I’ve got a LOT of posts I want to make over this four-day weekend – reviews of The People’s Manifesto by Mark Thomas, This Town Will Never Let Us Go by Lawrence Miles, and I, Claudius and Claudius The God by Robert Graves, a post about Batman comics, a review of the new MoffWho, my incredibly belated review of Asterios Polyp, my contribution to Plok’s recent ‘meme’…
It may be that not all of these will get written in the next three and a half days, especially since I’m also trying desperately to recover data from a nearly-full terabyte external hard drive I dropped on the floor (it doesn’t have that many bad blocks, but unfortunately the boot sector is one of them – I could use photorec, but don’t really fancy hand-renaming and tagging tens of thousands of files, especially all the Beach Boys bootlegs – “Does this version of Barbara Ann sound more like the 1971 touring band or the 1972 one?”)…
Right now, however, I’ve got a migraine, so here’s a playlist of (mostly) relaxing, fun, light music.
I Am The Walrus by Papa Doo Run Run is an oddity. Papa Doo are a band from California who normally do painfully faithful recreations of early ’60s pop (they’re made up of people who used to be sidemen in the Beach Boys or Jan & Dean backing bands), and the album this is from is no exception, with karaoke-esque versions of California Girls, .Walk Like A Man, Eight Days A Week and so on. But this track is different – the Beatles’ psychedelic classic, reimagined as a one-minute surf guitar instrumental. It works astonishingly well…
Go Away Boy by The Pearlfishers is the first of three songs from Caroline, Now – a favourite album of mine that recently turned up on Spotify, consisting of remakes by (mostly) Scottish indie musicians (members of Teenage Fanclub, Belle & Sebastian, and so on) of obscure Beach Boys tracks. This one is a song Brian Wilson wrote for an out-of-print 1983 album by his ex-wife’s band The Honeys, and is girl-group-as-torch-song. Absolutely gorgeous.
Oh, Oh, Ooh, Ei, Ei, Ei, Wo Immer Es Auch Sei by Daisy Door and Peter Thomas was the song Tilt suggested I enter for the Pop World Cup round two, and I won with it…
Tam Lyn Retold by The Imagined Village is from the first Imagined Village album (the first is more interesting, the second better music). The Imagined Village are essentially an attempt by folk musicians to say folk you to the Bastard Nazi Party. The BNP have tried recently to use traditional English folk music as an expression of ‘ethnically British’ (i.e. white) ‘values’ (i.e. bigotry), BNP leader DickIbegyourpardonNick Griffin having claimed Eliza Carthy as one of his favourite musicians. So The Imagined Village are a loose grouping of musicians centred around Chris Wood and Martin and Eliza Carthy, who bring in musicians from the various traditions that have *added* to Britain over the last sixty years, and rework traditional English music with those influences. In this case, this is the traditional song Tam Lyn reworked by dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah, dance musicians Transglobal Underground, and Eliza Carthy, in a modern setting.
All I Wanna Do by June And The Exit Wounds is another one off Caroline, Now – a remake of a Mike Love/Brian Wilson song from Sunflower. I always thought this, even in its original version, sounded just like New Order – especially the middle eight (“Ooh when I sit and close my ey-eyes”).
It Might As Well Be Dumbo by The High Llamas is my personal favourite of their tracks.
The Diner Song by Jake Holmes is very much of a piece with his work on Genuine Imitation Life Gazette and Watertown (two of my very favourite albums). Those who like late-60s Scott Walker might like this one.
That’s What You Think by Janet Klein and Her Parlor Boys is a lovely, fun version of a 1920s jazz song, all clanking banjos and ukuleles.
Miss Clarke And The Computer by Roy Wood is one of the saddest songs ever – a song from a computer who’s in love with an engineer who is dismantling him. Wonderful instrumentation as well – what sounds like ‘cello, bouzouki, acoustic guitar, double bass and glockenspiel, all played by Wood himself.
Wax Minute by Michael Nesmith is from Nesmith’s third solo album after he quit the Monkees, Tantamount To Treason. It’s generally considered one of his weaker efforts, but this is an astonishingly literate lyric (“As you complicate things greatly since you came into my life/Old veneers and stately postures wax minute within your sigh/And the taxing way of adjusting to all the thoughts which you reveal/Only incites me to motion, well that’s the crux of your appeal”) and while the melody is a little too close to In My Life, Nesmith’s vocal here is possibly the greatest of his career.
Yellow Man by Ella Fitzgerald is a cover of the Randy Newman song. Ella was such a professional singer, and sold songs so well even when she hated them, that I honestly can’t tell if she ‘gets’ the joke here or not – and I’m not sure if it would be better if she did or didn’t…
You Don’t Have To Walk In The Rain by The Turtles is from one of the great unsung albums of the 60s, Turtle Soup. This album was essentially the Turtles’ attempt to do their own Village Green Preservation Society – to the extent that they got Ray Davies to produce the album. The end result, with its combination of California pop and British toytown psych, resembles nothing so much as the Zombies’ Odessey & Oracle. This track also has my favourite line of any lyric ever – “I look at your face, I love you anyway”.
Rainbow Skies by Kie (not K*Le as Spotify have it) is the third song here from Caroline Now. This one is a song that had at the time not been legally released before, and it’s one of my very favourite late Brian Wilson songs. Kie’s version is very close to Wilson’s recording, but with far better vocals.
And to finish off we have Love Songs by Margo Guryan. This song has been a favourite of mine for a while, but this demo version is if anything even better than the released one.
Spotify Playlist For 16/01/10 – Klaatu, Roy Wood, France Gall, Ella Fitzgerald, Mississippi John Hurt…
I’ve had a little while off from the internet, as a whole pile of things have been building up that needed dealing with offline, so I’ve not even checked my email for a week (I see I have emails from Sarah, Pillock, Brad, Tilt, Trevor, Alex and Richard that need dealing with…) and Twitter for longer but I’m off work for 9 days now, so by the end of the week PEP! will be out, and I should have something posted every day. (For those who’ve sent me concerned emails, everything’s fine…)
I haven’t done a spotify playlist for a while, so here’s one with no theme except that the songs sounded good in a row together:
10358 Overture by ELO is one of two Roy Wood tracks on this. The song was actually written by Jeff Lynne (the man who after this first album to all intents and purposes was ELO) but that wonderful string and horn arrangement is not only written by Wood, but he played all of it himself. Wood is one of the great unsung musical geniuses of British pop music, and those who don’t know his work (especially with the Move, and his solo albums) are missing out.
Open Your Window by Ella Fitzgerald is from an absolutely marvellous album called Ella, from 1969, that I discovered through a playlist by my friend Tilt that included her version of Savoy Truffle. It includes versions of Got To Get You Into My Life, Randy Newman’s Yellow Man, Knock On Wood and more, but somehow works very, very well. This is the best track though, a version of a Nilsson song that is close to her style anyway. One of the few examples of a pre-60s artist coping well, and with dignity, with the transition to a new style of music.
Songs Of Praise by Roy Wood is from his solo album Boulders – and it was an actual solo album. He wrote every song, produced it, played every instrument, did all the lead and backing vocals, and drew the cover art. This is probably the catchiest and most conventional thing on the album (apart from the varispeeded backing vocals) – a fairly straightforward pop-gospel song along the lines of the Beach Boys’ then-recent He Came Down – but the whole album is just wonderful, and one of the most imaginative things I’ve ever heard.
Electric Trains by Squeeze is the last great single that great singles band did, mostly due to being one of Chris Difford’s few truly strong late-period lyrics (though it would still be nothing without Glenn Tilbrook’s music and vocals, as Difford’s solo remake with different music showed a few years later). The listing of very specific memories actually manages to get across a very accurate feeling of what it’s like for all adolescents growing up.
Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby? by Jimmy Reed is one of the all-time blues classics. You all know this one, I’m sure.
Stagger Lee by Mississippi John Hurt is one of the earliest variants of this blues standard, and as you can hear very different from the later versions (the most famous of which is the version popularised by Lloyd Price, though everyone from Doctor John to Nick Cave has done their own version of it), Personally I like this folk-blues style far more than the swaggering R&B strut of the more famous versions, though both have their merits.
In Germany Before The War by Randy Newman is the most beautiful song about child murder ever written. This version is from Songbook, Vol 1, an album of solo piano rerecordings of many of his best songs (a better idea than it sounds, as many of his best songs had backing from people like the Eagles, which detracted from them quite a bit – he’s a far better songwriter than producer).
A Magical Night by Laurie Biagini is probably my favourite song from Ridin’ The Wave. Biagini is another one who writes and plays everything herself (though far from Wood’s level) and this one reminds me of Kirsty MacColl.
Revolution #9 by The Thurston Lava Tube I discovered through the same playlist that had the Ella Savoy Truffle in. I love this just because it manages to turn Revolution #9 into a two-minute surf instrumental that is still recognisable, more or less.
Don’t Let It Go by L.E.O. is a perfect imitation of the ELO sound, by a ‘supergroup’ including members of Hanson, Chicago and Jellyfish among others. Amazingly, this is actually a good thing. No, really. Really.
Still I Dream Of It by Brian Wilson is one of the most heartbreaking recordings ever to be released. His home demo of a song he later recorded with full orchestration, this was written at his most mentally ill – and it clearly shows, the lyrics being more or less a stream of consciousness. But this isn’t ‘outsider music’ – it’s some of the most heartfelt communication ever to have been made into art. The reason Wilson’s work is so variable is the same reason he’s so adored by musicians – the man has absolute command of the technical aspects of his work, but has no filters at all – his music is an absolutely open, honest, almost childlike expression of everything going through his mind, but it has an extraordinary technical complexity that makes it a *PRECISE* expression.
Dann Schon Eher Der Pianoplayer by France Gall is there to cheer you up after the depressing song before it. As it’s in German, I have no idea what it’s about, but it’s a very cheery arrangement.
G-Spot Tornado by The Invisible Birds is a surf-guitar and organ version of one of Frank Zappa’s most fiendishly complex pieces (one he thought for many years was unplayable by human beings at all). It’s rather remarkable both how well the piece suits the idiom and how well they render it, though they take it at a much slower pace than it’s intended. (This is from an album of surf versions of Zappa songs by various artists, many of which are surprisingly good).
Maybe I’ll Move To Mars by Klaatu might be the most 1970s thing ever.
And I Go To Sleep by The Kinks was Ray Davies’ very first truly great song (though the Kinks had made great records before this) – obviously hugely influenced by Bacharach, but very much the first sign of the man who would shortly be giving us Something Else and Village Green Preservation Society
Continuing with the theme from yesterday, this week’s Spotify playlist (which you can access from here ) is based around the themes of politics, police violence, the Depression, depression and poverty.
We start with a little spoken section, by Laurel And Hardy, in which they are Victims Of The Depression.
Following this is Bing Crosby with the Depression-era classic Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?. Co-written of course by the great Yip Harburg, one of the greatest songwriters of the ‘Golden Age of American Song’. A little-known fact about Harburg is that ‘Yip’ was actually short for ‘yipsel’, which in turn was short for Young Person’s Socialist League – Harburg was an incredibly political songwriter. But he’s probably best known now, other than this song, for Over The Rainbow, April In Paris and It’s Only A Paper Moon.
Following this is Linton Kwesi Johnson with Reggae Fi Peach. Johnson was a very politically-active dub poet in the early 1980s, and this is his tribute to Blair Peach, a teacher who was battered to death by the police when taking part in an Anti-Nazi League protest.
XTC‘s Earn Enough For Us is a song that means a lot to me – it essentially describes my life for the first two years after I married (as well as the year before) – “I’ve been praying I can keep you/and can earn enough for us”. Not political as such, but a perfect description of the life of low earners.
Glad To Be Gay by The Tom Robinson Band is a song I loved when I was a very young child – my parents got quite embarassed picking five-year-old me up from school and having me sing it loudly on the way out. Robinson was an overly didactic lyricist of the Billy Bragg type, but this one is genuinely heartfelt, and still moving even now I’m old enough to know what it’s about…
The Policeman’s Jig is a great little song from Jake Thackray. Someone should really write a book on Thackray, and the particularly Yorkshire way he combines an earthy sense of humour and an utter loathing of all forms of authority with a very devout Catholic faith. This is definitely Thackray in anti-authority mode, and anti-censorship.
Political Science by Randy Newman is a song I used to think was an overly-broad satire, but which appears to have been used by the Bush regime as a policy briefing document…
Shipbuilding by Elvis Costello is one of the very best songs ever written, looking at one of the more pointless wars of our time (the Falklands) from the point of view of the unemployed dock workers who were given work again by the conflict – “Is it worth it? A new winter coat and shoes for the wife/And a bicycle for the boy’s birthday/It’s just a rumour that’s been spread around town, soon we’ll be shipbuilding”. A more damning indictment of the Thatcher years – and a sadder song – you’ll never hear.
Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash by The Clovers and Get A Job by The Silhouettes are two great doo-wop classics. Doo-wop these days is thought of as mindless silliness, but it was a really vibrant, inventive artform for a few years in the late 50s.
WPA Blues is credited to Meade Lux Lewis, but it’s far more guitar-based than Lewis’ normal stuff (Lewis was one of the all-time great boogie-woogie piano players) , so much so that I’m not even sure it’s him. Either way, it’s a great little track. (For those who don’t know the WPA was the Roosevelt-era public works programme which was brought in to try to end the Depression).
Money Honey by Little Richard is just great.
Up The Junction by Squeeze is very much of a piece with Earn Enough For Us, a glorious story song which was a huge hit over here but never did anything in the US.
‘Til I Die by The Beach Boys is the greatest track ever about the other kind of depression, and probably the best song Brian Wilson ever wrote without a collaborator.
And just in case that was too depressing for you, we finish with a nice cheery track – Music To Commit Suicide By by Roy Wood.
Let me know what you think, and if I should carry on doing these…