New Spotify Playlist – Messiaen, Johnny Cash, Dennis Wilson, Zappa, Sister Rosetta Tharpe…

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.

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5 Responses to New Spotify Playlist – Messiaen, Johnny Cash, Dennis Wilson, Zappa, Sister Rosetta Tharpe…

  1. Yes, more accuracy. It should also have been pointed out to The Beatles that there are in fact only 7 days in a week. ;)

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      To be fair, they were Scousers – it’s amazing they could count up that high at all…

  2. pillock says:

    Ha! Forty Cups Of Coffee! And I thought only I remembered that tune…

    • Hardly ;) – I tend to mostly talk about powerpop and soft pop, because I know more about how that music is made, but I’ve got a huge love of old blues, jazz, and pre-war country, as well as vaudeville stuff.

  3. TAD says:

    Check out this recent live version of Robin Gibb performing “Stayin’ Alive.” It’s cool to hear the song sung in a straight voice (rather than Barry’s falsetto), because you can actually understand the lyrics and it gives the performance a different emotional feel. But more than anything, his band is just *on fire* during this song.

    I’ve been getting into some older BeeGees stuff recently. There’s definitely a lot more to the band than most casual fans realize.

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