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, when daylight hours sharpen to a pinpoint before slowly widening again, the time of year when local wags think it amusing to say “the nights are fair stretchin’” every other sentence.

Not that I noticed. I’ve had Covid since testing positive on Sunday. The one positive result no-one wants. Any festive oomph I may have had has since evaporated, drained from my body like the juice in a Duracell battery come Boxing Day. My muscles feel as if they’ve been put through some sort of gym session when, obviously, they haven’t, and my head thumps harder than the hangover after Mark and Amanda’s wedding in 1994. I’m drifting in and out of sleep continually. I’ve had to rewind and rewatch the last couple of episodes of Succession as I missed half of them. Squid Game came and went in a slo-mo ‘what was all that about?‘ fug. The days have been both short – is it 4 o’clock already?! – and long – is it still only Tuesday?! etc. I was most disappointed to find that Marc Riley wouldn’t be doing his usual evening show on 6 Music. The one time I’d get complete, uninterrupted time with him and he’s off. Seems he has Covid too. His replacement, Ezra Furman, has been pretty good, mind you.

I’m blaming my place of work. Covid was rampant in the week leading up to last weekend. Classes were being sent home as both learners and teachers tested positive. One class. Three classes, An entire year group. My job is not wholly classroom-based, but there was a certain inevitability that it would find me and at some point – Thursday, most likely – I caught it.

Not that I knew. I coughed a bit on Friday, but nothing more than normal for an asthmatic who uses his inhaler less than he really should. Despite the fog, I was going to the football on Saturday, so as is usual before going to a game, I took a LFT. Negative result confirmed, I duly went and very likely infected those around me. Or perhaps they infected me. Who knows?

By Saturday night I was shivery and I was beginning to think that I *might* want to get tested in the morning, just to be safe. We woke up on Sunday morning and stuck on the telly, to be met with Professor Jason Leitch, the most straight-talking expert on the box, explaining that the new variant presented itself with aching limbs, runny nose and sore head. Shit. That was me. The test was booked and taken. Driving there and back was a bit of a chore, if I was to be honest with myself, but still, surely not? I took another LFT that afternoon, ‘just to check’, and promptly forgot about it until an hour or so later when I happened to glance at the wee white plastic tray. Two lines. Two lines. It was heart-sinking and inevitable. The confirmatory results were back by 7 the next morning, Positive.

Normally at this time of year, I’ll cede to the times and offer up a bit of music with a loose connection to Christmas. Being imprisoned away from my music collection for the next week or so means that frustratingly, I can’t upload any music, so I’ve poked around the dustier corners of YouTube to find this diamond in the rough.

Tom Waits finds everlasting beauty in the bums, broads and bourbon bars of backstreet, smallville USA. His songs – Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis perhaps the nadir of it all – are film noir set to song, the dirty fingernailed and whiskey-soaked flipside of the American Dream. But you knew that already.

Waits bookends his own tale of loss, regret and loneliness with a Christmas song (carol?) as old as time itself and the whole performance, filmed for the Paul Hogan Show would you believe, in 1979 is as unpretentious, honest and artful as you could wish for at this time of year. Waits, eyes closed and lost in song, his long eyelashes and clear skin the envy of everyone, his lupine features, all chiselled chin and high cheekbones, topped of with a sculpted mess of greased curls, is on splendid form.

All Waitsisms are present and correct. His voice, rising from a phlegmy whisper via bluesy rasp to gutteral growl, is sensational. He half talks, half sings, dragging on a blue-curling Marlboro, slipping into full-on ess oh yoo ell blue-eyed soul singer when he namechecks Little Anthony and The Imperials. The story is simple; a hooker is pregnant, hitched to a good man who promises to look after them all ‘even though it’s not his bay-bugh‘. She’s in a good place and she wants ‘Charlie’ to know. As the song continues its scuffed and scrappy barroom blues, you start to pick up on the idea that the hooker really misses Charlie, to the point that by the song’s surprising twist at the end, you might find yourself misty eyed, sentimental and nostalgic. It gets me every time, It’s that time of year after all. From one incarcerated outcast to another…




Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Rob a Dub-Dub

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

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

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

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

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

Grace JonesPrivate Life

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

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

Grace JonesShe’s Lost Control

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

Get This!, Hard-to-find, New! Now!

Sunset Boulevards

There’s a great little authentic soul scene bubbling just under the surface, a handful of artists who’ve strode proudly in on the back of Michael Kiwanuka’s door-opening wide lapels and wormed their way into the more discerning listeners’ ear space thanks to their abilities to take the best of those late ’60s/ early ’70s soul pioneers (Stevie, Curtis, Marvin) and re-present them as shiny new things, played and produced with effortless majesty. At the forefront are the excellent Black Pumas, previously featured here, along with the also-featured Curtis Harding and Leon Bridges.

The newest cool chops on the block belong to Boulevards, the name by which North Carolina’s Jamil Rashad preferes to go by. He’s not new to this. Bandcamp throws up some self-released tracks that are a good five years old, but in the interim he’s thankfully thrown off the questionable and gadsy Kravitzesque approach to what constitutes ‘retro’ and reimagined himself as a pimped up, cooled out Blaxploitation soundtracker.

His fourth album – Electric Cowboy: Born In Carolina Mud, due out in February ’22 will perhaps be one of the early go-to albums of next year. If you like the references above, I think you will, as Shaft was wont to say, dig it.

Better Off Dead floats in on a lush tapestry of whacked-out wah wah and paranoid orchestration, pistol crack snare and movie-esque synths. Boulevards takes the first verse – sumthin’s wrong wit’ me, I can’t barely breathe – singing the tale of the after-effects of a week-long bender and, just as you’re falling into hungover step with him, guest vocalist (New West labelmate) Nikki Lane eases her way in on a shimmer of silver strings to tell her side of the story – noses start to bleed…when can I take a seat?…I need a hit you see…tell me I’m alive… It’s Lee ‘n Nancy ‘n Isobel ‘n Mark for the strung-out post-millenials in your life and it’s utterly fantastic.

Those chords are great; luscious and creamy major 7ths with just the right amount of echo and reverb, and when they make way for the slow burning solo, it’s exactly what you were wishing for; a string bent, multi-phased, morphine-dripping long-lost cousin of the Isleys’ That Lady. You can practically see the technicolour flow from the speakers as it floods the room. Reading the credits alongside the press release here, it would appear that it’s the work of Black Pumas’ talented Fender bender Adrain Quesada, a neat way of squaring the circle, of passing the baton on to the latest trailblazers in the soul underground.

Fill yr Boulevards boots at New West Records here. You should also take the time to investigate Nikki Lane. A bit country, a bit Southern Soul, she is, apparently, the real deal.


Get This!, Hard-to-find

The Milk-It Marketing Board

Reissues. Man! All those albums you bought 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 (even) years ago are back out again in a dazzling array of coloured vinyl, with extra sets of alt. takes, outtakes and half-arsed half-takes, all boxed up in tactile packaging, with hardback coffee-table books to accompany almost every one of them (yes, the irony is not lost on this particular author of one of those very books). The music fan – not yr Spotify streaming, playlist loving, iPhone blasting freeloader – but yr forever record-buying, empty walleted polyvinyl addict is being mugged on a weekly basis.

Let It Be. Screamadelica. Nevermind. New Adventures In Hi-Fi. Sunflower/Surfs Up. Urban Hymns. All have recently been afforded (afforded being something of an oxymoron) the privilege of the deluxe treatment. ‘kin Urban Hymns?!? At what point is an album considered such a classic that it needs a 6 LP box set? Urban Hymns is a good album ‘n that, but only good, and very of its time; Spandau Ballet in a bucket hat – some killer, some filler, hey ho. How they’ve managed to fill 6 LPs – 12 sides! – is dazzlingly baffling.

Even Radiohead are at it. When they recorded the tracks that made up Kid A and Amnesiac back in the early ’00s, they chose to release them as two separate albums, with Amnesiac following Kid A by six months or so. A brave new direction for the band, Kid A took a while to grow on many and, just as it was beginning to unravel and make sense, along came Amnesiac which, despite being recorded at the same time, is a very different record. Together they would have made for a very sprawling and very difficult double album.

Many would argue that this is exactly what these brave new pioneers of music should’ve done at the time, so they must now be thrilled that Radiohead have repackaged both records as one, and not as a double album, but a triple – on white or red vinyl if you were quick enough (and plenty of you were, as it’s now all over eBay at silly prices) – with a third record of alternative versions, forgotten oddities and the odd dangly carrot of an unreleased beauty to hook you in. Madness, silliness and of course, you need it all. The record companies know it. They buff it up. You shell it out. And everyone’s a winner.

That lost Radiohead track is a beauty, right enough. Sparse, atmospheric and unravelling, If You Say The Word is neither electronic enough for Kid A nor obtuse enough for Amnesiac. Folk who tell you they liked Radiohead until they got weird (yawn) will love it. It sounds as if it was recorded in the big, airy Capitol Studios in LA, Sinatra at the lectern, Hal Blaine playing jazz paradiddles on the kit and the ghost of Nelson Riddle arranging it all behind the scenes.

RadioheadIf You Say The Word

Forget strings and orchestration though. The ‘Heid do things differently. Where Nelson Riddle might write a string line, Jonny Greenwood plays understated, minimalist Fender Rhodes. Where Sinatra might look to the brass for the melody, Radiohead ride in on the back of Ed O’Brien’s complex, wonkily-timed guitar arpeggios. Where a sweeping orchestral line can pick you up and carry you off, Radiohead coat their symphonies in icy blasts of Radiophonic Workshop found sound and arctic ambience.

Underpinned by subtly wandering bass lines (think Holger Czukay playing Andy Rourke on Stars In Their Eyes) and layer upon layer of counter melodies, a centre-stage Thom sings his angsty, existential lullaby in a swirl of space dust and atmosphere. You must wonder what other beauties Radiohead have hidden in the vaults, queuing up to be drip-fed with every subsequent super-deluxe release. The crafty bastards.




Jelly Wobbles

A lone, mournful mariachi plays out the last fading notes of a late night lament and gives way to an elastic band fretless bassline that slurs its way throughout the opening bars, the half-cut twin brother of any of those bending, wandering basslines from Tom Waits’ Nighthawks At The Diner. A Mancini Moon River harmonica ghosts between a vocal that’s up-front and centre-stage and singing guilty thoughts about infidelity and hard drugs. Nylon-stringed guitars scrub out a rhythm straight outta Brazil 1970 as the percussion plays on the off-beat; an itchy, scratchy güiro maybe, some congas perhaps, some metallic tingaling thing or other, slow and steady and as bossanova-tastic as the percussion function on an old Bontempi, but played for real by a group of super-talented musos with not only a keen ear for detail but the ability to execute it exactly.

JellyfishBedspring Kiss

In their promo pictures they may have masqueraded as happy-go-lucky Haight-Ashbury hippies; in reality Jellyfish put just as much (and even more) effort into the finer details of their music as they did with their day-glo clothes and cartoon schtick.

You might be surprised to know they had less than little time for one another. Recording sessions were seemingly a non-stop round of arguments between singing, standing drummer Andy Sturmer and principal songwriter Roger Manning. That they created one terrific album, let alone two, is nothing short of amazing. The perfect amalgamation of Beatlish melancholy with XTC wonkiness and the Finn brothers’ ear for an unravelling melodic hook, Jellyfish on Bellybutton were especially great.

Bedspring Kiss, that track at the top, is sequenced in third-last place on its parent album. The worst place for a song to be perhaps, it’s often the track you brush over in your impatient haste to get to the big closers at the finish line  – Baby’s Coming Back and Calling Sarah in this case, multi-layered stacks of kaleidoscopic harmonies, handclaps and ringing, stinging guitars that reveal new things yet, thirty years later – but just for once, focus your attention on Bedspring Kiss and headswim in its depth and substance.

They’ve better songs, Jellyfish. Loads of ’em. But there’s something about this track that pulls you in, It’s not immediate in the way the other tracks on Bellybutton are. It forsakes much of the stuff that makes Jellyfish instantly likeable – the out of control Big Star-ish ramalama, the upbeat singalongasixties melodies, the ‘I’ve heard this before‘ Beach Boys by way of Queen (let that sink in) arrangements. In its own way, Bedspring Kiss is something of a forgotten mini-masterpiece. As is the whole album, for anyone who’s never indulged it.

Now, who has an old vinyl copy they’d be willing to donate to the Plain Or Pan Museum of Records?

Get This!, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y

Weirder Bremen

My Bloody Valentine damn-near bankrupted Creation to make an album only a fraction as exciting, as intense, as self-indulgent as Faust‘s Krautrock, a track so good they named an entire genre after it. Julian Cope, in his worth-stealing Krautrocksampler book, called the track ‘a continuation of (Faust’s) whole trip‘. He’s right, of course. A dozen minutes of head music; expansive, noisy and pretty, pretty essential. Kosmische!

Faust – Krautrock

It lurches in on a slur of stretched 3″ studio tape…or perhaps a divebombing whammy bar…and layered fuzz guitars, overlapped and saturated to white noise levels of intensity, fall into a snaking groove pattern, panned from left speaker to right and back again, an instant head trip.

Der-der-derder-der-duuh…Der-der-derder-der-duhh. From underneath the blanket of restrained, compressed noise creeps a tambourine, its steady rattling jangle enhancing the drumless, beatless rhythm that’s unfolding in front of your ears.

Here comes the bass…woody and electric, looped and repetitive, recorded in an era long before Ed Sheeran and KT Tunstall and even loopers themselves were a thing. Disciplined, repetitive and worming its way into your consciousness, it’s now the lead instrument, a counter-rhythm to the relentless guitar noizzze that came before. Dum-deh-dehdeh-deh-dum…Dum-deh-dehdeh-de-dum.

But wait…is that a vocal? Is it? A sort-of chanted, Tibetan monk-influenced calling from some far-off metaphorical mountaintop? Remember when John Lennon had this idea – and he had it first, by a good eight years – for Tomorrow Never Knows? This is what I think he had in mind, if indeed a vocal is even here at all. I mean, I think there is. I’m sure of it. I think I am.

And now there’re drums. It’s Keith Moon tripping up and falling down the stairs, landing the right way up and falling straight into the beat; propulsive, steady, not in your face but driving the whole thing ever-forwards.

That guitar ambience that kicked it all off? You’d forgotten about that, hadn’t you? It’s still there, of course, aural background wallpaper, the splashes of colour in an otherwise steady and unshowy room. But as soon as you remember the guitars, there they are, suddenly at the fore again; fizzing static bursts of beamed-in-from-the-outer-edges art rock and long, howling notes bent out of shape by distorted wah-wah and studio trickery. Just as your mind alters to the staggered groove – are we at the end of a bar or midway through? – a keyboard floats in, keeping time with its Farfisa parp. Or is it actually a manic Velvet’s violin, noise-as-art aesthetic, screeching/keeping time like John Cage on Black Angel’s Death Song, trying painfully to be heard above the apocalyptic din? Maybe it’s both. Who knows? Who cares?

Shh! Listen! That quiet, respectful popping noise you hear near the end is the sound of Stereolab crying into their Rice Krispies, totally defeated. We’ll never be as good as this, they admit, though they’ll continue to give it a good try.

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

Hey DullBlog

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

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

The BeatlesHey Bulldog

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

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

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

The BeatlesHey Bulldog – isolated McCartney bassline

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

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

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

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

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

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



Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

Bum Notes

I came to Hamilton Bohannon‘s Dance Your Ass Off back to front. I had no idea, back in 1987 when I first flipped That Petrol Emotion‘s Swamp to the other side (the double A side, no less) that the track was a cover. I had never heard of Hamilton Bohannon. I had no idea Dance Your Ass Off began life, not as a hard-riffing indie rock thumpalong, but as a string-swept, four-to-the-floor disco funk number.

Hamilton BohannonDance Your Ass Off

In hindsight, it was obvious. In an era when Stone Roses were still a leather-clad goth band and the phrase ‘there’s always been a dance element to our music’ had yet to be uttered by plooky, bucket-hatted chancers with no end of shame-faced brass neckery, That Petrol Emotion were cross-pollinating the best of dance with loud guitars and danceable rhythms and creating their own niche in a post-Smiths, pre-Roses landscape.

Listening to them 30 or so years later, That Petrol Emotion still stand up. Not of their time, but out of time. As it turned out, there always was a dance element to That Petrol Emotion’s music, not least when they turned up to play a gig in Glasgow’s Sub Club, mecca of dance music for discerning clubbers throughout the west of Scotland and beyond.

When you learn that Hamilton Bohannon was a born-again, God-fearin’ devout Christian, Dance Your Ass Off comes as something of a surprise. Many of Bohannon’s tracks were syrupy, slow-paced love ballads to the higher order, so that he decided to kick loose with swampy, chicken scratchin’ guitar and bad ass bass nailed to bubbling, fluid on-the-one funk should be celebrated with carefree, arms aloft in the air abandon.

Make a lotta noise!‘ he instructs. ‘And dance all night!‘ That’s easy to do when the rhythm laid out in front of you is so single-minded in its mission to get you to move. Double-time handclaps drop in and out, see-sawing strings saw their way through the middle while the drummer – possibly Bohannon himself – holds the beat steady for a full eight minutes.

There’s some crowd pleasin’ call and response as the strings waver their way ever-closer to Mayfield territory, all Blaxploitation shimmer and underlying menace, but the groove never abates. With the thick soup of guitar, bass and drums at its core, Dance Your Ass Off comes across like The Meters transplanted to Studio 54. And there ain’t nuthin’ wrong wit dat.

That Petrol EmotionDance Your Ass Off

That Petrol Emotion were first and foremost a guitar band but they understood the appeal of a steady rhythm section and some wildly interlocking riffage. Swamp on the a-side would make that explicitly clear to any doubters. Their take on Dance Your Ass Off is a testosterone-fuelled, muscled-up triumph.

With sights firmly set on the indie dance floor, it locks into its groove and rocks hard in half the time of Bohannon’s original. The guitars, all feral Telecaster twang and snap, fall somewhere between hard jangle and post punk rage, concrete thick yet flab-free and linear. A gnarly, growly bassline replaces the uber funk of the original.

The little scratching noise you hear in the background under Steve Mack’s enthusiastic north-west American yelp is that of Faith No More making notes to crib the punk/funk bassline for their own end. We care a lot, indeed. It’s a groovy cover, all things considered.