I’ll be back to my Who And Batman blogging tomorrow, now all my computer/work/illness/exhaustion problems have finally been sorted (PEP 2 will be a little later than planned too because of those, but it *is* coming…). But a brief discussion with Burkesworks in the comments from my linkblog led me to do this.
We were talking about the odd intersection, in the late 60s, between MOR, bubblegum, psychedelia and folk-rock, a whole swathe of completely ‘uncool’ (at the time) music ranging from Scott Walker at the most adult and downbeat to the Cowsills at the most upbeat. That in turn got me thinking about the folkier end of that spectrum, and how so many of them covered the songs of Tim Hardin, and how influential Hardin was in general (listen to Dennis Wilson’s early songs, or Colin Blunstone’s solo material, for some stuff that comes very, *very* close at times to outright plagiarism).
So I’ve put together this playlist of Tim Hardin covers. The odd thing about TIm Hardin songs is how great they all are individually, but how similar they sound to each other, so I’ve tried to find versions that sound as different from each other as I can.
Black Sheep Boy by Scott Walker is one of the highlights of Scott 2, one of Walker’s run of four eponymous albums of ‘proper songs’ (rather than the strange and wonderful avant-garde musings he would do later) that gave him his reputation as a proper artist, rather than just a pretty boy with a good voice.
Red Balloon by The Small Faces isnt by Rod Stewart, no matter what Spotify says. You can tell by the way it sounds like the Small Faces, and is on a Small Faces CD I own, and the way Rod Stewart isn’t on it. You can also tell that this was a run-through that was never intended for proper release, but it’s still worth a listen.
Reason To Believe by Rod Stewart on the other hand is by Rod Stewart. Rod Stewart is one of those embarrassing musicians who, had he died in 1974ish, would now be regarded as one of the all-time greats. As it is, we’ve had nearly forty years of truly horrible muzak to taint the memory of albums like Every Picture Tells A Story, from which this comes and which is one of the best albums of its time. Honestly.
Don’t Make Promises by Cliff Richard… I’m really not doing myself any favours in the musical credibility department here, am I? But this is really good! Honestly! Cliff Richard may be the embodiment of all that is wrong with the universe, but this makes at least two Cliff tracks I’ve heard that I actually like (the other being his early rock hit Dynamite). Given he’s had a fifty-three year career so far, it’s only to be expected that he might make two enjoyable tracks accidentally, I suppose…
If I Were A Carpenter by The Four Tops is The Four Tops singing If I Were A Carpenter, so therefore great. I considered using Johnny ‘n’ June for this one, but I chose a solo Johnny Cash track for later.
Single Song Of Freedom by Bobby Darin is from the third period of Darin’s career, when after his novelty-rock hits like Splish Splash and his big-band period doing songs like Mack The Knife, he renamed himself Bob Darin and started doing folk-ish songs. This is from an album that was almost entirely songs by Hardin and John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful. It would work a lot better had I never seen Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox story, though..
Misty Roses by Colin Blunstone is not by the Zombies, as Spotify thinks, but it *is* produced and arranged by Blunstone’s former Zombies bandmates Rod Argent and Chris White. And it’s one of the most beautiful things ever committed to vinyl, going from the simple acoustic-backed rendition of the song in Blunstone’s voice, easily the most gorgeous ever to belong to a male rock vocalist, into the astonishing Bartok-inspired string arrangement. One Year, the album from which this was taken, was largely an attempt to marry ‘proper’ string quartet music with popular song, and this is where that gels the best. Extraordinarily beautiful.
Southern Butterfly by Marianne Faithful is a Marianne Faithful track. As with all Marianne Faithful tracks after about 1966 it sounds like Nico covering Leonard Cohen. Lovely guitar and sitar backing.
Lady Came From Baltimore by Johnny Cash is actually one of the few tracks he did in his commercial heyday that, at first, sounds like one of his later American Recordings tracks, before the overdone 70s-country arrangement kicks in.
And How Can We Hang On To A Dream by Kathryn Williams has a lovely celeste and ‘cello backing, although it sounds a bit like everything else Kathryn Williams does…
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…
Scott Walker, The Zombies, Edgard Varese, Small Faces, Serge Gainsbourg… Spotify Playlist For This Week
This week’s playlist, which I’ve titled Misty Rosary, doesn’t have an organising theme like the other ones I’ve done recently, it’s just seventeen songs I really like right now. I hope you will too…
Misty Roses by The Zombies is a live performance from the Odessey And Oracle 40th Anniversary CD/DVD, and actually only features Colin Blunstone of the Zombies, plus touring band member Keith Airey and a string quintet, recreating the arrangement of the Tim Hardin song from Blunstone’s first solo album. One of the most gorgeous things ever in pop music, seriously.
Mr Bellamy by Paul McCartney is the best thing by a long way from his most recent solo album proper, Memory Almost Full, and the most interesting thing he’s done in a long time – it sounds like nothing so much as Sparks, but Sparks covering Love In The Open Air (the love theme from The Family Way, which McCartney wrote in 1965).
Guilty As Charged by John C Reilly is from the film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. I was put off that film for a long time by its promotional material, which made it look like the kind of thing that Will Ferrel would be in, but in fact it’s a very sharp, funny film – a parody of rock biopics, but particularly Walk The Line. But the music’s what makes it – it has the best original soundtrack since A Mighty Wind. This one’s a spot-on Ring Of Fire Johnny Cash with a spot of Secret Agent Man thrown in. Reilly is a great vocalist – not just ‘for an actor’, he’s an astonishing singer by any standards – but what makes this soundtrack is the attention paid to production details. All the songs sound like they could have come from the time they’re set, and that’s a much harder thing to do than people realise.
Ionisation by Edgard Varese is a wonderful piece of atonal percussion music, hugely influential on everyone from Pierre Boulez to Frank Zappa. The present day composer refuses to die!
If I Could Have Her Tonight by Neil Young is from Young’s eponymous first solo album, still my favourite of all his albums. Back then, Young had quite an unusual sound, somewhere halfway between the psych-pop of Love and the country-pop of the Byrds or solo Mike Nesmith, and while much of his later stuff’s good, it’s less interesting than the music he was making then.
Tin Soldier by The Small Faces is possibly the best rock (as opposed to pop) single ever made. Everything about it – the dynamics, Steve Marriot’s vocal, those Jaws piano chords at the start, is about as perfect as it gets.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Serge Gainsbourg is a fairly straight rendition, but from an album, Rock Around The Bunker, which was pretty much what it sounds like…
Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me by Billie Holiday is a cover of the Duke Ellington song, originally titled Concerto For Cootie.
Take Me In Your Lifeboat by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band features Del McCoury and two of his sons, making it essentially a Del McCoury Band track. Which means it’s by some of the best bluegrass musicians today.
High Coin by Harpers Bizarre is written and arranged by Van Dyke Parks, in a very similar style to his work on Song Cycle (which I must write about at some point).
You Don’t Know Me by Ray Charles is from Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music vol 1 (my copy of which, bought second-hand, was the best 50p I ever spent). One of the greatest vocal performances of all time, this is one of a very small number of songs that can reduce me to tears.
Golden Days by William Grant Still is an excerpt from The American Scene, one of Still’s last major works. For those who don’t know him, Still was ‘the black Gershwin’, going from arranging for WC Handy and playing with James P Johnson to being the first African-American to conduct a symphony orchestra. He’s a sadly underrated figure in American music, and fans of Gershwin, Ives, Copeland et al could do worse than check out his stuff.
Another Time by Curt Boettcher is a lovely gentle soft-pop song. In the mid-60s a sort of informal collective of people centred round Boettcher and Gary Usher recorded about six albums worth of soft-pop stuff which mostly remained unreleased til the 90s, and has since been released on several different labels under several different names – the same tracks can be found as by Curt Boettcher and/or the Ballroom and/or The Millennium and/or Sandy Salisbury and/or Sagittarius, depending on the reissue. These are all worth getting, but the stuff released as by Boettcher or Salisbury solo tends to be the best.
Oh Bondage, Up Yours by X-Ray Specs is here for three reasons – firstly that there are too many slow songs in this list, secondly that there aren’t many women, and thirdly because it’s fucking great. “Some people think that little girls should be seen and not heard, but I say… OH BONDAGE, UP YOURS!”
Lyke-Wake Dirge by Pentangle is actually only my second-favourite version of this old song (after that by The Young Tradition), which is surprising because Pentangle were one of the most interesting bands of the late 60s, fusing traditional folk and modern jazz. It’s an old Yorkshire song to be sung at wakes, and the lyrics (which can be found here) talk about ordeals of purgatory, saying that after you’re dead you have to go through various trials, and will only have to protect you the things you gave to the poor in this life – you have to walk over thorns and can only wear shoes if you gave shoes to the poor, and so on. Quite an inspiring, hopeful but earthy take on things, as tends to be the way with Yorkshire religion.
You Set The Scene by Love is an alternative mix of the track from Forever Changes. The amount of invention in this song – the number of different melodies, and the strength of them – is astoundng. Just listen to the section starting ‘this is the time in life that I am living’ without shivers going down your spine. I DARE you.
And Rosary by Scott Walker is from Tilt, his ‘comeback’ album, and (along with his more recent The Drift and …And Who Shall Go To The Ball? And Who Shall Go To The Ball?) possibly the strangest records ever made by a major figure.