And off we go on the most thrilling song about shoplifting you’re ever going to hear. Stealing to live. Stealing to give. Stealing just because. “I enjoy stealing things, it’s a simple fact.” sings Perry Farrell in that helium nasal whine of his.
Janes Addiction – Been Caught Stealing
Janes Addiction rock. And not in a (gads) Red Hot Chili Peppers way. That word ‘rock’ brings to mind images of middle-aged men in designer ripped jeans. Accountants in band t-shirts and Rocha John Rocha leather jackets. The weekend bikers at Largs seafront. Those kinda guys. Livin’ the dream, safely, soundtracked by Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and all that rubbish.
Janes Addiction were (are?) skinny, itchy, disease-ridden junkies. Lowlife ne’er do wells. Manky jeans. Mankier hair. Battered, slept-in leather jackets. Damaged livers and syphilis givers. With a healthy Led Zep obsession, they re-booted riff rock for the pre-grunge generation. Been Caught Stealing is arguably their masterstroke. Certainly, it’s their best-known track. Anyone who tells you they don’t like Janes Addiction still likes Been Caught Stealing. It’s just a simple fact, to coin a phrase.
The bit in the middle is, crucially, when Janes not only rock, but roll. The drums, fantastic-sounding and grooving, the handclaps on the second beat, the rolling bassline, it’s a head-nodding breakdown that’ll never be bettered. Truly, it swings like Sinatra with a 7 iron.
Here they are on the Late Show, the precursor to the long-past-its-best Later….With Jools Holland.
Perfect! If The Muppet Show had been briefed with creating a gonzoid, disfunctional, rockin’ band with a penchant for PVC ‘n leopard print, they’d have created exactly this. The anti rock star at the front – check those less-than-perfect mercury-filled teeth during the close ups, his voice drenched in echoey delay for added whine….a bass player and guitarist, both lost in their own worlds, all hair ‘n sunglasses ‘n bangles ‘n beads ‘n casually fired-off lightning bolts of alt rock….a bare-chested drummer who out-Animals The Animal….Perfect!
Here’s a terrific studio outtake of the same track, acoustic-ish with added sc-sc-sc-sc-sc-scatting for free.
Janes Addiction – Been Caught Stealing (Studio Out-Take, 1989)
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.
In ‘No Direction Home’, Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan bio-documentary, a twinkling-eyed Bob recounts how he stole essential folk and blues records from a friend. “Just being a musical expeditionary,” is how Bob put it. Clearly, the records had an influence on the young magpie-eyed Zimmerman, and you could argue that they helped shape his first few forays into songwriting. You could even argue that it was a good thing he liberated the vinyl – he might never have written the melody to a song like ‘Girl From the North Country’ or ‘With God On Our Side‘ without them. Someone else’s loss is everyone else’s gain. Think about that for a minute.
I’ve been living for the past few days with the latest, stupendous collection in the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series. Volume 12 (entitled ‘The Cutting Edge’ – which is exactly what it is) comes in a multitude of wallet-busting formats. Keeping in line with my purchases of the previous 11 collections, I went for the sensible 2CD version. It’ll fit snugly on the shelf next to the rest of them, a glorious potted treasure of some of the very best bits of Bob’s previously unheard work.
When this edition was first announced, there was a collective frothing of the mouth from Bobcats the world over. At the very top of the scale was the Deluxe 18 CD version, containing every note, every mis-placed harmonica parp, every cough, splutter and stumbling intro that Bob and his band had committed to tape in the whole of 1965 and 1966. A whole two years-worth of Bob outtakes from his most golden period – the alchemist at work, the ‘thin, wild, mercury sound’ in creation. A Dylanologists dream. And nightmare. Have you seen the price tag?
“A steal at $600!” remarked my pal in an email. “Which is exactly what I’ll be doing as soon as it makes its way into the darkest corners of the internet!”
And now that those 18 CDs have indeed made themselves very comfortable in a dark Dylan-shaped corner of the world wide web, steal them we did. Someone else’s loss is everyone else’s gain, and all that jazz.
What is there to say about the recordings? That they’re fantastic almost goes without saying. It’s a wonderful glimpse into Bob’s psyche, into his working process in the recording studio. The collection quickly debunks the myth that Bob was a spontaneous worker, that he pulled the songs from the air, assembled his band and recorded them in the time it took to batter through them.
Bob Dylan – Visions Of Johanna (Take 7 Complete)
There are multiple versions of every track. Some replayed as frantically scrubbed skifflish Bo Diddley rockers, some as barrel house blues worthy of a scene in Boardwalk Empire. Many sound like the versions you know and love, half-baked and not quite right but essentially the blueprints for the finished versions. The sequencing of each track takes you on a journey from first sketch to final run through, a trip that’s often wild and wandering, but never less than thrilling. Stinging electric guitars vie for your attention with honey-coated keys and rasping brass, though central to the mix is always Bob’s voice; close-miked in the acoustic ones, bawling like a garage band rocker in the fast ones, all the time (to quote David Bowie) that perfect mix of sand and glue. Anyone who says that Dylan can’t sing is a moron, right?
Bob Dylan – Just Like A Woman (Take 16)
Now and again a favourite track will pop up disguised as a New Orleans funeral dirge or a full-blown electric rocker. It can be good fun playing ‘name that tune‘ or spotting a lyric from one song that finds itself embedded in a different song by the end of the session. And Bob has a wicked way with a title. Whether or not he has the ‘real’ titles in his head or not, he plays merry havoc with the engineer.
“83277 Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat Take 1”
“No! No! This isn’t Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat…this is Black Dog Blues!”
“Oh…I’m sorry…Everyone’s startin’ together. Right on the beat. Black Dog Blues Take 1. I want everybody together from the top and all the way through, because one take is all we need on this, man. It’s there! Ok! We’re rollin’ on one…”
And what follows are umpteen takes of Obviously Five Believers. Obviously.
Dylan’s wild phrasing is all encompassing throughout. He runs through Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again a gazillion times, each time the melody stretching and bending just a little bit further than the previous time, but clinging gamefully to the tune the way a rowing boat might struggle to keep course on a choppy sea. He can make whole verses fit into two lines, and he can make a couple of lines stretch to a whole verse with his eee-long-gay-ted approach. S’beautiful!
Bob Dylan – Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again (Take 1)
The studio chatter is what you pays yer money for. You can be a fly on the wall in New York or Nashville as Bob painstakingly arranges and rearranges lyrics, verses, whole tunes. His band, while handsomely paid, remain extremely patient. During a handful of takes of Tombstone Blues, Bob continually chokes over the same line.
“Aw man!” cries Bob. “I’m sorry!”
“Would it help if you put the lee-rics on a stand, Bob?”
“Naw, it wouldn’t, man!”
And off they go once more, the beat group backing their Messiah jester until he gets what he hears in his head out his mouth and onto tape. It’s all ridiculously essential music. But you knew that already. Here’s a rollickin’ fuzz bass-enhanced run through of Subterranean Homesick Blues, never before available until now.
Somehow, this is the end of the 8th year of this blog. 8 years! I never for a minute thought I’d be down this road for so long, but here I am, slowing down slightly, but still writing whenever the muse takes me. In the past, I used to write loads over the Christmas period and store it all up like a squirrel hiding nuts in trees, so that when I was busy with my real work I could drip-feed my wee articles online at regular intervals when time was of the essence. These days, holidays mean holidays. For the past week or so I’ve done sweet F.A. apart from sit around in my underwear eating cheese until 3 in the afternoon. Occasionally I’ve tidied up a bit, but that’s only after the Applewood smoked or Wensleydale and cranberry has run out.
It’ll be good to get back to the old routine in January and, along with work, get back to writing about music on a (hopefully) more regular basis. Until then, here’s the annual end of December post.
Around this time of year I employ a team of stat monkeys to sift through everything published on Plain Or Pan over the last 12 months. Numbers are fed into a specially-constructed silver machine, crunched and spat back out. Amongst the stainless steel saliva lie the 25 most listened to and/or downloaded tracks of the year.
Below is that list, a CD-length collection of covers, curios and hard-to-find classics. Download the rar file, sequence as you please and burn away.
Baby Huey – Listen To Me
The Lovin’ Spoonful – Do You Believe In Magic?
French Fries – Danse a la Musique
Oscar Brown – The Snake
Al Brown – Here I Am Baby
Radiohead – These Are My Twisted Words
Bob Dylan – Boots Of Spanish Leather
Ian Dury & the Blockheads – Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick
Michael Marra – Hamish
Paul Weller – Flame-Out
Bo Diddley – She’s Fine, She’s Mine
Barbara & the Browns – You Don’t Love Me
Tommy James & the Shondells – Crimson & Clover
Lightships – Do Your Thing
The Beatles – It’s All Too Much (Much Too Much bootleg version)
Les Negresses Vertes – Zobi la Mouche
Trash Can Sinatras – Ghosts Of American Astronauts (Live at Fez, NYC 2004)
Eddie Floyd – I’ve Never Found A Girl
The Smiths – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (demo)
Curtis Liggins Indications – What It Is
Them – I Can Only Give You Everything
Kim Fowley – Bubblegum
A Camp – Boys Keep Swinging
The Slits – I Heard It Through The Grapevine (demo)
Madness – Un Paso Adelante
And here’s to health, wealth and happiness to you all for 2015. All the best!
The New York Dolls landed on British telly in November 1973; a sloppy, slutty, Stones-in-slap-‘n-stack heels assortment of misfits and ne’erdowells. Their sound was a thrillingly simple souped-up charge of re-hashed Chuck Berry licks and Noo York street-smart shouted vocals, and in this era of prog rock and ‘serious’ music, immediately divided opinions.
“Mock rock!” dismissed presenter ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris as he waited patiently for his next fix of good ol’ country rock.
“The Dolls gave me a sense of uniqueness, as if they were my own personal discovery,” blurted a foaming at the mouth Morrissey.
Famously, along with being President of the Dolls’ Fan Club, Morrissey had a New York Dolls biography published, which sold steadily in its one and only print. You could argue that The New York Dolls was the catalyst in getting the teenage Morrissey out of his bedroom and into society where he’d meet like-minded Mancunians and ultimately form The Smiths. Now, that may be a bit of a simplified version, but essentially that’s what happened.
On the Doll’s debut album there’s a track called Lonely Planet Boy.
The band’s one attempt (on this LP at least) at acoustic balladry, it teeters metaphorically atop one of Johnny Thunder’s gigantic silver stacked heels, forever on the verge of collapse and falling apart. Coaxed along by a rasping 50s-inspired sax, it was a particular favourite of the young Morrissey. Indeed, a decade or so later when stuck for lyrical inspiration, Morrissey went back to Lonely Planet Boy and appropriated some of the lyrics for the song that would, for some come to define The Smiths.
Oh, you pick me up You’re outta drivin’ in your car When I tell you where I’m goin’ Always tellin’ me it’s to far
But how could you be drivin’ Down by my home When ya know, I ain’t got one And I’m, I’m so all alone
And with that steal, Morrissey had galvanised himself into writing the lyrics to There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.
A great song needs more than great lyrics, of course. I’ve written about the Johnny’s contribution to it before. Below is the shortened version.
“If we needed some songs fast, then Morrissey would come round to my place and I’d sit there with an acoustic guitar and a cassette recorder. ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ was done that way.”
“Morrissey was sat on a coffee table, perched on the edge. I was sat with my guitar on a chair directly in front of him. He had A Sony Walkman recording, waiting to hear what I was gonna pull out. So I said, ‘Well, I’ve got this one’ and I started playing these chords. He just looked at me as I was playing. It was as if he daren’t speak, in case the spell was broke.”
“We recorded ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ in 10 minutes. I went on to add some flute overdub and strings and a couple of extra guitars, but really, the essence and the spirit of it was captured straight away, and that normally means that something’s gone really, really right.
(Flute/strings overdubs demo below);
I have a version of that take with just the three instruments and the voice on it – it absolutely holds up as a beautiful moment in time. The Smiths were all in love with the sound that we were making. We loved it as much as everyone else, but we were lucky enough to be the ones playing it.”
“I didn’t realise that ‘There Is A Light’ was going to be an anthem but when we first played it I thought it was the best song I’d ever heard.”
A few years ago I had the notion that I’d start a semi-regular feature punningly titled ‘It Was Plenty Years Ago Today’. It would focus on Beatles‘ recordings from that day in Beatles’ history, in particular the individual takes that never made it beyond Abbey Road’s cutting room floor. Books such as Ian MacDonald’s Revolution In The Head are excellent chronicles of what happened when in Beatleland and I had every intention of building up a right good wee series on the back of it. However, lack of time and lazyitis (coupled with the fact that most of the time I just fancy writing about something else) combined to ensure this series would never quite get off the ground, but here, today, I bring you another one in this very sporadic series.
Druggy, fuggy, and slightly Eastern-sounding, It’s All Too Much was born in the summer of 1967, just as an unprepared world was anticipating the release of the Sgt Peppers album. Pencilled in for inclusion on the Beatles’ next project (Magical Mystery Tour) it didn’t see the light of day until the Yellow Submarine soundtrack was released in January 1969. In Beatles terms, that’s an awful long time from written-to-released. Why? The answer is simple – it wasn’t written by Lennon or McCartney. George always had to play second fiddle to his two elder bandmates. He’d had his own Blue Jay Way appear on Magical Mystery Tour, and one George song per album was the norm.
It’s All Too Much
One of George’s best compositions, composed whilst in the midst of a heavy LSD trip (and it sounds it), It’s All Too Much is a microcosm of all that’s best in Beatles psychedelia, grooving along on a one chord bed of feedback, clattering drums, stabbing keyboard and wonky sounding backwards guitars. The production is, I think, intentionally cluttered – It’s All Too Much after all – but that’s why it’s stood the test of time. Each repeated listen brings new things. Hidden depths of sound float to the surface; A full-fat fuzz bass pops itself in and out of the mix. Slightly out of time handclaps catch up with George singing bits of The Mersey’s Sorrow. Trumpets apeing Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince Of Denmark March (you’ll recognise it if you’ve ever seen the pomp and ceremony of a Royal wedding) fanfare your arrival into a higher state of consiousness. Almost half a century later, it sounds new! and fresh! and now! The Flaming Lips would give everything to sound like this.
It’s All too Much is one of the few Beatles tracks not to have been recorded at Abbey Road. Why it was recorded instead at Soho’s De Lane Lea Studios is unclear, but that’s where it was hatched. And plenty years ago today on the 2nd June 1967, those trumpet overdubs were completed. At 8 minutes long the track fell foul of the Beatles editing process. One and a half mind-expanding minutes were chopped out of the mix, leaving the released version a shorter 6 and half minutes long. Still a trip, just not as long a trip as George would’ve liked you to have.
The full length version has been bootlegged countless times…
It’s All Too Much ( ‘Much Too Much‘ unreleased version)
Teenage Fanclub‘s Gerry Love is a big fan of It’s All Too Much. He even went so far as to include it in his very own Six Of The Bestmix for Plain Or Pan, saying “The Beatles had more than their fair share of groundbreaking productions, but this is by far my favourite.” Me too Gerry!
Plain Or Pan began back in January 2007. December 2013 saw the 7th full year of the blog. The end of the year makes me come across all misty eyed and giddy at the thought of this blog being not only still in existence but in rather rude health. At some point recently, the one-and-a-half millionth visitor crossed the threshold to read all about James Brown or Lou Reed or some forgotten Teenage Fanclub b-side. Facebook followers are in abundance, Twitter sends its fair share of readers in this direction and if you read that wee panel on the right, you’ll notice visitors from as far afield as Buenos Aires, Berlin and Ayr. Thank you one and all!
What better way to celebrate 7 years of typos, titbits and factual inaccuracies than with the annual Plain Or PanBest of the Year CD*.
*I’ll provide the tunes. You make the CD.
Our team of stat monkeys works double shifts over the festive period before presenting me with documented proof of the most listened to and downloaded tracks from Plain Or Pan throughout the year and I compile them into a handy CD-length album, complete with artwork, that can be added straight to your iTunes or wherever and onto your iPod to listen to during that new-fangled jogging craze you’ll ditch by February. Alternatively, it could be burnt off to listen to, old-skool style, on a couple of shiny discs in the car.
Pixies – River Euphrates (Gigantic ep version)
Victoria Wood – 14 Again
The Smiths – Rusholme Ruffians (demo)
James Brown – (Hot) I Need To Be Loved
Supergrass – Caught By The Fuzz (acoustic)
The Cramps – I Wanna Get In Your Pants
The House of Love – Destroy The Heart (demo)
Neil Young – Birds (Mono single version)
Elizabeth Archer & the Equators – Feel Like Makin’ Dub
Beak> – Mono
Dave Edmunds – Born To Be With You
The Clique – Superman
Ike Turner – Bold Soul Sister
Can – I’m So Green
Wilco – Impossible Germany
The Mamas and Papas – Somebody Groovy
Santo & Johnny –Sleepwalk
Dee Clark – Baby What You Want Me To Do
The Specials – Too Much Too Young (LP version)
Barry Adamson – Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Pelvis
Neu – Hallogallo
Mogwai – The Sun Smells Too Loud
Trash Can Sinatras – Little Things That Keep Us Together
It’s the annual, token Plain Or Pan Christmas posting. And this year it’s a cracker. Boom, boom!
At the televised Michael Jackson funeral/tribute on the telly after his death there was a piece of slo-mo footage that was absolutely dynamite, and it’s stuck with me ever since. I can’t seem to find it on the You Tube (copyright, Rob Bryden) so you’ll need to make do with my 3 4 and a half year old memories.
In it, a barely into double figures Michael, wearing an eye-poppingly bright tank top and very pointy collared shirt, body pops up and down, left and right, back to front, with all the carefree abandon of someone so young and foolish and happy. Watching it was almost tear-inducing, to see what he once was like when faced with the grim reality of what he had become. His wee tailored checked flares flap around the top of his cuban heeled boots in time to his and his elder brothers choreographed moves, their afros bobbing up an down in funky unison. Yeah, the brothers played the music and laid down the groove, but all eyes were on Michael. Without him, they were nothing. Ten years old and he owned the stage, looking right down the lens of the camera and into the homes of millions when he was singing, desperate for the musical interlude to arrive when he could break out the shackles and into his total, uninhibited dance as though his life depended on it. That his bastard of a father was probably standing just out of shot with brows furrowed and fists clenched makes the piece of film all the more amazing.
We all know how he turned out, but for a few moments at least, remember Michael Jackson as the wee boy who lit up the stage.
It’s worth listening to the voice too. I mean, really listening to the voice. You know he can dance. And you know he can sing. But strip the music away, isolate the vocals and what do you have? Perfection, that’s what. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is not a track I’ll freely run to when I need to hear the Jackson 5. Who does? But listen to this – the vocal-only track.
The control in his voice. The sheer joy he sings it with. The range of notes he can reach. That last note he hits, and holds, right at the end, is sensational. Anyone who tells you they can sing should be made to listen to this then asked to reassess their position on the matter forthwith.
And here‘s wee Michael giving Santa Claus is Coming To Town the same sort of high-octane, helium-voiced treatment. A pocketful o’ dynamite!
Here‘s that vocal-only track of Michael singing the Jackson 5′s I Want You Back – One of Plain Or Pan’s most popular downloads ever. If you’ve never heard it before it’ll blow your mind…
33 years ago today, John Lennon was shot dead outside his New York home.
When he died he was younger than I am now.
By the time I’d decided at the ripe old age of 32 that teaching might be the vocation for providing for my family, John Lennon had already lived a colourful life in Hamburg, formed the Beatles, split the Beatles, was one of the most recognisable faces on the planet and half-way through a solo career. Not bad going when you stop to think about it.
On the day he died, I came home from school to find my mum cleaning out the kitchen cupboards and crying. I shuffled about awkwardly, trying to be invisible while looking for the chocolate biscuits that weren’t in their usual place. Imagine seemed to soundtrack that whole era, Lennon’s unofficial national anthem for the world playing on every radio station across the globe.
Here’s the first take of Imagine, that other gun-wielding maniac Phil Spector at the controls and recorded at John’s house in Ascot. See when the honey-thick warm strings come in at the start with the piano……..s’beautiful, man!
And here’s a live version from 1971. Just John and his acoustic guitar in front of a politely reserved audience. Imagine wouldn’t be the song it was until Lennon’s death. Who knew?
Here’s the demo of Real Love. Lennon gives birth to Elliott Smith whilst sketching out a minor keyed spidery piano part that would never see the light of day during his lifetime.
And here’s the Jeff Lynne-produced shiny, polished-up Threetles version, released to promote the mid 90s Anthology series. Packed full of George’s slide guitar and some warm Beatles harmonies, it is (to paraphrase Alan Partridge) the band ELO could’ve been.
A few years ago, we visited New York. Just across the road from the Dakota Building in Central Park we came across Strawberry Fields. Once we’d managed to squeeze ourselves in between the hordes of quietly determined Japanese tourists hell-bent on not letting us through (Give Peace A Chance, my arse), much like that December day in my kitchen in 1980, we looked in slightly self-conscious silence at the wee tiled memorial.
I could post a picture of it, but it looks exactly the same as any one you choose to Google, although my picture has a random scattering of Autumn Central Park leaves on top of the black and white tiles, rather than the candles of eternity that were somewhat ironically missing that day.
Tis the season to be jolly ‘n all that. Here’s the rough version of Happy Xmas (War Is Over). Written and recorded in the space of a day, as was Lennon’s wont at the time, the record company failed to act quickly enough, and it missed out on being that year’s Christmas single. As with Imagine, it’s only since his death that Happy Xmas became truly popular.
Lennon autographs a copy of his Double Fantasy LP for the man who would return to kill him six hours later.
Elvis may have been the King, but Little Richard was certainly the Queen. He’s terrific, isn’t he? The high priest of camp; his pompadoured hair like a Texan oil slick, sticky and stationary above those mad, popping eyes and perfectly plucked brows, the occasional dog-bothering ‘whoooo!’ while his hands pound away on the pianer with all the frenzied dexterity of a teenage boy with unlimited broadband and a lock on his bedroom door. Tee-riffic.
Slippin’ And Slidin’. Tutti Frutti. Lucille. Good Golly Miss Molly. Rip It Up. Long Tall Sally. Every one a throat-ripping, stone cold classic……..the building blocks of rock and roll and all that was to follow. But you knew that already.
‘Before Elvis, there was nothing‘, said John Lennon, but The Beatles owed Richard Penniman a huge debt or two. McCartney for one modelled his whole voice on Richard’s every single time his group broke free from the shackles of balladry and ruffled their rugs to the delight of the watching world – from the backing vocals on The Beatles’ own version of I Wanna Be Your Man right through to the White Album’s Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, the spirit of Little Richard was never far away.
Here’s one you might not’ve heard before:
The Most I Can Offer (Just My Heart) is superb. Released on his 3rd album The Fabulous Little Richard by a slightly twitchy record company after he’d indicated a preference for thumping the bible rather than the thumping boogie woogie of yore, The Most I Can Offer is a mid-paced soul-shaking break-up ballad (of course!), all rasping tenor sax and ding-ding-ding minor 7ths on the keys. It throws me every time. Why? Because it sounds like a duet between a high, quavering falsetto’d voice and a southern souler. Imagine if William Bell had sung with the black cleaner lady who appears from the waist down in every Tom And Jerry cartoon. Except The Most I Can Offer seems to be Richard and Richard alone, his voice alternating between broken-hearted blues mama and a down-on-his-knees tear-soaked gospel bawler. The version I’ve given you is Take 4. Which sounds exactly like takes 1, 2 and 3 and no doubt the master version too. If you have but an ounce of soul you’ll want to play this again and again and again.
And here’s another:
Hey Hey Hey Hey, as reprised on the Beatles For Sale LP by those self-same Little Richard fans mentioned earlier. An out-and-out rocker, this features Richard at his most extreme, extravagant and extraordinary, pompadour bouncing while the piano pumps out primal jive ‘n wail. You can almost see the whites of his eyes on this recording.
And if you think the original’s good, you should have a listen to the Jim Jones Revue‘s outstanding needles-in-the-red version;
Proof, if any were needed, that Little Richard is as relevant today for any musician seeking the mother lode of rock ‘n roll.