Hello, incidentally, to those of you who’ve come over to this site after a bunch of us used Twitter to do naughty swears on the Telegraph website, if any of you have stuck around.
Fill Your Heart by Tiny Tim is a cover of the Biff Rose song that was made famous by David Bowie’s version on Hunky Dory. I love Bowie’s version, but this is even better, with totally over-the-top orchestration. Marvellous.
Black Sheep by John C Reilly is a song my friend Tilt turned me on to this week (I wish he’d post his playlists somewhere – not only does he make me look like someone who only owns three albums, all Now That’s What I Call Music compilations, but he’s great at sequencing, being a DJ). This is from the film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, a comedy that’s far better than it looks, which I picked up on DVD on the basis of its stunning soundtrack album, where Reilly does songs by Mike Viola, Marshall Crenshaw and others in note-perfect imitation of Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. But this is the standout – a Smile parody (though understandably it sounds closer to Song Cycle) written and arranged by Van Dyke Parks himself. Just stunning.
Odessa [City On The Black Sea] by The Bee Gees is from their masterpiece, Odessa. Recorded at the time when everyone was doing ‘their Sergeant Pepper‘, this album sounds like nothing so much as Syd Barret crossed with Smile-era Beach Boys. This song in particular is very Smile-like, especially the banjo sections. If Scott Walker, rather than the Bee Gees, had recorded this, it would be considered a great psych classic. It also fits remarkably well with the previous song, even down to the ‘black sheep’ reference…
Craise Finton Kirk by Johnny Young and Kompany is a great baroque pop song that Tilt linked me to. I know nothing more about it.
Clean Up Your Own Back Yard by Elvis Presley is a great little song from 1968, possibly Elvis’ best year – this is right on the cusp of his terrible films (and was actually recorded for one, The Trouble With Girls) and his comeback special, and is at a time when he’d started working with producer Fenton Jarvis and gone in a more swamp-blues direction, as shown by songs like Guitar Man and US Male. While Elvis did a *lot* of shit in the 60s, it was the time when his voice was at its best, and the best of his 60s stuff is definitely due a reappraisal – not only the later ‘Memphis’ stuff like this, but even some of the film music, and certainly the Elvis Is Back album…
Paper Chase by Richard Harris is a wonderful baroque-pop song by Jimmy Webb, incorporating little touches of Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring, from the Macarthur Park album. It also has something of the same groove to it as the previous song, weirdly.
The Arrival Of The Queen Of Sheba by Handel is from a rather good baroque compilation that Tilt included a Purcell track from in a playlist. This isn’t as good as my favourite version of this, a performance by the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Neville Mariner that I have on vinyl, but it’s always a lovely piece.
Pale And Precious by The Dukes Of Stratosphear, is from the Chips From The Chocolate Fireball anthology. The Dukes were really XTC, making an album and EP of 60s Brit-psych soundalikes (many of which were better than the bands they were pastiching/parodying). One of the few American bands they took off was the Beach Boys, with this gorgeous attempt at doing Smile in three minutes. Quite possibly the best song Andy Partridge ever wrote, at least musically, he doesn’t try here to replicate any Brian Wilson songwriting or production tics – it doesn’t sound like anything Brian Wilson had done before, although weirdly the ‘up she rises’ section sounds exactly like the bits that Andy Paley brought to his collaborations with Wilson (must be something about people called Andy P…) – but he uses his own songwriting strengths to try to do the same things that Wilson had tried to do, and succeeds admirably.
Rhapsody In Blue by Paul Whiteman is how this piece was meant to sound. Shortened to nine minutes to fit on to two sides of a 78RPM record, this is the original Ferd Grofe arrangement, recorded straight after the piece’s premiere, with Gershwin himself on piano. And it’s a hot jazz piece, rather than the more staid version that we’re used to. Absolutely extraordinary.
Busy Doin’ Nothin’ by The Beach Boys is my favourite song from one of my favourite albums, Friends. The lyrics are incredibly childlike, but the juxtaposition of that with the incredibly complex Jobim-esque chord sequences makes something strangely sublime.
Cuddly Toy by The Monkees is a Nilsson song, and absolutely evil. Hearing Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones singing “You’re not the only cuddly toy that was ever enjoyed by any boy… You’re not the kind of girl to tell your mother the kind of company you keep/I never told you I would love no other, you must have dreamed it in your sleep, sob, sob” is hilarious. It’s a nasty song from the point of view of a nasty character, and is one of the many reasons the Monkees were far more subversive than they’re credited for.
Abba Zabba by Captain Beefheart is from Safe As Milk, which he recorded at the beginning of his career. It’s more commercial than stuff like Trout Mask Replica, but in a hopeful way (if i take one step toward the mainstream then they might come to me) rather than the resigned way of Unconditionally Guaranteed (Okay, here’s a song called Happy Love Song, are you happy now?!) and as a result that album manages to show why he was great without requiring too much from the listener.
Louie Louie by Richard Berry is the original and best.
Shangri-La by The Rutles is a remake of an earlier Innes solo track, and I actually prefer the original. However, the Rutles combine so many things I like – Monty Python, the Beatles, the Beach Boys (Ricky Fataar was in both bands), the Bonzo Dog Band – into one package I can’t not link them. One thing I do love about this version is the intro – Innes had sued Noel Gallagher because Oasis’ song Whatever had a very similar melody to Innes’ How Sweet To Be An Idiot. Here, he takes the intro to the Oasis track (in 1997, when Oasis were briefly kings of the world) and alters it to be his melody rather than Gallagher’s. The video for this is also wonderful, with a mix of celebrity lookalikes (Michael Jackson lookalikes and so on) and z-list ‘real’ celebrities (including Al Jardine, who on seeing Fataar at the video shoot said “I never knew you were a Rutle!”)
Warm And Beautiful by Paul McCartney is a song I first learned from a bootleg of Elvis Costello performing it at a tribute concert for Linda McCartney, and to be honest I prefer Costello’s version. However, while the lyrics are a little cloying, this is one of McCartney’s best melodies. McCartney seems to me at his best when he’s writing very sparse, simple melodies in almost an English folk-song tradition, whether that be For No One , Here, There and Everywhere, Junk,Here Today, this song or Calico Skies. Why on Earth someone so gifted at writing simple, sparse, plain, touching melodies keeps writing bombastic semi-power-ballads like No More Lonely Nights and Beautiful Night, when not only is this stuff infinitely better but he also seems to find it easier, will remain one of the great unanswered questions…
2JN by R.E.M is a b-side that appeared on the In Time bonus disc. An instrumental tribute by Peter Buck to Jack Nitzsche, who died the day it was recorded, it also shows the influence of Morricone and Brian Wilson. Easily the best thing the band have done since the departure of Bill Berry.
Single Woman Sitting by Stew is another of his barbed character portraits. When are Spotify going to get the rest of Stew’s catalogue online, I wonder? All of it’s fantastic…
Go Back by Crabby Appleton is a great powerpop single by Michael Fennelly, formerly of the Curt Boettcher-led studio soft-pop band The Millennium. After leaving them, Fennelly recorded two albums with this band – this one, their eponymous first album, which is very much of a piece with the work of Boettcher, Gary Usher, Sandy Salisbury and the rest of Fennelly’s erstwhile collaborators, and a second album, Rotten To The Core, which is too proggy for my taste (though I’ve only listened to it a couple of times). But this track in particular is fantastic, hooky pop.
Ya Had Me Goin’ by L.E.O. (not ‘leo’ as Spotify has it wrongly) from the great ELO soundalike album Alpacas Orgling sounds exactly like ELO, in a good way.
Metaphor by Sparks is about how chicks dig metaphors. Apparently.