Sorry I’ve been a bit crap at updating recently. Between computer problems at home, pressure at work, and the general blandness of most of the comics recently, I’ve not really had any momentum for posting. Hopefully that’ll be back again soon and I’ll be back to the level of productivity from last month within a few days.
Anyway, the nights are drawing in, so we all need some cheerful pop music to pick us all up, and here is a playlist of just that.
Come On In by The Association is as good an opener for anything as you could hope for. The one time I DJ’d I started this up as soon as the doors opened (unfortunately, of course, no-one heard it as they hadn’t arrived yet. This is the kind of thing you don’t think of if you’ve never DJ’d before).
Mayor Of Simpleton by XTC is one of those list songs like What A Wonderful World, to which it bears a huge lyrical resemblance – “Never been near a university/Never took a paper or a learned degree… And I may be the mayor of Simpleton, but I know one thing and that’s I love you”. The music is insanely catchy, though, and I’m amazed this was never a hit. Everything here’s perfect and thought through – listen to that bassline from Colin Moulding, going all over the place, commenting on the main melody – but at the same time it’s *immediate* in a way much of XTC’s stuff isn’t… I actually considered just doing an XTC playlist today, they’re so great.
Broadway by Stew is one of his few cover versions, a radical reworking of the Clash song, turning it into a disco track backed by drum machine, analogue synth sounds and fast-picked banjo (presumably played by Probyn Gregory?), this gives some idea of what the Negro Problem’s side project The Covers Problem sounded like (at some point I must post an MP3 of their live cover of the full Thriller album).
I’ve posted Nerdy Boys by Candypants in more than one playlist before, but who cares? It’s the best pop single of the last decade.
7 And 7 Is by Love is the song that invented punk, back in 1966 when the rest of California was busy inventing hippysim, and it’s still one of the most ferocious records ever (fantastic song to play live, too, especially since the rhythm section has to do all the work while the guitarists just have to slash out chords). Drumming by the great Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer (I’ve told Holly that if we ever have a kid I’m going to name it Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer in tribute, which has ensured we shall remain child-free).
September Gurls by Big Star is the track that invented powerpop. Unfortunately, Spotify removed the three proper Big Star albums recently, so this is what sounds like a full-band demo – every element of the track is there, but not *quite* as tight as the finished version. For those who don’t know the original, though, it’ll more than suffice.
More Important Things by The Mockers is another catchy-as-hell harmony-based spiky jangly guitar song. Sometimes I like those.
Baby It’s Real by The Millennium is a track I’ve adored for ten years even though it breaks the cardinal rule of lyric-writing , Harry Nilsson’s “Never use the word baby unless you’re talking about a little person”.
Friends Of Mine by The Zombies is almost unique in that it’s a song about being happy about other people being in love, although rather sadly almost all the (real) people named in the backing vocals have either split up or died (Jean and Jim are still together forty-one years later though, if that’s any consolation).
This Whole World by The Beach Boys is an astonishing tour de force. Stupid lyrics, but in one minute fifty-seven this manages to cycle through something like five different keys, never settling on one for more than a couple of bars, in a completely unusual structure.
Thankful/It’s Over Now by Linus Of Hollywood is another example of LoH’s rather odd attitude to women (which I can only hope is a Randy Newman-esque ‘writing in character’ thing) – “If you would just leave and take all of your things I’d be grateful… don’t forget to take your mood swings/don’t forget to take your nasty attitude” over one of the most upbeat, bouncy pop tunes I’ve ever heard. Again, a cleverly-structured, complex piece.
And Jaded by The National Pep is my attempt at doing a pop song as clever and complex as the last couple, or even more so. And if you listen to it through spotify, I’ll get a whole shiny penny to share with my collaborators…
For a while now, I’ve been complaining vociferously on Twitter about the lack of a vocalist for the National Pep, my band (such as it is) – my friend and songwriting partner Tilt Araiza has agreed to continue writing songs with me, but for some reason seems to think “I don’t want to, and anyway I’m moving thousands of miles away very soon, and am not going to travel from California to Manchester to play in a bar in front of five people” is an adequate excuse to stop singing with me.
I’ve tried working with other people to no avail, so have finally bitten the bullet and considered the possibility of singing my own stuff. This does, of course, have the slight downside that people have told me for decades that my voice sounds like a donkey being tortured to death, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway.
So I’ve decided to record myself performing one of my old songs (from my old band, Stealth Munchkin) and upload an MP3 to see what people think of my vocal ‘abilities’. Please have a listen to this and tell me – truthfully – what you think of the vocals. I want to know if it’s actually worthwhile me continuing to make music without a lead vocalist.
The MP3 is very noisy – this is the first thing I’ve ever recorded by myself with this computer, and I only managed to get everything set up an hour ago, so recorded this without setting levels properly or anything like that – and the song itself is a bad one. I wrote the music when I was seventeen, and my old singer wrote the words when she was 19, and it shows (and before anyone says anything, I had heard neither Five String Serenade by Arthur Lee or My Beloved Monster by The Eels when writing this – I was actually ripping off Tell Me What You See by the Beatles). I chose it not because it’s a good song (it isn’t – it’s almost literally sixth-form poetry) but because the main vocal part is in my range but it also allows me to try different ranges in the backing vocals, and because it’s all major chords so it’s easy on the banjo (with the exception of the last chord – Ddim7 – which I fluff horribly).
Listen and let me know what you think. Proper posts resume tomorrow (my writer’s block seems to have cleared…)
This week’s playlist doesn’t have a theme as such, but is just some music I like.
After an introductory snippet, we start with Anyone But You by The Mumps. The Mumps were a late 70s art-rock/punk band led by reality TV star Lance Loud (who takes lead on this) and musician Kristian Hoffman (who sings lead on the middle eight). In this form, this song sounds like a very rough demo for the version on Hoffman’s 2002 duets album &, possibly the best album of the last decade, which is near-identical to this but tighter and with Stew singing Lance Loud’s part (other people Hoffman duets with on the album include Darian Sahanaja, Van Dyke Parks, Russel Mael, Rufus Wainwright and El Vez). Unfortunately, Hoffman’s solo work is not yet on Spotify, but this will give some idea of how it sounds. But buy Hoffman’s album, seriously. Best album of the last ten years.
Where Have You Been All My Life? by Arthur Alexander is, shamefully, the only track by the great soul singer on Spotify (not only that, he’s not on eMusic either – a definite argument for the continued existence of CDs). Alexander is mostly known now for his influence on British bands like the Beatles (who covered many of his songs live) or the Stones, but he really deserves much more recognition.
I’ve had a minor obsession with the Threepenny Opera since LOEG: Century was released a few months ago, especially Pirate Jenny. I usually listen to the version by Nina Simone because she interprets the English version of the lyrics best, but Lotte Lenya singing it with Kurt Weill’s original orchestration is the definitive version in the original German.
Suzy Creamcheese by Teddy & His Patches is not, strangely, a cover of the Zappa song, but a totally different song, obviously inspired by the spoken bit and percussion jams at the end of Freak Out! but sounding far more like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, with a bit of the Count Five thrown in. A marvellous garage rave-up.
Lady Lynda by The Beach Boys is included because I’ve always felt that Al Jardine was a horribly underrated vocalist – being in a band with Brian and Carl Wilson would let anyone get overlooked, but I actually think he was at least on their level, and while this song (a hit for the band in the UK, written by Jardine about his then-wife, based around Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring) isn’t one of their best, it does really showcase his vocal abilities. In fact more than that – when the ‘live’ album and DVD this is from came out, it was claimed that there were no vocal overdbubs after the fact, in which case (as you can hear here) Jardine must be the only man in the world who can double-track himself live, while simultaneously singing a totally different backing vocal line – sometimes without even moving his lips…
Baby It’s You by The Shirelles is the first of two Bacharach songs on this playlist – in fact the backing track here is Bacharach’s home demo (as you can tell from the dropped-in solo, awkward and out of place). What always gets me about this song is the ‘cheat, cheat’ in the second verse. She knows that ‘what they say about you’ is true, but has chosen to forgive, but not to forget…
Little Miss Britten by Dudley Moore is Moore doing Little Miss Muffet in the style of Britten’s settings of folk songs for Peter Pears. Absolutely *cutting*. Moore never really got to develop his talent for musical comedy after choosing essentially to become Peter Cook’s straight man, but while these early pastiches are a little glib he could easily have become as good as Tom Lehrer or Flanders & Swann in his own right, rather than being the assistant to an even greater genius…
I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself by Dusty Springfield is another Bacharach/David song. This one has been covered by Elvis Costello (where I first heard the song) and The White Stripes, but this is the definitive version. I was reading
someone (Bob Stanley quoted by Jonathan Calder, who I also just realised isn’t on my blogroll, something I will rectify forthwith) recently talking about how at the time, Dusty Springfield was only seen as one of a number of interchangeable vocalists like Cilla Black, Lulu or Sandy Shaw, but now she’s the only one who is still an influence on many, many new singers.
Ride The Wild Surf by Jan & Dean is a fairly formulaic J&D/Brian Wilson early surf song, appaling vocals and all (these records are a lot more dissonant than people remember), but I love the ‘gotta take that one last ride’ hook, the ‘ride ride ride’ at the end of the middle eight (with that throbbing bass staying on one note while the vocals go up and up) and especially the end of the track. Those elements are all things that either Wilson or Jan Berry (probably Wilson) almost certainly lifted from the Beatles (compare the end of every other Jan & Dean or Beach Boys single up to that point, with their fades, to the ‘one-two-three, one-two-three, CHORD!’ ending of both this and I Want To Hold Your Hand).
A Very Cellular Song by The Incredible String Band is a thirteen-minute multi-sectioned song with gospel and folk elements, featuring organ, harpsichord and crumhorn. The album this was on went top ten in 1967… (relistening to this recently, I was annoyed to discover that one of my own new songs bears too much resemblance to this – I’m rewriting it in my head at the moment).
Brother Gorilla (Le Gorille) by Jake Thackray is Thackray’s loose translation of Georges Brassens’ chanson. It actually sounds just like one of Thackray’s own songs – the only clue to it being a translation is the rather forced ‘swinging lissomely out of his cage’ and ‘the judge intoned with tranquility’, both of which have too many syllables for their lines. But how many other songwriters could manage to get ‘paleolithic’ into a song and have it scan? (Incidentally, a warning – this is a comedy song about a hanging judge being raped by a gorilla. Some of you might find it offensive or triggering).
Liebster Jesu, Wir Sind Hier by Dr Albert Schweitzer is, yes, that Albert Schweitzer. As well as his missionary, medical and theological work, for which he’s more widely known, he was also one of the world’s foremost interpreters of Bach on the organ in the early 20th century, even inventing several new mic-positioning techniques for recording Bach more accurately. While this has some surface noise, it’s still a lovely performance.
Wishing Well by The National Pep is one of a very small number of songs where I wrote the words as well as the music (Tilt rewrote two lines of this). In fact the song came to me, words and music, on the bus and I had to scribble it down and work out the chords later – I still can’t actually play it on the guitar, having written it without an instrument. (The last couple of lines were added later, as the bus stopped before I could finish writing, and I still don’t think they fit particularly well). Tilt and our engineer Steve managed to take my tinkly MIDI file (which Gavin R said sounded like the music from Super Mario Brothers when he heard it on its own) and Joe Meek it up enough to be usable (basically they played the MIDI file backwards through a good sampled harpsichord with reverb on it, then reversed the recording, plus a ton of other stuff), and Tilt and Laura Denison provided vocals.
C-H-I-C-K-E-N spells Chicken by The McGee Brothers is another song that some may find offensive – with good reason, as in its very first line it includes two racist epithets. Unfortunately, pre-war rural music like this (a song originally written, I believe, by the phenomenal banjo player Uncle Dave Macon) often has these elements – and I’m very grateful for Van Dyke Parks’ cover of this (unfortunately not on Spotify) for changing those lyrics while preserving the wonderful song itself.
Speaking of cover versions by Van Dyke Parks, Donovan’s Colours is a ragtime-ish instrumental version of Donovan’s 60s hit, with some lovely percussion and cello bits to it. Just gorgeous. Remind me to do several more blog posts about Parks at some point – he’s one of the unsung greats.
And Will You Remember Me by Janet Klein is a lovely little solo performance, just voice and ukulele.
For those of you who are uninterested in my increasingly recondite ramblings on comics, continuity, canon, quantum physics and Doctor Who, here’s some music…
Incidentally, I lose track of what I have and haven’t included in these, but I hope there’s always enough new stuff to keep people interested…
Come To The Sunshine by Harper’s Bizarre is one of Van Dyke Parks’ early songwriting/production works, and a little soft-pop classic.
Soulful Dress by Sugar Pie Desanto is a Chess R&B track from the early 60s, about dressing up before going out.
Vox Wah Wah Ad by The Electric Prunes is just what it says it is – the Electric Prunes demonstrating the proper use of the wah-wah pedal.
It’s A Hard Business by Wild Man Fischer and Rosemary Clooney is… wait a second… let me say that again… by Wild Man Fischer and Rosemary Clooney. Yes, that Wild Man Fischer and that Rosemary Clooney. The homeless schizophrenic outsider musician and the jazz singer who starred in White Christmas and was George Clooney’s aunt. What will I find on Spotify next – Perry Como Sings Jandek?
Mrs Toad’s Cookies by Klaatu is from the last album by the Canadian band, who were most famous for writing Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft and for many people thinking they were the Beatles in disguise. I can *sort of* see the Beatles similarity here – especially McCartney – but to be honest it sounds like a collaboration between Jeff Lynne and Mike Batt. Which is no bad thing…
Wild Man Fischer and Rosemary Clooney?!
Ahem… Lighten Up, Morrissey by Sparks is a message I think we can all agree with…
Wagons West by The National Pep is another one by my own band, but again I do actually think it’s a good song. I wrote the music, my friend Tilt wrote the words. Tilt sings and plays drums, I play all the other instruments and Laura Denison also sings.
The Father, The Son And The Friendly Ghost by The Native Shrubs Of The Santa Monica Mountains is a soft-pop/bluegrass song about Casper The Friendly Ghost, Abraham Lincoln and Trotsky, a Beach Boys-esque waltz-time middle eight (with a tiny hint of Zappa in the changes in the end) contrasting with a common-time banjo-plucking verse.
Living In Sin by Janet Klein is another of her naughty covers of songs from the early part of the last century.
Wild Man Fischer and Rosemary Clooney?
Eleanor by Bob Lind is a great little track from someone who’s mostly only known for the one song Elusive Butterfly. This one’s very, very Lee Hazelwood.
Havana Moon by Chuck Berry is one of the earliest knock-offs of Louie Louie, performed solo by Berry on guitar and vocals.
Misty Roses by Colin Blunstone is one I’m sure I’ve included in a playlist before, but it’s also absolutely gorgeous. A Tim Hardin cover, with a fantastic string arrangement, this is one of those tracks that everyone should own.
Don’t Fear The Reaper by The Beautiful South is a cover version of the Blue Oyster Cult song. I used to live round the corner from Paul Heaton, and he used to go to our local pub on quiz nights, but after my sisters started coming and blatantly gawping at him he stopped going (unsure if it was coincidence…)
On Again! On Again! by Jake Thackray has the greatest opening line of any song – “I love a good bum on a woman, it makes my day/To me it is palpable proof of God’s existence a posteriori“. Anyone who can make bilingual puns in Latin while doing Carry On style humour is all right with me. This song got Thackray pegged as a misogynist by many, who couldn’t see that it was just possibly tongue in cheek (lines like “Please understand that I love and admire the frailer sex/and I honour them every bit as much as the next/misogynist” were probably not meant to be taken entirely seriously…)
And Go Back by Crabby Appleton is a great glammed-up powerpop track, produced I think by Curt Boettcher (it certainly sounds like his work – it sounds like his songwriting as well, actually)
WILD MAN FISCHER AND ROSEMARY CLOONEY?!
That last post of mine threw me off my posting stride a bit, because of the sheer weight of response, by email, on Twitter, in the comments here and in the comments to Debi’s repost of it (where our one troll went to hang out – I apologise, Debi, for getting a bit too angry there with someone who is, after all, a fellow human being, albeit one who wants to condemn millions of other fellow human beings to death because she doesn’t like them…).
The response has been, frankly, ludicrous – I was even interviewed by the Wall Street Journal today in my lunch break (I are big media pundit! I am the new Iain Dale or something), which is frankly surreal, given the content of that last post – I would have thought “The NHS isn’t designed to deliberately kill old people” was as uncontroversial a statement as one could make. I wonder what other misconceptions about cherished national institutions I’ll have to try to dispel in international media. Maybe next week I’ll be telling Le Monde that Last Of The Summer Wine isn’t a paedophile ring but a whimsical Yorkshire comedy show…
Anyway, thank you to everyone who retweeted, commented or linked that post of mine, and now I’ll get back to the stuff I *meant* to be posting this week. Tomorrow there’ll be a post on comics and the day after the continuation of my guide to my blogroll, but for now here’s a playlist.
My Mom Is Tor Johnson’s Mom by The Native Shrubs Of The Santa Monica Mountains is a fantastic song that my friend Tilt linked me to last week. For those who don’t know, Tor Johnson was the bald wrestler who appeared in many Ed Wood films, most notably Plan 9 From Outer Space. This song reminds me of my friend Blake Jones, but for a reference other people might get, the closest I can imagine is if The Dukes Of Stratosphear had done a Frank Zappa pastiche…
Think Carefully For Victory by The National Pep is one of two songs by my own band I’m including here (yes, Spotify even has *us* on it now) because I think they genuinely fit. It’s a jangly pop song for which I wrote the music and Tilt the words. The lineup on this one (TNP has a *very* fluid membership) is me on guitars and keyboards, Tilt on vocals and drums, Gavin Robinson on mandolin (which we mixed too low, I think), Laura Denison on one line of vocal and Albert Freeman (of Wilful Missing) on
some African instrument I forget the name of Đàn Bầu.
Save The Last Dance For Me by “Ike And” Tina Turner is a Phil Spector-produced, Jack Nitzsche arranged version of the Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman classic. Brian Wilson very obviously ripped off the backing track for this for Heroes & Villains.
Bicarbonate Of Chicken by Ivor Cutler is about ordering bicarbonate of chicken in a restaurant.
Just One Look by Doris Troy is better known, in Britain at least, for a vastly inferior version by the Hollies, but this is the original. This was actually originally a demo, but it was released unchanged and made the US top ten. In the intro, you can definitely hear the influence this record and others like it had on early reggae…
Through The Net by Glenn Tilbrook & The Fluffers is from Pandemonium Ensues, probably Tilbrook’s strongest album since East Side Story. This one’s very Kinksy.
Common People – Live by Pulp is a recording which always brings back memories for me, as I was at the Glastonbury where this was recorded, and saw Pulp quite by chance, having no intention to see them perform (I’d seen them on some late-night Channel 4 thing and dismissed them as crappy electropop based on a couple of minutes, and hadn’t heard this, which was a huge hit single at the time). But it was the most astonishing experience of my life. I’ve seen Pulp and Cocker solo live quite a few times since, and they’ve always been good, but at that gig Cocker was simply the most astonishingly charismatic performer I’ve ever seen, and every moment is etched in my brain fourteen years later. (Christ, fourteen years? That can’t be right, surely? 1995 was only a little while ago…). This recording was originally a b-side to the Mis-Shapes/Sorted For Es & Whizz CD single, but is now a bonus track on the reissued Different Class.
Baby Please Don’t Go by Big Joe Williams is another song that’s usually much better known in a beat-group cover version (the version by Them), but I prefer (just) the original, just vocal, sparse guitar and harmonica.
Beat Head by Candypants is included in this as part of my ongoing campaign to get Lisa Jenio recognised as one of the real greats in rock/pop music. I think this one might be about something naughty…
Hominy Grove by Van Dyke Parks is one of many great songs from Jump!, his album loosely based around the Uncle Remus stories.
Nasty Dan by Johnny Cash is another one from The Johnny Cash Children’s Album. I always liked Cash doing this sort of material at least as much as the dark ‘man in black’ stuff for which he’s better known.
Time Will Carry On by The Wackers is a nice bit of 70s harmony pop that, to me at least, stays just the right side of Bread or America.
I Got You Babe by Tiny Tim is Tiny Tim being both Sonny and Cher, accompanied by his ukulele.
Don’t Smoke In Bed by Peggy Lee is a song that, I’m ashamed to say, I first got to know from k.d. lang’s vastly inferior cover version. I could listen to Peggy Lee sing anything…
And Jaded by The National Pep is another of my collaborations with Tilt (I’d say the writing here is about 55/45 in his favour), and the closest I’ve ever come to realising the sound I hear in my head in a recording studio. It’s a shame that Tilt didn’t find our musical collaboration a particularly happy one, as I think the results were superb, if I do say so myself. On this, Tilt and Laura share the vocals, Tilt does drums, Blake Jones does the theremin and melodica on the tag, my wife Holly adds woodwinds, and I played guitar, all the keyboard parts, and ukulele (and mandolin? I know I had a mandolin in the studio but don’t remember recording a mandolin part, but I *think* I can hear one on one of the choruses). I’m very proud of this one, and I don’t think you’ll hear music like it anywhere else.