24 January 2013

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".


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.



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)  

31 December 2012

Watch this space....

Much to my surprise I have decided to resurrect the blog previously known as "The Great Unknown" but now re-named "Press To Play" which is as near to a self-explanatory title as I can possibly get. I'm not sure what the catalyst is for this decision but simply felt the need to share my music with anyone who wants to hear it once again. What would I aim to achieve from all of this? Probably a legion of devoted fans hanging onto my every word whilst waiting excitedly for my next informative post (yeah, right!) but I'm guessing that it will be the odd "hit" from people who just happen to be in the vicinity and who, hopefully, will enjoy what they've heard and consequently come back for more. It will be much the same as before, a monthly post highlighting the music that I've been listening to with the added bonus of both my witty banter and a plethora of earth-shattering facts about nothing in particular. First post will be at the end of January. I'll see you there..........

31 December 2009

Press To Play - January 2009

For those of you who have followed me in the past, I have decided to restart my Great Unknown meanderings. Hope you enjoy some, or indeed all, of what I have to offer.

Gram Parsons inherited a family history of addiction - his father shot himself when Parsons was just 12 years-old whilst both his mother and later, his stepfather, both died of alcohol related illnesses. Under those circumstances, it's not surprising that he ended up the way he did. Gram was a nice Southern rich boy who never really had to try very hard and who consequently went through his life without giving too much of a damn. In the end, a lack of self discipline (and the fact that he liked drugs......lots of them) did for him. (The story goes that Keith Richard was concerned that Parsons was indulging a little too much during the recording of The Stones "Exile On Main Street" and had him removed from the sessions. When Keef is worried about your substance abuse, you really are in trouble.) Parsons had a very definite musical vision that he pursued relentlessly despite gaining little critical success during his lifetime, and had the courage to stick to his guns despite diminishing returns. He was also blessed with a truck load of soul, and understood pain and suffering only too well, one only has to listen to his lyrics and in particular the way in which he sang them to understand where he was coming from.

One of the several hundred Christmas presents that I received from my adoring fans and family was the excellent biography of Parsons entitled "Twenty Thousand Roads", written by David N.Meyer and first published in August 2008. Like all good music books that specifically deal with an individual band or singer, it not only succeeds in peeling back the layers of "the artist", revealing the complex/tortured soul beneath, but reading it's pages makes you wanna play everything from the singer's back catalogue even though, as in this case, you have heard it all before. So, with that in mind, I scoured You Tube's vaults and discovered this little gem.

It's not too surprising to discover that when this was filmed, Parsons appears to be as high as a kite. The band look resplendent in their Nudie suits but can anyone explain what the Unidentified Flying Object is atop pedal steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow's head? The song was taken from The Burritos debut masterpiece "The Gilded Palace Of Sin", an album that was criminally ignored at the time, primarily becuase it was too raw and too country for the record buying public to understand. Another of America's truly great artists.

CHRISTINE'S TUNE - The Flying Burrito Bros (1968)

The following may sound as if it was conceived in a smoke-filled studio somewhere in Memphis circa 1965, but this forgotten Bobby Bland song was in fact written and conceived by a Colchester-born singer who once sang under the somewhat tongue-in-cheek name of Howlin Wilf. According to Van Morrison "James Hunter" (for it is he) "is one of the best voices, and best kept secrets, in British R'n'B and Soul." Nuff Said. Hunter has in fact appeared on a couple of Van's albums but with the release of 2006's "People Gonna Talk" (from which this track was taken) Hunter looked set to make a name for himself without requiring hefty endorsements from well-known Irish superstars and he consequently picked up a couple of grammy nominations into the bargain. Hunter is undoubtedly a music "fan" who understands implicitly the music that he's trying to emulate. Hardly surprising to discover therefore that the Sam Cooke songs, the Jackie Wilson songs and the Bland-a-like material all carry more than a whiff of authenticity. Of course one could accuse Hunter of being stuck in a bygone era, as there is no doubt that there is nothing original in what he does. But what he does, is done with style and a great deal of affection for a period when soul music was both sophisticated and sweaty at the same time.

JAMES HUNTER - Watch & Chain (2008)

A couple of artists that I know practically nothing about but which were introduced to me recently via other sources. The Swedish band Dungen are umm......Swedish and are vaguely regarded as exponents of modern day psychedelia though on the evidence of this track, and indeed the album from which it is taken, they sound like a cross between Pink Floyd & Sigur Ros. They certainly have that other-worldliness that Sigur Ros possesses, a situation heightened by the Swedish language vocals that sound like they could have come from another planet. An instrumental version of this little ditty appeared on the January Mojo magazine freebie CD. This vocal version is from their latest album simply entitled "4".

As for Mitchell Torok, I am indebted to Charlie Gillett for this one. He aired it on a recent "World On 3" radio broadcast and I was surprised to discover that this was actually a hit in this country back in 1956. Wikipedia fills in a lot of blanks where Torok's career is concerned. Born to Hungarian immigrants, Jim Reeves' cover of Torok's "Mexican Joe" become a number one hit in 1953 and during that same year Torok achieved the same result with his song "Caribbean." Other noticeable songs from his catalogue reveal a geographical flavour and include "My Arabian Baby", "Hootchy Kootchy Henry (From Hawaii)" and "The Mysterious Lady From Martinique". Torok was university educated, has worked on a recording project telling the history of Nashville from 1780 to 1980 and as an artist, painted a mural of Elvis Presley that is currently on display at the Elvis Presley Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.

DUNGEN - Satt Att Se (2008)

MITCHELL TOROK - When Mexico Gave Up The Rhumba (1956)

I guess it was inevitable that someone christened Thelonious Sphere Monk was always going to be a bit special. And so it came to pass. One of the founder members of Be-Bop, Monk was unlike any other mortal human being and possessed a skewed genius both as a songwriter and a piano player. Monk was unique and by virtue of the fact that his work remains unsurpassed, still is. I've had the opportunity to listen to a series of albums that he recorded for Columbia in 1964 recently and this typical piece of Monkcentricity comes from one of them. ("It's Monk's Time"). It's not my favourite Monk creation, but it highlights his individuality as a piano player along with his ability to take the familiar (in this case a George & Ira Gershwin song originally written for the 1937 film "Damsel In Distress") and make it sound lop-sidededly different. Monk's background was stride piano, you can hear that quite plainly in this, and every other solo piece that he has done. The musical equivalent of an abstract painter or a purveyor of modern art, for those people who may argue how out of tune and improper his technique is, they are missing the point. Monk plays as he sees and feels, and nobody else has ever come close to sharing his vision.

THELONIOUS MONK - Nice Work If You Can Get It (1964)

"Round Midnight" is undoubtedly Monk's most famous composition and has been covered inumerable times. I've gone for a "DIY" version by Robert Wyatt which first appeared as one of 2 Monk inspired tracks that turned up on his seminal 12" release "Shipbuilding" in 1982. Wyatt's Rough Trade period (from which this is taken) is patchy to say the least but he has always been a wonderful interpreter of other people's music and this version, which features a masterful Wyatt vocal and Dave McRae on keyboards, proves that sometimes, less is indeed more.

ROBERT WYATT - Round Midnight (1982)

We have lost a lot of good people recently. Teddy Pendergrass and Kate McGarrigle's absence were both keenly felt. I almost went for a Harold Melvin track in tribute to the former but in the end chose a track by Bobby Charles, another musician who recently sadly passed away. Charles, a native of New Orleans, wrote and originally recorded a ramshackle but right version of "See You Later Alligator" in the 1950's but also enjoyed a sporadic, yet hugely enjoyable career during the early 70's through to his untimely death. Hard to track down, but hugely recommended is his eponymous 1972 release, produced by The Band's Rick Danko and featuring several fellow members of Danko's "group". This beautiful song first appeared on that album but was re-recorded somewhere down the line. This version may lack the warmth and beauty of the 1972 recording but it comes pretty damn close.

BOBBY CHARLES - Tennessee Blues (1988)

I'll give the final selection to Gram Parsons once again. A track from the one and only release by The International Submarine Band, a group who were originally based in New York but who relocated to LA and who were Gram's first attempt at world domination. "Safe At Home" is an album that seems to divide critics. It wasn't so much poorly received at the time but largely forgotten. Having been signed to a record label owned by Lee Hazlewood, he seems to have immediately lost interest in the band and, as a favour, the project was given to his girlfriend to produce, despite the fact that she had no previous studio experience (and it shows). The record has taken on a more significant position within rock's history since due to Gram's involvement and, by and large, is regarded as the first ever country-rock album though that may be arguable. This song however is regarded by Parsons biographer as his first "significant" composition. It was later recorded, as so many of his songs were, by Emmylou Harris in 1977. This version on the other hand is taken at a slower pace but there is enough here to suggest that this is the definitive version.


24 June 2008

PRESS TO PAUSE - June 2008

The Great Unknown is taking a break.

For all you "viewers" out there, I'm taking some time off for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, response of late has been lukewarm to say the least but most importantly I am currently in the process of working on another blog that is a little closer to home and which is taking up a lot of my time and enthusiasm. (see http://toptwentyclub.blogspot.com/)

I'm not sure when I will return, maybe I'll knock "The Great Unknown" on the head for good who knows? However, for the small amount of people who have been looking in from time to time, keep doing so and something just might happen.

04 May 2008


BELLE & SEBASTIAN - Mayfly (1996)

From "If You're Feeling Sinister" - MATADOR Records. A toast to the wonderful world of Belle & Sebastian and all of it's inhabitants. Included partially becuase it includes a solo on that rarest of instruments, the Stylophone.

GENE VINCENT - Those Wedding Bells (Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine) (1956)

From Vincent's debut album "Bluejean Bop!" This song has been mentioned in despatches by Paul McCartney when trying to explain the slow disintegration of The Beatles leading to their eventual break-up.

GRAHAM PARKER - White Honey (1976)

From Parker's debut album "Howlin' Wind", an album described by the bashful Parker himself as "the best record released during 1976".


A new track from a guy who was, incorrectly, considered a Graham Parker clone back in 1976/1977. I have to admit that I have resisted the temptation to put any Costello material on here up until now. The man's music means so much to me that I've avoided him for fear of being terribly biased. Couldn't resist this little belter though. From his fine new album "Momofuku"

GARNET MIMMS - Looking For You

BETTYE LAVETTE - Only Your Love Can Save Me


3 "floor fillers" from that curious genre known as "Northern Soul" - a term penned by the late great Dave Godin, journalist and music enthusiast. It was used to describe the obscure soul music that was being played in the northern clubs and discos of Great Britain during the late 1970's but is not really a category in it's own right despite the hundreds of compilations bearing the genre's title that have been released over the years. Nevertheless, these three items would probably have been played during an all-nighter in places like The Twisted Wheel in Manchester, The Golden Torch in Stoke-on-Trent and the Wigan Casino back in Northern's Soul's heyday. It's what Talcum Powder was invented for.

THE ORLONS - Don't Throw Your Love Away (1963)

ANITA CARTER - Ring Of Fire (1963)

LEE DORSEY - The Greatest Love (1966)

And talking of Mr Costello, three original version of songs that EC has covered fairly recently. Costello, apart from having exemplary taste usually gives a pretty good account of himself when choosing to record other people's stuff but in most cases you can never beat the first time a song has been committed to record. Here we have the rather obscure Orlons and their original take of a song that was popularised in the UK by The Searchers, Anita Carter's autoharp version of "Ring Of Fire" - written by sister June and later "mariache'd" by husband Johnny Cash and finally a song recorded by Lee "Working In A Coalmine" Dorsey that was written by Costello collaborator and all-round great dude Allen Toussaint.

THE TING TINGS - Great DJ (2008)

A track from the current darlings of the UK charts with both album and single recently placed at No.1. The band consists of the photogenic Katie White (one time member of all-girl group TKO) and percussionist Jules De Martino. Originally from Salford, they provide energetic indie-pop that's both disposable and yet catchy. Remains to be seen whether everyone's idea of "the next big thing" turn out to be front page news or yesterday's fish n'chip paper.

A change of direction

A change of direction.

I have have been thinking about changing the way this blog is presented for quite some time now. Downloading material is a doddle - the problem is thinking of some pithy comments to go with the music and being acutely aware of either boring people to death or repeating myself endlessly. So.....I have decided to change things slightly.

More Music less chat.

I will attempt to download more music but will not spend countless minutes talking about it. Maybe some comments about where to find it and in the case of the more obscure items a brief description of who the artist is, but no more personal opinions. The music included will simply reflect what I am listening to at the moment and hopefully will be more varied than before, and certainly more frequent.

There have been several occasions when I have almost given up this blog for good. The response is OK hit-wise, but I am not getting a great deal of feedback and consequently do not know who my audience is - or indeed if I have got one at all. There are one or two of you out there who have been kind enough to provide me with some much needed encouragement and for that reason I shall persevere. Besides if just one individual decides to check out some of this music having not heard any of it previously, then I guess I have achieved my aim.

Anyway, be prepared for an onslaught of sounds during May as I am going to fill this blog with a lot of good stuff!


13 April 2008

PRESS TO PLAY - April 08

BILLY BRAGG - Which Side Are You On? (1985)

The artist warmly known as William Bloke has lost his way a little with his last few releases with the suggestion that he may be treading more than a little water. Even though his latest album has been warmly received in some circles, Bragg's best musical achievements could well be behind him. With his first book "The Progressive Patriot" published last year there is a suggestion that his future success could be away from the music world though he still remains an engaging and thoroughly entertaining live performer. However, this blast from Bragg's past captures young Bill in his pomp and shows what a force he was during that most barren of rock decades, the 1980's. This is "The Big-Nosed Bastard from Barking" at his best - Bragg in "one-man-band Clash" mode, armed with an electric guitar, an echo chamber and with his heart firmly placed on his sleeve. Whether you agree or not with Bragg's socialist rant or not is almost secondary as it's the passion of this performance that drew my attention to it in the first place. A performance incidentally that captures brilliantly a certain moment not only in political history but in the artist's career.

THE BREEDERS - Saints (1993)

The Breeders were initially formed so that Kim Deal of The Pixies and Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses could take time off playing second fiddle in their respective bands to let their creative hair down elsewhere. Emerging, hardly surprisingly, as a musical mixture of the two bands the chief protaganists had temporarily vacated, their debut album "Pod" released in 1990 is still regarded as their finest work. However, the demographic within the band was altered completely when Donelly decided to leave to form Belly in 1992. Follow-up "Last Splash" therefore is, if you excuse the pun, the real Deal as apart from the fact that Kim was moved to center stage, sister Kelley Deal arrived to take Donelly's place. "Last Splash" was a commercial success largely due to the hit single "Cannonball" but the general consensus is that it remains a frustrating listen as too many songs sound unfinished and half-baked, a criticism that could be labelled at the band's career as a whole. "Saints" however is an example of the band getting things right on the money. Quirky and melodic, it features the band's trademark guitars to the fore and the added bonus of one of the sexiest female voices in rock music, Ms Kim Deal herself.



2 tracks from the undisputed "King Of Western Swing" - Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. Western Swing was the name given to one of the most eccentric musical genres ever invented, an outrageous attempt to combine what appear to be completely unconnected styles into something new. Wills - and other artists - merged Jazz, Blues, and Country Fiddle music to create something that somehow found room for all three. In retrospect however, for most of the time Wills' music sounds less like a curious and impossible hybrid and more like a band who simply had the flexibility to play whatever they wanted whenever the mood took them. Consequently, Wills found room in his ever-changing Texas Playboys line-up for fiddle, steel guitar and a horn section though as the latter were not frequently employed Wills is generally regarded as a "country" artist. Nevertheless, when this mixture of styles worked, Wills attempts at merging black and white music paved the way for a similar idea that eventually gave us Rock N'Roll. Even though it is dubious as to whether Wills can be classed as a direct influence on Rock music, it's worth noting that Bill Haley played Western Swing before "Rock Around The Clock" and that his backing band had the distinctly cowboy-country name of The Saddlemen.

JACK BRUCE - Theme From An Imaginary Western (1970)
JACK BRUCE - Weird Of Hermiston (1970)

Soon after the demise of the supergroup Cream, Jack Bruce launched into a solo career that was as far removed musically from the occasional over-indulgence of the aforementioned trio as was possible. Freed from the shackles that Cream had held him under, Bruce kicked off by recording a jazz album with like-minded friends like John McLaughlin (the record remained unreleased for a couple of years) and directly afterwards, despite howls of protests from his short-sighted record company who thought that a Cream MkII would be a great career move, Bruce recorded and released "Songs For A Tailor" in 1970. Mixing some new material with songs that had been demo'd and/or rejected by Messrs Clapton & Baker, Songs From A Tailor has always been a record that has received a tremendous amount of critical acclaim over the years but stubbornly is an album that I've never really taken much interest in......until now. It's always difficult listening to a record for the first time when it's almost 35 years old, my pre-conceptions told me that it would probably belong very much in the period in which it was originally released. However, to my surprise it appears to have aged exceptionally well. Armed with this new-found musical freedom, Bruce's debut record is a lot more eclectic than one would have expected but is thankfully never self-indulgent, as a lot of 1970's albums tended to be and which could have been the case considering that Bruce had just stepped out of a band for whom 26-minute live drum solo's were par for the course. Regarding the two tracks included here, "Weird Of Hermiston" is one of the songs rejected by Cream whilst "Theme...." could very well be Jack's finest musical moment.

NEIL DIAMOND - I'm On To You (2005)

A track from a songwriter whose output needs to be re-valued. My first experience of the man's music was the early 70's when Diamond really sparkled (excuse awful pun) at least commercially. Hits like "I Am I Said" and "Cracklin Rosie" flooded the airwaves and were unescapable back then but at the time I was probably listening to and declaring my undying devotion for the latest prog-rock catastrophe and consequently confess to finding his music much too close to the Middle Of The Road for my liking. Meanwhile Diamond's image of a virile, hairy-chested, denim-clad male was a distinct turn-off too, the sort of artist that your musically dyslexic girlfriend liked becuase she fancied him, good god even the man's voice had muscles! In later years however, when his star receded a little and he didn't seem to be as much of a threat to the rest of the male species, I started to re-discover all those 1960's songs that he had written like "I'm A Believer" and "The Boat That I Row" and probably a few others that I didn't know about and apart from their general poptasticness, one suddenly and reluctantly had to admit that here in fact was a talented tunesmith. And then, for quite some time Neil Diamond seemed to disappear entirely off the radar. He was still making records, and touring of course, but the suggestion is that he seemed to lose interest in the art of songwriting and consequently his career stagnated for a period. But then Rick Rubin, erstwhile heavy metal producer and the man who deserves a standing ovation for having the insight to put Johnny Cash back into our world, declares undying devotion for Diamond's music and don't you just know it........Neil returns with his best album for 25 years. It seems to me that when you are as gifted as Diamond obviously is, and Cash was, the talent never really goes away. It just gets de-railed ocassionally, a bad choice of producer here, a little bit of bandwagon-jumping, the odd misguided attempt to "modernise", being pressured by a record company who know jack shit about making music. It takes a man like Rubin and others like him to get to the core of what makes an artist tick, someone who understands their strengths, who has sympathy for that individual's talent. Rubin sprinkled gold dust on a Johnny Cash career that was suffering from acute mediocrity and it would seem that Diamond is now benefitting from the same loving care and attention. "12 Songs", Rubin & Diamond's first collaboration came out in 2005 and strips away all of the 70's posturing, presenting Neil Diamond in an acoustic setting which shows him for what he is - a great song-writer and a fine performer. Of course it is also no coincidence that the album features the strongest set of songs that Diamond has penned for some time though Rubin apparently once again deserves credit for pushing the singer farther than he had been for quite some time. With the new album "Home Before Dark" already receiving critical acclaim, it would appear that Diamond has been given a much welcomed new lease of life at the tender age of 67 and another established artist is restored to musical health and saved from the doldrums.

02 March 2008

PRESS TO PLAY - March 08

THE HINDU LOVE GODS - I'm A One Woman Man (1990)

Following on from last month's Johnny Horton cut is this cover version of his "One Woman Man". The Hindus were the name given to what was initially a 7" project involving the intriguing combination of Warren Zevon & R.E.M. (minus Michael Stipe). Some time later, after Buck, Mills and Berry had helped Zevon out on his "Sentimental Hygiene" album, the foursome booked themselves some spare studio time, consumed a belly full of booze and cut a full album's worth of material "recorded as quickly as we could listen to the material" according to Bill Berry. The record was largely ignored upon release partially becuase it was such a low-key offering from a high profile selection of musicians. Unsurpisingly the album sounds exactly what it is. A selection of pretty decent but ultimately slightly uninspiring cover versions, "knocked off" by 4 alcohol-fuelled musicians having a ball. Hidden among the covers of old blues material however, is a raucous take on Prince's "Raspberry Beret" and this warm, humorous and hugely enjoyable acoustic version of Horton's song.

PANDA BEAR - Comfy In Nautica (2007)

One of those records issued in 2007 that polarised a lot of people. Is it new, fresh & exciting or just over-indulgent re-treads of Beach Boys melodies?. Panda Bear is the brainchild of Noah Lennox, a member of a NYC-based band called Animal Collective. The various members of this group record both under the "Animal" umbrella and as individual artists and Lennox has now released three albums under his "nom-de-plume" but it's this latest release that seems to have made the biggest impression. Lennox creates his music by producing layers and layers of sampled loops and then adding a thick fog of dense vocal overdubs over the top of them. The Beach Boys certainly never recorded their albums this way but the comparisons are understandable as apart from having the knack of writing some memorable melody lines, Lennox' voice shares certain similarities with the chief Beach Boy especially when it is drenched in reverb, as it is throughout the entire album. Not of all the record works as some of the songs sound a little half-baked, but when it does - on both this track and the centerpiece of the record, the glorious 12-minute "Bros", Lennox' curious sound-scapes suck you in with repeated listenings. Strangely strange yet oddly normal.

JIMMY TARBUCK - Wasting Time (1966)

NICKY SCOTT - Backstreet Girl (1967)

A couple of curiosities from the pen of "The Glimmer Twins" Mick Jagger & Keith Richard. I am aware of the fact that "all round entertainers" Bruce Forsyth and more impressively Kenny Lynch recorded songs in the 1960's, indeed the latter was a staff writer @ the Brill Building for a spell, but Jimmy Tarbuck? Do me a favour! Yet here he is, doing a passable impersonation of a pop singer on a discarded and somewhat forgettable Mick & Keef tune. Needless to say, his career as a would-be Englebert Humperdinck never quite took off. Far more successful is Nicky Scott's excellent version of Jagger & Richards tale of a "bit on the side", a song that was originally recorded by The Stones on their "Between The Buttons" album. Scott recorded for the Immediate label for a while and in fact this track was produced by Messrs Jagger and Loog-Oldham so undoubtedly big things were expected of the young man, but unfortunately this only managed a lowly chart position and Scott faded into obscurity. Dig that accordian.

THE DRIFTERS - Another Night With The Boys (1962)

RAMONA KING - Hey Everybody (1965)

JILL JACKSON - I'll Love You For Awhile (1965)

BEN E.KING - So Much Love (1968)

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD - Wasn't Born To Follow (1970)

A bumper 5 tracks from the excellent Ace compilation "Goffin & King - A Gerry Goffin & Carole King Song Collection 1961-1967". I have waxed lyrical in the past about the talents of Ms.King so consequently do not need to go down that road again. However..... being a sucker for a good tune there can be no doubt that King is one of the very best tunesmiths that the USA has ever produced. It would be easy to write off this material as mere 60's nostalgia, but like Bacharach & David's best songs, what appears on the surface as effortless hides an extraordinary amount of songwriting craftsmanship. And there are so many of them!!!! Needless to say this 26-track compilation only scratches the surface but hopefully it will be the first of several CD's detailing the couple's history. Of the songs included here, neither "Another Night With The Boys" by The Drifters or Ramona King's "Hey! Everybody" succeeded in making much of an impression on the record buying public of America. The former, like a lot of songs that Carole King wrote during this period, was originally modelled on The Everly Bros and may well have been intended for them. The final three tracks are all either directly or indirectly connected to an artist who championed the songwriting duo by recording more than a dozen Goffin/King songs throughout her career. Dusty Springfield (for it is she) is the most well-known exponent of "I'll Love You For Awhile" here performed by Jill Jackson aka "Paula" of "Paul & Paula" fame. Ben E.King's original version of "So Much Love" was recorded by Ms Springfield on her exceptional and must-have "Dusty In Memphis" album whilst the final track features Dusty herself on a track also recorded by The Byrds for their "Ballad Of Easy Rider" album.

17 February 2008

PRESS TO PLAY - February 08

Two tracks from a couple of "old-timers" that have been issued over the past couple of years that thankfully finds both guys in extremely rude health. The respective profiles of both Roger McGuinn and Levon Helm may have dimmed since their heyday but these releases prove that talent lasts for as long as you allow it to. Both records incidentally have one thing in common in that the source material has largely been chosen from the songs of the respected artist's youth which suggests that either sticking to what you do best is a particularly good idea or that sometimes the only way forward is to go back.

ROGER McGUINN - Silver Dagger (2006)

Taken from a project called "Folk Den" that McGuinn has been working on for several years and which is available from his web site. "Folk Den" finds McGuinn returning to his roots by taking traditional folk songs and performing them in his own inimitable Rickenbacker-drenched style. The voice may have taken a bit of a battering from the ravages of time but close your eyes, think back to 1965 and it could be "Turn Turn Turn" all over again.

LEVON HELM - The Girl I Left Behind (2007)

When Helm released "Dirt Farmer" last year most people seemed surprised that it sounded so good. This was partially becuase Helm had been out of the public eye for some time but the real shock was that Helm had recorded anything at all. Levon had been diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998 but had slowly regained the use of his vocal chords and after a series of intimate concerts called "Midnight Rambles" had been held at his home in Woodstock, at 67 years of age Levon decided to record his first solo album for 25 years. Aided and abetted by daughter Amy and produced by Larry Campbell from Dylan's current band, this rootsy album features songs by contemporary songwriters but also draws heavily from Levon's knowledge of traditional folk material. Apart from being a rock solid drummer, Helm is the only surviving vocalist of three that sang with The Band, all of which were blessed with distinctive voices. As with the McGuinn track, even though this item evokes memories of that superb group's early music, there ain't much wrong with that when it sounds as good as this.


A track from Helm's distant past. Levon gets a co-writing credit for this track, recorded with his old boss Rockin Ronnie Hawkins. Hawkins was a native of Arkansas but moved to Canada in 1958 and long after rock n'roll got taken over by 100 teenager singers called Bobby, Hawkins stuck to his roots and continued to make rocking rockabilly into the 60's. Helm was with him practically from the start but Hawkins gradually got rid of the rest of his group and replaced them all with 4 young Canadian musicians named Hudson, Manuel, Robertson & Danko and The Band were born. This track was recorded before all of the upheaval and features some fine guitar playing by Robbie Robertson's predecessor, Fred Carter Jnr.

JOHNNY HORTON - I'm A One Woman Man (1956)

GEORGE JONES - Just One More (1956)

RAY PRICE - I've Got A New Heartache (1956)

Three tracks taken from a compilation album that does just what it says on the tin. "The Greatest Country Hits Of 1956" was released as part of a series of discs issued by Acrobat Records last year. 56 as we know was a pivotal year for Rock N'Roll so it's interesting to check out what was happening in the country music charts during the same 12 month period. This 2 CD set is notable as it includes a selection of artists like Webb Pierce, Hank Snow, & Ray Price who, between them, dominated country music during that year. What is particularly interesting however is that another artist who features heavily on this disc is Elvis Presley. Presley of course was not strictly a country artist at all but at a time when the Billboard charts were divided between "Pop" "Country" & "R&B" his dominance shows just how unclassifiable he was and how Rock N'Roll was beginning to influence other forms of music. The three tracks included do not feature "The King" however but concentrate on artists who like Presley, had a pretty good year but unlike him are strictly country.

Of the three tracks included most of the stuff that I've heard from Johnny Horton is pretty darn good. He was a regular at the Louisiana Hayride who ended up marrying Hank Williams' widow Billie Jean Jones. His most well-known hits were his so-called "saga songs" like "Battle Of New Orleans" and "North To Alaska" but back in 56, Horton could honky-tonk with the best of em. Tee-total Horton died in a Cadillac, just like Hank, in a head-on collision with a drunk driver.
"I'm A One Woman Man" was also recorded by George Jones and "Just One More" was one of numerous hits that "Thumper" enjoyed that year. A tale of hitting the bottle, Jones own battle with alcoholism has been well documented over the years. One such tippler's tale was when his then wife, Tammy Wynette, got so concerned about George's drinking habits that she confiscated the keys from Jones' car so that he couldn't drive off to the nearest watering hole for a swift half. Jones, unperturbed, drove to his local on the family's electric mower instead. All of the material from Ray Price included on this 1956 disc is worth checking out and includes his original version of "Crazy Arms", a Sun hit for Jerry Lee Lewis. "I've Got A New Heartache" was the first big song written by ex-vacuum cleaner salesman Wayne Walker who also penned Eddie Cochran's "Cut Across Shorty".

03 January 2008

PRESS TO PLAY - January 08

MAVIS STAPLES - Down In Mississippi (2007)

Taken from Mavis' latest album "We'll Never Turn Back"and the 2nd record in 3 years that has seen her not only return to making worthwhile music again after a decidedly patchy and ultimately disappointing solo career, but it's a return also to making music that whilst being spiritual is also armed with a strong social conscience. Following on from her critically acclaimed 2004 release "Have A Little Faith", this effort was produced by Ry Cooder and his aural footprint is all over this record. That is not to say that it's a collaboration - far from it - but Cooder's exemplary musicianship and production values are in abundance and nowhere more so on this wonderfully swampy opening track. Featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo on backing vocals, it's a song that was originally recorded by the Louisiana musician J.B.Lenoir, an artist who was as flamboyant as he was outspoken. Elsewhere, the album sometimes suffers from being a little one-paced but the performances and arrangements are striking and even though Mavis' voice sounds a little ravaged at times, overall she's as soulful as ever. The really sad thing is that the message that this material conveys is still as poignant in 2008 as it was when the songs were first written. Some things never change

ARETHA FRANKLIN - Wholy Holy (1972)

Live albums can be a hit or miss affair. A friend of mine suggests that they are worthless unless you were actually there when the album was recorded, like a snapshot of an individual's personal memory. I don't agree with this idea but I DO agree that too many live albums smack of the "contract obligation" record, released to plug the gap in the absence of any decent new studio material. However, when a live album DOES work it can almost take you from where you are and transport you back to the very night and the very concert hall in which it was originally performed. Albums like "It's Too Late To Stop Now" by Van Morrison, "Live At The Lyceum" by Bob Marley & The Wailers and "Live At The Apollo" by James Brown work partially becuase they capture an artist at the height of their powers, but there's a little more to it than that. The latter is generally regarded as possibly the greatest live album ever becuase it concentrates on the enthusiastic audience as much as it does the performance and consequently captures the spirit of the moment a little better than most albums do. An album that falls into this category is "Amazing Grace" by Aretha Franklin. It was recorded over a 2 day period at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles in 1972 with the Reverend James Cleveland, The Southern California Community Choir and a red hot selection of session musicians. It's not too surprising that as a listening experience it's got everything that a good concert album SHOULD have. Aretha is in stunning form, and not only is she singing her beloved gospel music but the intimacy of the setting and the audience's participation is such that you sometimes feel from listening to this record that you've managed to blag a ticket and are sat there amongst the congregation. When "Amazing Grace" was originally issued it featured performances "hand-picked" from the so-called best recordings that the 2-day concerts had produced but now it's available in it's entirety and it's all there - the songs, the introductions, the false starts, a bum note or two, even an impassioned and good-natured speech by Aretha's father during the 2nd evening's concert. "Wholy Holy" by Marvin Gaye is performed twice, but the best version is from the first evening as it's the opening song of the set. After the musical introduction, listen to the impact on the audience as Aretha's stunning vocal unfolds. I must confess that I ain't a religious person, but if this is how you feel when you get it, I want some. Stunning.

ROBERT WYATT - Yesterday Man (1974)
ROBERT WYATT - Just As You Are (2007)

A couple of tracks from that cuddly curmudgeon, Robert Wyatt – an artist who occupies a unique position within British music. Wyatt is a true original who thankfully has been left to his own devices by whichever record company he has been associated with and who consequently has produced some stunning music over the last 30-odd years. In these days of un-originality, Wyatt continues to plow his own proverbial and regularly produces records of a high quality that only he could make. The 1st track shows Wyatt’s powers as an interpreter of other people’s music. Wyatt covering the poptastic Chris Andrews hit seems like an almost improbable combination yet the song belongs to him from the moment the needle hits the groove and is proof that sometimes you can find a decent tune in the most strangest of places if you can be bothered to look hard enough. Of course Wyatt does have a track record of covering unlikely material having secured a hit with his version of The Monkees “I’m A Believer”, recorded just 2 months before this superior "follow up". Since then, Wyatt has graced us with a regular supply of well-crafted and imaginative albums of which 2007's "Comicopera" is probably one of the best that he has issued for some time. The latter track comes from this record and apart from featuring some tasty guitar licks from Paul Weller and a shimmering vocal from Monica Vasconcelos it also bears a strong resemblance to both Kevin Ayres "Whatevershebringswesing", a track that Wyatt provided backing vocals for, and the majestic "Shipbuilding” probably the one item from his back catalogue that most people would be familiar with. It would be a shame however if the Malvinas War lament were the only thing that he is remembered for as there is far far more to this man than that one track. A British treasure.

09 December 2007

PRESS TO PLAY - December 07

LULU - I Don't Care Anymore (1970)

I have already included Doris Duke's version of this song on a previous post, here it is again as performed by that great white soul diva Lulu. Yes, THAT Lulu. Lulu has always possessed an impressively raspy set of vocal chords but the UK's desire to turn her into another "all-round entertainer" meant that instead of recording material that suited her talents, she ended up as Cliff Richard in a mini skirt. Occasionally, Lulu had the suss to make music that was a cut above the rest of the pop pap - "The Boat That I Row" - "To Sir With Love" and a little later, Bowie's "The Man Who Sold The World" - so perhaps it's not surprising that during the early 70's she did a Dusty and recorded an album's worth of material for the mighty Atlantic empire. The results may not be as good as Ms. Springfield's efforts but they prove conclusively that given the right material, the right band, and the right direction, this girl could sing!!!

BABY WASHINGTON - Breakfast In Bed (1969)

Having mentioned the sublime "Dusty In Memphis" album, it gives me the opportunity to include this track, an original version of a song Dusty recorded for her Atlantic Records debut back in the 70's. The AllMusic Guide does not offer a great deal of info about Babs (real name Justine) and it's equally as hard to obtain any worthwhile information about her elsewhere on the net. But she achieved occasional success in the American charts during the 50's, 60's & 70's and seems to have survived the changing face of soul music by adapting her style accordingly. Perhaps if she had been given more songs like this one, she would have made a bigger impression. It was written by Eddie Hinton & Donnie Fritts, two more white dudes in the Penn & Oldham mould that, like Dan & Spooner, operated out of the Muscle Shoals studios. It's a song that has received a number of, if not memorable, then certainly notable cover versions having been recorded by Shirley Bassey, UB40 & The Pretenders but even Dusty's version pales slightly when compared to Baby's impassioned original.


Yet another recent rock n'roll death of significance was that of Ike Turner who passed away last week at the age of 76. Most people will recognise Ike as the "other half" of soul diva Tina - the duo enjoying a string of hits in the 60's and 70's, initially as part of Phil Spector's recording empire. Ike Turner never really enjoyed what could be called a positive image during his period with his missus. Musically, I dare say he was regarded by most as the guy who played rudimentary guitar whilst the obviously more talented Tina shook her significant ass out front whilst privately he will always be regarded as a dirty old man who also happened to be a wife beater. However......way before Tina was "discovered" by Ike, Turner just may have been responsible for the first ever rock n'roll record ever made. Recorded at Sam Phillips' studio by Turner's band, "Rocket 88" featured saxophonist Jackie Brenston on lead vocals but instead of bearing Turner's name upon it's release it was controversially issued under Brenston's name instead. You could argue that Ike Turner has been appearing in the margins of musical history ever since but at least just prior to his death he was being rightfully honoured as the pioneer that he had always been. So....is "Rocket 88" the first ever rock n'roll record ever made? "Perhaps" is the only satisfactory answer as rock n'roll was born out of evolution not revolution. At the very least it was a significant step forward and that is good enough.

ROY HARPER - Little Lady (1973)

ROY HARPER - I Hate The White Man (1970)

Another artist who may be in the process of receiving his just desserts a little belatedly is Roy Harper, even if, at the moment, it only appears to be the music magazine Mojo that is championing his cause (Harper won their "Lifetime Achievement Award" in 2006). His albums, particularly those released from 1971 to 1977, are of an exceptionally high quality and should have endeared him to a large section of the music buying public. But despite being name-checked by two of the biggest bands in the world (Led Zeppelin's homage "Hats Off To Roy" appeared on their "III" album whilst Pink Floyd gave Harper lead singing duties on "Have A Cigar" from "Wish You Were Here"), Harper has only achieved cult status. One of the reasons for his lack of success is that he is very much his own worst enemy, a cantankerous bugger who has been frustratingly unpredictable and who has steadfastly refused to play the music biz "game". Whilst his music is not necessarily un-commercial, it is most certainly uncompromising. Most of his albums contain pieces of epic proportions, many of which take up an entire side of what used to be an old-fashioned LP - song suites featuring multi-layered acoustic guitar and densely poetic lyrics that are both beautiful and blisteringly honest in equal measure. Despite being hailed by some of the most influential artists of his generation, I would guess that during Harper's peak period the record buying public found his stuff a little hard going, consequently Roy remained very much an outsider who never achieved the notoriety he deserved. Let's hope we discover him before he disappears altogether.

THE SONS OF THE PIONEERS - Old Man Atom (19??)

I first heard this on a Buzzola Records disc called "Like An Atom Bomb", an entertaining selection of material about the Big Mushroom mostly recorded during that period of great uncertainty when the world seemed to be just a button-push away from oblivion. Immediately smitten, I was a little surprised to discover that this clever piece of word-punnery should be recorded by The Sons Of The Pioneers, a cowboy group that I had immediately associated with campfire songs about tumbleweeds and who had been responsible for bringing Roy Rogers into this world. The truth of the matter is The Pioneers career spanned some 60 years and that even though Rogers (real name Leonard Slye) formed the group, just as soon as Hollywood came calling, he and his horse set off into the sunset and the Pioneers carried on without him. It is extremely doubtful therefore that Roy & Trigger are on this recording though the Pioneers trademark vocals remain intact. This song was just one of many songs adopted as an anthem by the 60's folk movement in the USA.

Like Roy Harper's snarling "I Hate The White Man", this is another track taken from an entertaining CD compilation called "Give Peace A Chance", supplied by those splendid people at Uncut Magazine.

01 November 2007

PRESS TO PLAY - November 07

With the Plant/Krauss album "Raising Sand" still reverberating from the stereo system installed within Edney Towers - my humble but comfortable abode - it was inevitable that I would eventually check out some of the original versions of the songs that were covered on that album so here are two of them.

DILLARD & CLARK - Through The Morning, Through The Night (1969)

Gene Clark has always been held in high regard as a songwriter but seems to be another prime example of a talent who never reached his full potential. Most remembered for his early work with The Byrds, in 1967 he independently arrived at the same musical crossroads that Gram Parsons was occupying by releasing an album with The Godsin Brothers that must be regarded as one of the first country rock records ever made. Further releases by both Dillard & Clark and then finally as a solo artist cemented his reputation but his personal traumas always seemed to overshadow the music that he made. Attempts at Byrd reunions floundered, one of which resulted in an ugly court case, at least a couple of albums were rejected by record companies and he struggled with alcoholism and depression for a lengthy period. After an erratic career that nevertheless provided many highlights, Clark died from the inevitable liver complications in 1991 but thankfully his music has been re-discovered since. 2 songs from the rather patchy Dillard & Clark album "Through The Morning, Through The Night" appear on "Raising Sand" and the original version of the title track is included here. Gram Parsons is quite rightly revered as one of country music's finest songwriters - at his best Clark cannot be too far behind.

THE EVERLY BROTHERS - Stick With Me Baby (1960)

Chuck Berry once said "I didn't think Elvis Presley was as good as the Everly boys, .... and I don't think The Beatles were as good as The Everly Bros." which is something coming from a wily old cynic like Berry. The Everly's are undoubtedly the most famous of all sibling singers - that curious family gene that provides us with two (or more) fine vocalists that sound so alike that it's hard to tell them apart. Country music of course has always been responsible for providing us with such artists which is just as well as two-part harmony has been a staple diet of the music almost since day one. Probably the best country harmony group of all has to be The Louvin Brothers (more about them later) though a special mention needs to be given to The Bolic Brothers if only becuase of there unfortunate name. The Everly's may have been influenced by both but they became the most successful and certainly the most commercial of harmony singers though pigeon-holing them as "country" seems a little unfair as there was certainly more to them than that. This track comes from their early career with the mighty Warner Bros after they had left the small Cadence label for a considerable sum of money. Whilst Warners added some professional sheen to their recordings, by moving, The Everly's lost the opportunity to continue recording songs that had been written for them by the husband and wife team Felice & Boudleaux Bryant and it could be argued their career faltered somewhat despite a hugely promising start that resulted in their first 6 singles with Warners producing three No.1 hits. But after 1961's "Crying In The Rain" subsequent releases failed to make the same impact.

THE BYRDS - She Don't Care About Time (1965)

A superb piece of Rickenbackered Pop from the pen of Gene Clark. Clark wrote some fantastic songs for the Fab 5 back in the early 60's and it's for this period in his career that he is best known. Though this song was buried away on the B-side of one of their singles, it's my favourite Clark composition from a band that I've always felt should have been championed as one of THE pioneers of the 1960's. Apart from including within their ever changing line-up an impressive selection of influential musicians, their ability to constantly re-invent themselves whilst pioneering new types of innovative music places them 2nd only to The Beatles. This track finds them firmly in jingly-jangly mode and features their customary effortless harmony vocals whilst Roger McGuinn is blatantly guilty of borrowing his guitar solo from "Jesu Joy Of Man's Desiring".

THE LOUVIN BROS - Katie Dear (1956)
THE LOUVIN BROS - In The Pines (1956)

Andy Kershaw once said that if you were to hear Charlie & Ira Louvin sing seperately you wouldn't necessarily hear anything remarkable but when they sang together it was a whole different ball game. The best country harmony vocalists by a mile and a huge influence on fellow country singers and rock artists alike. Their songs largely fell into three different categories. They were a Gospel duo originally but discovered secular music out of necessity. A tobacco firm that were sponsoring their radio show threatened to kick them off the air as "you can't sell tobacco with religion". After discovering the happy knack of writing heart-breaking ballads that soon became country standards, Charlie & Ira turned their hand to both Folk & Hillbilly music with equal success, returning to their gospel roots from time to time. Like many brother bands since, their final split was not amicable and Ira in particular, despite being devoutly religious, not only had an ego the size of Texas but was an alcoholic whose condition grew steadily worse as the years progressed. After their split, both went solo but Ira died in 1965 in a car accident. Charlie on the other hand is still going strong and released a star-studded album only last year. These tracks date from 1956, a good year for The Louvins. Taken from arguably their best album, "Tragic Songs Of Life" is a concept album of sorts featuring a selection of folk ballads of the "doom and gloom" variety.

BIG JOE TURNER - Flip Flop & Fly (1955)

Having discussed the great man on my previous post, I couldn't resist putting a little of him on here. This is Big Joe recording for Atlantic Records not that long after his seminal version of "Shake Rattle & Roll" was recorded and released. To all intents, "Flip Flop & Fly" IS "Shake Rattle & Roll" but with a different set of lyrics. It's the proverbial example of finding a winning formula and sticking to it. Atlantic was a great place for Joe to be as they understood more about what to record and how to record it than any other label operating in the R&B field at that time. They were not only responsible for introducing us to some great new artists, but were second to none at spotting the hidden potential in people whose careers at that point had stubbornly refused to take off. Ray Charles was signed from a small label, told to drop his Charles Brown/Nat King Cole mannerisms and was then persevered with before he finally discovered that gospel was the missing link in his music whilst Aretha Franklin became "The Queen Of Soul" at the label after she had spent several uncertain and erratic years with Columbia who, it seems, weren't sure what to do with her. Big Joe was nearing the end of his career by 1955 but Atlantic knew better than anybody the debt that R&B owed to this man. Consequently they were responsible for providing him with one last hurrah before he was finally overtaken by some of the young kids on the block. Back in 55 though, Big Joe was the big cheese and this track, alongside many of the others he recorded at the time, was Rock & Roll in all but name. Play loud.

11 October 2007

Over The Hill and Way Down Underneath

For this edition of TGU, I have decide to follow on from an original post that appeared way back in January and which tackled the thorny subject of sex in music. It was always my intention to include a second selection of music that continued where the first post left off but I never got around to it and it has remained saved on my computer ever since. So here is a belated opportunity to complete unfinished business. This time around I've chosen 4 salacious items from the Rhythm & Blues genre plus one song that purposely does not fit that category. Incidentally that's original R&B and not the modern version that, for some inexplicable reason, shares the same name. Some of these recordings date specifically from 1946-1956 - not only a golden period for R&B but an extremely important one for popular music as a whole as within those 8 years or so, the evolution of Rock N'Roll was set in motion.

During the late 40's/early 50's, the music of the establishment still belonged to the world of the crooner with the charts being dominated by singers such as Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett and Perry Como. The 6 major record labels that controlled the music industry in those days were happy to promote what was, by comparison to what came later, a bland and uncontroversial product. However, in direct competition with what was popular at the time was an alternative form of music that had been slowly evolving and which was a fusion of two different distinct styles. The first of those styles was Country & Western, the music of the poor white population and rural by nature whilst the second genre was Rhythm & Blues - the music of the poor blacks and largely city-based though it took on different sub-styles depending on it's location. A number of artists started experimenting with a combination of these two with varying degrees of success but it wasn't until Bill Haley got to No.1 in 1956 with "Rock Around The Clock" that Rock N'Roll really took off.

Prior to that Rhythm N'Blues had been successfully plowing it's own furrow despite the fact that the major record labels wouldn't touch it with the proverbial bargepole. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, it was viewed as the music of a minority as it was being purchased almost exclusively by black record buyers. It was left instead to a large selection of enterprising independent labels to market it. Secondly, when placed in the right hands it was DANGEROUS music. Uptempo R&B with it's pulsing rhythms and loud amplified instruments could be very exciting whilst lyrically, the music refelected the daily concerns of the people that were purchasing it in the first place. So, plenty of songs about drinking and generally having a ball and plenty more about infidelity and the enjoyment of carnal delights. Under the circumstances , it's hardly surprising that RCA chose Perry Como as their role model.

We start with "One Night Of Sin". Covered by Elvis with great success, Elvis' version however provides a perfect example of an R&B song being "sweetened" for the white music industry. As with "Shake Rattle & Roll" when covered by Bill Haley, lyrics were either changed or in this case were subtly altered so that the song's original meaning was hidden from all of those sensitive souls who may actually find out what it was really about. In Presley's case, "Sin" was dropped from the title - as if that made any difference. As for the original artist, Lewis comes from that long line of musicians who originated from New Orleans, a venerable hotbed of musical excellence. He was responsible for the original version of "I Hear You Knocking", a No.1 hit for Dave Edmunds in 1972. Edmunds pays his respects by name-checking Lewis (amongst others) during the song's instrumental break.

SMILEY LEWIS - One Night Of Sin (1956)

I always thought that the sexual double entendre was a curiously English habit that reached it's creative peak in the "Carry On" series of films (well 1 or 2 of them anyway) This of course is not the case as the following two songs and probably hundreds of others help to demonstrate.

Tampa Red (left - born Hudson Whittaker) was primarily a slide blues guitarist who influenced a number of artists and who was also a red hot kazoo player, as the song included here suggests. He recorded in a variety of styles and apparently co-wrote a selection of material during his career of a slightly naughty nature of which the track below is but one. Bullmoose (right) on the other hand (so called becuase of his pugnacious facial features) was a one-time member of the Lucky Millinder Orchestra who eventually left to form his own band. Perhaps not the greatest of vocalists but a fine saxophone player, Bullmoose recorded ballads as well as jump blues with the odd risque number thrown in for good measure. Included in the latter is the suggestive number below and a song written by the fledgling Leiber/Stoller partnership called "Nosey Joe" that is apparently even smuttier than the track included here. As for the "hidden meaning" behind these songs? Well, it doesn't take a genius to understand that in Tampa's case I don't think he's talking about rolling on the carpet with the protaganist's pooch and as for Bullmoose - well he is apparently discussing with a female counterpart his latest vinyl purchase. Hmmm.....Yes.

TAMPA RED - Let Me Play With Your Poodle (1942)

Wynonie Harris life story was so colourful that it's surprising that it hasn't been transferred to the big screen. Like Bullmoose Jackson, Harris first sprung to prominence as the lead vocalist for the Lucky Millinder Orchestra but soon outgrew the band and left to go solo, signing for Cincinatti's King Records again just as Bullmoose had done. After scoring a couple of early hits, Harris sprung to prominence in 1948 with his version of "Good Rockin Tonight" - another song that ended up in Presley's repertoire. From that point on, Harris chalked up a selection of hits, most of which were fairly raucous and all of which were about living it up. In Harris' case he really WAS talking from experience as he was apparently an early purveyor of the Sex Drugs & Rock N'Roll syndrome.....with extra sex. One typical story has King Records owner Syd Nathan paying Harris a visit at a sleazy Harlem apartment in order to obtain the singer's signature on his record contract. "When we knocked on the door there were three gals in with him. One of them opened her mouth and he threw her out into the hall without any clothes on. Wynonie was in bed wearing only a pair of pink satin underpants" Wynonie finally succumbed from throat cancer but along the way made some superb records. This song details the precise reason for a mature female's lack of sexual activity and features Harris' trademark raspy vocal and a backing band of the ass kicking variety.

WYNONIE HARRIS - Sittin On It All The Time (1949)

And finally, proof that the subject matter in question was being highlighted in song WAY before Big Joe Turner got a hold of it but in a slightly more refined manner. (My post's title incidentally is taken directly from the original "Shake Rattle & Roll" lyrics as sung by Big Joe. The couplet "Over the hill and way down underneath, you make me roll my eyes and then you make me grit my teeth" was apparently a little too graphic for Haley's fans, consequently it was omitted from Bill's recording.) Cole Porter, arguably the greatest American songwriter of all, not only got away with mentioning cocaine in a song ("I Get A Kick Out Of You") but famously and quite brilliantly wrote about prostitution too in this standard. A song as good as this can only be fully appreciated by someone brilliant enough to interpret it. Not only do we no longer have a chanteuse as good as Ella anymore but if this were released today it would probably have some difficulty getting airplay.

A frightened vocalist, Miss Kathryn Crawford, sings a threnody entitled “Love for Sale” in which she impersonated a lily of the gutters …When and if we ever get a censorship, I will give odds it will frown upon such an honest thing.

From 1930 New York Herald Tribune review of "The New Yorkers"

ELLA FITZGERALD - Love For Sale (1956)