January 2013 - "Please don't call me Reg, it's not my name"
As Britain has been experiencing an "icy blast" over the last couple of weeks with most of the country covered in a thick carpet of the white stuff, I thought it would be appropriate to include a song about the subject. Written from the perspective of an American in temporary exile, the song was written by Loudon Wainwright in 1987 specifically for "Carrott Confidential", Jasper Carrott's prime time BBC1 series upon which he contributed frequently. Wainwright spent several years living in London (hence the reference to "suntanned cricketers" and the M4 in the song's lyric) and offers his usual wry and humorous observations about how us Brits cope in the face of meteorological adversary. Incidentally this is the BBC version of the song as recorded for Andy Kershaw. The studio version appeared on the album "Therapy" two years later. Begins with the immortal line "Colder than a witches tit, colder than a polar bear's nose".
LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III - You Don't Want To Know (1987)
Something from an individual that I consider to be a national treasure. Mr.Robyn Rowan Hitchcock. I've always thought that Hitchcock should have been a big star within the dull world of popular beat music, but unfortunately he remains an "acquired taste" by some and completely unknown by many others. Maybe it's better that way. It's unlikely that the man's eccentricity could be universally acclaimed anyway, as despite his knack of writing catchy material, his skewed sense of humour and bizarre stream of conscious lyrics are too oddball for him to be either understood or tolerated by the public at large. He therefore remains, both to me and countless other fans, a secret pleasure to be enjoyed by the chosen few. Which begs the question. Is it OK for an artist like Hitchcock to be a name only whispered reverentially by "those in the know", an artist who rubs shoulders with some of the best in the business but who remains the proverbial cult figure? Or would we prefer him to be a part of the mainstream, shared and loved by everyone? There is always a suspicion that major acceptance and a much bigger audience has a profound, and mostly detrimental, effect on the artist's music primarily because there are more punters to keep happy. I'm not so sure. I think it probably comes down to one-upmanship in the end and the fact that should Hitchcock become the biggest thing since Justin Bieber we could no longer claim him to be ours anymore. As for "Millionaire", it's from 2010's "Propellor Time" and is a co-write with Morrissey's ex, Johnny Marr. Incidentally, Hitchcock gets constantly mentioned in the same breath as Roger "Syd" Barrett. and even though they may share the same spirit, Hitchcock differs from the "crazy diamond" in two subtle ways 1. He's not barking mad and 2. He's not dead. Enjoy him while you can.
ROBYN HITCHCOCK & THE VENUS 3 - Ordinary Millionaire (2010)
There was once a time when Aimee Mann could have talked me into buying almost anything that she released but I lost interest in her after awhile after coming to the conclusion that most of her stuff sounds pretty much the same. Problem is, most of her stuff is pretty darn good and when it comes to writing scathing lyrics about lost or broken relationships, no-one really does it better. Not so much "kiss and tell" but "name and shame". Add that to a Macca-esque sense of melody and you end up a with a classic songwriter in the traditional sense. Not "quite" the cult artist that Hitchcock is, you still get the feeling that she should have been more successful commercially but apart from some critical acclaim with the film "Magnolia" (which not only featured her soundtrack, but the movie itself was based on Aimee' s lyrics) and her brief dalliance as an MTV darling with her first band Til Tuesday back in the 80's, she's remained on the outside with only half a foot in the door of fame. Her new album, described by one journalist as "the pop album she's always threatened to release" actually sounds more like Til Tuesday than her solo stuff, and at times strays just a little too close towards the MOR market for my liking. "Labrador" however is classic Aimee.
AIMEE MANN - Labrador (2012)
A band whose future looks decidedly rosy according to a number of music journalists, Foxygen are a duo from Los Angeles comprising Sam France & Jonathan Rado. After the release of several singles on indie labels, they have issued their debut album "We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic" this month and some critics have been frothing at the mouth about how wonderful it all is. "Foxygen is a breath of fresh air, reviving a vintage style of songwriting in a new and creative fashion" says one. Listening to the record gives the impression that the two 22 year-olds that comprise Foxygen have been busy rifling through their parents record collection and have made an album based on what they've found. This makes the album sound like a voyage of discovery, not necessarily for the listener, but for the two lads who made it. Problem is, for old farts like me who have heard it all before, that "voyage" hasn't really taken them very far, consequently they tend to channel the big hitters - Dylan, Jagger (vocalist France has his vocal swagger down to a tee), a bit of early Floyd, and even on the outro to the track "Oh No", Freddie Mercury in full "Bohemian Rhapsody" piano mode. These influences aren't bad places to start but like a lot of young writers, they haven't really learnt their trade sufficiently enough to add their own personalities into the mix which is why a number of the songs sound too much like something else. "No Destruction" is Dylan-circa-1965-by-numbers, complete with Kooper-like organ, wailing harmonica and slurry Bob-ness vocals, whilst "On Blue Mountain" somehow manages to take the most memorable, and therefore most easily recognisable melodies of "Under My Thumb" and "Suspicious Minds" to make a brand new song. It's not all like this of course, some of the tracks are more skilfully crafted, and despite the fact that the record tends to sag as you approach it's final tracks, their debut album is promising enough to see what they might come up with next.
FOXYGEN - San Francisco (2013)
I guess the biggest music news item of the year so far (apart from Costello's forthcoming collaboration with The Roots) has been the surprising return of a certain Mr.Bowie after spending several years in a Lennon-like NYC limbo. It would have been easy to have included the video of the man's first offerings for aeons but everyone has already seen it elsewhere. Therefore I've decided to include a clip of another Mr.Jones instead. I've always thought that this song was something of a novelty, too many high spirits (literally) and not enough personal heartbreak for my liking. This clip however, featuring a rawer version than the studio cut, finds George in rockabilly mode and is all the better for it.
GEORGE JONES - White Lightning (1959)
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES....other Jones' of interest.
JIMMY JONES - A Wondrous Place (1960)
Original version of Billy Fury hit that was recorded during the same year. Fury got to No 25 in the UK with his effort, whilst over in the US of A, Jones' version was largely ignored and did not chart. The song has been covered (it says here) by The Last Shadow Puppets. Jones is more well known for his 60's hits "Handy Man" and "Good Timin"
JOE JONES - California Sun (1961)
Another original, this time of a song that has been recorded by a plethora of artists. I first heard this on The Ramones sophomore album "Ramones Leave Home" but they were not the first American punks to tackle it as The Dictators also did a version 2 years earlier. The Rivieras had the biggest hit with this in 1964 when it reached No 5 in the Billboard charts.
QUINCY JONES - Dead End (1969)
From the album "Walking In Space". Not a Jones composition but one of two tracks on the album taken from the musical "Hair" (the other is the album's title track).
THAD JONES - April In Paris (1956)
Classic Blue Note. From the album "The Magnificent Thad Jones", trumpeter Jones was a member of The Count Basie Orchestra at the time of recording this album and, as far as I can tell, he recorded the very same song with Basie too. As for the song itself, written by Vernon Duke and E.Y.Harburg, it dates from 1932 and was first included in the Broadway musical "Walk A Little Faster".
JOHNNY JONES & THE KING CASUALS - Purple Haze (1969)
This has become something of a Northern Soul classic. Jones pays homage to the man he replaced in the King Kasuals (to give their original spelling), Jimi Hendrix. Billy Cox, one time Hendrix bassist and member of his Band Of Gypsys was, along with Jimi, an original member of the Kasuals also.
NIC JONES - Courting Is A Pleasure (1980)
Taken from his must have album "Penguin Eggs", voted "the 2nd best folk album of all time" by Mike Harding on his (sadly now defunct) BBC2 radio program. Jones was involved in a serious car crash in 1982 which effectively ended his career but thankfully after a triumphant Sidmouth Folk Festival appearance in 2010 he has begun to re-emerge with further concert performances. And what, I hear you ask, was the best folk album of all time in that Harding poll? "Liege And Lief" by Fairport Convention.
THOMAS JEFFERSON-KAYE - Jones (1974)
This is something of a rarity for Steely Dan aficianados. Jefferson-Kaye produced both "96 Tears" by ? & The Mysterians and the aforementioned Loudon Wainwright's "Dead Skunk". As for this item, it's taken from Kaye's debut solo album "First Grade" and was written, but not recorded by, his good friends Donald Fagen & Walter Becker. Haven't heard this in a long while....alarmingly sounds like The Eagles to these untrained ears.
....and finally, talking of The Ramones (as we were)....I have to thank Mojo Magazine for this. The "band" are called Compressorhead and this is their version of one of punk rock's more endearing classics. This lot also do an interesting version of Motorhead's "Ace Of Spades", but it's on this track that they get their robotic chops together. Of course you could argue that apart from lacking a vocalist (Stephen Hawking perhaps?) a distinct lack of chords is of great benefit to their rudimentary skills. I wonder if there's a YouTube video of them tackling "Trout Mask Replica"?
COMPRESSORHEAD - Blitzkreig Bop (2013)