30 April 2011

Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery - Down by the Riverside

Jimmy and Wes - The Dynamic Duo
You want to hear the greatest introduction to any song ever?

Well, you have it right here my friends, thanks to my 23rd track of the day.

Let's get the negatives for many listeners out of the way first of all - it is an instrumental jazz version of a Gospel standard.

But not a normal jazz cover - the biggest, brassiest, most energetic recording I think I own.

Only one video out there of this version - and thanks to YouTube cutting the time down to 10 minutes per video - we just about fit it all in....

Let's start with that big. big intro shall we? A slow build up with 2 horns to about the 20 second mark, where other horns come in and start shouting "What about me!!!" from the left field, messing things up, double timing it to the first breakdown at about 45s mark. Then they start pumping what we presume is the main piece - BUT NO! They keep growing and blasting it up until 1:04 when they explode and fade away for Jimmy Smith's organ to come in to silence them.

Wow.  I own great punk tunes that last less than that introduction.  All of those horns grooving away at full pelt from the word 'go'. You know Beyonce has heard that and wondered "How come the horn sections in my tunes are so weak in comparison?"  Nothing beats a big band intro, and that to my mind is the best there is. There is no piece of music, in my mind, that a great brass section cannot enhance.
And that is thanks to somebody not in the title - the great Oliver Nelson (of 'Stolen Moments' fame) arranged this beauty. In the jazz world there are a lot of mediocre arrangers, and luckily for these two, they managed to get hold of one of the best.

So then the tune goes on - or rather the soloing does. The two focus instruments of this record - organ and guitar have their moment in the sun. Jimmy Smith, probably the greatest organ player of all time starts off - beautifully timidly, counteracting the huge horns, which he knew he couldn't match for attack and volume - and it is sweet, to start with. However those horns have had their effect on him, and he starts attacking the keyboard with a ferocity that you wonder how he can keep it up. And luckily for our ears, he realises he can't, so he slowly slips down a gear, all the while Wes Montgomery starts slowly building his presence in the piece - an occasional stab at a root chord, building up until around the 2:30 mark when it is almost as though he is saying "Remember me, Jimmy?  I'm here too!" a slip and a slide in edge-ways to try and voice his way in.

The horns then cast a refrain - marking what should be a mark to change lead instrument - but Jimmy isn't finished yet. In an understanding and generous way Wes lets him off again.  Why? Because Mr Smith is cooking with gas today and nobody would dare stop him - he is on fire with such energised lines until at 4:50 he finally lets out a double stop to signal in the guitarist - and almost catches him off guard.

Wes then takes the lead - in his own way, less aggressive, far more melodic, great use of repeating lines for emphasis, yet still finding original lines to play and in a variety of styles - great sections of slides, slips and a swathe of just playing fast staccato 'block chords as melody' with such abandon that the drummer joins him.

Then almost as a show of what level these musicians are performing on at the 8 minute mark they trade riffs and lines between themselves.  I can almost see Wes smiling to himself at the 8:10 mark thinking "There is no way an organ can play anything like this run of octave slides - beat this". Jimmy then answers with a series of octaves matching the melody, but in his own style. Each of them playing at the edge of their incomparable ability, pulling every trick they know out of the box in one ten minute piece.
The next 2 minutes brings the horns back in at full pelt, like a roaring wild beast and then reverting to the original refrain.

You know that at the end of the session that everyone involved was exhausted, but laughing. So who were these two chaps, these two virtuosos of their instruments?

Well, without delving into Wikipedia or the likes too much, let me say this - you have heard them before.
Jimmy Smith you have heard sampled in Beastie Boys tracks (Root Down) and as in the theme music to The Money Programme on Radio 4.... More than that he more or less invented the sound of Acid Jazz.
Wes Montgomery was in history probably the 'third' most important guitarist of all time.  And by third I mean, before him came only Django and Charlie Christian. His style of using repeated solo runs, octaves and block chord melodies inspired just about everyone.  If you like Hendrix, you like Wes - simple. "The Wind Cries Mary" is so in the style of Montgomery, if he had released it nowadays, he would have been sued.

As for the song.  Until today, I never realised it was a standard.  A well known one at that.  It came on the iPod as I was driving an aged relative to see even older relatives, and it was the first piece in years of putting up with my music that she recognised.  I was stunned, so I turned to iTunes when I got home and found, luckily, this beauty as an example of what the original should sound like - ladies and gentlemen - Sister Rosetta Tharpe....

Now we will talk about Sister Rosetta in the future no doubt - more soul than an Atlantic fishing trawler and what a great sight - a middle aged black woman singing and playing an all-white Gibson SG Custom years before Chuck Berry even picked up a guitar.

Back to why this track covered by Jimmy and Wes is so good:

Because they are enjoying themselves, unburdened by fame and expectations, trading riffs and having a great time in each others company.
Luckily we can share that joy thanks to this fantastic recording.

27 April 2011

Allen Ginsberg - Howl

I'm away - at meetings and then at the cinema with Mr Green to see a film on Allen Ginsberg. So why am I posting this? Because listening to this beautiful reading IS music.
If one short piece of literature can sum up the 'Beatnik' movement - it's this.  Sure 'On The Road' is the epitome of the written word offerings, but this, like Shakespeare has to be heard.
It's great effervescence of life and youth, a call to the myriad of forgotten spirits that inspire our adventures fill me with a need to drive and experience the world of 50's San Francisco.  To sit in smokey coffee shops with Neal Cassidy and wax lyrical about that which is not deemed essential.
The careful construction of each single word and formulation of the lines is astonishing - to read more on Howl go here.

Personally, I prefer Kerouac....
And he knew a thing or two about writing about music as well.....

26 April 2011

Eddie Calvert - Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White

Eddie Calvert - Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White

It's earworm time....

Once you start playing this one, it will get stuck in your head....

On the bad news front - I am away for the next two nights, so no uploads :( 
It's nearly 11 here already and I have a few hours to prepare for work tomorrow....

Perfect music for the evening...

Now ain't that a beauty?  You have heard it before, but you never knew what the hell it was.  It's a standard now, of course - nice mambo styling with the golden horns of Mr Calvert.  He did all the standards in the 50s before they were standards.  In fact this was the 33rd number 1 in history.  For four weeks! Wooo.
In fact it was Number one two weeks earlier by Perez 'Prez' Parado.  Not a lot going on in 1955 I guess.

But why not more famous? Well, it is what we now call a cover, but it was quite normal back in the day for artists to perform other peoples music as a way to earn a living - we have looked at the split between 'writers' and 'performers' quite early on and how this has changed to being rather looked down upon. So why the two releases so close together and SO similar?  No idea.

It doesn't stop this quaint little tune from being covered again and again....
A little bit of Prez there - I don't like it as much - not really sure why - it seems a little slower, with a little less life in it. Then there is the version by guitar surf band the Ventures.
Now that is one great version - it lacks the rough gut straining of the horns, but adds a bit more ability to bend notes thanks to the whammy bar, and a little more cheerful clarity in the chorus.

However Eddie Calvert came from Preston, Lancashire, so my alliance really should be with him.
But the original, original is French "Cerisier rose et pommier blanc" by Louiguy who also wrote "La Vie en Rose" made famous by Edith Piaf.

In conclusion, I think we can say that Banannarama were wrong when they said "It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it".
Content is often more important than style, and this is a bloody cracker.

25 April 2011

Funkadelic - Free Your Mind ...and your Ass will Follow

Oh, George Clinton you are a funny man, aren't you?

If you want to know the most psychedelic record in existence, put your headphones on, turn up your stereo and press play.

The album, the second from George Clinton's sister band to Parliament was set out answer the question;

"...could we cut an entire album whilst tripping on acid?".

At least he is honest about it.

This track takes up a good third of the album and is just chock a block full of mind boggling music.

Who were Funkadelic and who were Parliament? What the hell is this noise?
Well, lets start with Mr George Clinton. Who the hell is he? 

Well, I am not certain but he probably believes he comes from Venus.  An ex Motown songwriter, without much success (I wanna Testify being the only hit from that period) he started up his own band, or rather bands - Parliament and Funkadelic.  They practiced his particular brand of funk "P-Funk" - What is P-Funk?
Depends who you ask - it could be "Pure" funk, "Psychedelic" funk or a shortening of Parliament and Funkadelic. These two bands sort of are the same thing - they started off as Parliament and during a long dispute with the record company, decided to more or less all leave and reform to sign to another label as Funkadelic.

However, with this break with the record company they took the opportunity to re-style themselves as well as re-name themselves.  Out went the over dominance on Soul and Doo Wop and in came the electric age of aggressive funk and rock - taking the lead from Sly and the Family Stone, as well as James Brown and more outlandish bands....

Live shows were spectacular with a huge "Mothership" landing on stage and enormous spectaculars of stagecraft, lights....  hell just look at this....

Weren't the 70's great? 
What he go on to do? Well, he still does this, he produces dozens of artists from Ice Cube to the Chili Peppers, but it's this track that is a no doubt 5 star winner for me.  Not as perfect as Maggot Brain, but still....

6 notes of a riff that last ten minutes, with biblical 'calling and answering' reminiscent of a Catholic service;
Call "Free Your mind and your ass will follow"
Answer "The kingdom of heaven is within"

Electronic bubbles, electric guitar, distorted organs straining to stay alive as they are driven to the point of pain and in the mix - violent pans left to right and back again, whilst different instruments are given the foreground more carefully with slower fades. He would perfect this act later on, but the rawness of the mix goes in parallel with the rawness of the music and the instruments themselves. The guitarist Eddie Hazel out-Hendixes the man himself whilst the organ reaches meltdown.  The last three minutes (8:00 onwards) reach a surprising crescendo of musicality, and certainly answer the question.

Yes, you can record an album whilst tripping on LSD, although it may not be palatable to the majority of listeners.

Dinosaur Jr - Freak Scene

Dinosaur Jr - Freak Scene
It's 1988, grunge is getting huge and one of the originators finally release their first single in the UK - Freak Scene.

If you haven't heard of them before - congratulations, you are not a hipster.  And as a warning - it's a loud noise.

Now that's the only version I can find on You Tube that isn't live - and it only lasts 30 seconds.  What rot.
The band revolves around underground music messiah J Mascis - who from all accounts appears to be a mixture of Mark E Smith and Phil Spector in the studio - demanding exactly what he wants from drummers and bass players, allowing no individuality or expression.  By the time of their third album 'Bug' which this comes from, the original drummer had already gone and during the tour for this album the bass player would leave for Sebadoah. Is this such a bad thing?

I am mixed about this - let's hear the whole song.

Sonic noise with moments of greatness. Certainly a song in there somewhere, but perhaps the whole fuzz and feedback thing is overbearing the notion of the songwriting. That was taken from the 1991 tour with Sonic Youth and Nirvana - three years on and what was underground was clearly now popular...

So is he right in laying down the law about wanting his way with his songs? There are two ways of thinking about it. 
If you consider yourselves a band, you really ought to take into consideration the other members opinions - especially when it is concerning their own instrumentation.
However, if you are a bandleader (remembering the term comes from the big band era) then you should expect your members to follow your lead.  The Foo Fighters had a similar problem.  The individual members didn't know where they stood after two albums.  Are they a group of like minded musicians, or are they backing musicians? It caused anxiety and arguments over not knowing their place in the scheme of things. After eventually getting it out in the open Dave Grohl made a decision - "It is my band and you are the members of it - I am in charge". Luckily, they were happy with this and could get on with their jobs - knowing exactly what it was.

So what about the songwriting - is it there? The test (in my mind) for rock music is easy - does it work acoustically? Lets see;

To be honest, I find the whole album a bit of a grower - it didn't grab me on the first listen, but as time went by I could hear moments of greatness and now consider the entire record a great testament to an era and the individuals who made it up. 

I really am looking forward to the 1st July when I see them perform it live in it's entirety in Ali Palace...

22 April 2011

Basic Instructions - How to Defend your Musical Tastes


Does this entry even need a comment?
Apart from "Visit Scott's site. I do."

The original is posted here

King Missile - Detachable Penis

King Missile - Happy Hour - where this single comes from.
You know what? It's Good Friday and I'm in a bad mood.
Work has blown up again, and I am nearly past caring.

I just want to sleep all day and the kids next door are playing happy hardcore and 'smoking'.  It's 3pm dammit.

So what did I put on the stereo to fight back against the all pervading dumb?
It wasn't this, but it was a Breezeblock session from 1998, but it had this on it.

So I hit iTunes and brought up this bad boy.  It is about exactly what it says on the tin. To save my time and yours, play it.  It's great fun.
Wikipedia says this:
"In "Detachable Penis," front man John Hall recites a deadpan monologue in which he portrays the owner of the eponymous organ. Apparently a resident of Manhattan's East Village, the narrator awakens one morning with a bad hangover to discover that his penis is missing again. He searches his apartment, calls the location of the party he attended the night before, and queries numerous acquaintances, but is unable to recover his penis.
Depressed, he goes to the Kiev Restaurant for breakfast, and afterwards, while walking "down Second Avenue, toward St. Mark's Place," discovers his penis for sale "on a blanket next to a broken toaster oven." The man selling the penis wants $22 for it, but the narrator is able to "talk him down to seventeen." He takes his penis home, washes it off, and reattaches it. With his penis back in place, he is "happy again: complete.""

The singer was convinced to form a band after a stint as a poet and realising that was fairly dull. King Missile have released a few albums with an ever changing lineup, but this was their 'hit'.  Many thought of them (and still do) as a one hit wonder.  Not true, In fact I think this comes from their 4th album -- however this one got radio and MTV plays.

Simple - it's strange and funny.
Much of King Missile's lyrics are surreal and play with abstract imagery as though it were everyday. Hall's delivery of his lines range from emotional to monotone drawls as with Detachable Penis. Is it a statement on sexual identity and guilt? Who truly cares.

Musically, I wouldn't say it is as original as the lyrics, but it also isn't 'by the book' rock. Heavy delay reverberating the three chord riff back and forth, a simple jabbing organ line, a forgettable bass line and drums that cross between funk and rock. In my mind it reminds me of a branch of metal that was flourishing just as Grunge was coming to the fore - MindFunk in particular.  The long sweeping echo-laden lead guitar lines and minor key overtones certainly speak of a certain era.

If you want to hear more, the albums "Happy Hour" and "Mystical Shit" are winners. As for people who they influenced - try Soul Coughing (a more Bristol sound version) and Ugly Duckling for the more Hip Hop versions of poet led music.

So much more than just giggling at the rude words....

20 April 2011

The Beta Band - Human Being

The Beta Band - Human Being
Bit of a delay on this write up.
Whole bunch of reasons - work being the most boring, the Royal Albert Hall the most interesting.

The most honest is that I have been debating in my mind how to write about this song and this band.

Why?  "It's just a band..."
Yeah, but, well, etc. I love the Beta Band in the way that a 37 yr old really shouldn't - if I was 12, in the mid 70's and was obsessed by David Bowie, my appreciation of TBB would be suitable. It isn't now.

Does that mean I am a "Beta Band apologist"? No.  For example - this video is shit.  Yes the nursey character is enticing to a level I really don't want to admit to, but it is utter tosh. I don't like all of their work - some of it I don't 'get' - maybe I need to listen to the stuff I don't like a bit more....

In my opinion The Beta Band are one of only about 5 bands I truly believe should be huge.
How big should they be? U2 big, Coldplay big, AC DC big.  Those horrid juggernauts of rock that will never go away big. Why they aren't around now and aren't massive would make a fantastic book about the business of being in a band.

Someone needs to write it.

In brief (and greatly edited) a talented group of musicians formed the Beta Band and released 3 EPs (remember them?) they were compiled into a stunning CD (named the 3 EPs...) Their first album was critically acclaimed although they were not happy with how it ended up. They released 2 further albums - of which this single comes from the second - Hot Shots II in 2002. After their final album Heroes to Zeroes, they split up. Why? They weren't where they wanted to be at that stage in their careers. Two members are in "The Aliens" and Steve Mason went on to a solo career; in a band, experimenting with dark Electro as Black Affair and recently released a solo album which had more moments of pure songwriting beauty than anything else I heard in 2010.  In fact, I didn't write a 'Best of 2010' because the only new music I liked in 12 months was that solo album.

The music TBB produced often had journalists (and producers) scratching their heads as how to categorise it. A bugbear that would haunt them - they weren't rock, folk, hip hop, rap or pop but drew on all these influences. They were musicians, who made music.  I have written before about categorisation and use of language to pigeon-hole artists. It's horrifically constricting, both for the artist and the audience.

If you are sold as 'Brit pop' how can you ever use a sampler? If you are a 'dance music' band it is thought of as odd if you have a real drummer and guitarist.  Perhaps not so much now, but ten years ago ease of marketability was a concern for record companies.

What TBB did in the studio was create songs (or shall I return to use the all encompassing word 'chune'?) In Human being, a genuinely sweet song, you can hear accordians, 12 string guitars, drum samples, a horn line on occasion, arpegiated piano twinkling in and out and Steve Mason's pure honest voice double tracked and harmonising in a rythmical fashion - almost adding another drum track.
My favourite moment in the 4 minutes (or 4 min 30 secs depending on the mix) is the crossover to the ending, where the accordian voice changes into a magnificent hammond organ, the 12 string guitar is overtaken by a distorted guitar that has the word "rock" written through it's core from headstock to tail-piece and the drums move from a simple laid-back hip hop beat to full Keith Moon frenzy in about ten seconds flat. All of this emphasising the pleading of the lines sung.

So when music this original and inventive is being written, why isn't it successful?
Many reasons;
- They were ahead of their time - many bands have clearly taken their lead and have done similar things once a large established fan base had been achieved.  However, start as an original sound it is terribly difficult to get a large following.  Just listen to Radioheads "Pablo Honey" and any of their last 3 albums - it is as though they were written by different bands.
- Production and marketing not understanding what was needed from them for artists outside of their knowledge.
- And the most heartbreaking - sheer bloody bad luck. This plays such a large part in a bands success, this conclusion can be made about all of my '5 bands that should be huge'.

However, feeling melancholy over a band that split up years ago is stupid - we are left with happily with 3 albums, 1 collection of EPs and the band members present careers.

As the final line of the song states;

"It’s all so beautiful what’s the point of it all?"

15 April 2011

Kid Carpet - Green and Pleasant Land

Kid Carpet - Ideas and Oh Dears
At times I just like a nice simple fun tune with humor - so luckily track 23 today is the rather wonderful Kid Carpet.  One of the great names.

Bristol boy Kid Carpet was fed up of taking loads of equipment around to gigs all the time.  It weighed too much and cost too much - a real problem if it was stolen or dropped.  So he decided to ditch it all and use a single laptop and childrens toys instead.  The style of music? He calls it "Shit Hop". A proper indie attitude, but without the naivity of being too timid on stoage or with his lyrics.

I like him even more for that.

Yes the songs are amateurish, unpolished and simple, but I like that too.
The above ode to the British life and cynicism has a level of purity to it that manufactured pop doesn't.  It uses real language, real poetry and fun 'old school' beats.  Old school as in school time playground toys.  They are not just for kids..... You want a guitar solo?  Take this bad boy to heart.

How good is he?  Good enough to get signed to Dan le Sac's new label - that's how good.
This is exactly what I like about certain indie music - he's not copying anyone else, doing his own thing and believes in it. When you do that, and put your heart in it, you are going to win.  Maybe not commercially, but certainly artistically.

Well I'm too knackered to write more.  Bog off, enjoy I need to sleep.

14 April 2011

Warren G - Recognize

Vox - Class of 94 and Warren G is on it!
It was probably during my first year at Uni when I started listening to popular musics again.  And what a time for it. Dance music was maturing, grunge was developing, brit pop had arrived. and then this....

Now I am not a fan of RnB of this style normally, bit of an old school hip hopper myself, but this is a bit of something special.

Winter of 94 and Vox magazine (the monthly compilation of NME, if the truth be known) released their annual compilation of the years best music.  Magazines still do this, but it's usually a load of old B-side tripe from bands that record companies what to pimp out in the following year.
Vox 94 was very different from that - every track on here (even the Erasure one) is a hit. In my mind the best compilation of the time.  I played this tape in my car and on my stereo for years.  Eventually it gave up the ghost and I had to hit ebay.  Bought it, and then when I had a job, I went and hunted down all the CDs with the tracks on so I could have a top notch version of all of them.  I'm still searching for the right mix of the Echobelly track....

This particular track reminds me of driving in the winter up to Stroud in the dark, with the cassette playing on a battery powered player as I couldn't afford a new tape deck.  Lost in the middle of bloody nowhere, staring at maps, no sat nav, no phone, no stereo.

The track itself is a slow low bass driven rap effort.  The beat is laid back, language a little rough, which works really well as a counter to the soulful music.
However the meticulous production polishes what could have been a turd into the stratosphere.  Warren G's debut album which this comes from Regulate probably is the highlight of his career. The whole East Coast / West Coast cobblers of the mid 90s is personified in this and a couple of other releases from the time.  Friends with Snoop Dog and Dr Dre, he had the contacts and made good use of Nate Dog on most of the album.

The whole laid back attitude of this cut is perfect for late night drive bys and cruising the strip in your lowered Merc.  However, at the time all I had was a screwed up Metro and a snowbound single track road into Slad Valley, with a half broken tape recorder.  It didn't stop me feeling 100% gangster though.

The most important lesson that Mr G can teach us in this song? Not to take rap music or any music too seriously;

 "It really doesn't matter 'cos it's still only pop"

Jacques Loussier - Partita in E Major

Jacques Loussier - The Best of
This was written about a week ago, when I had no WiFi - time to publish!

I’ve had a great day cruising around the South Coast, walking the old streets taking in the smells, sights and sounds of Bournemouth, Boscome and Southbourne.  I may well have been captured by the Google Street view bike twice on the pier.  And today’s track is what was playing as he cruised by.

Unfortunately I can't find the right Partita on YouTube - this one is fairly suitable...

As I have mentioned before, my parents had very limited music in the house when I was young.  Really surprising when you consider the fact that I was sent to piano lessons when I was 7. No classical music in the house at all.  However, my Uncle John in Scotland had given my father a few tapes (remember them?) variously labelled.  This turned up on a tape marked ‘best of Bach’.  Now I had no idea who Bach was, or why he chose piano as his instrument of choice.  I certainly didn’t realise that it was a jazz interpretation by a French pianist of a long dead composers work.

However, I played piano and this was piano and I liked it.  I asked my piano teacher for some Bach pieces to learn.  They never sounded like this.  I presumed that it was my playing or my teacher, but obviously it wasn’t.
It wasn’t until years later, at University sitting around Nicks pad listening to Jaques Loussier that it all became clear. He had taken his rather well trained jazz trio and gave them Bachs rather tempered and even pieces to ‘loosen up a bit’.  And they succeeded.  Classically trained and an owner of the worlds most stereotypical French beatnik chin beard, this was the break that he needed. Taking these pieces and breaking them down, extracting the main melodies and giving them new time signatures, sympathetic to the originals, but with a little more soul, more heart – reviving them for a scene that wanted the intellectual chutzpah of classical music, but was more easily palatable.
The first album was a hit with the easy listening set and formed the rest of his life’s career. He more or less covered the entire repertoire or Mr Bach.  The most popular highlight? The Hamlet cigar adverts. The least popular? Moving on to cover the work of Mozart.  Really not very good.

My favourite memory is of trying to learn Toccata in Fugue on Nicks electric piano in Guildford and whilst making a cup of tea, not being able to tell the difference between the CD version and Nicks playing in the other room.

My second favourite? Going to the Wycombe Swan taking my mother to go and see John Shuttleworth.  Jaques was playing on the second stage.  I was really tempted to change the tickets, but luckily didn’t. 

Two great masters of the keyboard, and we saw the one who was in his prime. 

13 April 2011

Helen Love - Long Live the UK Music Scene

Helen Love - Radio Hits 2 - which includes this 'hit' single
Now this is not going to be in my all time top 100 songs, but there is a lot of things about Helen Love that I, ahem, love.

Finally a song from a rock band fronted by a lady.  A lady of singular and exceptional talent for a good chune.

You know what? One of my favourite influences on my musical taste is dead.  Not Zappa, but John Peel.  Even when he was 'unpopular' and 'uncool' his evening show was a great listen.  Not because it only played music I liked - in fact I would say only about 20% of it I could say I liked.  Now that's approximately 19.9% higher than any other radio show, but still fairly low.
So what was it about John Peel that worked?  He knew good music - it didn't matter to him whether it was high speed techno, ambient, reggae or rock - he could tell the difference between the good and the bad, and only played the good. He didn't care if it had been made in your bedroom on a tape deck or in Abbey Road, he could filter out the dross.

At the end of each year he would play at Christmas his own "Festive Fifty" - a top 50 retrospective of the year. For the indie bands of the 90s appearing on that Festive 50 was more important than a hit single.  They were never going to get the sales in a month of Sundays, but appearing on John Peels end of year show gave validation to the blood sweat and tears it takes to make a song.

Helen Love appeared 3 times between 1996 and 1998 - for indie and Brit Pop bands a fairly dense section in UK music history. They peaked in 1997 by actually recording a famed 'Peel Session' with the BBC. Nowadays they are still going and still proper indie - never selling out or joining a big label - they make their music their way.  It may not have the highest of production values, but at least it has a bucket load of love and soul in it.

Helen Love are probably the longest running indie band of Welsh descent - forming in 1992 and still recording.  Three ladies and a chap, fronted by the eponymous Helen Love who claims to only listen to the Music of the Ramones.  Well, you can hear that influence loud and clear. Yes, it's indie, bubblegum punk rock music with electronics in there, but it is also unashamedly pop. 

As I have said before (and certainly in the FAQ) there is nothing wrong with pop.  If it's good. 
Good pop has to be catchy and knowingly disposable. This is.  If you are going to do bubblegum pop and not have the Ramones as an influence you had better give up now.  The origins of pop music come from 50's rock and roll and the emergence of 'teenagers' as a cultural phenomenon.  They, in turn, influenced the Ramones - I have always thought of the Ramones as 50's rock and roll, but sped up and played with a fuzz box.
Joey Ramone heard about them, loved them and got them over to the US to support him on a few shows - nice. He even introduced them on the recording below of a cover of The Clash's Tommy Gun.

Todays song, going back to the first video is pure brilliant, self referencing indie punk pop. If a major record company had released it, they would have been a huge one hit wonder.

Why does it impress me?  It ticks many of the right boxes:
Girl Rock band? Check
Good pop? Check
John Peel approved? Check
Proper indie attitude? Check
Better Played Loud? (BPL) Check
Attitude? Check

A four star pop song if there ever was one. The only thing I would have left out is the reference to convicted lemon squeezer Johnathan King.

12 April 2011

Van Halen - Ice Cream Man

Van Halen - Debut Album which has Ice Cream Man on it
Now I would be the first to say I may get tired of this sooner rather than later, but a challenge is a challenge - so lets see if I can make it to a hundred.  Still no Elastica or Plumtree, let alone The Beta Band, and due to my 'rules' I have to write about this......

"All my flavours are guaranteed to satisfy".... Christ...

Well - debut album time - 1978 for this slab of plastic.  I could go on (and probably will) about how it changed guitar playing for the worse for about 10 years.  Eddie Van Halen is one of those artists like Leadbelly, Les Paul, Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix who changed the way that guitarists look at the instrument - I went on about it here, when discussing Dave Lee Roth. I won't repeat myself - you can go and look it up.

What we about is this, the tenth track on a groundbreaking rock album that starts off for the first half as strumming acoustic.  Yup acoustic that anyone can play. Even me when I was 15.  That's probably why I liked it - it was the only track on the album I could play along with.

And being 15 I liked the lyrics.  I'm now 37 and they are about as lame as they come. But that's David Lee Roth for you, not only thinking with his genitals, but letting them take over every other job that his brain should take charge of.

What a prick.
However, it's the early 80's and it's high adrenaline rock, easy to follow and remember.  Lot's of repetition - as FZ said "It's one way to learn English".  He also met Eddie Van Halen on a couple of occasions and wrote him off as "Someone who really, really shouldn't take drugs".

The guitar playing when it gets going is very impressive - lots of tapping and heroic whammy bar dive bombs which influenced thousands of copy cats.  You could hardly buy a guitar for the next twenty years without a horrid Floyd Rose whammy bar on it.  I hate them to the extent that I even 'de-engineered' a guitar to remove one and replace it with a set bridge.  I think they suck tone and certainly sustain straight out of what could have been a great guitar.

But people like it, and when Van Halen wrote this throwaway twelve bar blues for the people, they too were having a bit of a laugh. It's mindless and pointless. 

Just exactly what pop should be.

11 April 2011

Faith No More - Be Aggressive

Faith No More - Angel Dust - which includes this track
Bit of a long break - as you will have read from the news feeder at the side - I had no WiFi for most of the week off.   Bummer.

Whoever had the WiFi router named "monkey" realised after 2 days that some bugger (me) was grabbing their internet connection for no money!  Well if you don't protect it, someone will! Always protect your WiFi...

There are a couple of write ups on a hard drive somewhere, which I will keep as backup for the future, but today, first day back at work, this loud brute came up.  Just what I needed going back to the slog of excel....

This beauty comes from their 1992 fourth studio album, the second with Mike Paton as their vocalist, the last with Jim Martin as guitarist, the keyboardist (whose most recent Ex was the still unknown Courtney Love) had come out as gay and the drummer had spent the last 6 months studying African rhythms, instead of rock.  How the hell did it get that way?

Well, lets all cast our young minds back to those heady days of the very late 80's and early 90's, when I was just a youngling at school, be-mulletted and foppish. Alternative records didn't really exist.  They just didn't.  People may have passed around Dead Kennedy's tapes (which you could write off at the time as 80's West Coast punk) Public Enemy cassettes and Iron Maiden 12", but there was nothing mixing it all.

Our Price records in Aylesbury - a depressing misery-hole of concrete and urine at the time, was small and had a pretty limited stock. I was just beginning to find and try out other music, using my lunch money to save up and buy a new album each week.  However, I wasn't trying new things out, I was still buying Queen records from 20 years earlier and Aerosmith or Black Sabbath compilations.  One day, I noticed a new section at the end of the 'Rock' isle in Our Price.  It was entitled "Crossover" and contained two whole albums.

Crossover between what and what?  I had no idea who these bands were.  There was an album by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and one by Faith No More.  That was it, daddio.  Nothing else.
Other, more trendy people had bought RHCP discs and had already stencilled the asterix logo on their school bags.  It was obvious I had to choose the other band. Why not choose the Chilis?  I have always taken the other road - it may not be as popular, but it is usually more interesting. So I bought the album "The Real Thing"

The album was ear opening.  I could immediately hear the rock influence of the crunchy guitars and thumping drums, but everything else was different - there were keyboards - not just for background 'atmos' but right up there in the mix, taking the lead.  And the bass - sometimes funky, sometimes distorted, playing odd melodic lines around the other instruments.  What was most different for my ears was Mike Paton's vocals.  He wasn't really singing in a 'Frank Sinatra' or even Ozzy Osbourne way.  He was spending most of the time screaming - and when he wasn't doing that, there was whispered lines and sweet out of tune pleadings.  I won't even go into the lyrics.  It changed popular rock music.

A couple of years later, I think the year before I went to Uni, my little brother bought me this album on CD (still a rarity at this time) for my birthday.  If I was expecting a repeat of The Real Thing, I was going to be disappointed. I'm still glad it wasn't.

The album was a whole new learning experience.  This track opens with gloriously spooky organ lines, punctuated with drums guitar and bass all hitting at the same time.  The guitar then fuzzes up and wah-whas a bit for simple fill lines. But his bloody voice!  What a scrawly noise.  Chorus lines sung by his young female relatives add a counterpoint to the unrelenting evil of the lead lines.  And what the hell is he singing about?  Still no idea, and I don't really want to know after reading the lyrics to Zombie Eaters.

The influence of the band can unfortunately be seen through the likes of Korn, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, but none of them could ever come close to the originality and awesome shock aggression of Faith No More.

For one small moment in time, too long ago, this was the most important band in the world - and no-one could touch them.

05 April 2011

The Andrew Sisters - Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B

The Andrews Sisters - Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy
Damn you Matt Green, damn you to all hell.

I merely texted him that the original Batman film was on and the rude individual texted me back;
"I'm the boogie woogie bell-end boy from company cock".

I presume that horrid blasphemy translates as "I'm being foolish and am still at work".

So how does a tune from 50 years ago still remain in the cultural subconscious enough that it can be used in a throwaway text message? Because it is so goddam catchy and musically fantastic.

Well, it was written in 1941 before the US joined in the second world war, but were starting to mobilise. Well, we all know how Hollywood is always one of the first to jump on the patriotism truck when wars are in the sights, and this was used on a Abbot and Costello movie "Buck Privates". The Andrews Sisters stared and sang this rather upbeat number.  Now you may not believe me when I say that the Andrews Sister had a huge draw for the 'young gentlemen' of the day.

We never can seem to accept that people from 50 years ago were ever attractive, so bask in the joy of the modern equivalent - The Puppini Sisters...

Now it's a bit faster and they are a little more pleasing on the modern eye, to say the least (sigh), but is it really an improvement?
I don't think so - why not?

Well it doesn't start, like the Andrews Sisters version WITH A BOOGIE WOOGIE BUGLE for heavens sake. It's the equivalent of releasing a cover version of "While my guitar gently weeps" on solo piano.  Play a bloody bugle boogie woogie style.... yes there is a horn, but it is rather sterile and over clean...

Second - listen to the singing - the range and virtuosity of the original is astounding, with the voices mimicking horns in a jazz style. Rhythmically acrobatic at the same time, double timing to add a looser feeling - who does that nowadays?
Now the Puppini Sisters are great, I remember hearing them in a second hand record store, whilst the hippy behind the counter smiled away in gratitude that somebody had done an accapello version of Blondie songs, but the original is far more passionate.

That and the B side was called "Bounce me Brother with your solid four". I sure hope that wasn't about what I think it is....

The Dust Brothers - Fight Club Soundtrack

Fight Club - The Dust Brothers
YES! Probably the greatest original soundtrack album in recent history.  And not just because the film is top notch.

An unconventional film requires an unconventional soundtrack....

Now for some reason (probably record company legal eagles) there isn't too much online.  Shame.
The history is simple, the director David Fincher wanted a soundtrack as original and unexpected as his film.  So he asked Radiohead.  Who, thankfully said no.
He wanted modern musicians, with a track record of excellence, but who had no experience of soundtracks.  Luckily for us he found The Dust Brothers.  Not The Chemical Brothers, but the Dust Brothers.  American breakbeat producers who have worked with all the hip guys - Beck, Beastie Boys, and White Zombie.

So they know about using different noises. And they use them all, from soft sensual mood music, to full blown aggression. Slow building beats, scratching to emphasise the paranoia and delusional aspects of the story.
It manages to do two things, which for me, is a must with soundtracks.  When you are watching the movie - you should not notice it - it must fit in perfectly and not be obtrusive.  You should only be partially aware of it, to add tension to set the scene. It does this in spades.  You are only aware of it because there is something special going on - it's not Hans Zimmer and there are no orchestral strings.

Secondly it must stand alone on it's own two feet.

And this does it brilliantly.  It stands alone so well, that not only has there been an entire remix album, but half a dozen 12" for the dance bods.  Go and buy it. Buy it now.

Most interestingly, the film does not finish with a Dust Brothers track, but the Pixies.  Why? Because it works.

04 April 2011

The Who - Amazing Journey

At long last a bit of The Who - and not Uncle Ernie....

Now I may have been sipping Mohitos for most of the day, but that doesn't mean that I am going to skimp on the right track here.  On YouTube there are tons of versions of this chune, but only one from the original album.  Why is that important?

Because it has a few things the others (live / covers / soundtrack etc) just don't.
Simple piano intro with that super backward played wooden block (fwoop fwoop) then Daltrey's angelic voice clear as an un-chimed bell.  Best bit missing from other versions?
Keith Moons manic, brilliant drumming at about 1 minute in.  He's no Ringo Starr, you have to admit.  Banging away on those skins like an armed policeman.  It may be a pop musical double album, but that is not going to stop him having fun.

Compare it to the version from the film "Tommy".

Now I grant you, this has Oliver Reed and some huge organ sounds going on, but where the heck are the mad drums? You get some at 2:50 but really minimal....
Where is the weird wooden block noise? Is that Townsend singing instead?

The Who were a great group made up of 4 individuals who were the best at their game - songwriting is Townsends gift, not guitar playing, before you shove an evil comment in down below. Daltrey has move range and presence even with simple lines in this song than 99% of other singers and Moon finds gaps to put rhythmic patterns in that no one else could have heard. Getting rid of the drumming and the vocals is just a plain dumb move

If you haven't seen Tommy - go and buy it now - its a great rock opera, with dozens of cameos from real actors and Keith Moon as Uncle Ernie.....
I'm still thanking the lord that didn't turn up as the track......

Although, it has to be said, the only time I will ever say anything favourable about Phil Collins is that he plays a very convincing "Uncle Ernie".....  I don't suppose it stretched his acting skills much though.... nuff said.

01 April 2011

Late post - and vacation time

My glamorous assistants feltch me a drink
Right - failed to finish todays write up.

And I'm off for a week - perhaps soak up the rays of glorious sunshine in the caribean.  Or Lymington. Shame about the lack of write up - home late, not packed - all the usual.

Does this mean no write ups for 7 days?  Nope. I am taking the laptop with me and my personal secretaries will be taking dictation.

So what was todays track (that will turn up tomorrow) Easy.  The Dust Brothers soundtrack to Fight Club.  A belter and game changer from start to finish.

How about a weekend treat then?  Oh go on then.

Faith No More - Live in 1990 - We Care a Lot. Lest we forget - one of the greats.  Not of all time, granted, but for a short period of time possibly the most important band in music.