Linkblogging – And A Break From Blogging – For 22/05/12

When I said the other day that I’d be offline next week, I didn’t realise that this was the week that Plok was coming to visit, so I won’t have time to write for the next couple of days. Since we’re going away on Saturday morning, and I won’t have net access for a week, don’t expect any more blog posts for the next nine days or so.

Have some links to tide you over:

The IPPR argue that Labour needs to plan for coalition with the Lib Dems

Jennie has some useful ideas about cutting red tape for businesses.

Jazz Hands, Serious Business on social mobility and public schools — I come from one or two notches down the social ladder from JHSB, and went to private, rather than public, school, but this is pretty much my experience too.

Caron Lindsay has a good roundup of the Lib Dem bloggers’ responses to the pusillanimous, illiberal, craven decision by Lib Dem FCC to allow the police to decide we no longer have the right to free assembly even at our own conference
. You can take it that I agree with all the posts she links, and with her own comments.

And Power Pop Criminals links to a recording of a concert of solo Paul McCartney songs performed by powerpop greats. I’ve not listened to it yet, but given that it features people like Jeff Foskett, Probyn Gregory, Stew, Morley from Cosmo Topper, P. Hux, Baby Lemonade, Andrew Sandoval, Randell Kirsch, PF Sloan and Darian Sahanaja, I imagine it’s about as good as music gets.

I’ll be back, at the latest, on the second of June. I’ll get a lot of writing done while I’m in Cornwall, with any luck.

Linkblogging For 20/05/12

Sorry for the lack of recent posts — I’ve been incredibly busy the last few days (in fact for the last few weeks — I’m more than a month behind with my comics reading). I normally try to get a MindlessWho post up on a Saturday night, but I spent Friday night at the theatre and then all day yesterday in Liverpool, attending both the International Pop Overthrow (the best powerpop festival in the world) and a Beach Boys fan convention.

I’ve nearly finished the post on The Deadly Assassin that was meant to go up on Mindless Ones yesterday, so that’ll be up tomorrow, and then there’ll be Peculiar Branch and Kinks posts in the couple of days after that.

From the 26th through the 2nd I’m on holiday with no net access, though I’ll *try* to get some posts queued up for while I’m gone. The plan is that I’ll use that time to finish the Kinks book, and maybe finish the Peculiar Branch novel up too, but no matter what I’ll get a lot of writing done while I’m away.

But for now, links:

Gavin Burrows on an exhibition about the Hajj at the British Museum

Bronchia on what Blue Peter meant to her as a child

Police call for public to be vigilant as hunt for Gambaccini intensifies
— I found this hilarious, especially the bit about Gambaccini’s radio appearances after Davy Jones’ death. I remember that when I did a radio appearance talking about Davy myself, the producer who asked me to do it said “we want someone who isn’t Paul Gambaccini”…

How the Citizens United decision was orchestrated by John Roberts

Romance University on turning backstory into characterisation

An introduction to Objectivist-C

And finally, though I was never a huge Bee Gees fan, I was sad to hear about Robin Gibb’s death. I love his unreleased solo album Sing Slowly Sisters, which I linked here a few weeks back, but of the Bee Gees’ released work, by far the best is the deeply strange double album Odessa, which stands up well against Odessey And Oracle, Forever Changes and other albums that straddle the borders of psychedelia and soft-pop, of mainstream cheesiness and disturbance.

You can listen to the 3CD deluxe edition of the album, legally, on Spotify here. For those who don’t have or can’t get Spotify, I’ve embedded a youtube video which contains the entire original album below. I’ve no idea if it’s on youtube with permission or not though, so it could disappear at any time.

The Kinks’ Music: Percy

A revised version of this essay appears in Preservation: The Kinks’ Music 1964-1974, available in paperback , hardback, Kindle (US), Kindle (UK) , and for all non-Kindle devices from Smashwords.

The Kinks’ final album for Pye Records is one that is literally impossible to listen to in the correct context, because that correct context has never existed. It was written as the soundtrack for the film Percy, an alleged comedy about a penis transplant starring Hywel Bennet and Britt Ekland, and so as programmatic music it should be listened to in the context of the film. Except that Ray Davies stormed out of the film’s premiere because his music had been so chopped up by the film’s makers, so clearly what made it to the film is not what Davies intended.

So the best we can do is to judge the album on its own merits, except that the music was never primarily intended as an album, and so much of the music doesn’t really work as a separate listening experience either.

Possibly the best thing for a listener who wants a good musical experience is to listen to just the highlights from the album. The songs God’s Children, The Way Love Used To Be, Moments and Dreams were released as an EP, and that EP is as good as anything the Kinks were doing around this time. The best of this music is better than the best of Lola Vs Powerman, but it’s surrounded by instrumental filler.

That said, even the filler is perfectly listenable for the most part — it’s just not interesting, either as music or as a stage in the Kinks’ artistic development.

For these reasons, this will be the shortest of these essays by some way. It’s a shame, though, that Davies didn’t get to have his work treated with enough respect that we could hear what it sounded like in its proper context.

The Album

God’s Children
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Generally considered the highlight of the album, God’s Children is one of Davies’ return-to-nature songs, this time arguing that “we are all God’s children” and that “Man…didn’t make you and he didn’t make me/And he’s got no right to turn us into machines.”

Musically, this is very Dylanesque, with a simple I-IV-V chorus, and verses that aren’t much more complex, and a string section essentially acting as a pad in much the same way Dylan would use a Hammond organ.

It’s not a completely thought-out song, but there’s an emotional honesty to the track that makes it work.

Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: instrumental

This, on the other hand, really doesn’t work at all. A nearly five-minute instrumental version of the band’s recent hit, performed in the pseudo-funk style that is stereotypically used in 70s porn films, all chittering hi-hat and mildly distorted guitars, but with the vocal melody stated by a Hammond organ in a way that sounds incongruously like the work of Reggie Dixon.

The Way Love Used To Be
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A rather lovely little ballad, this is by far the best thing on the album, and is also far better than anything on Lola Vs Powerman. Based around a simple fingerpicked folk-style acoustic guitar part, doubled by piano, but with a string section that has some of the best orchestral arrangements of any Kinks album, dominated by cellos, with a very thin, barely audible, violin line at the top, this is musically simple, play-in-a-day stuff, but it’s the right kind of simple. This could easily have fit onto Colin Blunstone’s One Year, which is praise as high as it comes.

Davies’ marriage was going through a rough patch at this time, and this song about wanting to get away from the cares of the world and “talk about the way love used to be” is the work of a man who desperately wants to fix what is broken. This is possibly the best Kinks song of the post-60s era, and doesn’t really admit of much analysis — it works so well because of its simplicity.

Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: instrumental

A ditchwater-dull blues instrumental based loosely on the melody of Amazing Grace, this plods along for three minutes and thirty-nine seconds of nothingness.

Running Around Town
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: instrumental

A nice little fragment, this starts as a rather frenetic, jug-bandish reworking of the melodic theme from God’s Children, performed on acoustic guitar and harmonica, before easing into a slow, arpeggiated, guitar/piano/harmonica fade.

Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Stylistically rather odd, this is a mix between French chanson and the kind of 70s divorce rock that one expects to hear sung by a jumpsuited Elvis, occasionally hitting on something that sounds almost like Jake Thackray.

Based around the old Davies trick of the descending scalar bassline, this seems not properly thought out, an emotional expression (a confessional about his failing marriage — “I said I’d never do you wrong but then I go and do the same again/I don’t know why”) that hasn’t been completely fitted into the formal structure of the pop song. Unfortunately, Davies’ overly-mannered vocal here distances that emotion enough that the song doesn’t quite come off, but it’s a brave effort.

Animals In The Zoo
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A three-chord rocker based loosely on a Bo Diddley beat, but with Davies doing his Carribean accent again, this is another of Davies’ songs about needing to get back to nature — “You’re locked up but I’m on the loose/But I can’t quite tell who’s looking at who/Because I’m an animal too”. It’s the kind of thing you’d write if you wanted to write something that sounded a bit like early 70s Kinks, and is catchy enough, but tellingly wasn’t included on the EP of the better material from the album.

Just Friends
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

One of the strangest, and strongest, things on the album, this shows the growing influence of Kurt Weill on Davies’ songwriting — an influence which would come to dominate the Preservation album.

Starting with a statement of the melody, played presumably on a celesta, but sounding like a music box, this waltz-time piece then goes into a speak-sung Weimar cabaret style performance, alternating between Davies singing, backed by strings, and a tinkling solo harpsichord answering Davies’ phrases.

In this section, Davies sings in a light, pre-war vocal style, with lyrics that show the character he is playing is trying to reassure but is very, very scary — “I shall not molest you, I shan’t rape your brain”. He then takes on a slightly less sinister persona, this time in a comically vibrato voice reminiscent of Rudy Valee, to repeat the same sentiments over a faster-moving string part.

The track then moves into a baroque instrumental orchestration of the main theme (though perhaps with too simple a string part to have the true baroque feel), led by a harpsichord. The whole thing feels curiously like the work Randy Newman was to do a year or so later, both in the orchestral style and in the use of the unreliable, creepy narrator.

Whip Lady
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: instrumental

Forty seconds of rather interesting minimalist music built up from several layered piano parts playing simple repeating motifs in 6/8 (with a guitar and bass coming in toward the end), followed by forty seconds of loud rock music with some technically impressive drumming.

Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The most complex song on the album in terms of structure, this is still a comparatively weak song by Davies’ standards.

We start with a verse over slow arpeggiated keyboads (based around I and V7 chords with the occasional IV thrown in), doubled with acoustic guitar as on several other tracks around this time. The second verse, following immediately after, is the same melody and chord sequence, but over a sluggish, grinding, rock riff.

There then follows a quick drum fill, leading into a slow ten-bar keyboard solo, based around yet another descending scalar bassline, with a feel that seems to be going for Bach, but is let down by a guitar- and drum-heavy mix.

We then get a seven-bar chorus, with a IV-I chord sequence underpinned by another descending scalar bassline, before suddenly going into an instrumental break consisting of slowly arpeggiated I-IV-V-I chords played by a piano with an organ pad.

We then get a heavy rock version of the verse, a second chorus, another verse, then seven bars of the arpeggios, played at twice the earlier speed, on harpsichord, before the heavy rock style comes in for one final verse and then a repetition of the verse riff to fade.

The song shows some of the ambition of a Shangri-La or Autumn Almanac in its arrangement and construction, but alas has a paucity of musical ideas, and outstays its welcome.

Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: instrumental

A generically “Meditteranean” instrumental, with wordless vocals from Davies, this features Spanish guitar and what sounds like a bouzouki, playing a 6/8 melody that owes something to the theme from Zorba The Greek, El Paso and to The Last Waltz.

Willesden Green
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: John Dalton

This is notable as the only track in the Kinks’ entire career to have a lead vocal by a band member other than one of the Davies brothers, as John Dalton performs what seems to be an inept (probably deliberately so) attempt at an Elvis impression.

The song itself is a parody of Detroit City, a country song by Bobby Bare that had been a UK top ten hit for Tom Jones in 1967, and has the same melody and, like Detroit City, a lyric about missing one’s hometown when far away and wanting to get a train back, including a recitative section in the middle.

The joke of the song is that while the singer in Detroit City lives in Detroit and misses the cotton fields of the South, the singer in Willesden Green has only moved as far as Fulham and Golders Green from his home area of Willesden (all three of these areas are within a handful of miles from each other, all within London).

This combination of country music and focusing on a specific area of London would be used more seriously on the band’s next album, Muswell Hillbillies, but here it’s just played for laughs.

God’s Children – The End
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: instrumental

Twenty-seven seconds of reprise of the opening track, with the melody played on an acoustic guitar, closes what is the least interesting Kinks album up to this point.

Observation Of The Day Courtesy @LawrenceMiles

Alex Sarll on Facebook linked the infamous ‘last Doctor Who interview’ of Lawrence Miles (the one where he slags off everyone in the Doctor Who world except Jac Rayner, who he says is lovely and doesn’t have an enemy in the world, which is true). I reread it, and this bit struck me, which hadn’t before (possibly because I’ve recently been buying all the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD box sets and watching them with Holly):

Do you know much about Chuck Jones?

The cartoon man?

He created Road Runner. When people think about cartoons, nine times out of ten they think about Warner Brothers cartoons. When they think about Warner Brothers cartoons, nine times out of ten they think about the ones made by Chuck Jones. All the things we think we know about the Warner Brothers universe… the nature of Bugs Bunny, the nature of Daffy Duck, the rules of the chase as applied to Wile E. Coyote… they’re all down to Chuck Jones. He didn’t invent all the characters, but he defined most of them. He deliberately and consciously honed in on what made the characters work, on their most primal dynamics. The Bugs and Daffy cartoons that stick in people’s minds are almost all his. Then he did the same strip-down job to the cartoon medium as a whole, and the result was the original Road Runner series. Road Runner is culture in its purest form… I’m sorry, I’ve just realized how stupid that sounds. Never mind, it’s true anyway. It’s the whole cartoon medium in a nutshell, boiled down to one never-ending chase with rules that feel like they’re instinctive to us these days. Nobody seems to have noticed that Chuck Jones quite simply created the most powerful and inescapable myth of the twentieth century. Because when you get down to the fundamental truth of an idea, you’ve got something that’s got power. Genuine power. People sometimes talk about this in a very disparaging way, like it’s a case of bringing things down to the lowest common denominator, but that’s the opposite of what you’re doing. It’s like you’re honing the culture to a razor-sharp point. You’re creating something that’s primal and… kind of dangerous. Myths… real myths, not that wanky market-driven Anne-Rice-stroke-Neil-Gaiman shite you get these days… aren’t stereotypes or cliches. They’re just inescapable, which is why Chuck Jones is possibly the greatest creative genius who ever lived. And yes, the characters out of Queer as Folk are minor myths as well. Their environment’s quite a specific one, but the same principles apply. I mean, they should last a decade or two. Wile E. Coyote will probably survive for centuries.

I think this is truer than it looks (although we can argue if the true talent was Jones the director or Michael Maltese the scriptwriter and storyboarder). I’d argue that the Road Runner cartoons are *slightly* imperfect, though, in that in some — not all, but some — it’s made clear that the Road Runner knows that the Coyote is trying to capture it, and in some the Road Runner even causes the Coyote’s defeat. For the Road Runner cartoons to achieve true perfection, you need to have the Road Runner oblivious to the Coyote’s machinations, and have the Coyote defeated only by his own schemes backfiring. So the cartoons could be sharpened more than they have been, but they’re still magnificent.

And roughly ten quadrillion times better than anything Friz Freleng did.

(MindlessWho post will be up shortly)

Unwell Linkblogging For 12/05/12

As some of you will have guessed from my relatively poor writing of late, and from my brusquer-than-normal attitude in the comments sections, I’ve been unwell recently with the stress-related symptoms I get occasionally (though I’ve not really been *well* as such for a year or so, I go through good and bad patches, and the last week or so has been a bad patch), which have made concentrating on anything for any length of time well-nigh impossible (I’ve only been able to read four books in the last fortnight, for example). As a result, today I had such a bad headache and was so tired that I slept through til 4PM, and haven’t been able to write my Mindless Ones Doctor Who post. So that will be up tomorrow, the Kinks post I was going to do tomorrow will be up on Monday, and the Cerebus post I was going to do yesterday will be up on Tuesday. And for now I’ll just post some links.

Matthew Rossi on the result of the North Carolina plebiscite against equal marriage

Bleeding Heart Libertarians on some more positive news — the passage of a trans rights bill in Argentina

Millennium on the failures of the coalition

How ignorant doctors kill patients

Alex on Terror Of The Autons

And a new blog linking to lots of Beach Boys bootlegs, for those who like that sort of thing.