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


It’s not the first time Chris Bell‘s I Am The Cosmos has been mentioned round here, but it’s the first time (surely not!) that I’ve shone the spotlight on the single’s flip side, You And Your Sister.

The only solo material released in his lifetime, the 7″ is the perfect distillation of Bell’s loose and melancholic approach to his music. On one side, the imperial I Am The Cosmos, a sky scraping anthem dressed to kill in revved up ringing guitars and double tracked harmonies. You don’t need me to point out that it would prove to be something of a lightning rod for many ambitious bands around the Glasgow area.

Chris BellI Am The Cosmos

On the other side, the naked and raw You And Your Sister, teenage angst set against highly strung and gently picked acoustics, sighing cellos and voice-cracked harmonies. Sadness in a bottle and sold back to the heartbroken with a keen ear to the musical underground.

Chris BellYou And Your Sister

If this is your kinda thing – hi, Norman! Hi Gerry! Hi Raymond! – you could do worse than track down I Am The Cosmos, the album that was pieced together posthumously from Bell’s scattered demos and rough recordings. Most of I Am The Cosmos is frazzled and low-slung, packed full of beaten riffs played on beaten guitars and very much in the acoustic/electric vein of the single…or indeed Bell’s previous band, Big Star, a teasing glimpse into what coulda/shoulda been had the artist not crashed his car and died.

I’ve been playing the record a lot recently, coming to it on the back of This Mortal Coil‘s contentiously superior version, a track that jumped back into my conscience after a misheard acoustic guitar strum on an advert had me convinced the advertisers had borrowed it. They hadn’t, thankfully.

This Mortal CoilYou And Your Sister

With knee-weakening vocals from Kim Deal and Tanya Donnelly, This Mortal Coil’s take is something of a breathy cry from the heart and fairly leaps out against the arty, Euro-goth torch songs that make up much of Blood, the album from which it is taken.

With intertwined voices and fingerpicked acoustics blending into one stop-for-a-moment recording, it’s plaintive and pastoral and pretty much the definitve version. Sung from the female perspective, the ‘your sister says that I’m no good‘ line takes on a whole new slightly sinsiter perspective when you hear it. I’m sure there are whole Guardian pieces on such things. For now though, enjoy a great version of a great song.

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten

I Am The Cosmos double whammy

A couple of weeks ago I was window shopping in Glasgow when I chanced upon a wee stall selling replica football tops and assorted football related t-shirts – Scotland Argentina ’78 -inspired designs and the likes. Unfortunately, the Celtic-inspired tops seemed to be the best – the Ramones logo re-done with the names of the Lisbon Lions, the Dylan ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ video where Bob discards 3 cards saying “It’s A “, “Grand Old Team“, “To Play For“. Umpteen Larsson tops. That sort of thing. Amongst all the Archie Gemmell and Old Firm crap I found a brilliant New York Cosmos t-shirt. I had to buy it.

I remember the Topical Times ’79 football annual having a big piece about them and I was something of a nine year old trans-Atlantic fan. They attracted all the best players, just as they entered the final stages of their playing career. In some cases, players came out of retirement, lured by the big bucks of the club’s financial backers. Pele, Beckenbaur, Neeskens, to name 3, all played in the team’s colours. The badge was even designed with Pele in mind – incorporating the Brazilian football team colours of yellow, green and blue, the owners believed this would appeal to Pele. And it did, not just to Pele, but also to Carlos Alberto, captain of the famous Brazil ’70 World Cup winning team. This was a masterstroke by the owners – when Pele signed in ’75, average attendances rose from 3500 to over 10,000. Anyway, here’s the music part…

The Cosmos were founded by Atlantic Records’ Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, so in turn they were funded in no small part due to the success of a mid-70s global shagging Led Zeppelin. You could say that for every copy of Led Zep IV sold, some of the profits would go into funding terrible acts like Bad Company and some of the profits would line the pockets of footballers on the wrong side of 35.

Not on Atlantic Records, and therefore nothing to do with any of the above useless trivia was Chris Bell, Alex Chilton’s foil in Big Star. Since Chilton died the other week, it’s been said that one of the reasons he underplayed the recordings he made with Big Star is because he knew how much of the Big Star sound had been created by Chris Bell and not by himself. If you listen to Chris Bell’s solo album I Am The Cosmos (d’you see what I did there?), there may be some clout in this opinion. The title track itself is a fantastic slice of mid 70s rock – easily on a par with The Stones Exile On Main St or much of The Faces back catalogue. It’s loose, it’s sloppy, it’s full of soaring vocals, there’s a fabulous twin guitar break in the middle; all the ingredients required to make the hairs on this particular neck to stand to attention. In fact, while I’ve got your attention, I’d like to offer up the opinion that it’s this record (link updated again!) more than anything from #1 Record or Radio City that gave Teenage Fanclub the blueprint for everything they recorded at the sessions that produced Bandwagonesque. Not a bad point of reference at all.

In total contrast to the original above, there’s another version of I Am The Cosmos currently released and charming the pants off me. Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson recorded the songs that would form the ‘Break Up’ album in 2006 but  they only saw the light of day at the end of last year. I’m not normally a fan of actors making records (or vice versa) and this album is just OK. It’s nothing spectacular and had Yorn made it with N. E. Singer, I doubt I’d even have gone out of my way to find it, let alone listen to it. But for Miss Johansson I can make exceptions. Her voice is decent enough and her duet with Yorn on their version (link updated) of I Am The Cosmos is indie/lo-fi at its best. They claim to have been influenced by Serge Gainsbourg’s recordings with Brigitte Bardot, but I can’t really hear it. I could, however, quite happily listen to it/her all day long. Indeed, if she gets in the queue behind Zooey Deschanel and plays her cards right, Scarlett Johansson could yet be the next Mrs Plain Or Pan. Mind you, I’d need to make sure I’m not wearing that new Cosmos t-shirt. I’m not nine years old anymore. I bought a medium, but I really should’ve gone for a large. I knew at the time, but who was I tryin’ to kid?