I *am* working on my Batman posts (and on PEP! 2 – which I had to put off slightly, because I realised that I could write an essay about Doctor Who that *also* served as an example of what a truly Liberal attitude towards copyright would look like, and tie the issue together much more nicely than it is at the moment). But today I had some important displacement activity to do, so I decided to try to create a Spotify playlist containing covers of every Beach Boys song (or the originals, where the Beach Boys did a cover version). (Note, for these purposes ‘every Beach Boys song’ only includes tracks on the twofer CDs (except Concert/Live In London and Party/Stack ‘O’ Tracks), Still Cruisin’ and Summer In Paradise. I wasn’t going to go looking for cover versions of Kokomo (Spanish version) or Happy Endings).
I couldn’t quite find every one, but I did manage to put together a seven-hour, 149-track playlist which you can find here.
However, because I know most people won’t want to listen to that, I’ve also put together a much shorter sampler playlist, 54 minutes long, which can be found here, and it’s this that I will be annotating here. However, go for the full playlist if you want to hear such curiosities as a band who only do Beach Boys songs in the style of the Ramones, a Norwegian ‘doom metal’ band covering a Bruce Johnston song, the bloke who covered the whole of side two of the Beach Boys Today! album on the ukulele (including the spoken word studio chatter track Bull Session With “Big Daddy”), Lulu duetting with Sting, the King’s Singers pretending to be ‘cellos, or a cover of Still Cruisin’ done for an exercise CD…
So here’s the short version.
Wonderful/Song For Children by Rufus Wainwright is a straight cover of the first half of the second movement of Smile, and one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard.
Ne Dis Pas by Souvenir is The Beach Boys’ Ticket To Ride knockoff Girl Don’t Tell Me reworked as breathy French pop, and exquisite.
Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder by Anne Sofie Von Otter is from an album Elvis Costello produced for von Otter, a classical singer, about a decade ago. At the time, Costello was interviewed saying that this song, originally from Pet Sounds is one that should be listened to every single day, and I can’t argue with him. This is an absolutely beautiful arrangement, only slightly inferior to the original (just because of the lack of the bass ‘heartbeat’).
Angel Come Home by Sal Valentino is the lead singer of the Beau Brummels reworking the Carl Wilson song from L.A. (Light Album) as Americana (or whatever we’re meant to call rockish country music that sounds more like Steve Earle or Mike Nesmith than Garth Brooks this week). More straightforward than the original, and an odd choice for a cover version.
Let’s Put Our Hearts Together by The Pearlfishers takes what was originally a duet and turns it into a solo piano ballad, making it much more plaintive and wistful, while still keeping all the eccentricity of the original.
Heroes & Villains by Geraint Watkins reworks the Smiley Smile track in the style of Louis Prima, scat singing and all. And is bloody fantastic.
The Warmth Of The Sun by Murry Wilson is by Brian, Carl & Dennis Wilson’s dad, and is from his muzak album The Many Moods Of Murry Wilson. I remember when you’d have to pay fifty quid and up for a vinyl copy of this album, but now you can have it piped into your home just like real muzak. Isn’t the internet brilliant?
Don’t Go Near The Water by Kirsty MacColl is actually a rather pretty cover version of what was originally a rather silly song by Mike Love and Al Jardine from Surf’s Up. If only she’d taken the advice in the title… Her harmonies on the tag are exquisite.
I Can Hear Music by Larry Lurex is a pre-Queen Freddie Mercury solo track, presumably an attempt to hop on the Gary Glitter bandwagon, though the music stays pretty close to the Spector original.
I’d Love Just Once To See You by The Elastic No-No Band is a very simple cover version of what was a very simple song to start with. I’ve always loved the melody of this one, and that lovely melody combined with the completely tossed-off lyrics has always somehow made it even better.
Wild Honey by Nazareth is the proto-metal band covering the Beach Boys’ attempt at R&B. It works better as a heavy metal song than you might expect (but then when I played the original for my mum a few years ago, she thought it was the White Stripes, so…)
On And On She Goes by Sandy Salisbury is a Curt Boettcher/Gary Usher reworking of what was originally a gentle ballad into an uptempo horn-driven track that is as influenced by Motown as by the Beach Boys.
MIster John B by Sylvie Vartan is odd, in that the lyric is reworked into French, but the English word Mister is stuck in for some reason. Other than that, it’s pretty faithful to the Beach Boys’ version.
Unlike Surfin’ USA by Melt Banana, a Japanese noise-rock band, whose version does settle down eventually into a fairly straight punk cover, but starts off wonderfully fragmented and distorted.
Disney Girls by Art Garfunkel is the polar opposite of that. Disney Girls is a song with which I have an uneasy relationship. I’m aware that it’s the single cheesiest song ever written (“She’s really swell, ’cause she likes church, bingo chances and old-time dances”), and that pretty much every time Bruce Johnston’s sung it other than on the original version he’s descended into lounge-singer hell. But for some reason, it still moves me far more than it theoretically should, and here Art Garfunkel gives one of his best vocal performances, his frail sincerity pushing the song well away from the elevator and into something close to genuine beauty.
Anna Lee, The Healer by The High Llamas takes this song, mostly by Mike Love, even further from its Louie Louie roots than the original version on Friends did, with the usual High Llamas combination of electronica and easy listening.
And finally A Day In The Life Of A Tree by Suzy And Maggie Roche is a cover of a song I’ve always loved (though no-one else does). Co-written by Brian Wilson and Jack Rieley, this environmentalist song is also clearly a metaphor for Wilson’s life at the time, and has one of his most gorgeous melodies. Jack Rieley’s original vocal was weak, and the song suffered by its placement on the Surf’s Up album (three Brian Wilson songs in a row were placed together, all with
A couple of things about today’s Spotify playlist. Firstly, I’m starting to lose track of what I’ve posted before, so if some tracks come up more than once, forgive me. I’m assuming no-one’s listening to *all* of these, anyway, just the ones that sound interesting to them.
The other thing is the notable lack of female artists. This is partly because my record collection is male-dominated, but also a lot of my favourite female performers (Carolyn Edwards and Joanna Newsom to name two) aren’t on Spotify yet. Anyone know of any really good female singers/songwriters I’d like?
Anyway, today’s playlist
Cossacks Are by Scott Walker is the opening song from his most recent (and to my mind best) album, The Drift. I have absolutely no idea what it’s about, but it sounds astonishing. Remember, this is someone who started his career in a boy band doing Four Seasons covers…
The Knife by Genesis is included after reading Gavin B’s post about it – it’s almost good enough to forgive them for Phil Collins.
Pale And Precious by The Dukes Of Stratosphear is XTC in their guise as a fake 60s psych band doing a perfect Beach Boys pastiche, while still managing to be a truly great song in its own right. Gorgeous stuff. Just listen to the “Don’t care what the others might say” section – it’s got *exactly* the same unexpected chord progression – and indeed the same distrust of other people in general and wish they’d disappear attached to an absolute adoration of one person in particular – that would happen in a Brian Wilson song at that point.
At this point, the playlist is a little proggy, so there’s a couple of simpler songs.
I’m Leaving It All Up To You by Don & Dewey is a song I found on a wonderful compilation called Frank Zappa’s Jukebox, which consists of stuff that Zappa listened to as a teenager, and so is a mixture of ‘difficult’ modern classical, skronking jazz and greasy blues and doo-wop. It’s an absolute treasure of a compilation.
Shakin’ All Over by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates is one of those records that was an absolutely massive hit in Britain in the early ’60s but almost no-one outside the UK knows. It’s a shame as it’s one of the great records of that period between Elvis getting drafted and the first Beatles record, which is generally regarded as a dead period in music but in fact produced people like Roy Orbison, Del Shannon and others who were far more influential than people now realise.
Movie Magg by Carl Perkins is a great record in its own right, but also a window into a time that seems a million years ago – this is a song about taking a girl to the cinema, but on the back of a horse. And recorded in the 1950s. The weird juxtaposition of the modern (the electrical kinematograph still seems modern to me, I am afraid) and what feels like the ancient, a song about a lost way of life that is still in the memory of many living, in a song that was a modern pop song at the time my Dad was born, seems very strange to me…
You Don’t Have To Walk In The Rain by The Turtles is from one of the very great overlooked albums of the 60s, Turtle Soup. This was the Turtles’ attempt to make their own Village Green Preservation Society and was produced by Ray Davies, and is a halfway house between the Kinks’ English pastoral and the Turtles’ California pop whose closest comparison is probably Odessey & Oracle. This was the single from the album, and the most conventional track on it, but I love the line “I look at your face/I love you anyway”.
Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball? by Buddy Johnson is for my wife, who’s spent most of the last few weeks watching rounders over the internet rather than talking to her long-suffering husband ;)
Opening Titles by Don Preston is another of Preston’s orchestral pieces. I’m becoming more and more convinced, the more I hear of Preston’s work, that he had the potential to be a true great had he not spent the last forty years in the shadow of his old boss. Shame.
The Prelude to the first Lute Suite in E Minor by Bach is just here because I like Bach’s lute pieces. So should you.
Lady Came From Baltimore by Scott Walker is as different from the opening track as you could get – a cover of a folk-pop song by Tim Hardin – but is still a lovely little track, overlooked in comparison to the darker stuff on Walker’s first few solo albums.
Arnaldo Said by the Wondermints is the only Wondermints track on Spotify at the moment, unfortunately. Weirdly, this is on an Os Mutantes tribute album, even though it’s a Wondermints original. But speaking of Mutantes…
Bat Macumba by Os Mutantes is my favourite track by Brazil’s greatest psychedelic band – not much of a song, but just listen to it as a *sound*, the way the totally different sonic environments are laid on each other…
Everyone Says I Love You by Janet Klein is a lovely little acoustic performance of the Marx Brothers song from Horse Feathers (and if I lent any of you my box set of Animal Crackers, Duck Soup, Horse Feathers and Monkey Business, could I have it back, please? I’ve completely forgotten who I lent it to…)
Wonderful/Song For Children by Rufus Wainwright is a stunning performance of the first half of the second movement of Smile, and shows that Smile wasn’t just a great record, but the songs were great songs. Wonderful, especially, deserves to be regarded as part of ‘the great American songbook’.
Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair by Bessie Smith is another track by one of the all-time great blues singers, but to be honest I’ve included it for the horn playing.
And Over The Reef by Duncan Browne is a song I’m not even sure I like, but there’s something to it… it’s a very twee, folky thing which could smack of James Taylor, but there’s a sort of Incredible String Bandness about it that makes it work… I think… what do you think?
Anyway, I’m off til a week on Tuesday. Don’t turn this place into a tip while I’m gone…
OK, so I lied when I said I wouldn’t be posting for a while. It’s very boring without Holly around…
This week’s playlist is unthemed, but just based on stuff I’ve been listening to recently. More instrumental stuff than I normally have – I don’t know why that would be, except maybe that I’ve been a little non-verbal recently (the heat seems to have shut down the verbal reasoning parts of my brain).
We start with an excerpt from Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony. I was reminded of this, an old favourite, today by a mention in About Time vol 3, which I’m in the middle of. I don’t have a great vocabulary for talking about art music, but I love this kind of stuff – experimental mid-20th century music (roughly from Stravinsky through Boulez), Americana and baroque (especially Bach and Handel) are the ‘classical’ styles that appeal to me, far more than classical music itself does…
The Dinosaur Song by Johnny Cash is from the Johnny Cash Children’s Album. No, really. This exists. I was as surprised as you. And this song is, indeed, Johnny Cash singing about dinosaurs. I have no idea what a ‘brontosaurus rex’ might be, but quibbles aside this is up there with Jonathan Richman’s I’m A Little Dinosaur and Four Tet’s Go Go Ninja Dinosaur as far as dinosaur songs go.
Fallin’ In Love by The Beach Boys is actually an early-70s solo single released as by ‘Dennis Wilson and Rumbo’ (Rumbo was a pseudonym for Darryl Dragon, later the Captain of The Captain And Tenneille). This has just been issued on CD for (I believe) the first time as a legitimate release, on Summer Love Songs, one of the fifteen-song-you-already-own-five-copies-of-plus-two-new-stereo-mixes CDs EMI release every year or so to snag completists. (This is doubly completist friendly, as it’s a different mix from that released on the single). The lyrics are risible – it’s a 70s Californian singer-songwriter singing about “my lady”, how could they not be? – but the music – Wilson doing Tim Hardin – is gorgeous, and it also contains what sounds like the earliest use of a drum machine I’ve ever heard.
Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart by Judy Garland is from her classic Carnegie Hall live album. I trust you know who Judy Garland was…
You Go To My Head by Rufus Wainwright is from his own live album, forty years on, where he covers track-for-track Garland’s earlier one.
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey by Paul McCartney is from another whole-album remake – this time McCartney, under the pseudonym Percy “Thrills” Thrillington remade his own Ram (by far his best solo work, and possibly the best solo Beatles album) as instrumental muzak. Actually it’s almost as interesting as the original album, expecially in songs like this – in the original McCartney had sung in many , many different voices (he’s a far more versatile vocalist than people normally credit him for) doing call-and-response, and it’s fun listening to the way the instruments chosen for the different parts mimic the different voices he used on the original.
Vielako soitan banjoa? by Scandinavian Music Group is from a playlist a Twitter friend shared with me. I know nothing about it except that it has a banjo on it and the band are from Finland.
Baby Plays Around by Elvis Costello (no Attractions, despite the Spotify credit) is a song I was reminded of by Debi’s Being Human playlist, from my favourite Costello album, Spike. Co-written with his then-wife Cait O’Riordan (former bass player of the Pogues), this has a melody as good as (and reminiscent of) the best of Costello’s other writing partner of the time, Paul McCartney.
Melody Fair by The Bee Gees is from Odessa, a very, very strange album they made in the wake of Sgt Pepper. This is one of the more straightforward tracks. This sounds like the missing link between Paul McCartney and Syd Barret – seriously. The Bee Gees are one of those bands whose big hits obscure some very interesting, strange corners of their music…if you can ever get hold of a bootleg copy of Robin Gibb’s unreleased solo album Sing Slowly Sisters give it a listen – it’s as out-there as Arthur Lee.
Forty Cups Of Coffee by Ella Mae Morse is a great mid-tempo R&B track. There’ve been times when I’ve drunk thirty cups of coffee in a day, and even if her tolerance was greater than mine (and mine used to be pretty high before I made myself ill with overindulgence and cut back drastically), there’s no way she’d ‘want to hug and kiss ya and say I’m glad you’re still alive’ after forty cups – more likely she’d be having serious heart palpitations and suffering from paranoid delusions and a killer migraine. We need accuracy in our songs, dammit! She’s as bad as Cash…
Ride Into The Sun by The Velvet Underground is one of several songs from the Loaded era that are very, very different from the normal perception of the VU, and are much more interesting than the stuff that made them famous. I’d take this over any number of chugga-chugga look-at-me-I’m-so-cool-and-depressed distortion-fests…
King Kong by Jean-Luc Ponty is from the album of the same name, produced by Frank Zappa, where the world’s second-greatest French jazz violinist performed a selection of Zappa’s more fusiony pieces. The whole album’s worth a listen – somewhere between the jazz-rock of Hot Rats and the modern classical of The Yellow Shark in Zappa’s oeuvre, it’s also practically the only Zappa-related music on Spotify at present (so it’s a good job it’s in the top 10% or so of his work).
Count Five Or Six by Cornelius is one of those tracks that’s been co-opted by advertising, but if you listen to it without those associations it sounds like some strange collaboration between the White Stripes and the High Llamas, with lead vocals by a Speak-And-Spell machine.
This Train by Sister Rosetta Tharpe is a gospel classic. When listening to this, remember it was recorded long before the 50s rock & roll tracks it resembles. In that context, Sister Rosetta is clearly *inventing* rock guitar here – her licks are essentially the same ones that Scotty Moore would play on early Elvis records (they’re also almost identical to Chuck Berry, but Berry would play double-string rather than single-string lines, which would give a very different sound). And Sister Rosetta was playing like that from the *late 1930s* on.
And The All-Golden by Van Dyke Parks is probably the most ‘normal’ sounding track from his classic Song Cycle, another album you should listen to in its entirety.
Sorry for the lack of posts recently – I’ve had a touch of post-viral depression. I *will* spend all next week posting about Batman along with my usual posts though. (The couple of weeks after will be light again though as I’ll be visiting the in-laws in the land of dial-up). So expect two posts tomorrow – Batman and Big Finish.
& by Kristian Hoffman is one of those albums that everyone who hears it loves, but which flies under the radar. On the very few occasions I’ve spoken about it to anyone who’s heard it, they’ve always said “Wow, I love that album, but I don’t know anyone else who’s heard it!”
Hoffman is someone who’s been on the fringes of success for decades – he was in the obscure art-punk band the Mumps in the 70s, and since then has worked with everyone from Rufus Wainwright to Carolyn Edwards – and &, his third ‘solo’ album, is actually an album of duets that pulls collaborators from throughout the world of interesting music. Hoffman’s style is closest to the glam-punk of 70s Sparks, but he also has elements of powerpop, prog-pop of the ELO/Wings variety and a healthy helping of pre-rock pop. Possibly the easiest way to describe his music is to imagine Sondheim or Cole Porter as produced by Jeff Lynne, and while & is his third album it feels in many ways like a first album – it’s a collection of songs written over several decades, Anyone But You, for one, dating back to the 1970s.
The list of collaborators on the album could easily double as a list of the most interesting still-working musicians alive in 2002 (when the album was released) – Stew, Darian Sahanaja of the Wondermints, Russel Mael of Sparks, Van Dyke Parks, Rufus Wainwright – combined with some choices that one could see as being chosen for camp value ( Maria McKee, El Vez (“The Mexican Elvis”), Paul ‘Pee Wee Herman’ Rubens) but who actually all turn in performances every bit as good as the more critically acclaimed performers.
From the opening “Gimme Some Lovin’” riff of Devil May Care, with Hoffman affecting an almost Dylanesque nasal voice (very different from the rest of the album) doubled by Russel Mael’s vibrato falsetto and backed by crunchy Big Star guitars, it’s obvious that this is going to be a musically interesting album, but it’s when that song gets to the middle eight that Hofmann’s real songwriting strengths start to show, with the line “Some postulate reward if you should mortify the flesh”.
Hoffman is one of the most articulate lyricists I’ve heard in years, with a huge working vocabulary and a wicked sense of humour. The album is just full of quotable lines – “Devil may care but I am disinclined to lend belief/to any square who spends his time bemoaning just how brief it is”, “It’s like a hideous chorus by the post-Mary Wilson Supremes”, “We sensed by scent that this brief sentiment was overripe”, “No sex in heaven – where do I sign?”, “This passion play was engineered, but when the mutant sheep appeared,”.
I’m more of a music person than a lyric person, so when even *I* am quoting huge chunks of the lyrics you know they’re special, but the music more than matches them. Get It RIght This Time, for example, has a first verse that could come from one of Noel Coward’s better musicals, all sparse strings and elegance, before going into a big musical-theatre chorus. The second verse then duplicates the arrangement of the first, but with Abba-esque piano, before we have two instrumental variations of the melody, one a perfect baroque pastiche, all piccolo trumpet and harpsichord, the other shredding 80s hair-metal guitar, before a return to the chorus and a final “Little Help From My Friends” tag. But none of this is in quotes, it just feels like the natural place for the music to go.
The album’s full of things like that, and even the less musically ambitious material is still well worth a listen. Anyone But You, with Stew and Heidi of the Negro Problem, for example, is one of only four or five guitar-based pop songs recorded in the last decade to be worth a damn.
And while the album is nothing so gauche as a ‘concept album’ (except in the sense that every song is a collaboration) there are themes that recur over and over again. Religion comes up in almost every song – obviously in song titles like God If Any Only Knows, No Sex In Heaven and Devil May Care, but also in lines like “Scarecrow, those who seek metaphor compare/Scarecrow, that other man left hanging there/But it seems to me/That comes too easily” and the whole of Anyone But You. There’s also a carnality to the lyrics, and an examination of sexuality and what sexuality means in modern life, and especially what it means to be gay – Scarecrow, the song just quoted, is about the murder of Mathew Shephard, a gay man murdered in Wyoming by homophobic fuckwits ten years ago, and is a haunting counterbalance to the more upbeat lines like “gonna put the ‘oo’ in the human condition” that predominate.
The best song by far is the ballad Sex In Heaven, one of the best ballads I’ve heard in years, whose lyrics deserve quoting in full:
It’s heaven sent, this miracle soprano you employ
That makes an angel of a boy, earthbound.
My soul took wing upon the sound.
I guess I still can’t face the implications of this gift.
There’s something pagan in the lift — airborne.
And why should soul from flesh be torn?
That’s what it costs to buy a note so pure and high
and so divine: no sex in heaven.
The bottom line: no sex in heaven. Where do I sign?
Then came the man whose eyes professed the love that we had sought;
a love that’s never to be caught or held.
Some ancient pact can’t be dispelled. What’s the surprise?
The storied sacrifice is often told: that this perfection must be cold,
and hard — where once we joined by scalpel scarred.
What gimpy God aflame with jealous rage decreed that you
Like him must be unwhole; allowed to yearn?
But if the need that you profess is once returned,
You slap it down! (If I should ask, and I always ask.)
I guess I still can’t help the sickened impulse to admire
the score that this castrati choir translates
that soothes as it emasculates.
What amazes me about this album is that it’s one of the *very* few albums I’ve heard in recent years where *everything* is well-crafted. The songs are absolutely superb – they remind me of Elvis Costello at his best or a less grating Randy Newman, oblique and intelligent with lines echoing and commenting on each other (for example in Revert To Type there’s a line about “the island of Dr Morose”, which is quite a good pun in itself, but is also an echo of the ‘mutant sheep’ earlier in the song), the arrangements are imaginative, ranging over almost every form of popular music from Sparks to Cole Porter to the Beach Boys, and the performances are stunning (my favourite is Stew’s full-throated roar on Anyone But You, but there’s not a bad performance on there).
& can be bought on CD and MP3 from CDBaby, or downloaded from eMusic. His first two solo albums, and a compilation of the Mumps’ 70s recordings, are also available from the same sources and well worth getting, but this is his masterpiece. He’s apparently also working on an album produced by Nick Walusko from the Wondermints, which I can’t wait to hear…