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

You Scratch My Back Catalogue, I’ll Scratch Yours

In the early 90s, there was no finer sight in music than when the three frontmen from Teenage Fanclub stepped up to the mic as one and filled the room with honey-coated harmonies that surfed across the top of their ramshackle fuzz. Lest we forget, in the year that saw both REM’s Out Of Time and Nirvana’s Nevermind released and racking up gazillions of sales, Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque sat proudly at the top of Spin Magazine’s ‘Albums Of The Year‘ list. And rightly so. Bandwagonesque is classic Fanclub; a welding together of God-sent melodies with a clanging calamity of sweet-sounding guitars. To achieve the overdriven sound that defines much of the album, the band had the amps turned up as loud as they would go, put behind a closed cupboard door and close mic’d up. The effect is a cobweb-dusting thing of beauty, but you knew that already.

tfc 90s

On account of their ability to conjure a slightly wobbly three-part harmony out of thin air, fans of the band renamed them The Bellshill Beach Boys. Lazy writers at the time were less generous, waxing lyrical about the band’s obvious debt to the three Bs – The Beatles, The Byrds and Big Star.

This was the first time I (and I suspect many others) had ever encountered the names ‘Big Star‘ or ‘Alex Chilton‘ and the hastily re-released #1 Record/Radio City twofer that followed on the heels of Bandwagonesque confirmed that Teenage Fanclub had indeed tipped their hat in the particular direction of their 70s idols. Other bands are guilty as charged when it comes to blatant sticky-fingered plagiarism, but Teenage Fanclub were clever enough not to steal whole songs, lock, stock and barrel from Big Star. The overall mood though of Bandwagonesque, from the mid-paced strumming and guitar sound to the uplifting melancholy that sticks itself to many of the tracks (The Concept is essentially a sad song, but it’s sky-scrapingly magnificent. Likewise, December and Guiding Star) is very Big Star. Nowt wrong with that of course.

bandwagonesque reviewPatronising idiot.

Bandwagonesque remains an early high point in a discography embarrassingly rich in high points. Will the new album ‘Here‘, released in just over a month, have the same impact? Going on the strength of the lead single I’m In Love, with its trademark harmonies, fancy chords and Thin Lizzy-ish guitar solo, the early indications are good, but let’s remember that Bandwagonesque was released a quarter of a century ago. That Teenage Fanclub are still releasing records to an always-appreciative audience is fine in its own right.

Alex Chilton and Teenage Fanclub would play a few shows together. They also released a limited single via the NME, where Alex was backed by TFC on one side, and TFC were backed by Alex (kinda) on the other. At some point or other, (I’d like to imagine it was during the sessions for the NME single, though we’ll maybe never really know), Alex and TFC ran through a gloriously ragged live take of Bandwagonesque‘s Alcoholiday.

alex chilton bwAlex ChiltonAlcoholiday

The track is credited purely to Chilton, but if you listen carefully between the clanging chords and underneath Alex’s world-weary, 30-a-day Marlboro-coated voice, you’ll be able to make out Norman Blake’s ooing and aahing backing vocals. It’s a beautiful thing. Perhaps even more beautiful than the original….

Teenage FanclubAlcoholiday

tfc and alex c

Teenage Fanclub have also dipped more than a toe into the extensive Chilton back catalogue. An early US-only single from around the time of Bandwagonesque saw them zip through a brilliant version of Free Again, replete with a kazoo solo, a key change and seemingly, the kitchen sink.

Teenage FanclubFree Again

Free Again is a post Box Tops Chilton three chord boogie that would first see the light of day on 1977’s The Singer Not The Song EP, from a period in time when no-one seemingly gave a damn about Alex. Given the shambolic mess that made up the EP, this was also a period in Chilton’s life when he seemingly didn’t give a damn about folk either, but that’s another article for another day.

Alex ChiltonFree Again

tfc  badges




Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Live!

Stax O’ Soul

Eddie Floyd was the big haired, big voiced vocalist of such soul nuggets as Knock On Wood, I’ve Got To Have Your Love and Big Bird. An ode to flight, Big Bird was reputedly written by Floyd in Heathrow Airport as he waited to board a plane to Memphis for Otis Redding’s funeral. That’s how the legend goes at any rate.

 eddie floyd

Floyd was also a staff writer at Stax, and co-penned all manner of lesser known gems recorded by the likes of William Bell, the Staples Singers and Carla Thomas. You could do worse than spend an evening digging deep to uncover his work. It’s all terrific stuff, but one Eddie Floyd song stands afro’d head and shoulders above all others.

Eddie’s masterpiece is 1968’s I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do).

eddie floyd stax 7

A great little slice of call and response Southern soul, it see-saws between major and minor chords, swept along by brass and strings and carried from middle to end by the stolen melody of Percy Faith‘s Theme From A Summer Place;

Played by Floyd with the help of in-house Stax guns for hire Booker T. Jones (who played bass, guitar and keys (!)) and Al Bell, and produced by the MGs Steve Cropper, the song would eventually peak at #2 on the US R&B charts.

As a wee aside, you could do worse than spend another evening comparing Booker T’s guitar solo on this track with much of Edwyn Collin’s Memphis chording on some of those mid period Orange Juice records – the intro to I Can’t Help Myself for example.

alex chilton live

Cult hero to the stars Alex Chilton has recorded a couple of versions of I’ve Never Found A Girl, most thrillingly in Glasgow backed by a Teenage Fanclub who gamely hold steady the backbeat and offer enthusiastic backing vocals whilst he chops out gritty little riffs of electrified southern soul atop it.

Recorded at the 13th Note in 1996, in this pre (for me) internet era, I walked into work the morning after the show to hear all about it for the first time. Nowadays of course, you’d never get a ticket for this kind of thing for sticky fingered touts. But back in the day it was good old fashioned lack of information that meant only the hippest of the hip, with a finger to the pulse and an ear to the ground, got to such events. The bastards.

Alex Chilton & Teenage FanclubI’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do);

*Bonus Track!

Here’s Al Green‘s version, rather tame by comparison, but nonetheless a worthy inclusion to this post.



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

Alex Chilton

Fuck. Just heard the news. This keyboard is awash with tiny tears as I type. It’s always the way, but why do the good guys go first? I can’t believe I’m writing about Alex Chilton in the past tense. His music, especially with Big Star, means as much to me as Them There Beatles, it really does. Whether he was bedroom balladeering or bar-room bawling and balls-out rocking, his songs hit a nerve that jangled all the way to the auditory part of my brain like one of those fancy pants chords he could tease out of his guitar.

If you’re reading this you probably know all about him. Teenage Box Top. Cult hero in coulda been shoulda been Big Star. Producer of The Cramps. Friend and collaborator with fellow enthusiasts/obsessives Teenage Fanclub. All round nice guy, he wrote and recorded some of the best pop songs you’ll hear. Seek out #1 Record or Radio City or 3rd/Sister Lovers for proof. Sometimes bleak, often uplifting, always soulful. But you knew that already. Given our track record for celebrating the artist in death rather than life, Alex Chilton may yet become somewhat ironically a Big Star.

I’m glad I caught Big Star live. Just the once, when they first played Glasgow as part of their initial reunion tour. I stood on the balcony of the QM Union looking down onto the stage where Chilton led his band through non-hit after non-hit after non-hit. The crowd knew every word. So too did Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer of The Posies, similarly Teenage Fanclub-like in their obsessiveness about Big Star, and on-stage playing out their own version of Jim’ll Fix It on bass and guitar. Chilton himself played a mean guitar that night. And I mean mean in the economic sense. No frills, no pedals. Just him, a nice warm valve amp and a couple of vintage guitars. What a sound! Often overlooked in the scheme of things, Chilton was a fantastic guitar player – proof? – His version of My Baby Just Cares For Me is still up for grabs via this post.

He could play anything. Anything. Rock. Pop. Stax-inflected southern soul. Doo-wop. Jazz. E-nee-thing. He was a player’s player. A dude. And he once, sorry twice, played the 13th Note in Glasgow with Teenage Fanclub as his backing band. Naturally I found out about this the day after the second show. It was a Tuesday morning and a colleague from work casually mentioned it on the phone. Pre internet days, I’m afraid. Pissed off? You better believe it. Especially as the bootleg sounds amazing. Here‘s the entire show. No artwork. No tracklisting (I’m far too lazy/far too busy to type it out). First track is a rockin’ September Gurls. There’s covers of T-Rex, 60s pop standards and, yep, Stax-inflected southern soul. Get it and remember him this way.

Thanks for the music Alex.

Alex Chilton. December 28th 1950 – March 17th 2010

Cover Versions, Hard-to-find

Round Round Get Around He Gets Around

Everyone’s favourite spectacle-sporting singer from The Best Band In The World…Ever (that’ll be the Teenage Fanclub) Norman Blake is no stranger to the odd side project or two. As well as playing in parallel with TFC and BMX Bandits until 1991 when, let’s face it, Teenage Fanclub became really really good and so much better than the Bandits, he’s also added his golden chords and vocals to records by The Pastels, Kevin Ayers, the Trashcan Sinatras and Bill Wells. And he plays tonight in Glasgow alongside Gorky’s Euros Childs. A walking side project for hire, the Bellshill Beach Boy knows them all. This, then, is as good a time as any to point you in the direction of a few Norman Blake curios. Tracks that may have slipped underneath your Teenage Fanclub radar but would undoubtedly have become firm favourites by now, were they to have been presented as Teenage Fanclub records.


In the mid/late 90s Norman teamed up with future Fannie Francis MacDonald as Frank Blake and in ’96 recorded a one-off limited single for Shoeshine Records. Being a collector of all things Fanclub-related I naturally have a copy. ‘Don’t Let Love Pass You By’ is a slice of classic Blakery – a mid-paced love song with typically tricky jangling chords here and there. It even has the grace to start with the chorus so you know how it goes after the first 20 seconds. ‘Plastic Bag’ is a bit different. It sounds, for want of a better word, ‘light’, as in the total opposite of AC/DC. It passes by pleasantly enough, but those wonky keyboards and acoustic guitars have always been a bit too twee for these ears. Sorry Norman.


Frank Blake also recorded a version of Frank Zappa’s ‘Anyway The Wind Blows‘. I must confess that until recently I had no idea this was a cover version, so I was all over the internet until I could find a version of Zappa’s original. As it turns out, the cover is a fairly faithful reworking of the original. I have a version somewhere of Alex Chilton backed by the TFC live in Glasgow. They do a  grrrrreat version of it. I’ll have to dig that one out for your appraisal sometime  I took this quote from the Shoeshine Records website…

“I hadn’t heard any Frank Zappa and I was wondering what he sounded like. I thought his most musical thing would be his first thing so I got the first Mothers Of Invention LP. I started playing through it and ‘Anyway The Wind Blows’ was the really obvious pop song. I thought it was really good and would be fun to do. Again, it was all done pretty quickly and just sort of worked out on the spot because that’s the way Frank Blake like to work.”

Lastly, tucked away at the very end of a 2001 Shoeshine Records sampler I have ‘You Don’t Have To Cry’ by Frank ‘Jackson’ Blake. There are no sleevenotes with the sampler and I can find no information about this song/band line-up at all. I can only assume this is Blake, MacDonald and Belle & Sebastian’s Stevie Jackson, but I may be wrong. In any case, this track is a belter. It sounds like something the Everly Brothers would have done some time in 1961. In fact, ‘You Don’t Have To Cry‘ sounds so good it has to be a cover. Right? I think it’s a Gene Clark song. Yeah? It sure sounds like it. Someone help me out here.


I’ve had this picture for ages and was looking for any excuse to put it up here. Cracker, eh?