Cover Versions, demo, Gone but not forgotten, Live!

Bathed In Light Of Love

Dubiety surrounds the release of Big Star‘s third album, ‘Third’. Was it a true Big Star album in the way #1 Record and Radio City were? Given that the recordings were enhanced by an ever-revolving rotation of session musicians who’d play around the axis of Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens – Steve Cropper on the version of the VU’s Femme Fatale, for example, and given that Chilton wrote the lion’s share of the original music, it’s oft been considered the first real Chilton solo album. Studio tracking sheets from the time show references to Sister Lovers (Chilton and Stephens were in relationships with a pair of sisters at the time) which may or may not have been the intended name for the new record, or indeed, a new name for a band far-removed from its original identity. Despite the poor sales of the first two albums though, Ardent were dead keen to market it as a Big Star release and so, with little fuss or fanfare, Third was sent out into the world, Big Star’s ‘difficult’ third album with unfinished songs and little of the sparkling power-pop jangle that dusted the first two.

Big StarJesus Christ

Towards the end of side 2 you’ll find Jesus Christ, a mid-paced, straightforward celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus. On top of the occasional Spectorish tumbling toms and a honeyed Stax sax break that gives birth to Clarence Clemons and the E Street Band, you’ll spot references to angels and stars and Royal David’s City. The song is carried by Chilton’s instantly recognisable guitar style and sound, a welcome relief following the bleak and self explanatory Holocaust that precedes it on the record.

It’s a properly great Christmas tune, uplifting and joyful, yet as far-removed from the normal records that get played ad infinitum in shops, cafes, taxis, bars, wherever at this time of year. Indeed, the only time you’re liable to hear Jesus Christ in the changing rooms at TK Maxx will be from my mouth as I recoil in horror at the ill-fitting shirt from last season’s Katharine Hamnett collection that I struggled to get on and struggled to get off again. Jesus Christ, it was tight. Forgive me father etc etc…

Big StarJesus Christ (demo)

Chilton’s demo of Jesus Christ is great. Just Alex and a finely strummed acoustic 12 string, it has all the hallmarks of high watermark Big Star; Chilton’s ad libbed ooh-oohs, cracked, at the end of his range vocals on the high notes and the requisite sparkling jangle. What a great canvas for the other musicians to paint on.

Teenage Fanclub (of course) do a terrific version of Jesus Christ. Released on one of the two CD singles to promote Ain’t That Enough, the lead single from the gold standard Songs From Northern Britain album, TFC were in a rich vein of writing form at the time, firing out guitar-fuelled and harmony-filled songs with ridiculous ease. That Ain’t That Enough was released in June with a cover of an obscure Christmas song as an extra track (the other was a nod and a wink cover of the VU’s Femme Fatale, funnily enough) mattered not a jot. Recorded at perfect head-nodding pace and employing the twin vocals of Norman and Gerry, it’s proper, vintage Fanclub. A heady sheen of fuzzed-at-the-edge electric guitar, a tastefully twangin’ Raymond solo and a heartfelt, sympathetic take on the original make this one of TFC’s best covers.

Teenage FanclubJesus Christ

My job in education has changed in recent years, meaning that nowadays I don’t get to drag my class up to sing a Christmas song in the church. I always liked the challenge of this. It was the one time of year I could put my guitar skills to proper use and I was always on the lookout for a left-of-centre song to tackle. Jesus Christ was one I often considered, but it was forever overlooked in favour of something else.

The arrangement was going to be a full-on Phil Spector epic too; some tinkling pitched percussion at the start, eking out the melody against my plaintive strums, a single voice – probably the quietest girl in the class – singing the opening lines, the whole class coming in on the ‘Jesus Christ was born today! Jesus Christ was born!‘ Then there’s my bit – “MY BIT, BOYS ‘N GIRLS!” – where I do my Alex/Norman run up and down the frets before the second solo voice – this time a boy – “And o! They did rejoice!” brings us back to the whole point of the song.

By the second chorus, the entire group is swaying side to side in time to the guitar’s rhythm. By the third, they’ve added handclaps, like a peely wally west of Scotland gospel choir. They’ve lost most of their self-consciousness by this point too. Jack at the back is still fidgeting with the zip on his school trousers and Chloe, front row and centre, has still to lift her eyes from the rich red carpet in the vestry, but look! One or two of them are even smiling. And I’m in my element, pushing it towards the end.

The chorus is repeated a couple more times before we finish in a blaze of frantically scrubbed acoustics, clashing glockenspiel and rapturous applause from the assembled parents in the pews upstairs. The head teacher, as usual, fails to acknowledge both the effort and the spectacle and we move swiftly on to the next class who shamble their awkward way through Santa Baby to the embarrassment of all in attendance. I miss these times most of all.

*Christmas Bonus!

Here’s Alex Chilton’s fantastically louche take on TFC’s Alcoholiday. Teenage Fanclub have never hidden their love for all things Chilton-related, but on this tune the gamekeeper turns poacher. He just about steals the show too.

Alex ChiltonAlcoholiday

Master/Apprentices

Alternative Version, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

May Your Festive Season Be Happy And Gaye

Everyone own’s What’s Going On, right? A good chunk of folk own Let’s Get It On, aye? The more discerning amongst you might also have a copy of Marvin and Tammi Sing… Every one a 5 star slab of solid gold soul.

None of them though feature Marvin’s second solo single, released in 1964.

marvin gaye bw

Pretty Little Baby cascades on a waterfall of twinkling pianos, eased along by Marvin’s insistent croon as he channels his inner Nat King Cole. It’s not one of his better-known tracks, but it‘s a cracker.

Marvin GayePretty Little Baby

marvin gaye plb

As was usually the case on those early Tamla singles, the instrumentation on the track was played by the Funk Brothers. It’s understated, sympathetic to the track and hardly the in-your-face brashness that the name ‘Funk Brothers‘ implies.  What’s interesting though is that the track lies on a bed of gently rattling sleigh bells. Berry Gordy must’ve misheard the sound of ringing cash registers, as Marvin would go on to re-record Pretty Little Baby as a ‘brand new’ track, epecially for Christmas.

Purple Snowflakes uses the exact same backing track as Pretty Little Baby, adds some festive-friendly lyrics and manages to successfully pass itself off as a Christmas single. Two hits for the price of one!

Marvin GayePurple Snowflakes

marvin gaye jet

Marvin did a few Christmas tracks for Motown. Most of them are gloopy dods of syrupy schlock, heard once and immediately to be filed in the ‘never again‘ section of your head. But he did do this, a vocal-free, gently wah-wahing spacey groove that wouldn’t sound out of place in a bedroom scene in one of those late-night movies they show on the Movies 4 Men channel. It’s called Christmas In The City, though apart from the welded-on sleigh bells, there’s nothing remotely Christmasy about it.

Marvin GayeChristmas In the City

That keen-eared musical magpie Paul Weller borrowed heavily from the hook for Pretty Little Baby. Yes he did! Or perhaps it was wingman Cradock who sticky-fingered it into the song. Either way, transposing the tumbling piano riff to guitar, Weller built his own Find The Torch/Burn The Plans around it. It’s buried low in the mix, but it’s there. To be fair, it’s a great track, although it’s notable mainly for the vocals being so fackin’ cockernee they should be dressed as a Pearly Queen and have Ray Winstone munching on jellied eels in the background a la McCartney on the Beach Boys’ Vegetables.

Paul WellerFind The Torch/Burn The Plans

Here’s a picture of Paul Weller, fattening up for Christmas and off down Oxford Street to find that perfect Santa suit.

paul weller flab

 

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

Ghosts Of Christmas Past (1)

(Originally posted this time last year)

It’s the annual, token Plain Or Pan Christmas posting. And this year it’s a cracker. Boom, boom!

The-Jacksons-I-Saw-Mommy-Kissi-567946

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.

jackson 5 ebony

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!

jackson 5 xmas colour

*Bonus Track!

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…

Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Most downloaded tracks, Studio master tapes

A Helium-Enhanced Happy Christmas

It’s the annual, token Plain Or Pan Christmas posting. And this year it’s a cracker. Boom, boom!

The-Jacksons-I-Saw-Mommy-Kissi-567946

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 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.

jackson 5 xmas colour

Michael Jackson turned out all wrong, but for a few moments at least, he is worth remembered 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!

jackson-5-scooters

*Bonus Track!

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.

Deleted by The Man. Pfffft.

 

That’ll probably be me till after Boxing Day. See you on the other side….

demo, Hard-to-find, Six Of The Best, Yesterday's Papers

Yesterday’s Papers – Bums, Punks and Old Sluts On Junk

Yesterday’s Papers is my way of infrequently getting new life out of carefully selected old posts. It’s terrific that new readers seem to find Plain Or Pan on a daily basis and often request particular pieces of music which, for one reason or another no longer have working links. There’s also some stuff on here that I, being vain and narcissistic, still enjoy reading and, even though I would like to take an editor’s pen to the text and re-write much of it, I think new and not so new readers might enjoy reading it too.

Every Yesterday’s Papers post is presented exactly as it was written when it first appeared on Plain Or Pan, apart from the odd spelling mistake or grammatical error that escaped my editorial eye first time around. Oh, and the links to the music have all been updated too.

First Appeared December 13, 2011

This time last year I read an article in one of Mrs Plain Or Pan’s magazines about Christmas. The article asked a carefully selected sample of celebrities to describe their perfect Christmas Day. “A long walk in the woods with my fiancé,” cooed Kathryn Jenkins, “before curling up in front of the log fire with a glass of mulled wine.” “We always start the day with a champagne breakfast,” revealed Maureen Lipman. “Traditionally, we open presents after dinner, then the whole family settles down to watch The Snowman.” Christmas Day seems just peachy round at her’s, eh? I don’t know about your house, but mine on Christmas Day is nothing like that at all. “Those carrots are mushy…and the sprouts are still raw! You useless bleep!”(whispered of course,  so the relatives can’t hear us arguing, 3 feet away on the other side of the wall). “You told me when to put them on!” “Could you not tell the carrots were ready? Couldn’t you use your bleeping brains for once?” etc etc etc. Like I said, I don’t know about your house, but I’m inclined to think it’ll be more like mine than Kathryn Jenkins’ or Maureen Lipman’s come a week on Sunday.

Still Alive! Todd Marrone did this, the talented so-and-so.

You know this already, but just for the record, Fairytale Of New York is the best Christmas song of all-time. It doesn’t matter what’s gone before (the Phil Spector album, Bowie ‘n Bing’s Little Drummer Boy, the glam slam of Slade and Wizzard) or what came after (East 17? Cliff Richard? Kylie Minogue panting her way through Santa Baby with all the sex appeal of an asthma attack?) Some of these records are better than others, but none of them come close to capturing the essence of Christmas (raw sprouts, useless husbands and all) quite like The Pogues.

A Fairytale Of New York is almost unique amongst Christmas songs in that it tackles the ‘C’ word with none of the blind enthusiasm or misty-eyed schlock normally reserved for such events. Slade set their stall out before a bell has even been clanged in excitement. “It’s Christmaaaaas!!” yells Noddy, and you know from then on in you’re in for a rollicking yuletide ride. Wham drown that thinly-disguised same-sex love song of theirs in a gazillion sleigh bells and suddenly everything in George Michael’s garden is rosy.  “All I Want For Christmas,” enthuses Mariah Carey, “is yooouuuuooooouuu!” Yeah, and an X-Box, an iPod and a flat screen TV, Mariah. We’re all materialistic over here. And while you’re at it, could you get me a job too? And maybe find someone who’ll give us a mortgage? Aye, bah humbug ‘n all that jazz. The Pogues have gone for none of that. Fairytale Of New York is still romantic, but it’s also raw, real and ragged, full of remorse for past misdemeanours while hoping for a better future. Nicely gift wrapped of course in a Pogues-punk waltz-time, with added BBC ban-defying swearing.

It’s a terrific arrangement, put together quite masterfully by Steve Lillywhite. Initially written as a duet between Shane MacGowan and Pogues bass player Cait O’Riordan, then scrapped when she left the band, it was Steve Lillywhite who suggested getting the missus in to duet with MacGowan instead. Listen to the demos below and hear how he transformed The Pogues’ half-finished ideas into the final record, with its peaks and troughs and instrumental breaks. Hear too how he gets the best out of Shane, who at this point in his life was eating tabs of acid the way the Fonz eats gum (all the time, if you didn’t know), whilst washing them down with enough brandy to drown a whale. Lillywhite somehow coaxes him out of the famous fluent Macgowanese mumble and into that raucous final take.

The Music:

  • Ennio Morricone’s Overture from Once Upon A Time In America, from where Shane pinched the melody. Play it (above) – you’ll spot it immediately!
  • One of the first takes. Fluffed lines, missed cues….and the band played on.
  • Shane ‘n Cait almost full-length run-through duet with alt. lyrics, missed cues, forgotten words………and the band played on.
  • The ‘blueprint version‘ – Starts with Shane ‘n James Fearnley on accordion. Different lyrics again. Shane struggles with the concept of singing in tune. Band in top form as usual. After listening to this you can begin to appreciate the contribution Kirsty MacColl made to the finished record.

Tell yer pals: