It’s going to take me a little longer than I thought to get my thoughts together about Seaguy, so I’ll be posting about that and Cerebus Archive tomorrow, instead of today. In the meantime, here’s a Spotify playlist.
This one’s an a capella (almost entirely) collection, which happened by accident when I noticed the first couple of tracks I chose were already a capella, and I decided to go with it, and can be found here.
The Way I Feel Inside by The Zombies is a song I’ve been listening to over and over for the last few days – I picked up the Zombie Heaven box set after seeing them live and will be reviewing that soon (in brief my conclusion is that every original they did was astonishingly good, but the best Zombies album is still Blunstone’s first solo album, One Year). You might remember this from the funeral scene in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, one of the best uses of music in a film I’ve ever seen (I’ve not actually watched that film since I saw it in the cinema, but can remember huge chunks of it nonetheless). This shows what difference an arrangement can make to a song – there’s a demo version of this which is done in a Beatles-esque arrangement, and it does nothing for me at all, but this is great.
Old Molly Metcalfe by Jake Thackray is a gorgeous, beautiful pseudo-folk song, and the saddest thing that Jake ever wrote. Incidentally, Jennie, if you’re not a Jake fan already, you should listen to this. It’s the most Yorkshire song I’ve ever heard, and is also very obviously the basis for The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett.
I Hear Your Heart by Vocal Group Cosmos was Latvia’s entry into the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest. Despite that, it’s quite astonishingly good – pretty avant-garde and atonal in places, sounding just like Queen in others, and like a bad 90s boy band in yet others – all these styles mixing and merging in unpredictable ways. The bulk of the song unfortunately is generic boy-band, but the stuff surrounding that is just…weird.
Dido’s Lament by The Swingle Singers is a vocal-group-and-human-beatbox arrangement of the aria from Purcell’s Dido And Aeneas. Dido of course, as every Doctor Who fan knows, was really the Doctor’s companion Vicki, which means that this actually has something in common with Who’s Doctor Who? by Frazer Hines. Not much, but something…
God Only Knows (a capella mix) by The Beach Boys is a vocal-only mix (apart from some low instruments during the break) from the Pet Sounds Sessions box set. Carl Wilson takes the (double-tracked) lead vocals, while the backing vocals and the tag are Brian Wilson and Bruce Johnston (Brian taking the first and third lines on the tag, Bruce the second). Gorgeous.
Where Have All The Flowers Gone? by Pete Seeger is yet more evidence that actually the first people to do collagey, mix-and-matching of diverse influences were the folk singers. Practically nothing in this song is original to Seeger – the main text he took from an old Russian folk poem he found in a novel, just adding the ‘long time passing’ and ‘when will we ever learn?’ lines, while the melody is a traditional one – but it’s definitely Seeger’s song.
From Seeger we go to Black Betty by Leadbelly, Seeger’s friend and colleague. A medley of prison worksongs, this song gave hits to both Ram Jam (Black Betty) and Johnny Cash (I Got Stripes) – two more different records from the same source couldn’t be imagined.
Honest Work by Todd Rundgren is from his A Capella album, an album where all the ‘instrumental’ parts were Rundgren’s electronically-treated vocals. This one is one of the more traditional songs on the album.
Jesus Gave Me Water by The Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi (not to be confused with the more well-known Five Blind Boys Of Alabama) is a classic gospel song – I love the screamed “Yeeeaaah!”s.
One For The Boys by Brian Wilson is from his eponymous 1988 solo album, and has that 1988 sound to it, unfortunately, but it’s still a wonderful piece of vocal arrangement, and one of the best things on that album. It’s all multi-tracked Brian, except I think Andy Paley might be doing some of the low notes.
Country Life by The Watersons is from their classic For Pence And Spicy Ale album. The Waterson family are to English folk music what the Carters are to American country, and while Spotify unfortunately has almost no traditional English folk on there, it does have this album, which is as good an example of the form as any you’ll find.
Another Man Done Gone by Odetta is a wonderful track by a singer who is so horribly overlooked I had no idea until today that she died six months ago.
I’m Always Chasing Rainbows by The Four Freshmen is an example of what was called in the 50s ‘modern harmony’. While this stuff sounds odd or corny to our ears, as the style almost completely died out by the early 60s, it’s incredibly complex if you listen to the movement of the different parts, and this band in particular were a huge influence on Brian Wilson – the Beach Boys’ early attempts at harmony sounded almost like a tribute band.
Don’t Look Back by The Persuasions is a cover of the song Smokey Robinson wrote for the Temptations. This is from the 70s, but the Persuasions are one of the few a capella vocal groups still going – their tribute album to Frank Zappa in the 90s was particularly good.
Zilch by The Monkees is just an exercise in building up a sound from the cross-rhythmic repetition. Apparently one of the lines in this was sampled by Del Tha Funkee Homosapian, and caused a rumour that ‘mister Bob Dobalina’ was a SubGenius reference…
And finally Thomas Rhymer by Ewan Maccoll is some traditional Scottish folk to go with the traditional English folk from earlier. This song, about the supposed journey of 13th-century Scottish prophet Thomas Learmouth into the land of Faerie, was a huge influence on Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers (it’s quoted on the first page of issue zero). It’s also the source of the more recent Tam Lin ballad (itself also the other main source of Pratchett’s Wee Free Men, tying in nicely with Thackray’s song earlier).
Just a reminder for some people, incidentally – if you are in a country that says you can’t use Spotify, you can try the free software despotify client (which only supports the premium accounts, but imposes no geographic restrictions). It’s still so poorly-usable that even I, a free software supporter, choose to use the proprietary app and run it under WINE, but it’s definitely better than nothing…